Welcome to The Deuce, alternatively titled "Watching Candy's patience wear at the edges." Though the series is an ensemble show, Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is unavoidably at its center. At the very least, she's the lens through which we watch the rest of the show. You get the sense she knows where the world is headed; she's like us, aware that, right around the corner, there's a nascent industry in the business of bodies.
In the beginning of Sunday's episode, Candy sits at Vince's bar — the Korean restaurant owned by Kim (James Saito) — with Ruby (Pernell Walker) and observes the waitresses, who are clad in black leotards. Vince (James Franco) asks that they be "discreet" in the bar, and not conduct business. He implies that their suggestive clothing is disturbing to his "high-end" clientele, which is a little awkward, considering what his waitresses are wearing. Candy and Ruby take note: It's okay for a woman to wear a plain black leotard and serve drinks. It's not okay for a woman to wear a crochet bra and serve, well, her body. (Bobby Dwyer, Vince's brother-in-law, espouses a similar opinion later in the episode. It's pretty obvious where this "scantily clad waitress" business plan is going.)
Remember: Porn wasn't legal at the time The Deuce began. At most, there are porn shops, places where you can purchase a magazine or, as we learn in this episode, an illegally made movie. This episode is the first time we catch the scent of the coming porn tsunami, beginning with Ashley (Jamie Neumann) getting her photos taken. It's like an actor's headshot, but for your body: She has a photographer take a few boudoir shots that can be sent to casting directors. It's both glamorous and not. When she raises one arm over her head, we recognize a small scar in her armpit from C.C.
After her session, Ashley heads to the street, where she meets with her colleagues. Discussing the possibility of film work, they sound like frustrated journalists trying to determine where their industry is headed. Most are hesitant about work on camera. Candy thinks it's a ripoff — she smartly points out that you can make money once for a movie, but customers can view the movies as many times as they like. How is that fair? (She has a point! Royalties matter!) Darlene (Dominique Fishback, the most stealthy of actresses and a future Emmy winner if I have anything to say about it) straight up doesn't want to do it.
The bad news is, she's already done one. According to Ashley's photographer, Darlene is featured in a looping video at Fat Mooney's shop in the Deuce. Also, Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe) definitely knew Darlene made a video that would then be featured at a porn shop. He gave a nice, "Hm, what? Your video is where? That's strange." when she informed him, but you can't fool us, Larry! You got paid for that video and tricked Darlene into making porn.
Nevertheless, it's pretty damn satisfying to see Darlene march into Fat Mooney's and demand her tapes. Turns out, she's very popular. Darlene, the cheeky perfect character that she is, takes the remaining copies of her movies and sells one back to Mooney for $10. Make your money, Darlene. (Also: "What are you, an owl?" is the best response to "Who?" I've ever heard.) In a sweet parallel moment, Darlene also marches into the library to demand a copy of Tale of Two Cities. Makes you think about the power of movies, right?
While Darlene is looking to get bookish, Abby (Margarita Levieva) isn't. In this episode, Abby takes her leave of school. It's not entirely clear why — she just wants to kick it in the real world, I suppose. (More likely, the writers needed a better reason for Abby to spend time in the Deuce.) She goes to live with a cousin for seemingly no rent. Ah, the gentle, carefree life of a wayward college student.
In this show, legality is always in flux. The police officers condone most everything in the Deuce, as evidenced by their bizarre "roundups." The officers demand property vouchers from the women. These vouchers allow the women to work on the Deuce without interference. However, it costs to renew your voucher, and if yours is expired, you head to jail for the night. It's all a charade: The women cluster in the van, then head to the police station, where they snack on Chinese food with the officers until they can head home. (When the Chief of Police comes around, they skitter into the jail cell, but before then they're just lounging around like college students in a dorm.)
Officer Flanagan (Don Harvey) takes the opportunity to be a lech, grabbing at the women, while Alston (Lawrence Gillard, Jr.) tries to understand his captives. The Deuce is good at these types of conversations — the condescending let-me-understand-you discourse. When Alston starts questioning Loretta (Sepideh Moafi), she mocks him.
"Oh shit, you know what? I completely forgot to get an education," she says, poking at some fried rice. Ironically, Loretta is one of the women trying to get off the streets. At least, that's what she tells a harangued Candy at Leon's diner.
Candy isn't sick of the streets yet, but she's sick of the pimps begging her to work for them. Last week, it was Rodney (Clint "Method Man" Smith). This week, it's Larry Brown, who insists he's more sensitive than Rodney. Of course, in the same breath, he hollers at Darlene. "Sensitive" is a hard sell around these parts, unless you're Gentle Richie, the Brooklyn-looking mac who can't enunciate worth a French fry.
Maybe it's Larry Brown that galvanizes Candy's interest in making movies. Right after Larry's begging and pleading monologue, she agrees to sub in for Loretta in a weekend shoot. She'll get paid $75 and she has to go to the Bronx.
Candy's first time on set is a lesson in Early Efforts At Porn. They aren't recording sound. There's no script. In one particularly stomach-churning detail, they use Campbell's potato soup in the place of semen. Candy wears a wig that barely covers her brunette hair. The men in the film look too skinny to be vikings, and the shoot takes place in the basement of what looks like a suburban home.
The important part, though, is that Candy takes an interest in the movie — the same way we are, really. She's a lens. After the shoot, Candy starts asking about the equipment. She wants to know how long the movie will be — it's almost adorable that she thought a nine hour shoot would produce a nine-hour movie. It's pretty clear her wheels are churning, and she ends the episode by purchasing her own projector.
Meanwhile, C.C., the villain of the pimps, spends his days both terrorizing and protecting new girl Lori (Emily Meade). She's officially his new girl now — bye, Ashley! — and in bed, he rhapsodizes about a future with a wife upstate. He claims he's just saving up money now. He's vaguely interested in Paris. ("You ever been to Paris" is the new "We'll always have Paris.") Sometimes, he's Lori's white knight, promising a house upstate. Other times, he's yelling at Lori for bringing up her past pimps. He refers to them as the "little league," an enjoyable metaphor.
He wins the white knight award when he rescues Lori from a potential kidnapper. The customer pretends to be the FBI, but he's not — he's there to tie Lori up and steal her for his own. C.C. promptly stabs the guy to death, and then immediately turns around and tells Lori to keep working. The best way to survive a traumatic encounter is to get right back on the horse, right? Lori's new to the Deuce, but she already seems to understand where this is heading. She also wants to get off the street, and she expresses an interest in movies. You should talk to Candy, Lori.
Sigh. The more tedious bits of The Deuce are the ones that don't even involved the Deuce. Vinnie and his brother-in-law (played by Chris Bauer from True Blood) concoct a scheme this week to make money off of construction workers, enlisting the help of Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli), a mob boss. Pipilo's the boss of Tommy Longo (Daniel Sauli), and he has the power to skim 5% off the checks of dozens of construction workers. (The workers get cash faster in exchange. They're being scammed, but, you know, instant gratification and all that.)
Through this work with Rudy, though, Vinnie earns a new joint. Rudy offers him a bar on the Deuce called Penny Lane, a gay bar that is closing because it was targeted by vindictive customers. Vinnie will have his own place, soon, all because he's slightly earnest and willing to help out a mob boss. (Men. They just have things handed to them, don't they?)
The Winning Deuce-Bag
This week's winner is Candy's co-star in her first porn shoot, who says, "This isn't Doctor Zhivago, honey" when Candy asks to see a script. Don't be a deuce, lady. Help a lost young mother out when she's confused at her first film shoot, okay?
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