Last week's pilot of "The Deuce" delved into the seedy business world of bartending and prostitution. One is illegal and frowned upon, but as David Simon expertly shows, the two aren't so different. Both have sketchy, violent clients, both rake in a decent amount cash, and both use bookkeeping more than you'd expect. It was a strong start to the much anticipated show of "The Wire" creator and Baltimore Sun alum.
Episode 2, titled "Show and Prove," followed up by delivering a lackluster plotline for ambitious bartender Vinny. But where it really shined was when Simon and crew introduce us to the lurid, yet enticing world of working in the pornography business.
"This could be the ghost of Christmas future," C.C. tells newcomer Lori, in wide-eye wonder, as they watch a porno together. C.C. is such a skilled pimp that he makes pornography seem glamorous as they sit in a grimey movie theater where multiple couples are performing sexual acts on each other.
First he lavishes Lori with a necklace, rewards her with cocaine and praises her with flattery, promising her that she'll be a star. Don't mistake these for tokens of endearment. This is how he grooms and controls his women into being loyal and obedient prostitutes.
C.C. is as shrewd as he is ruthless. There is a future in pornography (as anyone who has spent two seconds on the internet or social media can tell you), and he plans to capitalize on it. It's a "dog eat dog world," he tells Lori — and he plans to stay the alpha male.
But how will he measure up to an equally smart businesswoman? Candy, the independent prostitute with an MBA in customer service and bookkeeping, has already starred in her first porno and is entranced by the entire production.
She becomes so giddy that she broke the fourth wall and stared directly into the camera during her scene, asked endless questions about lighting and even wanted to memorize her lines. "This isn't Dr. Zhivago," one of her co-stars reminds her. God bless Simon and his ability to add humor to awkward sex scenes without coming off as a frat bro flick.
We haven't learned yet how Eileen became Candy or why she turned to prostitution, and I wouldn't be surprised if she or Lori had hopes of being in show business. Sure, it's cliche, but it is New York City. One of these prostitutes probably yearned for the limelight — and Candy's the most organized to make a profit off it.
As a porn star, Candy wouldn't live up to the fame and glory of Marilyn Monroe, whose poster she pinned on her childhood bedroom's wall and bleach blonde hair she copies when she's on the stroll. But those short eight minutes of seeing herself on the flickering screen are mesmerizing enough. She's hooked.
For some characters, their first fling with pornography was a ghost that came to haunt them. Dorene confides in the girls on the block that she let a john record one of their sessions. It was just for himself, he assured her.
But when another prostitute tells her that it's being sold at a sex shop, she heads straight to the store and demands all of the tapes. There are only two left. "You're very popular," he remarks, minimizing her feelings of betrayal. He then charges her for one tape.
Here's what critics have to say about "The Deuce," the new show from Baltimorean and "The Wire" creator David Simon.
Even though "The Deuce" is set in the 1970s, it's depressing how relatable the rampant misogyny is in present day. No matter what form of technology — whether it's a microfilm and projector or nude pics and Snapchat — there will always be someone ready to exploit an intimate and vulnerable moment for a quick buck. In Dorene's case, it was without her consent and her frustrations were met with the sex shop clerk's flippant remarks.
What's more, the john made a profit off the video. Many will shrug and say that's no different than Dorene's day job (night job?), as she regularly exploits herself for money. But therein lies the problem.
"The Deuce" successfully captures the capitalistic foundation of prostitution and how critical it is that these women bring home money in order to stay successful. Candy earned $75 for her vikings porno flick. Why shouldn't Dorene be compensated for her time?
As we see the porn industry grow in "The Deuce," there will be a rise in tension between pimps and prostitutes and directors and porn stars. How will the sex workers make sure they're getting paid enough? What role will women have in building the industry behind the camera? And how will the porn stars cope when their videos are seen by family members who don't know about how they're earning money?
As hard as it is to imagine a more searing critique of capitalism than "The Wire." David Simon does that in "The Deuce."
More Highlights from “Show and Prove”
Best one-liner: "How long is the movie going to be? Nine hours?" Candy asks the lighting director."Try eight minutes," the director replies.
Raise the bar: Vinny's aspirations to be the best bar manager/owner aren't nearly as interesting as Candy's pornography pursuits. There have been enough stories of bartenders who have built nightclub empires. If they really want to make it memorable — and a sibling rivalry with the charismatic Frankie doesn't count — Simon and gang will have to intertwine the club operations with the budding porn industry. Otherwise, the plotlines will become stale.
Too cool for school: Abby, who's so smart that she corrected her debate professor and boasted to Vinny that she knew econ inside and out, flunked every class at New York University. You'd think sleeping with a professor would have helped her pass that class. Now she's looking in magazines for a job, but I'm betting it won't be long until she calls Vinny for help.
Hitting the books: Dorene, on the other hand, has signed up for a library account and is reading Dickens in noisy, dimly lit bars. That is, until her hotheaded pimp Larry yanks her from her barstool and pushes her onto the street. I would love to see Larry get what's coming to him, but this is a Simon show. There are no happy endings. Dorene and the rest of Larry's stable are likely to suffer more abuse at his hand.
Most "Wire"-esque scene: The cops eating Chinese food (aka the 1970s NYC version of lake trout) with the prostitutes they just arrested. These scenes are what make Simon's shows beloved. They portray the humanity of the people whom society deems as "human filth," as Rudy calls them, while also blurring the lines between "good guys vs. bad guys."
Most terrifying moment: C.C. stabbing the undercover cop who arrested Lori. Even scarier? When C.C. told Lori that he wasn't a cop, and found his rope and other serial killer starter kit items in his jacket. I have this unsettling feeling this won't be the last time one of the prostitutes will have a run-in with a man more violent than her pimp.