HBO’s The Deuce may be a show about 1970s NYC sex workers from the minds of two white men who qualify for AARP cards, but it has shockingly managed to show the sex industry from the female perspective from the very beginning. The series premiere gave us wildly, and uncomfortably, realistic freed penises, a subtle defense of Vincent Martino’s (James Franco) “wayward” wife Andrea Martino (Zoe Kazan), and, most importantly, an explanation from Abby (Margarita Levieva) on what exactly objectification is. The scene was a flashy signal The Deuce understood why that common — and offensive — pitfall is so problematic, and it would try to avoid letting its many woman character's tumble down the dark well of objectification. And, yet, Sunday’s night’s “I See Money,” proved Abby could rage against society's inherent sexism all she wants in “Pilot” — in time, she too was destined to become an object.
Last week, Abby’s entrance into the underworld of the Deuce, a.k.a. 42nd Street’s two seediest blocks during the ‘70s, was complete as she started working at Vinny’s bar, The Hi-Hat. She walks into the watering hole wearing her own clothing, which is a form-fitting tank top and jeans combo. Yet, by the time The Hi-Hat is open for business, Abby is sporting the signature uniform at the bar: a barely-there leotard and tights. Viewers might remember this is the exact outfit Abby rightly criticized at the start of the series. “Ever wonder what it’s like for them to be objectified?” she asks Vincent, referencing the army of waitresses he has put in the revealing item. When Vince doesn't understand the word — "objectawho?!" — Abby explains, “It means treating a person as a thing.”
Although Vincent responds to Abby’s schooling by saying, “I wouldn't want to make you feel like, you know, a thing,” episode 4 proves he actually has no qualms about turning the former college student into an object. In “See Money,” Abby is back to strutting around the Hi-Hat in her suffocating leotard, bizarrely without an objection. This is the young woman who stormed out of her telemarketer job with a torrent of papers flung in the air and an eff-you salute because she didn't like her old boss. It doesn’t exactly make sense to see Abby wearing the uniform without a single question after her entire character was built off of the idea she doesn’t agree with Vinny’s manipulative management style. But, thus is the life of the resident sex object.
If you don’t believe Abby is regressing into pure Hi-Hat eye candy, look at how she’s forced to deal with the men of the bar. Vinny openly stares at Abby for most of her shift, making idle small talk as an excuse to talk to her. As this happens, the camera goes for a wide shot to settle on her body in the teeny, tiny leotard. But, the leering isn’t saved for Vinny and the viewers at home. Instead, the barman’s brother-in-law Bobby Dwyer (Chris Bauer) is also able to aggressively come on to Abby, telling her, “I’d give my left nut for a night alone with you.”
First of all, ew. Second of all, Abby doesn’t slap the middle-aged man, or give him a necessary lesson in objectification. Instead, all she says is, “That’s sweet.” Because none of Abby’s signature fiery comebacks are deployed during Bobby’s creepy “compliment, he feels comfortable enough to keep talking about his genitalia, adding, “Fuck it, [I would give] the right one too.” Amid all of this objectifying, all Abby says in a sexy baby voice is, “Both? Hmm,” “Now we’re talking,” and “Sorry, no deal,” once both of Bobby’s testicles are off the table. If that’s not enough, seconds later, a pimp tells Vinny of Abby, “That girl’s gonna run you.” His charming, totally-evolved response? “I hope you’re right.”
Abby’s transformation into an object is finalized when she has sex with Vince. Considering the two sex scenes we’ve seen of Abby before, the moment should feel empowering for the character. The first time we see her in flagrante, she’s on top of her college professor, laughing at his O-face. Then, when she hooks up with her co-worker Billy (Josh Salt) in “Principle” she pushes his head down in bed for oral sex. These are two encounters Abby is unquestionably in charge of. When Abby and Vince start flirting over the prospect of having sex, she claims to have the same agency, saying, “You’re not in control of this, I am.” If that was the end of the scene, or Abby added, “And I want you now,” everything would be well and good.
Instead, Vinny asks, “May I make one small suggestion?” We can all agree Vinny’s “suggestion” isn’t “small.” He picks Abby up, tosses her on the Hi-Hat pool table, rips off her offending leotard in one fell swoop, and very weirdly says, “Don’t fight the leotard.” Throughout all of this, Abby is a simple giggling, half-moaning shadow of a character. She doesn’t actually say or control anything, other than Vincent’s belt when she excitedly unbuckles it since she’s already naked. Queue the immediate moans of pleasure from Abby the moment Vinny starts doing his thing. While most of the HBO drama’s sex scenes are glaringly realistic with all of their premature ejaculation, heart attacks, and flaccid penises, this entire encounter feels like it belong more in the porn films The Deuce is about, that The Deuce itself.
In fact, I bet this moan-filled moment is exactly the fantasy Bobby had in mind for his single-testicle-costing “one night” with the former English major. Abby, the Hi-Hat is turning you into a walking, talking pair of fishnets — get out of there, girl.
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