The Deuce 1.05: “What Kind of Bad?” Episode Review

Photo Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO

She was an American Girl, raised on promises…

We see a lot of promises broken this episode, ones made to others and to themselves. Maggie Gyllenhaal breaks our hearts as Elaine runs from stoop to lamppost to corner fleeing Method Man Rodney’s best game after a robbery and a beating from a john leaves her bloody and bruised. And we learn it’s not the first time, nor the third. Her rage, defiance, and tears are a claw to the heart. The show sometimes dips into sentimentality, but it always brings us back to the ugly truth of the life and its brazen, unfettered capitalism. She’s not the salesperson, she’s the product. 

Just like we all are these days on social media, except all we have to worry about is identity theft, not getting beaten and raped and murdered—though women get plenty of those threats on social media as well. The product can be abused; there will always be more.

Darlene shows us how fresh meat comes to the Minnesota Strip—this time from Virginia. She uses her bus ticket home from Abby not to escape the life but to lure her old friends into it. Bernice takes the bus with her to New York thinking she’s a “model” and doesn’t have to sleep with anyone she doesn’t want to. But when she learns the truth, she’s not going back. She’s seen the city. Her friends have been spinning their wheels in the years Darlene has been gone, and she wants out. She’s sixteen.

I rolled my eyes when Larry won’t pimp her because she’s so young. A pimp with principles. Maybe he got burned from running chicken before, but I found it hard to believe. Rodney has no such compunctions and gives her a new street name, “cuz no one’s gonna fuck no girl named Bernice.” Now, she’s Ginger. All she needs is a Fake ID. If you read my interview with Christa Faust about her Peepland comic book with Gary Phillips, you’ll learn how some girls entered the game by using with a fake driver’s license. There’s no reason that the girls working outside the glass on the street wouldn’t do the same, and the pimps wouldn’t give a damn. 

The Knapp Commission looking into the police graft finally gets a mention when Sondra asks Officer Alston about “the testimony downtown.” He takes offense and says that it’s just one precinct, but we later see him and Officer Flanagan get their weekly envelopes right in the open. And all they care is that it shouldn’t be so public.

We have forgotten the meaning of the adage “a few bad apples” and neglect the rest of it: a few bad apples rot the whole bunch. Maybe you start with somewhat good intentions, keeping vice sequestered in certain neighborhoods—never ones that are rich or white—but lay down with mobsters and whoremasters, and you get moral syphilis. 

Vincent doesn’t want to be a whoremaster, a pimp in his words. Rudy’s new venture is a massage parlor, a way to keep prostitutes working without it being seen on the street where people could complain about it. It’s probably a little safer for the sex workers, saving them from violence from the johns at least. Being a piece of meat owned by the mob isn’t much better.

The myth that Italian organized crime didn’t sell drugs or run prostitutes is just that: a myth from Puzo’s The Godfather, which was an outsider’s fantasy. There was no honor in it then or now, and protection rackets are no better. Leeching off legit businesses and killing people who won’t cooperate is just as low as the pimp. I recently read a crime novel with the laughable premise of a crime boss leaving because his mob moved to drugs and sex trafficking from the “honest” biz of hijacking and protection. I knew people who were murdered for not playing ball; I’m sure their children think highly of the scumbags who executed their fathers for not paying up.

Photo Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO

Bobby has a higher view of whoremastering. When the doc tells him that working at the piers is a ticket to another stroke—he’s a supervisor, I’m not exactly sure how farting in his office chair is hard labor, but I’ll play along—he tells Vinnie he’ll run the massage parlor. He’s got management experience! And he’ll be better to them than “one of those scumbags.” We shall see if the job makes a scumbag out of him. That’s usually how it plays out. 

I really enjoyed Elaine’s scene with Jack, her new boyfriend. The screenwriters are telling a lot of the story with minimal dialogue, and it really draws me in. And when they use dialogue, it shines. “Daddies, husbands, and pimps are all the same.”

Abby gets a lesson after her savior play, and Paul the bartender learns that the gay raids have moved from the Stonewall to the movie theaters where he hooks up. He’s a good bartender, and Vinnie takes his bail as a price of business.

Photo Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO

One thing I forgot from last time: when Rudy said Vinnie was a good manager because he didn’t steal, I nearly busted a gut. Everybody stole! If a bartender didn’t steal, they’d say he had no balls. They skimmed, the manager skimmed, the owner skimmed. 

The easiest way to steal was to simply not ring up drinks. Your customer puts money down on the bar, and you pour and keep them happy. They think they’re getting a few free drinks, and you pocket the whole bill. Vinnie would be the one watching, so he could steal as much as he wanted. The registers aren’t running receipts, so you clear it out after hours and ring up a bunch of fake drinks. That’s time-consuming. An easier way is to clear the register a few hours before closing, and then keep everything rung up afterward. But my favorite scam of all time was run by my Uncle, of course. 

He ran a bar for a Jersey power broker whose last name begins with A. He’s still alive, so that’s all I’ll say. Mister A was tight and watched his bartenders like a hawk. He knew they were stealing—maybe twenty percent of the take—but he couldn’t tell how. He counted the receipts, and the right number of drinks were being rung up. He counted the bottles, and none were going out the door. No one complained about watered down drinks. A few years after my Uncle left and used that cash to stake his own bar, Mister A asked how he did it. “We replaced the glasses with smaller ones,” Unc said. He had gone to a distributor and replaced their shot and cocktail glasses with ones that looked the same but held less liquor! And that percentage, as they say, was the skim. 

And my Uncle’s bartenders paid it forward by ripping him off by giving away free drinks and extra buybacks, so karma all evened out in the end. Anyone who tells you there’s honor among thieves or pimps probably has your wallet and is halfway out the door.

See also: The Deuce 1.04: “I See Money” Episode Review


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.”


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