Porn is booming in a plot-heavy episode
“Why Me?” introduces a major turning point for The Deuce. The show, until last week, had been moving at David Simon’s characteristically leisurely pace, allowing us to sink into the characters’ day-to-day lives. But circumstances around Times Square are changing, fast: stricter policing practices, loosening obscenity laws, and most importantly, a shift in where the money’s headed. A few episodes ago, it seemed unimaginable that pimps would be demanding prostitutes get off the street. But as Larry tells Darlene near the end of “Why Me?”: “With everything going on out there…. It’s about to be the movies or the whorehouse.”
That dichotomy is reflected in the episode’s two main story lines: Vince preparing to open up his new “place of business” with Bobby running the joint, and Eileen finally getting started in porn and trying to find her place in the industry. Their stories dominate more than usual, with many of the show’s more compelling side characters — namely Abby, Paul, and Darlene — only getting a scene or two apiece. Indeed, the third big story line has nothing to do with any character in particular: just the gradual legalization of porn. Altogether, it’s not a bad episode, per se, but it is definitely a more functional one than the gorgeous installments of the last two weeks.
Starting with Vince, it’s clear that our Hi-Hat manager is starting to get a bit overwhelmed, wearing a mix of physical, emotional, and moral exhaustion on his sweaty, downtrodden face. He and Bobby are trying to get the whorehouse up and running, visiting pimps and making offers in a barbershop, but initially there’s no interest — only incredulity at the idea that Vince and Bobby would charge hundreds of dollars to hole up their employees for the night. Vince pitches protection and comfort; Bobby assures he’ll be looking after things. But nobody’s buying what they’re selling.
Fortunately for them, things start happening outside the pimps’ control. With the new year approaching, the police have been ordered to institute strict new measures on the Deuce, an annual practice Alston calls “street sweeps.” “The whores of Times Square will be decidedly unf—ed from now until the holidays,” Rizzi cracks to his precinct. “[Everyone] goes in the wagon.” Indeed they do: pimps’ legally parked cars are being towed, while women working the streets are being lined up and carted away.
Sandra, observant as ever and still reporting from the sidelines, is too disturbed by everything that’s going on to even pick up on Alston’s persistent romantic interest in her. “Every shift, even daytime, they ran the wagon out at least twice,” she says of what she saw. Alston’s trying to ask her out on a date, and after some push and pull, he eventually succeeds — but her focus is squarely on these unsettling changes, and it isn’t a mistake when she refers to Alston as a “source” rather than a friend. She wants to know what’s going to happen.
Sandra’s not the only one: Everyone in “Why Me?” is preoccupied with how the industry’s going to look if police keep up their new cleanup mandate beyond Christmas. Some officers even see it as an opportunity to take the lead in profiting off of getting sex workers and pimps off the street. The same cop who essentially blackmailed Vince into giving him a small cut for keeping quiet at the Hi-Hat in a previous episode cooks up another scheme here, directly telling pimps they’ll need to relocate their “business” indoors, then letting Bobby know that women will soon be on the way courtesy of the NYPD — for a weekly finder’s fee, of course. (Bobby gruffly obliges.) The pimps, meanwhile, are back to meeting with Vince before long, letting him know that their needs have changed. They’re not pleased about it, but they agree to give his “P—y Palace” a try. They know they’re running out of options.
It’s all about new options, however, at the episode’s other end. We’ve got lots of focus on Rudy Pipilo this week as he enlists Frankie and Big Mike to check in on a convoluted, almost certainly sketchy financial agreement over his porn “machines” being leased to sex shops. The potential cheater in question is Marty Hodas, based on the real man of the same name who introduced “peep show” machines to Times Square. Frankie, Big Mike, and Rudy count quarters with him and catch him skimming, bringing the news to his own boss, Matty the Horse.
Why the sudden interest for Rudy? He’s noticing that porn might suddenly boom stateside, with obscenity laws continuing to be interpreted loosely, and says that he needs to pay attention to the business now. Later in the episode, Mike designs in a sketch drawing what we’ll come to know as the “peep show” — the private quarter-machine viewing of pornography. It’s yet another example of new money streams revealing themselves, with Rudy, as ever, catching on quickly. (Recap continues on page 2)