For my money, one of the best things about The Wire was how it portrayed both the creation of policy and the interpretation of it – the goings-on in the halls of power, and how those moves were read on the street. There hasn’t been too much of that on The Deuce so far, but episode six (titled “Why Me?”) delves into that duality, as we see both the gradual (and borderline inexplicable) loosening of the “community standards” that have kept pornographers in the shadows, and the reading of that adjustment by those it affects.
There’s a “change in the weather” w/r/t the obscenity laws, Harvey explains to Candy, the baby-steps of previous years (“one pubic hair at a time”) and necessary wrapping paper of “socially redeeming value” disappearing, it seems, overnight. “These judges downtown, they’re tossing everything,” he says, and he doesn’t know why. But within minutes, we’re in a courtroom with Rudy, our entry point into the world of organized crime, as he observes the fate of “the guys who got caught with all that film out in Queens,” and it’s a decided victory. ”These personal freedoms are protected by the 1st and 14th amendments,” the judge explains, and that’s that. The lawyer puts a finer point on it: “In this town nothing’s dirty anymore.”
Including, it seems, prostitution – so long as it’s indoors. As Vincent and Bobby note, girls who go to work in the massage parlors don’t have to deal with the risks of busts (“We’re protected”), though initially, their “handlers” are unimpressed. The logistics of staffing a place like this up are unexpectedly tricky, at least until the cops start going hard on busting street-walkers. The big bust montage, by the way, is one of the most aesthetically pleasing things on the series to date (gotta love that shot of the jewelry and cash hitting the ground); credit due to episode director Roxann Dawson, an actor-turned-director (she was Lieutenant Torres on Star Trek: Voyager), and director of photography Vanja Cernjul, who’s shot every episode of the season except the pilot.
Candy, meanwhile, is back to porn, with the guidance of the ever-inspiring Harvey; when she poses the not unreasonable question, “So what’s the plan on this one,” he replies,“The plan is, you bang the shit out of each other and everybody cums.” But it’s clear, once again, that she’s not just there to perform; she’s already asking about points and royalties. And she’s a quick learner; by the episode’s end she’s functioning as an uncredited casting director, recruiting Lori as an emergency stand-in and offering up her first piece of real directing: “The camera’s the john. Fuck the camera.” (Side note: The skill with which Krumholtz is putting across both Harvey’s goodness and his sleaziness, at the same time, is really something.)
And Candy’s not the only one taking an interest in sales and royalties. “I’ve got a feeling that by the time the count gets to me, my cut isn’t what it should be,” Rudy explains to (White) Frankie and Big Mike, as he sends them on a mission to shadow the quarter pick-ups from the peep show booths. The intimidation of the later scene where Rudy shows up to “help” with the count is a dramatic high point; thematically, it’s Rudy confessing that he’s taking an interest in what’s probably a lightweight skim because “there’s gonna be real money in it now- right here, made in the USA.” Foreshadowing! (Also please note that they’re literally weighing money, where have we heard about that before?)
Even better for the bottom line: in the process of that spying trip, Big Mike gets a look at the machines – and cooks up the idea that’s gonna make the industry even more profitable. After all, as Larry assures Darlene after tracking down her “back pay” for that loop she found out about in episode two, “It’s about to be the movies… or the ho-house.” That’s turning into a bit of a manifesto, isn’t it?
Some other notes:
- This episode is, as best as I can tell, the first writing credit for Marc Henry Johnson, who is mostly known as a producer (his credits include Soundtrack for a Revolution, Michael Moore’s TV series The Awful Truth, and Spike Lee’s A Huey P. Newton Story). So thus far, The Deuce’s writers have included novelists, producers, and sound editors. Way to think outside the box, Simon and Pelecanos!
- Candy’s hasty exit from her home when her dad returns unexpectedly, hinting at a strained history with both him and her brother, is a story strand that it feels like we’re getting a little late in the season. Looking forward to seeing where it goes, though.
- Hey, check out Alston and Flanigan, doing actual police work!
- One of the things that’s cool about a big ensemble cast is when new combinations are put together, which we witness in the quiet, lovely scene of Paul and Abby having a tequila shot and a chat. These characters interact all the time, but not in ways that motivate the plot; it’s nice to get a sense of their relationship anyway.
- Dig those little push-ins in the “I trust you” scene between Rudy and Vincent, smoothly underscoring a scene that really gets at the seductiveness of working with guys like these.
- Best tiny touch: when Candy’s leading man finishes early and asks for five minutes to get back to business, and he sifts through the pile to find just the right all-male magazine.
- The sensitive, Marxist white pimp who only has one girl is a comic character who gets just the right amount of screen time, and this time, he got the episode’s best line, in response to other girls objecting that she was placed in room #1: “It’s cool, it’s not a hierarchy!”
Listen to film editor Jason Bailey discuss “The Deuce” every week on “The Deuce Rethread” podcast, via the DVR Podcast Network. Subscribe here or listen here: