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'The Deuce' recap: Daddy issues and a murder

'The Deuce' recap: Daddy issues and a murder
Jamie Neumann in "The Deuce." (Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

Well, we knew it wouldn't be long before "The Deuce," a show about porngraphy, would delve into psychologically scarring topics. But before we launch into the daddy issues theme of "Au Reservoir," let's start off with something less nauseating: murder.

I didn't say it was more fun, just less nauseating. This is a David Simon show, after all.

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It's always the ones you least suspect. Leon, the mild-mannered fry cook portrayed by Anwan Glover (Slim Charles to "The Wire" fans), has served the prostitutes and pimps who frequent his cafe — without judgment. His patience, however, has worn thin as pimps bully, beat and yell at their prostitutes.

While serving a sex worker with two black eyes, her domineering pimp Reggie comes in and drags her away from her breakfast for the second time this episode. Leon shoots him, and the prostitute, startled, runs away.

"Au Reservoir" is a powerful and enthralling episode, and Reggie's cold-blooded murder is the perfect setup to the Season 1 finale next week. His death leaves an opening for a new pimp to join the scene, or the current pimps could take over his stable. They do need the extra income, after all.

Thanks to the salons, the pimps are slowly losing their stronghold on the Deuce and over their stables. The prostitutes have been migrating from outside on the streets to inside the salons, making the pimps obsolete.

Now the pimps are going through empty nest syndrome. Apologies for the gross Electra complex analogy, but that's only the beginning of the daddy issues mentioned in this episode.

"I used to wake up every afternoon and I knew what I was doing," Larry says. He and his fellow macks are like bored housewives whose children have left home. In their newfound free time, CC and Rodney admit to watching "Fantasia" at the theater, and Larry walks aimlessly on the empty stroll at night.

Meanwhile, Elaine is slowly moving up in the ranks at the porn studio, and even goes by her real name. She's taken on a few positions (not like that), ranging from makeup artist to director.

When she leaves the set one day, Harvey asks Elaine why she got into the business — namely if it was daddy issues. "Not in the way you think," she replies. "Not like a [expletive] degenerate."

Her response raises more questions than it answers. How could a father drive his daughter to the sex industry if it's not from the pains of abuse? Don't all fathers want the best for their children?

The latter is certainly true of Abby's successful and WASP-y father, who has the highest expectations for Abby. (Sidenote: Well, he had until she showed up to a gala in Ashley's skimpy hooker dress and high heels. That's one way to introduce your boyfriend to your parents.)

"She could have been anything," he bemoans to Vinny. But now he only expects the worst, asking Vinny point blank if he paid her to sleep with him. Oof, that has to be the most awkward "meet the parents" encounter ever. To his relief, Vinny assures him he didn't.

Abby still can be anything she wants. But for now she's rebelling against the patriarchy, whether it's the domineering pimps who abuse their sex workers, or her father for his vast wealth, which she sneers at, and his perfect future that he had planned for her.

Her rebellious streak has been going on a while. When Vinny apologizes for his leather jacket and jeans get-up in a sea of tuxedos and gowns, saying he was "misinformed," her father isn't surprised. "No doubt," he says, as if this isn't Abby's first ploy to get attention by shocking her family.

But not all of Abby's acts are spiteful or self-important.

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When Ashley hears that Lori doesn't have to clock in at the salon because she needs to "rest up" for filming the following day, she's done. This is especially insulting, as CC cut Ashley when she asked for the night off because it was raining in the first episode. She then walks away from her shift at the salon, and seeks refuge in the Hi Hat.

Abby later takes Ashley into her apartment, and gives her money to start a new life with her sister near Buffalo, N.Y. As she's riding up the escalator to her bus in Port Authority, she tosses Abby the risque dress she lent her as a token of appreciation.

I'm worried for Abby. She has made a few ostentatiously dressed enemies at the Hi Hat, and CC isn't the most forgiving pimp on the stroll. For a while I've had this gut feeling that Abby would sacrifice her life in exchange for the freedom of a sex worker, mirroring Sydney Carton in the frequently referenced "A Tale of Two Cities" plotline.

In this episode alone, we saw one recurring character die, and another come close to death — that toll will probably rise in the Season 1 finale. And any fan of "The Wire" knows Simon isn't scared to kill off a beloved character (sigh, Stringer Bell). Will Abby be murdered for her selfless actions, or will she escape CC's wrath unscathed?

More Highlights from “Au Reservoir”

Best exchange: "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" White Frankie asks Ashley, sitting at the Hi Hat bar. "I'm a whore," she replies matter-of-factly. "That doesn't mean you're not a good person," he assures her. Who knew White Frankie could be such a decent guy?

Most traumatizing scene: Bernice (aka Ginger) screaming when she's with a john at the salon. At first, Bobby thinks the john is assaulting her, but he barely even touched her, he insists. She was having a flashback of a sexual trauma. Darlene later tells her she never should have "brought [her] country ass up here," and tells her to go home. Like it was a privilege to be sex trafficked.

Scariest scene: The emaciated sex worker who's always nodding off overdosed at the salon. She didn't die, but her future doesn't look good. When Larry asks her if she's dead, CC replies "not yet."

Most degrading moment: Candy's john rushing to the bathroom to throw up after sex. "Get out," he then tells her from the bathroom. *Screams internally* Thank you, Simon, for proving that a guy taking your jacket when you arrive and offering to order room service in a swanky hotel room doesn't make him a gentleman. I don't care if this is a business transaction. She's still a human; treat her like one.

Worst movie date: White Frankie for yapping during the gay porno starring Paul's side piece. Sure, it's no cinematic masterpiece that requires intent focus, but would it kill him to keep his dumb mouth shut for two minutes?

Most patient date: Chris, who finally kissed Sandra outside of his apartment after telling her about the salons. Apparently he's only a source when she needs him to be.

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