Take what comes. But show no ambition.
Sandra learns that corruption and power are perpetual motion machines. Her source won’t go on the record. He’s taken a deal of his own and left her without a story of a city complicit in the sex trade. Rather, he’s given her “the same old story” of country girls lured in by the Big Apple and preyed on by men who monetize them.
We have seen men exerting their power over women in The Deuce in the most extreme way: with violence. We've seen less of them abusing authority and workplace power to extort sexual favors. Abby takes the lead in her relationship with Vincent and lets him know from move one that she’s driving. Harvey the porno director weasels a date out of Eileen in this finale. They go to the premiere of a big-budget porno that changes the game completely and “made thirty grand in its first week.”
That movie turns out to be Deep Throat, which I guessed a few episodes back when Paul was talking about it. And he’s right; if you haven't seen it, it is about a woman whose clitoris is behind her uvula. How convenient!
I watched some of Deep Throat many years ago because of its infamous reputation, and it’s funnier than it has any right to be. The doctor who finds Linda Lovelace’s misplaced clitoris looks like Grouch Marx and hams up the role. Her roommate is a brassy broad who sits on the kitchen counter while her boyfriend goes down on her. She sarcastically asks him before she lights up, “Do you mind if I smoke while you eat?” I really don’t remember much more from Deep Throat—except for Lovelace’s famous lack of a gag reflex—but if you go to the Coney Island sideshow to see the sword swallower, she’s more impressive.
Deep Throat made pornography a household word—kind of the Fifty Shades of its day—playing into Eileen’s masterful philosophy of porn: “The fantasy is that women are more sex-crazed than men. That we want it from anyone and anything, even a dog.” And Deep Throat gave men a fantasy of a woman who can only orgasm while performing the supplicant act of fellatio to the point where she can’t even breathe.
The revelation comes from Big Mike’s “masturbatorium” booths; after they are installed at all the porno shops, sales skyrocket, and the mob can tell which films make the most money. Black men and white women, lesbian, and extreme stuff bring in the most coin. All Mike gets for his innovation is kudos from Frankie, who has the porno shop load up a children’s cartoon for Mike to watch as the first masturbatorium customer.
Vinnie is still against the “pussy trade,” as Rudy, Frankie, and Bobby call it. And they are expanding even further, with VIP rooms and a three-story palace with booths on the bottom and a penthouse for high rollers. He gets a wake-up call when his sister tells him that his estranged wife, Andrea, got beat up by a boyfriend who says he’s mobbed up. After checking with Tony to see if he’s protected, they find him in a pool hall, and Vinnie lays a beatdown on him. Abby rightly asks him why he did it. Was it for Andrea, or for himself?
The Avenger Whose Honor is the Real Victim is a common trope in crime fiction, and it’s nice to see it exposed here. But there’s a lot of story in this finale, and we don’t get to explore much. I’m glad they’re getting a second season, and hopefully, this will get more time. I mean, I don’t want or expect Vinnie to ever be “woke,” but sometimes it’s good to watch a character explore his own motivations.
I still would prefer if Frankie was a teratoma attached to Vinnie’s chest like a goiter rather than a separate, unnecessary character. I can’t see how they would pull a reveal in Season 2 that they are actually the same person, but he’s good to have around in case they need to kill any of the main characters and want to keep Franco on the screen.
I know I’ve harped on this, but it makes me wonder every time Frankie’s on the screen. I’ll chock it to Franco needing to be quirky, but he looks weak compared to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s arc, which is so much stronger. We’ve been waiting for Harvey’s car to break down so she could direct, if only so the screenwriters can make a hilarious comparison to Truffaut and Hitchcock’s camera theory as it relates to porn (and don’t forget they used the North by Northwest train going into a tunnel gag back when Eileen gave the birthday boy his present!)
This is a satisfying tie-up for a season that leaves me eager for more. They do so much with so little, even using negative space. Stretch is gone after he iced Reggie Love for beating his girls. The pimps mourn his passing as they parcel out his stable, but no one mentions what happened to Stretch. I guess the tall man is off doing … a stretch in Riker’s, waiting for trial. The men express more through words than the women, who get lingering reaction shots that say so much more.
Stretch had his scene last episode, and Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe, The Following) gets his this time after a soured drug deal sends his best worker, Barbara, off to federal prison. He doesn’t look like he’s wondering if she’ll flip. He looks lonely, which I’m glad he’s allowed to be. We can see even pimps as people when the show leavens the story with our cultural desire to see them murdered.
Another nice surprise was meeting CC’s mentor, Ace, played by one of my favorite actors, Clarke Peters (Lester Fream from The Wire). I haven’t seen him since Underground, and he plays a similar wiser older man here—a pimp who retired from the game. Ace still dresses like he’s a player, but now he’s a husband to one of his women, who brings the groceries to the bar and takes him home. CC (Gary Carr, Downton Abbey) is another favorite character, who lashes out without knowing why. He knows his time in the game is short now that the Deuce is taking its vice indoors, and having his mentor confirm that “free love” has killed the game leaves him on edge.
I would’ve liked to meet Eileen’s brother earlier. He seemed tacked on to give us more of a look at how difficult it was to be gay at the time. I thought Paul filled that role well, and I’m glad they hinted that he’ll be opening his own place in Greenwich Village next season. New York was a lot more than the Deuce.
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.”