Developing a conscience isn’t just a terrible way to make money, it’s a dangerous idea. Especially if you’re as deep in the shit as Vincent (James Franco). He, along with many characters in this week’s episode of The Deuce, are feeling antsy in their current predicament. Whether you’re itching in your marriage, your job, or your current relationship with morality, “The Feminism Part” is here to give you an out: it just won’t be the one you want.
Larry’s (Gbenga Akinnagbe) gotten way too soft for the pimp world as he’s fallen head-over-dick for the life of a porn star. Irene (Roberta Colindrez) and Shay (Kim Director) see their relationship fall apart when the latter gets cabin fever after being locked away to avoid her ex-pimp and her love affair with heroin. Paul (Chris Coy) slept around so much as stress relief that’s it’s affected his home life. Even Eileen (Maggie Gyllenhaal), having directed an entire artsy feature, is still being shoved out of production discussions by the patriarchal hairballs in charge. It’s enough to make anyone crazy to get out.
Vincent gets the bulk of this fantasy. His cowardice—well-documented up to this point, as he’s been slapped around by the dark ethical realities of running unregulated, unsafe, exploitative parlors—manifests here as retreat. He grabs a car, a bag of coke, and peaces out. He’s done. Sleep-in-the-car, work-a-shift-in-a-random-Vermont-bar kinda done. It’s a fun scene showing the character’s simple idea of escapism, though it did make me wonder if the etymology of “bone” meaning “sex” goes back to the 1970s.
Eileen’s got more hoops to jump through. She’s actively diving into a more complicated world—a world where her once-hidden profession is public, her name in lights. After all the work to get there, all the compromise and shitty producers, she’s gotta see it through. Which means she’s gotta tell her son who she is, right? A bit of noodling later and well, she’s working on it.
While there are definitely a few nice choices from director Tricia Brock, “The Feminism Part” episode feels light on style compared to the rest of the season’s flash—which may be due to the situations themselves feeling more conventional than those we’ve seen so far this season. Writer Will ralston fleshes out these tired scenarios with some honesty, but on the whole the script just isn’t fresh enough to demand an exciting design.
The worst part of the hour is Chris (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) investigating the murder of his ex-partner’s beloved sex worker, Anita (Andrea Sofia Pimentel). She and Danny (Don Harvey) get into a fight, during which he kills her. He then dumps her body in the river and takes off… only to leave his engraved wristwatch clutched in her hand. It’s a ridiculous stack of certainty Chris is handed, so his next move is obvious. Why? Not sure. If anyone in the series could use some nuance or an engaging plotline, it’s Chris.
That situation certainly resolves itself, at least, though it’s just another one of the parlor girls that Bobby (Chris Bauer), Vincent, and Black Frankie (Thaddeus Street) have failed to protect. The same can be said about Paul’s predicament. His club may have succeeded, but it cost him a potential life with a loving partner. We see this here, too, when Bobby’s kid takes to the brothel job like a teen to PornHub. He’s also got Bobby’s penchant for falling for his co-workers, which Bobby snuffs out. Another happy ending ruined, no pun intended. When the visual shorthand of a woman vomiting (we all know what that means) leads to an abortion, the sacrifices the characters have made over and over again while slogging away in their lives illuminates the imprisoning Stockholm Syndrome of the street.
Lives—real and potential—thrown away in pursuit of money: These are the lives The Deuce is becoming increasingly interested in tracking. And it should. After almost two full seasons of watching its characters struggle for success (with plenty of consequences along the way), it’s long past time to explore the costs of this ambition, not just the heady high of the chase. If it takes Vincent getting shot at after a tense ride with Rudy (Michael Rispoli) and Tommy (Daniel Sauli) to knock us over the head with it, so be it. I’m just ready for the axe to fall.
Jacob Oller is a writer and film critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, Playboy, Roger Ebert, Film School Rejects, Chicagoist, Vague Visages, and other publications. He lives in Chicago, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and struggles not to kill his two cats daily. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.