“There’s an Art to This” / Directed by Alex Hall / Written by Richard Price
“Seven-Fifty” / Directed by Steph Green / Written by Chris Yakaitis
If the first episode of this season was about acclimating the viewers to the changes that have occurred since season one, these two episode are about having the characters understand those changes.
Times are changing, Lori insists to C.C. in one scene of “There’s an Art to This.”
Porn has gotten away from a lot of its old seediness — the crime, the secrecy, the constant checking the paper to see how a federal judge has ruled.
Now they give out awards. Like the real movies. Red carpet and red wine and everything.
Folks gab about their fucking scenes on late night talk shows.
And some of the stars have even started swapping out their pimps for professional talent agents.
Scenes set during the filming of Candy and Lori’s movies show those characters gradually becoming aware of the larger world in the process of metamorphosis. When they try to relate this to others, they encounter the same kind of resistance.
For Eileen/Candy, who wants not only to bring an artfulness to her films, but wants to have the full creative control of being a director, there’s reluctance or skepticism on all sides: from Harvey and the crew, who want to keep making things the simpler way; from a West Coast film exec who agrees to provide capital for her film, but only if she performs oral sex on him; and even the former adult film director-turned-“legit” film director Genevieve Furie, who, not knowing Eileen’s background, advises her not to hire any more sex workers for her films. The act of change, as in all Simon shows, is a slow, laborious, difficult one.
And in the third episode, “Seven-Fifty”, in particular, there’s a growing sense of the backlash to the rising sex industry. And not just from the expected sources. Sure, the Erotic Film Awards are predictably picketed by sign-wielding puritans shouting about sinners burning in hell, which the attendees promptly ignore and shrug off. But there’s also the drier, more economically-focused opposition coming from the New York City government, who have no particular issues, morally, with the streetwalkers and massage parlors, but who are losing both tax revenue and tourist dollars from NYC’s status as America’s Sodom and Gomorrah rolled into one. And in an especially welcome plotline, Ashley from season one — actually named Dorothy, as she quietly but forcefully asserts in episode three, has returned to New York as a feminist organizer providing support networks and legal aid to prostitutes. The end goals of these actors are all quite different, but the combined effect of all of them puts the current way of doing things — in Vincent, C.C., and Rudy’s world — in jeopardy.
As Frankie remarks to Vincent in one scene, Larry Flynt took a bullet because of some dirty pictures. The world’s oldest industry has a lot to lose by going into the spotlight.
And for people like Vincent, who try and be a beneficiary of that world without being of that world, there’s a thin line to walk. The scenes in the second episode where Vincent and Abby spend a day along Coney Island were shockingly tender and wistful for this show, and probably represent the closest that the two can get to a kind of blissful domesticity. Director Alex Hall allows the characters to appear as solitary figures in a sparse frame, like the whole world has faded away except for them. It could appear lonely, but instead it comes off as loving. But this being a Simon show, there’s more than a small chance that it’s all downhill from here for the two lovers.
— A plotline where Larry, feeling increasingly marginalized by Darlene’s adult film career, tries to get involved as an actor himself, is a very promising one, and the scenes where he confronts first Eileen and then a director named Bernie, on the lack of black men in their porno films is a good and explicit look at the racial disparities that affect the sex industry. Likewise, Darlene’s discovery of the pay gap between her and her white costars brings up something about the porn industry that I never considered but does not surprise me.
— Trouble is obviously brewing between Rudy Pipilo and the rest of the mobsters, and I’m glad writer Chris Yakaitas (plus Simon, Pelecanos, and rest of the writers) brought up the abuse of children with regards to the sex industry. As anyone who remembers Taxi Driver and the bizarre 1970s pop hit “Hot Child in the City” knows, the sex industry in the 1970s was hardly a domain limited to consenting adults.
— “It’s a parody of Westworld. But instead of cowboys and Indians, they’re sex robots. It’s brilliant.” Petty. Funny.