It's hard to argue that the women of The Deuce have much power. This is the '70s, and most of the women are sex workers, all of whom are beholden to The Man. Even Candy/Eileen (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who doesn't have a pimp, answers to the man, be it Harvey (David Krumholtz), or her uncomfortable new customer. And idgaf-Abby (Margarita Levieva) has her rich Connecticut Daddy looming over her. None of the women have a lot of wiggle room.
What little room they do have, though, they take advantage of in this episode. The Deuce's penultimate episode is all about reclaiming power, even in the narrow corridors of the sex industry.
It begins with Ashley (Jamie Neumann). Ashley's always been our jaded veteran — remember in the pilot, when C.C. (Gary Carr) sliced open her armpit simply because she didn't want to work that night? Ashley's seen some shit. She pulls the plug this week after Lori (Emily Meade) gets the day off; Ashley has to work at the parlor during the lunchtime shift, but Lori has to rest up for her upcoming film shoots. (This is an emerging problem: There are two classes of sex workers now. Some of the women classify as "porn-worthy." Others don't, and that means they're relegated to the parlors.)
When Ashley says, "Fuck this," it's a relief. Finally, one woman on this show said aloud what women viewers have been shouting at the screen! Fuck! This! She skips her shift at the parlor, and ends up in the arms of Frankie (James Franco).
Up until this point, Frankie's been about as important as the pool table at the Hi-Hat. He cracks jokes occasionally and yes, he works for Rudy (Michael Rispoli), but mainly he's there to prove that James Franco is very good at playing maniacs. (Okay, also, the man on whom Vincent is based had a twin in real life.) Vincent and Frankie have one of the most electric relationships in the show, probably because James Franco is really good at acting with James Franco. I will begrudgingly admit that he proves his worth in this episode.
Frankie is exceedingly kind to Ashley. He seems to have no preconceptions about her, and when Paul (Chris Coy) half-jokingly invites Frankie to a party for Boys in the Sand, Frankie asks if he can bring Ashley. Frankie — the guy who once held a pool cue to his crotch and said, "Mine's bigger!" — isn't exactly the guy who should be attending a party for the first notable feature-length gay porn film. But his presence sure makes for a delightful scene. Frankie is incredulous at the movie, and can't mask his disbelief at all the dicks on screen. ("Couldn't there just be one woman?") Despite his incredulity, though, Frankie is kind, just as he is to Ashley. I guess he's like Vincent — a good fellow, plain and simple.
This makes Ashley and Frankie's kiss surprisingly sweet. The moment reminds us that the women in this show don't get kissed that often. They kiss their pimps on the cheek, and Candy kissed Jack (Will Chase) once upon a time, but for the most part, they get fucked. No smooching allowed. And then, out of nowhere, a semi-subdued Frankie kisses Ashley. It's as if Ashley is sex worker Sleeping Beauty: Frankie kisses her, they have a brief dalliance, and Ashley's ready to leave the Deuce.
She does it with the help of Abby (Margarita Levieva), who has her own power to reclaim. Abby "I'm too cool for everything" Parker gets a backstory this episode, although we didn't really need one. She's a wealthy NYU student! We can surmise everything.
Still, though, the action must unfold: Abby totes Vince to Connecticut for her sister's debutante party, and the scene is nothing more than proof that Abby is exactly what we thought she was. As a reward for coming to the party — in Ashley's very cute crochet dress — Abby's dad gifts her a big fat check. He's just glad that Abby's alive and has a job. It seems pretty clear from this scene that Abby is using Vince as a "fuck you" to her parents. She makes him wear his "leathers" to a party that is 100% a black tie affair. (Reminder: She's 20 years old. He's a thirty-something with kids and an ex-wife.) This is Abby's way of claiming her independence, though. I suppose congratulations are in order.
The important part of the trip back home is that check; in a move that makes perfect perfect sense, Abby signs it away to Ashley, whose real name is Dorothy. The brief friendship between Abby and Dorothy/Ashley was one of the season's richest. Three cheers for Ashley telling Abby she's a slob! And three cheers to women sharing clothing — who among us hasn't tossed a crochet dress at a friend in a bus station?
Let's hear one more round of cheers for Candy, who is making moves as a pornographer. She's art directing, she's making sure the production assistant orders food for the cast. What's more, she's directing. And what a good director she is. Where Harvey yells and complains, Candy lavishes the praise. When Lori seems nervous, Candy comes over to rub Vaseline on her breasts, complimenting them all the while. ("All my life I've wanted tits like this. Santa never delivered.") Candy rubbing lotion on another woman's breasts is surprisingly chaste. The move feels maternal, not sexual — there's no power exchange in Candy slathering Vaseline on Lori. It's just a woman helping another woman. (Just like Abby helping Ashley!)
Of course, Candy is still hustling. She's working as an escort these days, which means the dresses are nicer and the hotel rooms more swanky. But it's still sex work, and her customer in this episode promptly vomits after their rendez-vous, proving that men of all classes are really weird about sex.
Lady duo Melissa (Olivia Luccardi) and Barbara (Kayla Foster) aren't doing as well as our other duos. They've been reclaiming their power by stealing from their clients, but one of their customers wises up to their scheme, and reports them. The result? Two very angry (and increasingly useless) pimps. Melissa gets a black eye from Reggie Love (Tariq Trotter) for it, which leads to the best moment of the season. Leon (Anwan Glover) has always been a kind force in the show. He cooks delicious food for the characters, and occasionally scolds the pimps for being crude in his restaurant.
The final straw for Leon is Melissa's black eye. When Reggie Love comes into the diner to holler at his employee, Leon grabs a gun and shoots him. Then, he calls the police and fesses to the crime. It's shockingly non-violent for the first major death of the season. After all, Reggie Love is the most violent pimp. This episode he's particularly asshole-ish because Shay (Kim Director) overdoses on drugs. You know when your friend overdoses on drugs and you're upset because you won't make money? Hate when that happens.
Oh, and the men of the show do stuff, too. Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli) continues his quest to make money off porn, and Bobby Dwyer (Chris Bauer) struggles with being in charge of the parlor. The parlors are doing well, probably because the police are in on the deal. The parlors doing well also means that the pimps are increasingly obsolete. Or, in the words of C.C., they are "extraneous." They're seeing movies instead of taking care of their women. Because the parlors are now doing their job for them. (This might be why C.C. doesn't seem to care all that much when Ashley goes missing. She's not his problem anymore.)
Finally, the least satisfying storyline of the show earns some meat when Alston (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) and Sandra (Natalie Paul) give in to all that sexual tension. How's that going to figure into Sandra's epic investigative piece? Not well, methinks.
The Winning Deuce-Bag:
This week's award goes to Officer Haddix (Ralph Maccio), who stalks into the parlor and demands a $200/week fee for the "public morals committee." It's part of a push from the city to clean up the streets. Cleaning up the streets means charging parlors a fee so that you'll look the other way, apparently.
To be fair, the detectives on the police force have always been smug douchebags, especially because they always wear plaid.
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