The Deuce, season 1, episode 7: “Au Reservoir”
Directed by James Franco / Written by David Simon and Megan Abbott
In its best moments, The Deuce reminds me of the beautifully humanistic yet unsentimental works of Mike Leigh and Robert Altman. And episode seven, “Au Reservoir” was one of those moments, sustained and lasting to help draw the season to a close before next week’s finale.
I think about the wonderful little moments between the big ones in this week’s episode, wonderfully scripted by David Simon and Megan Abbott, and directed quite well by James Franco, that at their simplest, gave audiences a window into some other human being. I think on this and I’m so grateful this show exists.
Just about everybody gets a moment, a showcase, or just a little moment of grace in this episode — from Paul’s endearingly incredulous reaction to learning the plot of Deep Throat; to C.C. and Rodney bonding over their love of Disney’s Fantasia; to Lori strolling out of the porno store like an X-rated Audrey Hepburn; and so on and so on. It’s excellent stuff all around. So much of it is warm and at times even fun, which given the nature of the setting, the squalidness of the subject matter, you wouldn’t necessarily think was possible, but it happens nonetheless and reminds us all that at the end of the day, every hooker, every pimp, every crook and crank is a human being who values their future and their time, and has their own loves and hates and wants and desires, no matter how much the world at times tries to make them forget all about those pesky things.
We pick up a good deal after the last episode ended. It’s March of 1972 now, almost a full year after the series began — Mayor Lindsay is getting crushed in the presidential primary, gay porn/art hybrid flicks like Boys in the Sand are now being reviewed in magazines like Variety, and Candy has being building herself up as both an essential part of Wasserman’s sex film ensemble and as a high-price call girl for wealthy businessmen. The 14th Precinct is being shaken up (yet not shaken down) by a new, apparently straight-arrow captain who wants to know why the streets seem to be free of hookers lately. The answer, of course, as we’ve seen it emerge throughout the show, is that a combination of business interests (largely illegal) and corrupt politicians are pushing prostitution off the streets and into the parlors. Private clubs are far more acceptable, tidier and less off-putting to tourists — the sex business is going “legitimate.”
But as we see in this episode, just because it’s gone legit doesn’t mean the game has fundamentally changed. It’s still violent and demoralizing, still subject to police shakedowns and Mob racketeering. There are changes in how the business operates, to be sure — C.C., Larry, and Rodney contemplate what they’re gonna do with their free time now that pimping is more of a conceptual thing for them — but the overall system has not changed so much as it’s shifted positions. A modern viewer suspects that massive changes are gonna come to Times Square and turn it into the unofficial Manhattan Disneyland for Mom, Dad, and Little Junior, but right now folks are caught in a time of transition as opposed to a time to fundamental change. Rather than pimping being done away with, Bobby has to figure out for himself how to operate as a pimp (even if he wouldn’t ever use that term). And naturally, there’s a learning curve there, as Ruby angrily reminds him when he starts playing favorites among his “girls.”
Elsewhere, Abby shows off a leather jacket-clad Vincent — excuse me, “Vinny” — to her parents as a way of rubbing it into their faces how dangerous and edgy her life is now. Using him as a kind of reverse status symbol, Abby shows a rather callous disregard for Vincent’s feelings, embarrassing him in front of her parents to make a point. Vincent, being a generally good natured guy, and the offense being minor in the grand scheme of things, will probably not make much of it, but it stands in contrast to how Abby develops a brief relationship with poor, damaged Ashley before Ashley rides off to somewhere, anywhere but New York City.
While in earlier days, Abby regarded hookers like Ashley or Darlene with well-intentioned condescension, trying to play the role of the do-gooder without having any actual understanding of the situation, in this episode, she’s learned enough that she treats Ashley as an equal — crucially, she’s not asking things of her. She’s allowing Ashley to make her own decisions, and respects them. She allows Ashley to walk away from her at the bus depot (the very same one Lori arrived at back in the pilot) without asking where she’s going. Because it’s not about making Abby feel good, or assuaging her guilt. It’s about Ashley. And very importantly, Abby does not treat her check to Ashley (passed on unknowingly from Abby’s wealthy father) as a gift, an acting of liberal noblesse oblige, but rather as earnings. As she tells the street walker: she’s worked harder and longer, now it’s time for her to get what she deserves.
Does Ashley get what she deserves? I get the feeling we won’t know for sure. Maybe I’m wrong, and she’ll turn out to play a major role in the series to come, but I feel a certain air of confidence that the last we’ll see of Ashley is her getting out of New York, heading somewhere we won’t know and won’t see, out of The Deuce and out of The Deuce. At this point, it will be up to her.