The last shot of the wonderful opening credits sequence always makes me gag; that barefoot splashing into a filthy Times Square puddle. Walking in sandals in New York City is still a gamble, and I wonder if podiatrists have to treat rare bacterial diseases of those who dare. But enough about feet, this episode is about the Mouth of Death. Lisa Lutz of the Spellmans series wrote this teleplay, and it’s one of the best so far. We're halfway to the finish line.
I’m glad that gays and lesbians are finally getting their piece of the pie. Paul the bartender opens up in this episode, dating, tending bar with his guns out, and ignoring when Vincent calls his last place of work a “fag bar.” That would be what it was called then. Watching an old episode of Will & Grace, I was surprised at how often the word was used for laughs just a decade or so ago. If anything, the cops in Vincent’s new bar are less homophobic than they would have been back then.
And, as if they read my last recap, we get to the cop graft that was rampant at the time. After a cop starts a brawl in the bar, they arrest a bunch of customers, then Sweeney shakes Vincent down for a weekly protection payoff. He points at a customer in drag to convey what kind of protection; the cops won’t raid them for having gay patrons. Even after the Stonewall riots, which Paul name-checks earlier, the cops were still arresting people for being gay for “propositioning.” They simplify the graft structure, but I’m glad they made it clear that the mob wasn't the only violent thugs squeezing dollars out of Times Square.
The gay-bar raids that led to the Stonewall riots involved trans, gay, and lesbian people of color, but we see few of them here. I wonder if a new “Omar” will appear later on. It was a diverse crowd then, more so than now, and the show is doing a decent job portraying that. The violent New York we’re elegizing here is still how many outsiders view it if they grew up hearing the murder rate on the news every night. And that, in part, drove white flight to the suburbs all over America—a mass exodus, which paired with redlining, gave us a more segregated culture than ever before.
If the show keeps up its habit of great set-piece scenes—like the streetwalkers talking about working while on their periods and grossing out their pimps, the Blowjob of Death, and Darlene and Abby’s bathroom conversation about their jobs (“You only got to shake your ass for tips”)—viewers will remember come Emmy time. The characters are pairing off with each other in droves: friendships, hookups, and otherwise. Journalist Sondra Washington gets hauled in on the nightly roust, and Officer Alston immediately can tell she’s not a working girl. They connect, and what he thinks is a date is something else entirely.
Abby’s always in control, and now she’s in her element: surrounded by men who see themselves above paying for it and somehow think they have anything she wants. Her refusal to bow to their narcissism makes her all the more alluring to them. She plays a dangerous game with Darlene, and I’m afraid of how that will turn out. We haven’t seen much male violence since the start, and I think they’re saving it for a shocker next time around.
Vincent’s unintended consequences for helping his brother come to a head here when the check-cashing scam goes south. The men don’t want to pay five percent off the top, and the mob boys deal with it as you’d expect. But Frankie’s debt is paid, for now. I’m not buying the twins as much anymore, and I’m beginning to think splitting them into two characters was a mistake. Why not make Vinnie a degenerate gambler? We could call him Frank Vincent.
Speaking of: RIP. That fine actor would’ve fit right in on The Deuce. Maybe not as his usual silverback goombah, but with a pair of steel-rimmed specs as a pervert shuffling down the street.
Thomas Pluck has slung hash, worked on the docks, trained in martial arts in Japan, and even swept the Guggenheim museum (but not as part of a clever heist). He hails from Nutley, New Jersey, home to criminal masterminds Martha Stewart and Richard Blake, but has so far evaded capture. He is the author of Bad Boy Boogie, his first Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller, and Blade of Dishonor, an action adventure which BookPeople called “the Raiders of the Lost Ark of pulp paperbacks.”
Joyce Carol Oates calls him “a lovely kitty man.”