The powerful first season comes to a harrowing end
“My Name Is Ruby” is about dignity. It’s about people in various professions and roles — sex work, pornography, journalism, policing, bartending, pimping — being made to feel that they matter, that they can take pride in their work, and that they are worthy of love and respect. And yet it’s also about money: the way new opportunities and resources can intervene on a common sense of humanity and community. “My Name Is Ruby” is, in other words, a fitting season finale for The Deuce.
The episode begins with Frankie and Big Mike supervising the construction of peep shows and testing out the new machines. It’s an initially surprising but clever opening: Here are two guys who were gradually brought into this arena and are relatively carefree about its implications or consequences, standing in contrast to the internal conflict every other character faces in the finale. In many ways, they’re the consumer from The Deuce’s margins: the people happily, ignorantly partaking in the brave new world being opened up by loosening laws and shifting market structures.
Frankie’s brother, Vincent, is not so ignorant. He’s a barkeep who got into business with Rudy Pipilo to pay off his brother’s gambling debt, and — after buying into promises of economic comfort and entrepreneurship — was gradually lured into seedier areas of commerce. After denying his “cut” of the quarter money that Frankie had worked out with Pipilo some weeks ago, Vince is appalled to learn that Pipilo is drawing him, his brother, and his brother-in-law into yet another venture: a three-story enterprise with peep shows, parlor activity, and VIP rooms stacked atop each other — all with city approval. Vince realizes he’s in too deep. “One day I’m paying off my brother’s gambling debts, the next day my whole f—ing family’s neck deep in running whores and dirty f— films,” he yells, before declaring himself “out.” He storms out of the newly leased building.
When he returns to the Hi-Hat, however, he appears similarly lost at sea. Abby and Paul have packed the bar with a younger, hipper crowd, hiring a rock band and opening up the dance floor, where the pot and cigarette smoke forms a heavy cloud. Vince suddenly appears 10 years older, his hands seemingly on the verge of covering his ears. You can feel him thinking, “What happened?” Mike says he likes it, Abby’s out on the dance floor swaying, and the crowd itself — in the dim, red-tinted lighting — looks like a new community that’s come together. For Vincent, it’s another extreme that makes him feel out of place.
It becomes clear that Vincent’s self-worth is tied in with a traditional masculine image. When he and Abby go back to his place after the bar concert, he asks her to move in with him along practical lines: They both hate their living situations, and they like each other’s company. Abby doesn’t bite, initially. “We’d get real possessive and start living like a sad, s— married couple arguing over who takes out the garbage,” she forecasts. He agrees to her request to be non-exclusive, saying, “Nobody owns anybody — we just lay our heads down in the same space and enjoy each other when we do.” As long as he’s the one taking out the garbage.
Yet Vincent, while mostly well intentioned, is not quite this enlightened, fun-loving guy. He believes he has a certain role that commands respect and action. When Bobby informs him that skeezy Eddie Bucco beat on his semi-ex-wife Andrea, Vincent returns to Pipilo’s crew looking for muscle. He wants to hit back, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. And hit back he does, whacking Eddie across the knees with a pool cue. It’s fleeting, of course, and enough to turn Abby off of him. But he’s quickly losing his sense of right and wrong, and this violent response is firmly in line with what he knows — and what he can feel slipping away.
There’s a fascinating parallel between Vincent and the pimps: old-guard types not yet ready to adapt to changes. In Leon’s diner, Rodney, C.C., and Larry are sitting at their usual table, minus one person — Reggie, who had just been killed next to the very spot where they sit daily, like ritual. “Reggie Love had a few things wrong, come to think of it,” C.C. says, as they semi-mourn him.
Each is trying to get on like nothing happened, boasting about their fatter-than-ever wallets under the parlor system, but their banter feels different. C.C., who’s taken Melissa under his wing, tries desperately to affirm his continued significance as a Deuce pimp. (He later runs into an old mentor, Ace, played by David Simon regular Clarke Peters, who says he got out of the game when he saw “the writing on the wall.” C.C. foolishly tries to convince him to get back into pimping, unable to see that he’s moved on to a happier life.) Larry, meanwhile, somewhat solemnly admits to hoping that there’s more to his life than where he is presently. The feeling only worsens when Barbara, after being caught scamming in the parlors last episode, is caught trying to buy drugs on Larry’s behalf by an undercover cop, and is sent to prison. The three pimps stare at the spot on the floor where Reggie was shot, in front of the counter — silent and haunted. (Recap continues on page 2)