It’s week 3 of The Deuce, and by now we know one thing for sure: Each episode is a tapestry of characters and themes and story lines. It’s almost like it’s…Dickensian, an adjective that gets thrown at David Simon productions so often that he’s started winking at it.
That’s right, numerous times throughout this episode, Simon manages to turn a show about pimps and prostitutes and barmen and gangsters into a discussion of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Does that make you feel smarter? Does it make the show smarter? Does it matter?
Probably not! But while this week’s Deuce-stallment touched on a broad number of people and places as the series winds its way toward a greater purpose, several key themes did jump out.
Prostitution Isn’t Fun
The dominant recurring theme of the night was the numbing drudgery that is street prostitution. Candy is consistently getting nickled and dimed by customers. One guy tries to attain her services for a measly 10 bucks. She watches another guy get stabbed in the street, and no one does anything about it. Elsewhere, Lori is forced to work the Lincoln Tunnel, giving blowjobs to drivers as they drive back and forth. Darlene is getting lectured by her pimp for watching A Tale of Two Cities with a client. And the illusion that things will get better seems to be fading for everyone.
The Porn Age Is Coming
In one especially sad scene, we find Candy telling her mother she’s joining the movie business. We understand that she’s lying to herself as much as she’s lying to her mother, both as a means of preserving a shred of mental sanity. But then again, she’s not exactly wrong: She takes 1970s Pornographer David Krumholtz for lunch and hits him with a pitch: Hey, let me make movies with you. Teach me, and once America’s obscenity laws catch up with Europe’s, we’ll both be poised to reap the windfall.
He’s not entirely convinced, but he’s receptive to the idea. And because we know that this show is supposed to be about porn, we know that this won’t be the last we see of 1970s Pornographer David Krumholtz.
Vinnie and Frankie Are the Worst Property Brothers
Vinnie, as always, is working hard to open up his new bar, the Hi-Hat. He’s got power tools, sledgehammers, a sweaty brow — all the things HGTV viewers know you need to fix a place up.
Frankie, meanwhile, is breaking open jukeboxes and cigarette machines and draining them of coins. This upsets the Irish mobsters, who apparently had a quarters-sharing agreement with Rudy and his Italian gang. Long story short, Rudy handles it, but it’s on everybody’s radar that Frankie is still dragging Vinnie down.
All the while, Abby is out there, doing Abby stuff. Now officially out of school and cut off by her parents up in Old Saybrook, she’s been forced to take some menial temp jobs. One is so dreary, it makes Mad Men’s McCann offices look like a Silicon Valley tech campus. The other is a generic telemarketing job. Both are so bad that she hits rock bottom: working for Vinnie. “Hey, it’ll be good for your memoirs!” he says with his irresistible crooked smirk.
When the Hi-Hat finally opens, it’s a hit: The joint is packed on opening night, and it immediately becomes the most popular place to hang out for every single person we’ve met on the show so far.
The Vietnam War Is Happening
Bobby the construction guy is having health issues on the job, which is exacerbated by the fact that some longhaired “apprentice” — who basically exists just to remind us about the antiwar student protests lighting up campuses and cities across the country — is giving Bobby the fits. Finally, he suffers a heart attack and ends up in the hospital. No word yet on what this means yet, but surely it’ll have repercussions for both the twins and the mob guys.
Midtown Is Changing
Our friendly neighborhood mob guys Rudy and Tommy have a meeting with their lawyer. They’re looking to lock up some real estate investments in Manhattan’s lower 40s, near the Lincoln Tunnel — a.k.a. Hell’s Kitchen. Despite the Daredevil’s best efforts, they succeed. But why do they want to enter this neighborhood at all?
Well, Mayor Lindsay is running for president. And it’s in the mayor’s interests to clean up New York’s most famous neighborhood, Times Square. If Times Square looks good, the mayor looks good. If Times Square looks like a dark hellhole where people get stabbed on the street every other hour and pimps are constantly arguing with their prostitutes, then the mayor doesn’t exactly look like the kind of person who’s capable of running the city, let alone the country.
What does that have to do with the mob guys? Well, the easiest way to make the connection is through the cops. We see one police captain tells his patrolmen that that very same region — the lower 40s near the Lincoln Tunnel — is off limits for arrests. The directive comes from the bosses at the top, he says.
Alston slowly starts to sniff out the ruse. That neighborhood is a low-rent area that, unlike the theater-studded Times Square area, is out of view for most people in the country. The system — the cops and the gangsters — are trying to clean up the Times Square streetscape by nudging the “rough” elements towards a neighborhood that has little to no power or influence, creating a New York version of The Wire’s Hamsterdam. The mayor benefits from this, and depending on what Rudy and Tommy are planning to do with their new real estate investments, the mob stands to benefit as well.
But what about the pimps? And the prostitutes? And the illegal street economy? What will happen to all that? That’s the big question that this episode begins and ends on. Perhaps week 4 will show us.