Last week, The Deuce staged a war of words that saw its combatants, Candy and Rodney, criss-cross their stretch of 42nd Street. This week’s episode (“Why Me?”) tries a different but equally effective tactic: From the big-picture meta-plot to the individual storylines, everything seems headed the same way all at once. It’s the first installment of David Simon and George Pelecanos’s period piece that doesn’t feel like bits and pieces stitched together, but a cohesive whole.
You’ve got to imagine that’s how it feels to some of the characters involved, too – especially Rudy Pippolo, the Gambino captain at the center of the episode’s various intrigues. For starters, the “massage parlor” he’s bankrolling is about to open up, with his go-to guy in the Deuce, Vincent, taking point. The bluster of his brother-in-law Bobby quite nearly scuttles any hope at securing a labor force from the local pimps, but that doesn’t matter. Rudy’s got an ace up his sleeve that will be even more effective at moving the working girls off the streets and into his indoor establishments than the frigid December weather.
That’s where the cops come in. Alston and Flanagan marvel at their precinct’s plan to basically wipe the Deuce clean of pimps and prostitutes alike. Every girl on the street is arrested on sight, every shift, every night. The macks they can’t bust outright get their tricked-out cars towed, repeatedly, for no reason. Before long, no one’s making any money at all … except, as the crooked Lietuenant Sweeney points out to them, the girls who just so happen to be working at one of the mob’s many brand-new brothels in the area. And voila! Business is booming.
But that’s not the only industry on an upswing. As Candy (who’s going by her real name Eileen more and more often) learns from Harvey, her kind-hearted director in the porn business, the New York courts are slowly but surely dismantling obscenity laws. Essentially, they’re refusing to enforce them, arguing that these statutes are so vague it’s impossible for them to do so anyway. That means the skin flicks will soon be able to show the goods like they never have before, filmed right here in the U.S. of A.
Once again, that’s just what Rudy’s counting on. With Vincent’s help, he hires Big Mike and “White” Frankie to tail the bagmen for one of his associates, and learns that he’s skimming from the take – most likely with the approval of Matty the Horse, a Genovese captain who’s allegedly his partner in the trade. When Pippolo and his pals make a legit count of the profits, they discover the magnitude of the fortune they could be making, one that will only grow bigger as the movies get more legit and more popular. Meanwhile, Mike, who’s got a talent for art, draws up plans for private peep-show booths that stand to make the Mob even more money than before.
By the time Harvey, Rudy, and the Horse all pop up at the same court hearing to see yet another major obscenity beef get dismissed, you realize how connected it all really is. The women of the Deuce will get pushed off the streets by a combination of cold weather and police pressure – the latter of which is the result of an implied arrangement between City Hall and the Five Families. This all but guarantees a major windfall for Vincent’s massage parlor and all the similar businesses now being set up in the so-called “no-go zone.” (“No-go means go,” Flanagan jokes.) Throw in the court cases and the increased efficiency of the peeps, and porn films stand to see a similar influx of talent and cash. Gangsters, pimps, prostitutes, filmmakers, porn stars and even the cops – everyone’s getting paid. Everyone’s happy.
As our viewers too, we suspect – finally. Marc Henry Johnson’s script (based on a story by Johnson and The Night Of‘s Richard Price) and Roxann Dawson’s direction lay out the progress of the whole scam cleanly and efficiently, avoiding the choppy, staccato flow of previous episodes. No scene or character feels superfluous; from Black Frankie to Darlene, everyone who shows up on screen has a part to play in the larger drama.
Even a relatively minor aside works, like Paul and Abby’s discussion of his bust for “misdemeanor faggotry” and their subsequent conversation about the joy of sex (“If it wasn’t so much fun, it’d be ridiculous, right?”). It’s got a thematic connection to the idea of “no-go zones,” via his explanation that he was arrested for being gay “north of 14th Street.” But more importantly, the smiles on their faces as they talk about the sheer goofy pleasure of getting it on say a lot about why the peeps, the porn and the prostitution are big business to begin with. The demand for sex is basically bottomless, because at its best, so is its ability to make you feel good. The Deuce‘s task is to demonstrate all the drudgery that goes into turning that feeling into a commodity, available for purchase at a theater or brothel or corner near you. That, and making something that’s still enjoyable to watch. This week out, they pulled it off. Kudos.
Previously: The Battle of 42nd Street