The scene that directly precedes that one also works against expectation, finding C.C. and a fellow procurer talking geopolitics, specifically the president and the current conflict (“Nixon know what he doin’ in Vietnam, bruh. He know the game”). This early duet may reveal the only African-American Nixon supporter besides James Brown, but it’s also the kind of chatty, conversational, colloquial dialogue scene that runs throughout Simon’s work; he loves the sound of people talking on the corner (and all the equivalents of corners, everywhere). People talk shop everywhere on The Deuce: sex workers on the curb, pimps in Leon’s Diner, the mob guys Vinnie is forced to keep the bar open late for. And they often have funny things to say; the subject matter is serious, sometimes depressing, but this is not a joyless dirge, and there’s even the comic highlight of Candy’s encounter with a teenage birthday boy, from his stumble up the stairs behind her to her unsympathetic explanation of why she won’t be altering their agreement to the scene’s uproarious button (“Local bank, right?”).
But the show’s writers, and pilot episode director Michelle McLaren (the all-star behind some of your favorite episodes of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, and many more), are also keenly aware of the fuses they’re lighting here. There’s no soft-soaping the prostitution, its exploitation and commodification, and the directness of the connection to pornography is present even if the p-word isn’t; witness the delicacy with which that can of worms is cracked open, as Abby (Margarita Levieva), the wise college student, takes in the leotards on Vinnie’s bar hostesses and asks, pointedly, “Ever wonder what it’s like for them to be objectified?” And the episode runs right up on the exploitation of sexual assault that’s dogged other shows (Thrones in particular) by showing an encounter between Darlene (Dominique Fishback) and a man who is later revealed to be a john (“Aw jeez Darlene, you know I’m sorry. You got me goin’ tonight”).
And, of course, all the jokey low comedy between pimps matters little when their true capacity for violence is revealed. In the closing scene, we don’t know what Vinnie’s walking into when he walks down that hall, and it’s scary for both the character and the viewer; the violence he discovers is a reminder that it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, as well as a worrisome foreshadowing of what could be in store for Lori. Vinnie sees all this – and then he turns around and walks away, and that’s the note it ends on.
A few more random observations:
Listen to film editor Jason Bailey discuss “The Deuce” every week on “The Deuce Rethread” podcast, via the DVR Podcast Network.