When the dust has settled on season one of The Deuce and we’re divvying up what the show was and wasn’t, I have a feeling we’ll have a pretty even split between episodes that were and were not about porn. At this halfway point, they’re even-steven – episodes two and three going into the ins and outs (sorry) of the nascent industry, episodes one and now four putting it in the background at best. Of course, the adult-entertainment embargo in this week’s edition, “I See Money” (directed by Alex Hall, written by novelist-turned-scripter Lisa Lutz, with a story assist by co-creator George Pelecanos), is story-motivated; last week, would-be producer Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) tracked down a possible mentor in the industry, only to have him shut her down. In this space, I noted she’d probably find the motivation to find another way in; this week, she gets that motivation. Does she ever.
“I See Money” is basically a rain of garbage on poor Candy, who starts by working a porno theater due to a rainstorm (this is the second episode mentioning how rain kills the street trade; it’s the kind of little detail that’d never occur to you, but makes perfect sense), and finding her time with a client cut cruelly (and disgustingly) short by the appearance of a giant fucking rat on her shoulder. That is, indeed, when it’s time to go. Over the course of the episode, her luck continues to spiral, culminating in not only the literal death of a client mid-fellatio, but her public humiliation afterwards. Yeah, she’s gonna find a way into porn.
But before she hits that particular version of rock bottom, she maybe makes a love connection with a divorcee in a record store. We know where this is going, right? Some kind of idealized romance that falls apart when he discovers who she is / what she does? Maybe not; hell, Candy is so inside her own head by now, she can’t even summon up the nerve to walk out the door for a “real” date without the aid of some liquid courage. (Also, a moment of respect for how Gyllenhaal fills up the little pause before answering the future heart-attack victim’s “you up for a date?” question at the bar. There is a lot happening in that beat.)
In episode three, we saw the beginnings of a friendship between Darlene and Abby, via their casual literary conversation at the grand opening of the Hi-Hat. That warmth is temporarily sidetracked when they first meet again, in the bathroom of the bar; it’s an odd scene, in that its slightly hostile tone matches neither the earlier scene nor another interaction later in the episode. It honestly feels a bit like they forgot to go back and rewrite it after tinkering with the bookend conversations, but Darlene’s response to Abby’s question about why she does what she does (“I’m just trying to understand”) is priceless: “You don’t need to understand.”
And our Vinnie is continuing to make his mob minder Rudy happy; we have an early scene where Rudy announces, “Vincent, I got somethin’ big on my mind, and I got the feeling that you’re the guy for it,” but won’t explain further (“When the time comes, I’ll let you know… it’s gonna be good, and you’re gonna make real money”). An accompanying scene later in the episode places him in an under-construction storefront that explains little more: “What am I lookin’ at?” “Your future.” Hmmmm.
Yet the best scenes in “I See Money” are the low-key, conversational ones: the quiet chit-chat between Vinnie and his bartender Paul, a holdover from the establishment’s gay-bar days, doing his part to bring pronoun awareness to the straights (“Dora prefers ‘she’”); the sex workers discussing how to deal with periods; the pimps talking about how to deal with those women discussing how to deal with periods. As is often the case with Simon’s work, it’s a series about work, and workers have shop talk. By this point, it feels less like dialogue than eavesdropping – we’re getting to know these people, the streets they frequent, where to go for a cheap bite, where not to show up after midnight. The phrase “world-building” is overused in today’s popular culture, but it’s appropriate. We’ve stopped thinking about the period details and the real-life analogues, because The Deuce is achieving an inner life independent of those frames.
Oh, and also:
- Nice to see Zoe Kazan back for another scene – especially since her sharpest line, “The kids miss you,” is a necessary reminder that this is not an entirely sympathetic protagonist. Get up early on a Sunday morning for once, you bum.
- I’m willing to bet a fair amount of money that Method Man’s Super Fly look was his idea.
- The reveal that Sandra Washington is a reporter for the Amsterdam News isn’t a shocker, but kudos to the show (co-created, of course, by a former newspaper man) for name-dropping that New York institution rather than making up some damn paper.
- It remains important to reiterate, in the face of the grim subject matter, how funny the show often is; the gun-buying scene was this episode’s comic highlight, though no line in it was as funny as “You don’t go out on many dates, do you?”
- Of course, the accidentally-best line of dialogue was this one: “That was last summer.” “Feels longer.” God, I feel you.
Listen to film editor Jason Bailey discuss “The Deuce” every week on “The Deuce Rethread” podcast, via the DVR Podcast Network. Subscribe here.