When we first met the Deuce (the place), it was whole. It was a thriving industry built atop a community. That community wasn't perfect — as evidenced by C.C.'s (Gary Carr) habit of slashing women's armpits — but there was a status quo that felt whole. The finale of The Deuce presents a community divided. As the porn industry grows, the sex industry suffers, at least between 40th and 48th street in midtown Manhattan. The death of Ruby (Pernell Walker) demonstrates the great, great price of this industry shift. Eileen (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is finally a glamorous porn star, but her best friend was just defenestrated.
When the show started, the Deuce was almost a land of equality. Women of all types stalked the streets and made cash for their pimps, who also came in all kinds. (Shout out to Gentle Richie, who didn't appear in this episode, but was a favorite of mine throughout the season.) When the parlors arrived, sex work became a luxury — the men paying for sex were perhaps more wealthy, and they were looking for something unattainable. Ruby tells Officer Alston (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) in this episode that she didn't get much work in the parlors. The guys who like her, she says, are more comfortable on the streets, where their sexual preferences aren't under scrutiny.
This episode toys a lot with the idea of shame. Marty Hodas (Saul Stein) explains to Eileen which types of porn perform best with customers. Shame is key — if customers have to watch videos in public, like they do at Mooney's (E.J. Clarke), they're less inclined to engage with their actual sexual interests. But with Mike's (Mustafa Shakir) new invention of the masturbatory, customers are more likely to watch what they actually want to watch. Accord to Hodas, this is interracial sex or lesbian sex. There's even one loop playing Dutch porn. This porn involves bestiality. So, when it comes to "loops," or porn that can be showed in private, sexy comes in all forms. Porn in movie theaters, though, won't be given the same generosity.
Of course, if you don't want to go into porn after being a sex worker, there's another option: organized crime in general! When the sex workers are forced off the street, Barbara goes into the drug business with Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe). She meets her downfall quickly after, though — that's what it's like to be on the bottom half of this divided community.
Where does a pimp go when the police start arresting their women? C.C. is convinced he's going to be fine. When we meet his mentor Ace, we know this isn't true. Ace is done with the sex trade. He has a wife and doesn't even own a car anymore. Ace points out that "pussy" is in lower demand. Anyone can pay to watch porn in the deuce. And, he says, the '70s-era attitude towards sex means that men can actually sleep with real woman. Why hire a sex worker when you can just convince your co-worker to get in bed?
"That's why they call it free love," he says.
C.C. is indignant: "Always gonna be hos, and they always gonna need a man to hold their money," he says. Still, though, he's feeling the repercussions of this newly stratified industry. He isn't allowed into the Deep Throat premiere party, even though he has Lori (Emily Meade) on his arm.
This is all too much for perennial good guy Vince (James Franco), who started this show as a guy who just needed to pay his brother's gambling debts. Vince sums it all up in one line actually.
"One day I'm paying off my brother's gambling debt, the next day my whole family's neck deep in running whores!" he says when Rudy Pipilo presents him with his earnings from Marty Hodus. (Pipilo is skimming off the porn industry in the Deuce, which Hodus runs.) He's uncomfortable with it all, but his family is distinctly not. Bobby (Chris Bauer) officially has a mistress (Tiffany) and Frankie is reaping the rewards of his relationship with Pipilo.
It's all too late to get out of it, though. Vince is officially in bed with the mob, and he only briefly seems annoyed at Pipilo. Later, he uses this relationship to his advantage when he finds out Andrea (Zoe Kazan, who did not rematerialize in this episode, thank God) suffered at the hands of Eddie (Michael Lombardi). He takes a pool cue to Eddie, with Tommy Longo (Daniel Sauli) at his side.
How is he any different from the mob now? Abby (Margarita Levieva), our resident sociologist and cipher, point this out later. It's one of her more useful scenes, actually. Abby's been a painful "too cool for school" 20-year-old this entire season. Her purpose, it seems, was to provide an intellectual understanding or a feminist perspective of all the dicey proceedings. This never really came in handy until the finale.
"You think I like seeing that?" Vince says, talking about Ruby's dead body, which is out on 42nd street for all to see.
"That?" Abby says reproachfully.
"Her," Vince corrects. Abby then points out that Vince didn't beat up Eddie because Eddie hurt Andrea. Vince beat up Eddie because he wanted to feel like he was in charge.
Still, Vince insists he's a good guy. "You got me wrong, Abby. Way wrong. I love women. But it's the Deuce," he says. Not really the strongest argument, Vince. (Raise your hand if you think Vince and Abby moving in together is a terrible idea.)
The finale's most bizarre turn takes place at a mental hospital, where Eileen meets with her brother Patrick (Dennis Flanagan). There have been hints that she has a brother during the season; this is the first time we've met him. He's gay, and he's undergone electroshock therapy to "cure" him of this. Like Ruby's death, Patrick serves to remind us that the '70s weren't as cool as they seem sometimes. Yes, there was free love, and yes, there were premiere parties for feature-length porn films, but there was just as much judgement and shame.
"Patrick, the world is changing. Most people don't fuck with you, not like they used to," Eileen tells her brother. She's right, but this is the '70s — the world is just years away from the AIDs crisis.
Eileen's directing debut is the one true happy moment of an otherwise upsetting finale. Harvey (David Krumholtz) doesn't make it to set for work, which seems a little too fortuitous. And Eileen takes the stage as director, bossing around the Director of photographer, who looks a little too much like a 2017 cinematographer for my liking. (Certain people in this show look like they could live in Bushwick in 2017. He is one of them.)
She provides this one loaded directing statement: "The dick takes us in."
She's talking about narrative in porn, but she might as well be talking about the porn industry itself. She may be making movies, but the patriarchy is steering this ship; it's built on dicks.
Oh, and Sandra (Natalie Paul) got her piece published. It was a public interest story. She and Alston probably broke up. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
The Winning Deuce-Bag
The last and final award for the show's winning deuce-bag goes to Bobby Dwyer, who borrowed set pieces from A Midsummer's Night Dream for his parlor, and didn't think to actually look up the show.
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