The Deuce Au Reservoir Review

While cops and pimps might rule the Deuce, there’s one thing they’ve got no control over: the passage of time. Once again, The Deuce provides us with a look at the inexorable tides of change, as the sex industry continues to change and New York does, too. Some boats rise, some boats fall, but for all that the characters aren’t all experiencing the same fortunes, this is quite possibly the best episode yet.

This Week’s Best Bet: Ashley

Ashley (Jamie Neumann) — poor Ashley, bumped out of her place under C.C.’s (Gary Carr) arm and cut up for her trouble — does what until now has seemed to be impossible: she gets the heck out of dodge. The farewell is bittersweet; Jamie Neumann’s performance as Ashley has been one of the show’s highlights, but while I may be sad to see her go, I’m happy that it’s (presumably) to something better. She’s adapting in a way that the pimps aren’t — they spend the episode discussing how adrift they are as the sex industry slowly phases them out.

Since the pilot, it’s been clear that Ashley’s rope has been getting shorter and shorter, and at the beginning of this episode, when C.C. dumps her at the whorehouse to work while keeping Lori (Emily Meade) with him, saying that she needs to be rested to work on the porn shoots, she decides she’s had enough. She hangs out at the Hi-Hat instead, where she runs into Frankie (James Franco), with whom she immediately hits it off. It’s Frankie who eventually gets her connected with Abby (Margarita Levieva), who lets her hide out at her apartment while Ashley sorts out exactly what comes next. It’s nice seeing Ashley finally not under C.C.’s thumb — she cleans Abby’s apartment while she’s out and reads on the fire escape, happy in a way that we haven’t seen her before. But all things come to an end, and the episode wraps as Ashley leaves to get on a bus that will take her far from prostitution and far from C.C. The girl is gone. It’s to Neumann’s credit that this plays more complicatedly than simply flying the coop: the look on her face isn’t just one of happiness. There’s sadness there, too, though we’re not owed her full story, nor are we given it.

Red is the Horniest Color

Speaking of what’s owed and what’s not, Eileen (Maggie Gyllenhaal) doesn’t owe anyone her story, either. When Harvey (David Krumholtz) asks, she lets it go. Her life is her own, and no one else’s. Since the last time we saw her, she’s taken on a bigger role in Harvey’s porn shoots, helping to ease Lori’s anxieties about the work (to the point that Lori delights in watching her own porno once the video is produced) and starting to fuss with the details, from getting everyone fed to changing the color of the blankets.

That’s not to say that she’s managed to leave her former life entirely. To cover for the time between shoots, she’s taken up work as a high-end escort. There’s less sex, and more small talk building up to it, she tells Harvey, though she reiterates that it’s still sex. Like Ashley, it’s not a life she’s satisfied with, though without a pimp on her tail and with a possible new avenue, she’s staying put in the city. Bernice (Andrea-Rachel Parker) might not be so lucky, as she breaks down under the pressure of working at the whorehouse and is told by Darlene (Dominique Fishback) that she ought to go home.

But that’s not the only trouble the whorehouse is having. Bobby (Chris Bauer) is under pressure from yet another branch of law enforcement to pay a bribe in order to keep operating, and he’s also dealing with one girl fainting from an overdose, and blacklisting two others after they steal from a john. One of the thieves, Melissa (Olivia Luccardi), is having an especially rough time of it, as Reggie (Tariq Trotter) makes his displeasure clear over and over again by hustling her out of Leon’s (Anwan Glover) diner every time he sees her there. Unfortunately for Reggie, Leon — who, over and over again, has advocating as much as he can for the girls that come by — has also come to the end of his rope. The next time he comes in to yell at and manhandle Melissa, Leon shoots him on the spot.

Boys in the Sand

The thread of queer narratives is still very much in the forefront of The Deuce, as this week’s episode sees the explicit introduction of Boys in the Sand, a landmark gay pornographic film. Paul (Chris Coy) invites Frankie and Ashley to come along, as he’s friends with one of the stars, and while Frankie’s having none of it, it’s the only instance we’ve seen of gay pornography. Deep Throat also gets a mention later on, as Paul and Todd (Aaron Dean Eisenberg) discuss it in bed, and they’re both references that set The Deuce firmly in the middle of significant change when it comes to the commoditization of sex.

Meanwhile, there’s a little love in the air, first with Vincent and Abby, as Abby takes him to a party thrown by her parents, and then between Officer Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) and Sandra (Natalie Paul). His wooing finally pays off, as they share a kiss and then a night together, though it’s a happiness that’s short-lived as there’s a shake-up at the station. There’s a new sheriff in town, as it were, and he asks Alston to give him a tour of the block. He means to institute change, and a part of asking Alston to show him around is sussing out exactly what kind of man he is. Where is his place in the Deuce that’s to come?

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