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‘The Deuce’ Recap: It’s (Still) A Man’s World

After Lori wins an award, CC strikes back and a cash-poor Candy is forced to turn a trick

Episode 11 (season 2, episode 3), debut 9/23/18: Lori Meade.photo: Paul Schiraldi/HBO

Lori Meade in HBO's "The Deuce."

Paul Schiraldi/HBO

A review of this week’s The Deuce coming up just as soon as we measure for drapes…

“Don’t forget what you are.” -CC

“Seven-Fifty” opens in similar territory to last week’s “There’s An Art To This,”  with a pimp visiting a local transportation hub and being revealed as less confident and in control as he seems. This time out, it’s CC turning shockingly vulnerable and childlike at the prospect of having to get on an airplane for the first time. He decides to let Lori fly to Los Angeles without him, and for a moment it seems like the best thing that could possibly happen to her. She’ll be in a glamorous new city, where porn is taken more seriously, and she’ll be able to network without her angry, jealous pimp looking over her shoulder the entire time.

This is, more or less, what happens. She loves her hotel room overlooking the Hollywood Hills, she has a blast at the awards show even before she wins her category, impresses local talent scout Greg Taylor, and goes to bed with him only because she wants to, not because it’s a job.

But the whole thing is, like the idea Candy is pitching during her time in L.A., a fairy tale, and not the reality of Lori’s existence. While she’s giving her speech, CC is at home, forlornly watching $100,000 Joker’s Wild and stewing over his cowardice and the thought of Lori being without him. He has massive FOMO (not that anyone called it that in 1977), but also the fear of a man used to tightly controlling the women in his life when one of those women is a continent away from his reach. Lori comes home carrying the trophy and tales of the sunny West Coast, believing she has crossed over an important threshold in her career and life, no longer wanting to turn tricks when she can focus on her acting. CC quickly and cruelly disabuses her of this notion, laughing at the idea that she won the award for her skills as a thespian (even though Greg and others have sincerely praised her for the non-sexual aspects of what she does onscreen), then hurling the trophy against the wall of their dingy apartment. Lori could have simply stayed in LA and pursued a more ambitious career in porn, but she assumed the award gave her enough legitimacy that even CC could recognize it. All he has ever been about, though, is putting her and every woman in what he believes to be their place, servicing him and his needs, desires and insecurities. It’s a brutal moment but one that feels inevitable from the moment he freaks out in the airport parking lot.

If “There’s An Art to This” illustrated the small ways that women have seized power in this evolving sexual economy, “Seven-Fifty” finds them encountering harsh reminders of just how little that power gets them. Lori is humiliated by CC. Darlene discovers that she’s being paid less than her white co-star Kelly because, as Bernie will bluntly put it later, she’s “the wrong part of the Oreo.” (And Larry is too distracted by his own desire to be in movies — even though he’s also the wrong color, per Bernie — to actually fight for her.)

Candy’s time in Hollywood goes significantly less well than Lori’s. She feels understandably jealous of Harvey when he wins an award, because as even he admits to her right beforehand, the scene she directed is the one that everybody loved. She turns on the charm and effectively lays out her vision for the Red Riding Hood movie, but the only money she makes on the trip is a $10,000 check — a fraction of the $200,000 to $300,000 budget she says she needs to do the movie properly — and that’s from a guy who gives it to her in exchange for both a good chunk of the movie’s profits and oral sex. Where Lori comes out of the awards show feeling ready to give up prostitution, Candy finds herself back in that profession again after escaping years before. Considering what she made while strolling the Deuce, it’s a very lucrative blow job. (And the wonder of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance in that scene is how she lets you see Candy’s disappointment at the turn the meeting has taken, but also Candy doing the mental math about why she should nonetheless take this deal.) But it’s a reminder that no matter how much talent she demonstrates, how much independence she believes she’s carved out for herself, the rest of the world will always see her as a whore — or, at least, as a woman, which seems only slightly more respectable in the world in which these characters travel.

We cut directly from Candy giving Alex the studio guy what he wants to Paul and Kenneth signing the lease on their new bar. Often on The Deuce, we move from one locale to the next simply because we need to check in on different characters, but this edit feels especially pointed. Candy has to literally prostitute herself to get much less money than she needs, whereas Paul secures a $13,000 loan from Vincent simply because he and Vincent have a good working relationship after all these years, and because Vincent respects Paul’s desire to set up a business independent of the Gambinos. (Candy could probably finance her movie with Mob money, but doesn’t want to, and Harvey is refusing to cut her a similar loan.) And later in the hour, Frankie‘s latest theft from the Show World safe lands him an entire business (a dry cleaner in Midtown) during one of his rare runs of good luck at the poker table. Cash doesn’t always fall into the laps of the men on this series, but it happens a lot more regularly for them than it does for the women.

Abby spends the episode reconnecting with Dorothy and learning what she and her lawyer friend Dave (Sebastian Arcelus from Madam Secretary) are doing to improve the quality of life for sex workers in the neighborhood. Dorothy has completely turned her life around from her days as Ashley, turning a corner in a way that Candy and Lori aren’t quite able to. (It helps, of course, that she’s no longer any kind of sex worker herself, even if she’s trying to help those who still are.) In the hour’s electric final scene, she has the bad timing to emerge from the Hi-Hat bathroom right as CC is throwing a small tantrum at Abby. There would never be an ideal moment for the two to reunite, but when CC spots The One Who Got Away right as he’s in the midst of a meltdown over the idea of Lori doing the same, the threat of violence hangs painfully in the air. That CC is able to hold himself together and just bitterly wish Dorothy a good evening doesn’t even provide the relief we might hope for, because Gary Carr plays the moment so that CC is practically vibrating with rage — at Dorothy, at Lori, at all these women who keep refusing to acknowledge his sovereignty over them, and at the way the world at large does the same. He doesn’t attack Ashley (who, remember, he slashed with a razor at the end of the series’ pilot) but he so clearly wants to, and neither Abby nor Dave could have stopped him if he’d tried. When a bewildered Dave asks who that was, Ashley composes herself enough to say, “Nobody” — which she knows is the worst possible insult CC could endure — but for a few agonizing seconds there, she’s no different from Candy in the studio executive’s office: a former prostitute being reminded that the world may always think of her that way.

Some other thoughts:

* HBO ordered a third and final season of The Deuce on Thursday. Creators David Simon and George Pelecanos have long said they had a three-season plan for the show — early Seventies, late Seventies, mid-Eighties — so the decision stays true to that plan.

* Line of the season so far goes to Shana, who, during an interview at the awards show, explains that her upcoming project is a parody of Westworld — the Yul Brynner movie being only four years in the past — “only instead of cowboys and Indians, it’s sex robots.”

* Simon and Pelecanos promised that Leon wouldn’t be going away forever, and they’ve kept their word as the very tall short-order cook has a low-key homecoming at the diner, much to the indignation of Rodney, who’s still upset about Leon killing Reggie Love.

* Shay has had addiction problems since the first season, but she seems to be doing particularly badly this season, despite the best efforts of Irene to protect her.

* A few Wire hat-tips over at the massage parlor, including: Black Frankie explaining that he’s from West Baltimore (and thus not a hockey fan) and Bobby evoking the Greek when he complains of Tommy, “Always business with you.”

* Party like it’s 1978: Gene Goldman‘s briefing for the confused and bored cops includes reference to the city building a convention hall, which will turn out to be the Jacob Javits Center, where, among many other events, New York Comic-Con is held. While Rudy‘s at Club 366, he’s impressed to spot hard-partying SNL star John Belushi, and Michael Rispoli does a pretty good impression of Belushi’s famous Samurai character.

* Among this week’s songs: “Angel Voice” by Ornette Coleman (Officer Flanagan raises a fuss at the massage parlor), “Endless Journey” by Clyde Lucas (porn awards), The Flaming Groovies’ “Shake Some Action” (Abby and Dorothy talk at the Hi-Hat), Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (Mike confronts a dealer at 366), “Let’s Get in Touch” by Terry Weiss (playing at 366), Tavares’ “It Only Takes a Minute” (porn awards afterparty), Tee Fletcher’s “Down in the Country” (playing at Leon’s), Honi Gordon’s “My Kokomo” (Mob bosses sit down), Elvis Costello’s “Waiting For the End of the World” (the Irish bar card game), “Dancin'” by Crown Heights Affair (Rudy at 366), “The Blessing” by Ornette Coleman (Tommy Longo stops by the parlor) and Lou Reed’s “How Do You Think It Feels” (CC and “Ashley” cross paths at the Hi-Hat).

What did everybody else think?

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