After last week’s tightly focused episode following the trials and tribulations of the filmmaking process, The Deuce downshifts and takes stock of its large ensemble. “The Feminism Part” is a little more scattershot than this show tends to be, featuring a couple great stories and some check-ins with characters we haven’t seen in a while. David Simon and George Pelecanos typically excel at servicing their enormous casts, but sometimes they coast off their actors’ performances and established characterizations in order to cover everyone. The Deuce usually conceals the coasting, but in “The Feminism Part,” some of the seams begin to show.
The biggest story of the week involves Vincent fleeing the city for rural Vermont in order to clear his head and catch a glimpse of a possible alternative life. The episode begins with Vincent trying, once again, to convince Rudy to let him out of the parlors and the peeps so he can just focus on the bars. After dancing around the issue for a few weeks, Tommy gives him the full rundown: It’s never going to happen. Rudy likes that Vincent is involved in that side of the business, and if he, Bobby, and Abby want to stay employed in the state of New York, then he has to stay with that side of the business. “I have never seen someone so miserable about making so much money,” Tommy tells Vincent, whose hangdog expression has become an essential part of his outfit.
Depressed by the news, Vincent grabs a whole bag of coke and a rental car to escape the city. He eventually finds a small town in Vermont, compete with a nice B&B and smiling, friendly faces everywhere. There’s a bar in town that mostly serves college kids, run by a nice guy named Jerry (Patch Darragh), who scans as an alternate-timeline Vincent — one who stuck with his family and raised his kids and didn’t get tied up in the mob. He helps out behind the bar, plays matchmaker with college freshmen, and befriends some of the townsfolk. It’s lovely to watch Vincent in his element without the burden of guilt and violence hanging over him. When he gets back to the city, he floats the idea to Abby about moving out there, but she politely shuts him down. It’s unclear if Vincent was even serious about it, but small-town Vermont looks pretty good compared to the grimy streets of midtown Manhattan.
The other major story this week involves Officer Flanagan, a sorry excuse for a cop and a human being whose nine lives are finally up. After getting drunk while bowling and browbeating his wife in front of Alston and his girlfriend, he shows up at the parlors to harass Anita (Andrea Pimentel), his lady on the side. Anita wants Flanagan to leave his wife, but of course that’s not gonna happen, so she tries to call it quits. A fight in the car ensues, which ends with Flanagan slamming Anita’s head against the window, killing her instantly.
Alston finds Anita’s body the next day, Flanagan’s watch still in her hands. He tries to get him to talk to his union delegate and turn himself in, but the end of this story has already been written. He drives down to the tracks, writes a one-line note to his wife, and puts a bullet in his head. Though The Deuce established Flanagan’s disgraceful behavior, and neatly kept his abusive, floundering relationship with Anita in the background of the season — it was ever-present without ever overwhelming the narrative — the pacing of his demise feels at odds with the rest of the season. It takes roughly 20 minutes of screen-time for Flanagan to accidentally kill Anita and then commit suicide. Maybe it happens that quickly in real life, but in the context of television, it feels rushed.
Meanwhile, life continues for everyone else in the form of subplots. Darlene finds out she’s pregnant and seeks out an abortion. Harvey and Candy meet with their mob backers, who agree to inject more money into Little Red Riding Hood, even though Candy chafes at their blatant misogyny. She brings her son to set and tries to explain what she does for a living, but ends up keeping it to herself, wanting him to live in innocence for a little while longer. Shay leaves Irene, gets back on heroin, and returns to Rodney. Dave and Abby hook up. Paul and Kenneth break up. Lori is on the verge of signing a three-picture deal with Marty Hodas, the King of the Peeps, but has been clearly relying on drugs to cope with the stress of living under C.C.’s thumb. The Deuce rightfully never privileges any one of these stories over another. They exist in the same continuum because everyone on the series shares the same pavement and the same air. They are all counted.
Yet a bad moon remains on the rise. The pimps have turned on Dorothy and Dave, who they rightly believe are trying to funnel all of their women out of the city. Vincent warns Abby about this, but she chocks it up to jealousy on his part because she slept with Dave. But Vincent’s concerns are no longer abstract. By the episode’s end, unknown assailants fire shots at Vincent while he’s with Rudy and Tommy. “Who’d you piss off?” Tommy asks, but the answer could be anyone. Vincent has had his feet planted in the Deuce for a long time now. Despite his best, most genial efforts, he’s likely made enemies, even if by association. Now, he nearly ends up dead. Vermont looks better and better every single day.
Other Tricks & Pricks:
• There’s a cute, funny subplot this week involving Bobby’s son Joey, who “falls in love” with Rachel (Rebecca Gruss), one of the parlor workers. Their relationship ends before it can begin, but it’s funny watching Bobby get tied up in angry knots because his son can’t just vacuum the floors without causing trouble.
• Larry has not only caught the acting bug, he’s also coming up with future porn titles. His latest? In the Heat of the Meat.
• C.C. is a monstrous person, but he makes a good point to Dave when the latter naïvely tries to make peace with the pimps on the basis that they’re all fighting for decriminalization: “If this shit is legal, the fuck do anyone need a pimp for?!”