'The Deuce' Recap: Mo' Money, Mo' Problems - Rolling Stone
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‘The Deuce’ Recap: Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

Amid the Eighties whirlwind of flash and cash, anxiety is growing for Candy, Frankie, Rudy, and more about how to carve a path forward

Michael Gandolfini in The Deuce.

Michael Gandolfini as Joey in 'The Deuce.'

Paul Schiraldi/HBO

A review of “Morta di Fame,” this week’s The Deuce, coming up just as soon as I run for town whore…

Late in “Morta di Fame,” Lori vents to her agent Kiki about the conditions of her recent porn shoots. “This thing doesn’t last forever,” Kiki warns her. “Not for anyone, not for you.”

This is the final season of The Deuce, and one back to an eight-episode order after last year’s experiment with nine. Other series from other creative teams might feel more urgency about getting their endgame into gear, but that’s never been how David Simon, George Pelecanos, and Company operate. They know this show won’t last forever, but they’re still methodically setting up this final batch of stories, after spending much of “The Camera Loves You” checking in with everyone as 1984 turned into 1985.

So Candy is sketching out the film she wants to make without Harvey‘s money (albeit with his creative input), but she doesn’t yet have a concept even as concrete as “Little Red Riding Hood as porn.” And her relationship with Hank crosses a few hurdles, first with her telling him about her work, then with her discussing it openly at a dinner with his friends. Hank seems unfazed — and, unlike some of her exes, more interested in Eileen herself than in getting to date, as she puts it, “the porn chick” — but she’s been burned before. (Also, Corey Stoll is good at playing apparent nice guys who turn out to be jerks.)

Frankie sees a potential gold mine in the world of amateur films — “I shoot pretend amateur porn,” he says, watching the “really real” stuff in amazement — but his desire to hold Rudy at arm’s length leads him to make a deal with “the king of porn,” Robert DiBernardo, who it turns out also distributes child pornography. Rudy, meanwhile, feels increasingly anxious about the rising influence of the ruthless John Gotti in the Gambino family, which would make things a lot less pleasant for Vince, Paul, and everyone else who’s part of Rudy’s relatively laid-back, unofficial crew.

Bobby and his toupee aren’t getting much respect at the massage parlor, where one of the women bluntly asks what it is he does around there, while his son Joey has found a new home down on Wall Street, where he helps out the college-educated finance bros with illegal extracurriculars like cocaine and prostitutes for a stag party. (And Michael Gandolfini gets to play into adulthood after passing for a high schooler last season.)

Many problems just never seem to go away. Near the end of Season Two, Gene Goldman put Alston on the path of the owners of some of the Deuce’s sketchiest real estate. That was many years ago in the series’ timeline, but Alston is only now getting an opportunity to go after one of these guys, as the owners of the Marriott Marquis grow antsy about the state of the neighborhood. And Shay staggers into the Hi-Hat so strung out and ill that Abby has no choice but to take her to St. Vincent’s, where she’s been funneling much of the cash Vince has given her over the years. Shay was in bad shape at various points in Season Two, but her condition now seems worse than ever. And when Abby returns to visit her in the episode’s final scene, Shay is gone, with no sign of what happened to her. Has she run off again? Died?

On many other shows, Shay’s return and that closing shot might be setting up a big story arc to run through the rest of the final season. That could be the case here. But it could just as easily be the show contrasting the life of someone still working the street like Shay with that of a Candy or a Melissa, who has carved out a contented little life for herself in porn. The Deuce moves at its own slow, often unpredictable pace. The season’s main plots will make themselves more apparent soon. For now, it’s satisfying just to see how the world and these characters do and don’t manage to evolve. This thing doesn’t last forever. Enjoy it while you can.

Some other thoughts:

* Party like it’s 1985: Leon serves Melissa and Candy cans of Tab, a trendy diet soda whose name would be turned into a joke later in the year in Back to the Future. In the midst of Kiki and Lori’s argument over whether Lori can cross over to do straight film work, we hear about a porn company that’s worked with real-life star Traci Lords — who would, a few years later, succeed at shifting into the kind of acting to which Lori aspires.

* Based on the timing of things, the Christopher Durang play that Todd is being considered for would be The Marriage of Bette & Boo.

* The Deuce tends not to get too showy with scenes featuring both Martino brothers, and the VFX work on those moments always looks seamless. Still, the moment where Frankie kisses Vince on the lips felt like something the show might not have been able to pull off even a couple of years ago.

* Finally, this week’s songs included: “You’re Messing Up My Mind” by Albert Washington (Candy and Melissa talk at the diner); Lori singing along to “Jump (For My Love”) by the Pointer Sisters; The Raybeats’ “The Sad Little Caper” (Shay has her coughing fit at the Hi-Hat); “White City” by Thomas Dolby and “Love Is the Message” by MFSB (366 is packed and lively); “Honey” by Marvin & Johnny (playing at the cafe in Little Italy); “So Sharp” by Dyke & The Blazers (Alston tells Jennifer his plan to go after the real estate); “The Medicine Song” by Stephanie Mills (the bachelor party at the hotel); “Fatal Crash” by Modern Art (Gene out cruising); and Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” (Melissa hangs out with her neighbor Reg).


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