“Man must be disciplined, for he is by nature raw and wild.” —Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason
The prevailing trend in this season of The Deuce has been various proverbial chickens coming home to roost. Sure, by the late ‘70s, the New York sex industry has been normalized, complete with a profit-forward framework, codified hierarchies, and established gatekeepers, but that doesn’t mean that underlying problems vanish. Characters on The Deuce tend to kick the can down the road, so to speak, ignoring the glaring complications in their path. It’s much easier to make money doing what’s always been done than to try to fix the method in the first place.
“Nobody Has to Get Hurt” exhibits this, in microcosm, with the sudden return of Barbara (Kayla Foster), who was unceremoniously arrested in an undercover sting operation trying to buy drugs for Larry at the end of last season, five years ago in the show’s time line. She returns to Leon’s diner, disheveled, thin, and mighty pissed at the sight of Larry. She stares daggers at him for a while until eventually confronting him and Darlene, calling out how he didn’t answer a single letter she sent or visit her once in prison. She intimidates him into coughing up his entire wad of cash, asks Darlene about Melissa, her former lover, and then walks out the door. Larry likely didn’t expect to ever see Barbara again, but there she is, a familiar face walking through a familiar door, only with a different perspective.
There’s Ashley, who’s pushing up against the limits of her confrontational activism. Her behavior alienates the sex workers, who are distrustful of her methods or fear blowback from the pimps, and her “save one girl at a time” approach has already made its way around The Deuce. Dave walks away from the little activism circle, claiming that Ashley’s techniques aren’t productive in the broader scheme of things. Meanwhile, the pimps have a sit-down and discuss the possibility of killing Ashley in order to solve their “brain drain” problem, but it’s C.C., of all people, who dissuades them from this line of action. After all, Ashley is a citizen now.
Despite the clearing of the air, Vincent and Abby are farther apart than ever, epitomized wonderfully by a muted, sad scene in their apartment as they read across from each other. Vincent can’t get through Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and puts it down in a heartbeat, but when Abby tries to connect with him by saying she couldn’t finish it either, Vincent responds, warmly but callously, “Difference is you wanted to. I couldn’t give two shits.” Tears form in her eyes as she absorbs that comment while he walks out the door again. When Vincent visits his father and tells him he isn’t sure if he and Abby want the same things, like a nice house and a family, his father informs him that he already has a family that he completely ignores. His relationship with Abby was built on the grounds of an abandoned home life. Did it have a real shot to begin with? Has the writing already been written on the wall?
Meanwhile, it seems like mobsters are the only people to make money from this whole venture. They refuse to change their ways and walk away clean. The shots fired at Vincent were squared away with an attempted murder on Marty Hodas (Saul Stein), though Vincent pumps the brakes after realizing he wasn’t responsible, and after a single conversation with Matty the Horse (it was a misunderstanding gone awry). Later, Rudy and Matty make peace and go into business together with Lori’s three-picture contract and they buy her out from C.C., who gets $15,000 to walk away from the girl entirely. As Simon and Pelecanos routinely emphasize in every one of their respective projects, the people who pull the purse strings rarely feel the sting like everyone else does.
Trouble arises in other corners of The Deuce as well. Frankie sleeps with a well-to-do British woman who lives on Riverside Drive whom he met at the club. While she’s tidying up, she asks him what will happen to him, a person who doesn’t goose-step down the Upper West Side on their way to a job, when he gets old. Frankie stares out the window and admits he never pictured himself getting old, a sure sign foreshadowing the moment for his likely demise, whether that may come this season or the next. Bobby and Shay have fallen deep into heroin addiction together, and soon enough, they’re planning a pharmacy robbery almost designed to go wrong. Gene Goldman sleeps with another “friend of Dorothy” on the sly even as he’s trying to criminalize and eradicate sexualized elements from Times Square. The Deuce is filled with characters whose willful behavior knowingly haunts them, but they power through anyway. Desire can’t be tamed, no matter how hard you try.
As Candy prepares for the release of Red Hot (the name of her Little Red Riding Hood film) with last-minute adjustments in the editing room, she slowly prepares her son for her upcoming publicity tour, knowing that it will elevate her into a more prominent, public position. She’s still fighting with the mob guys regarding certain elements of distribution (Marty wants to make Lori’s breasts bigger on the poster, sell the wolf character as white even though he’s played by Larry Brown, etc.), and it’s unclear what Rudy and the Horse will do with it if they get their hands on it, but as of now, things look good for Candy. Yet, she still understandably tiptoes around the issue with her son, who’s old enough to ask questions, but young enough to not understand the full truth.
Finally, for the last time, there’s C.C., who commits his last sins in this episode. Though he reluctantly parts ways with Lori, he takes out his rage and insecurity on her, raping her in a hotel room as a “good-bye present” before throwing bills on her naked back. Director Tanya Hamilton films that scene, as well as a previous one with Lori and C.C. at the Hi-Hat, with claustrophobic menace, highlighting Lori’s lack of control and C.C.’s destructive power through pointed blocking and close-ups. It’s a nasty bit of business watching C.C. essentially mind-fuck one of his charges into believing that he’ll still plague her life even if she’s not in his stable, and neither Hamilton nor writer Pelecanos lets the audience off the hook. It’s important to gaze at just how far this type of unregulated power dynamic can go and the damage it leaves behind. It’s no wonder that Ashley just wants to take these women and throw them on the next bus out of this hellhole.
However, C.C. has relied so heavily on Lori that his hustling skills have fallen by the wayside. He swears to Melissa that he’s about to go out and find a bunch of new women, but not only are many of the women headed straight to porn, he’s also lost the ability to find them. He talks a big game about how he got a huge payout for Lori’s contract — even though it was just $15,000 — and yet he’s trolling for Frankie, looking to get an advance on his portion of the Red Hot profits, even though there aren’t any because it hasn’t been released yet. He finds Frankie and Bobby at the parlor and demands that they cough up the $10,000 that he believes he’s owed. You know, because he owns Lori’s work “in perpetuity.”
Except this time, C.C. overplays his hand. His intimidation tactics work with the girls, but in this context, it just irritates and goads Bobby into stabbing him in the chest with a screwdriver. After so many insults regarding his masculinity and lewd comments about his wife, not to mention the incessant lighter clicking, Bobby loses it. C.C. tries to choke Bobby with the screwdriver still inside him, but he’s no match for a hammer to the back of the head courtesy of Frankie. “What happened?” Frankie asks, in horror. Bobby swallows and says, “He talked too much.” That may be true, but now the whole Martino family is in way too deep because of their hubris. Blood isn’t just on their hands. It’s trickling down the hallway and seeping into the carpet. Where do you go from here?
Other Tricks & Pricks:
• Armand Assante plays Vincent and Frankie’s father. A longtime character actor, he’s previously appeared in the 1996 HBO film Gotti in the eponymous role, for which he won an Emmy, as well as in Judge Dredd, Hoffa, and American Gangster.
• At the club, Frankie tells Vincent about the 1962 film Gigot directed by Gene Kelly and starring Jackie Gleason as a mute Frenchman. Frankie’s takeaway: “Who wants to watch a movie with Jackie Gleason not saying nothing?”
• Black Frankie has the line of the year this week. He opens the door to find C.C. dead on the floor and says, “Damn. Y’all murdered the shit out of that motherfucker.” In his defense, they did.