You’ve gotta give the makers of The Deuce this: if they were weirdly coy about the topic of pornography in last week’s pilot episode, they’re clearly intending to make up for lost time in the second installment, “Show and Prove.” In fact, the very first scene after the opening credits (those divine opening credits) is centered on the essence of the industry: a guy taking pictures of a naked girl. What first appears to be a cheesecake photo shoot is, in fact, what amounts to a session for headshots: our hopeful, Ashley (Jamie Neumann) jots her name and number down on the back of her nude photos, so the photographer can pass them on to porn producers. And just for fun, he uses a line they still run today: “Yeah it’s acting, it’s movies. Some big stars got their start this way.”
This entry point is key, because it’s the beginning of a process – and as we’ve seen in his previous shows, co-creator David Simon loves process. The script for “Show and Prove,” by his co-creator George Pelecanos and their Wire collaborator (and celebrated crime novelist/screenwriter) Richard Price, also uses the element of Dominique Fishback’s Darlene investigating a supposedly-private “loop” of her with a client as an expositional device; we first hear the authentic term “sunlighting” (a riff on moonlighting, indicating shooting hardcore “loops” was an activity sex workers engaged in during the less-profitable daytime hours), we get our first glimpse of a Times Square dirty bookstore (circa ’71, the primary venue for both distribution and viewing of such films), and a breakdown of what can be shown where, via the scene between Lori and C.C. in the movie theater. And he knows what he’s talking about; later, during a bust of that dirty bookstore, we discover its proprietor didn’t “trim the loops” to excise the most explicit material; he responds that “Sex USA is playing at the Rialto. Out in the open!” (Sex USA, long confined to the dustbin of history, was a 1971 film from future Deep Throat director Gerald Damiano that, like the nudist “documentaries” that preceded the ‘60s “nudie cuties,” got a pass, thanks to its wobbly “non-fiction” structure.)
That movie theater conversation is one of two excellent duet scenes between Lori and her new “manager” in “Show and Prove”; the other comes earlier, as they do a bump of coke, briefly discussing that year’s Jane Fonda-fronted prostitute drama Klute (“Y’know that’s bullshit right? I hear in that movie she ain’t got no pimp”) and then chatting about their lives and future. What’s particularly memorable about the scene is the way in which the episode’s director, the great Ernest Dickerson, hangs out with the two of them; most films and shows give us the stylized snort-up close-up, and then cut to later, when they’re bouncing off the walls. Here, he holds on their conversation as the coke hits, pairing the script’s keenly observed “coke talk” with their own increasingly apparent indications of the drug taking hold. It’s a virtuoso bit of acting by Emily Meade and Gary Carr, particularly at the end of the scene, as he walks through her self-care, which he frames as his consideration, but is obviously a case of a salesman protecting his product.
And, as with the pilot, there is quite a bit of screen time for the logistics of sex work in this episode – and if the pre-title sequence of cops rounding up streetwalkers (only those with less-than-48-hour-old “property vouchers” are exempt) indicates a rough night ahead, a later scene of drunk cops joining them, and the on-duty officers ordering Chinese takeout, almost recall those Looney Tunes shorts of the wolf and sheepdog clocking in and out for the day – everybody knows everybody, and everybody is just doing their job.
More noticeable this week is the introduction of a firm Mafia presence, in the person of mobster Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli, best remembered as Jackie Aprile on The Sopranos). It was bound to happen – New York organized crime figures were a major part of the financing, distribution, and (most of all) profitability of pornography from the jump, and if James Franco’s Vinnie and Frankie are first connecting with the mob to facilitate what is, essentially, a check-cashing arrangement for construction crews, they’ll presumably make their way to other endeavors. The first step in that progression seems to be handing him the keys to one of their family’s gay bars (another quite accurate bit of business, this); Rudy brings Vincent onto the premises with a grinning, “C’mon Vince, they don’t bite,” and assures him that, should the barkeep take on the business, he can just think of Rudy as “a regular landlord.” Uh huh.
Despite the early scenes involving Ashley and Darlene, it seems that our primary gateway character to adult cinema will be Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Candy, though she’s initially resistant to the offer of going to a shoot: “$75? You could make that on the corner, whaddaya wanna go all the way up to the Bronx for?” It’s certainly not glamorous; our first glimpse behind the scenes reveals a naked guy in a basement, smoking a cigarette in a Viking hat, and when Candy asks about a script, she’s told, “This isn’t Dr. Zhivago, honey. They don’t even record sound.” The conditions are neither erotic nor professional: hot lights, a skeezy guy with a handheld camera, and a girl with a bounce board. But our Candy is immediately looking around, taking mental notes, asking questions after the fact, and when it’s over, she checks out the final product, like a football coach watching game film. She’s clearly not just there to merely act, or observe. She’s figuring out how it’s done.
A few miscellaneous observations:
- I, for one, am digging the K-BILLY’s Super Sounds of the ‘70s element of the soundtrack. There’s a whole lotta really soppy ‘70s pop on the jukeboxes in this show, and it all sounds just right.
- Best line of the episode, from sex worker to cop: “Oh you know what, I completely forgot to get an education. Can you believe that?”
- Rudy’s first line is “What is this, The Patty Duke Show?” My Parent Trap comparison in last week’s recap missed it by that much.
- In period pieces, I’m generally against winking too broadly to the audience about the shared future we all know, but Rudy’s speech about Times Square (“You think this area’s ever gonna grow, you got this kind of environment here?… Somebody’s gotta clean this place up, otherwise nothing’s gonna change”) still goes down pretty smoothly.
- Lori’s bust is an excellent example of a show taking you for a ride – it turns on you twice (or at least it did on me, because I’m gullible). She emerges in cuffs, and we’re concerned for her, both in terms of an arrest and how C.C. will react. And then C.C. stabs the undercover cop, oh shit, what’re they gonna do now? And then they reveal the bag of rope and supplies, oh shit, what was he gonna do then? Most shows are lucky to have one great twist in an entire episode. This one has two in the same scene.
- And yes, they also fooled me with the potato soup shot.
Listen to film editor Jason Bailey discuss “The Deuce” every week on “The Deuce Rethread” podcast, via the DVR Podcast Network.