Candy & Darlene Deserve Better On The Deuce

Photo: Paul Schiraldi/HBO.
One of the greatest decisions of HBO’s The Deuce is to anchor the show around Eileen "Candy" Morell (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an entrepreneurial sex worker who brings the female perspective to a show that easily could have slid into living and dying by the male gaze. Remember, the premium cable drama comes from 57-year-old The Wire and Treme creator David Simon and his usual collaborator, 60-year-old author George Pelecanos. Yet, the show manages to continue its aim of criticizing the intrinsic misogyny of 1970s New York City, rather than glorifying it, with Sunday night’s "The Principle Is All." The biggest takeaway from the new series’ third episode? Just how impossible it is for talented women to be taken seriously.
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It’s clear from the first moment Candy sees porn being made in New York, she knows how to improve upon the process. In The Deuce episode's cold open, she and Ruby "Thunder Thighs" (Pernell Walker) go to Harvey Wasserman’s 49th Street $40 "art show," which is actually just an elaborate scheme to make money off of men who want to masturbate in public. Harvey (David Krumholtz) pretends to helm a porn film, complete with two people doing the deed live onstage, director’s notes, and a fake camera man. Although every man in the audience is focused on orgasm, Candy sits in the back asking, "What the fuck is this lighting?" As she watches the male performer do his thing, she critiques, "He’s got no bounce." These are comments natural directors immediately notice the moment they step on set.
Despite Candy’s obvious burgeoning directing skills, she doesn’t get the respect she deserves from Harvey during a business meeting. When the pair sits down for a kishka-and-chicken-soup lunch, Harvey offers Candy a featured role "acting" in his Thursday night show, where she can make $10 a head. That rate would likely come out to $600 total. "That’s good money for the life," he condescendingly tells her. But, Candy wants to be done with "the life," a fact Harvey would know if he bothered to ask why she wanted to meet him.
Even Harvey can’t deny how intelligent Candy is after she explains why pornography will soon be as booming a business in America as it is in Europe. "When do we ever leave a fucking dollar for the other guy to pick up?" she asks. Well, true. Candy goes on to say she’s excited about the opportunity to make movies because she’ll either learn something she can apply to future jobs — Disney Studios here she comes? — or, she’s right, and porn will be where the big bucks are made. Even with this good business pitch, Harvey continues to underestimate Candy, telling her, "If I get back to putting film in the camera, you could stand in front … You could make a nice paycheck, no problem." It’s like he's not listening to her at all.
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One of the most annoying parts of Harvey’s brush off is the fact he mostly focuses on the woman's looks over what she's saying. When he first meets Candy, he tells her she’s "got the look" to do one of his so-called performance art pieces. After Candy explains her hopes and dreams of a pornography cash cow, Harvey responds by ignoring everything she's laid out and offers her a starring role in any future XXX movies. He tells her, "You’re pretty enough," like it’s a compliment rather than a metaphorical glob of spit right to the face.
Obviously, this isn’t the only problem with how Harvey reacted to Candy’s newfound interest in directing. Although the director complains about "overhead" and "barely scratching by," he doesn’t even ask Candy how much she would like to make while learning about the movie business from him. If he’s offering her $10 to stand in front of the camera, as he puts it, can’t he offer he a similar gig for being his assistant? On top of that, Harvey recognizes Candy is probably right about everything, is smart, and he likes her, but, all of that isn’t worth even trying to teach her a thing or two about filmmaking. Instead, all she could ever possibly be in his eyes is a set of holes to be penetrated for the lens of his camera. It’s impossible for him even see past that very limited point, no matter what Candy says.
While Candy deals with this restrictive issue in "Principle Is All," Deuce breakout Darlene (Dominique Fishback) does as well on a smaller scale. As we saw in last week’s "Show And Prove," Darlene is also taken with movies, although she prefers the classics to the adult kind. First we saw her watch A Tale Of Two Cities with regular customer (John B. McCann). This week it’s the 1945 version of Mildred Pierce. Darlene is so taken with film, she marches to the library in "Show" to take out a copy of Two Cities. Now, she’s reading it in Vincent Martino’s (James Franco) new bar while her "man" Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe) talks shop with fellow pimp Gentle Richie (Matthew James Ballinger). Although Larry is happy to tell Darlene to step off when he doesn’t want her around, he’s clearly angry to realize the young woman has an internal life that's completely separate from him and his manipulation.
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Darlene's book club chat with Abby (Margarita Levieva) — the ex college student is writing her new friend a whole list of recommendations; Bleak House and Little Dorrit are up next — suggests Darlene's dreams of a world outside of sex work will only grow during the rest of the season. As Darlene says, she didn't think she likes to read, but now she knows that's not quite true. What other life choices could she be wrong about?
Although the preview for next week's episode "I See Money" doesn't hint Candy will magically become the queen of porn production overnight or that Darlene will ditch Larry, the Deuce's season 1 trailer does. The teaser shows Candy eventually going into business with Harvey once New York decides to throw community standards out the window and, later, a put-together Darlene telling a would-be sex worker to get out of the life ASAP before she dies. Now that is something that deserves to be in front of the camera.
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