The Deuce I See Money review

(We’re going to kickstart our weekly discussion of HBO’s The Deuce by answering one simple question: who or what is the “best bet” in this week’s episode?)

This week’s episode of The Deuce is remarkable on two fronts: one, it’s a domestic episode in a series that’s so focused on specific lines of work, and two, it introduces the show’s queer storylines. These developments are intertwined; The Deuce is about the porn industry, but it’s not a story that can properly be told without taking its context into account. There are the ramifications of the Vietnam War, of cleaning up New York City, of the Stonewall riots — it’s testament to The Deuce that it manages to capture that scope.

This Week’s Best Bet: Candy

There may be two James Francos in The Deuce, but the biggest and best presence in the show is still Maggie Gyllenhaal. This week’s episode has a lot in it, but it’s all built around Candy’s storyline. Especially now that she’s gotten a glimpse of a different life, her current gig is starting to get old. First, as she’s working a movie theater, a rat almost climbs into her hair. She shrieks, accidentally clocking her john in the face, and runs out into the lobby, where a second man gives her the old up-and-down before approaching her with another proposition.

But her streak of bad luck doesn’t end there. A john she brings back to her apartment dies as she’s giving him a blowjob, earning her ridicule from the pimps when they hear what happened the next day. They call her the “mouth of death,” and make fun of her, bursting into applause when she gets up to leave the diner, instead of offering her any empathy. The only person she can really turn to is Ruby (Pernell Walker). She heads to Ruby’s apartment directly after dealing with the dead john, alerting the people on that floor of the building as well as a police officer outside in a tone of voice that suggests exhaustion more than anything else. After she arrives, the two of them talk about johns — they never ask what the girls like, as evidenced by the terrible wine one john keeps bringing Ruby — as well as, in vague terms, a colleague who’d died the year before.

There’s a little of that vulnerability in Candy’s interaction with Jack (Will Chase), a man she meets at a record store while still in her “civilian” life. He asks for her phone number, and she listens to his message asking her on a date over and over again before finally actually seeing him. The date is awkward, though it’s not necessarily bad. It’s difficult for Candy to be herself (to be Eileen, as she introduces herself to Jack) to the point that, after a while, she isn’t. But though she kisses Jack at the end of the night (and though she heads back out immediately afterwards to work again), she doesn’t invite him up. It’s a date, not a job. Maybe it’ll be a good thing.

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Travels With My Aunt

Darlene (Dominique Fishback) also continues to be one of the strongest presences on the show. She’s not in this week’s episode much, but her scenes still speak volumes. When Abby (Margarita Levieva) asks her why she does what she does, Darlene deflects the inquiry. Abby will never have to do the kind of work that Darlene does; as much as she may want to understand her, she’ll never be able to imagine what it’s like in her shoes. So, later, when Abby offers Darlene another book as well as a bus ticket to go visit her aunt, it’s a bittersweet kind of gesture. It’s not enough. Darlene knows that, as she returns to Larry; Abby doesn’t.

Meanwhile, Sandra (Natalie Paul) is also still trying to understand the life of the sex workers around her. She’s picked up by the police after hanging out with a few of them on a street corner, but Officer Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) is quick to spot that she doesn’t belong. As he lets her go, she asks for his phone number. Unfortunately for him, it’s not a romantic interest — she wants what he knows about the girls, and wants someone to show her around.

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Tough Love

The Martino brothers (James Franco) aren’t having a great time, either. Frankie’s still gambling, and Vincent’s having to deal with the construction gambit starting to break down, as the men start refusing to cash their checks through him, leading to a little physical enforcement on the part of the mobsters which, in turn, doesn’t fly well with Bobby (Chris Bauer). In fairness, though, there’s a slight lack of transparency going on with Bobby, too, as his lunch with Vincent is crashed by Andrea (Zoe Kazan), who asks Vincent to come home. But Vincent knows better, and though he tells her he’ll come visit the kids soon, he refuses her offer to move back in. It helps that he’s been getting closer to Abby, too. After a fight breaks out at the bar (leading a police officer to extort Vincent into a “safety” tax), Vincent makes his move, and the two of them end up having sex at the bar.

It’s an uncomplicated scene in an episode that’s chock-full of difficult relationships. There’s Candy and Jack’s date, for instance, and also, more strikingly, the affair between Barbara (Kayla Foster) and Melissa (Olivia Luccardi), and the relationship between Paul (Chris Coy) and his more conservative boyfriend, not to mention Vincent. Despite how times are changing for the LGBTQ community, there’s still a long road ahead, as evidenced by how his boyfriend seems cagey about being seen in public together, and by how it takes a little explaining before Vincent quite gets what being transgender (and preferred gender pronouns) means. It seems strange, in retrospect, that it would take so long for a show about sex to get to queer relationships; hopefully we’ll be seeing a little more of that exploration through the rest of the season.

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