About two-thirds of the way through this week’s episode of The Deuce, Officer Danny Flanagan bashes his prostitute mistress Anita’s head against his car window when she threatens to tell his wife. He then dumps her body in the river, expecting it to float away from the original scene of the crime. But it gets caught up on pilings. Even in death, it’s hard to leave this life.

Just ask Vincent, whose storyline takes up the bulk of what is, on the whole, a fairly scattered hour. The episode begins with Rudy Pipilo and Tommy Longo telling Vince about their latest business opportunity for him, which they’re presenting as a “take it or take it” proposition. The family has busted out another nightclub, close to the UN, and they need their best bar-manager to work his magic—and no, they’re not going to let him stop fronting for them with the parlors and the peeps. When asked what’ll happen if Vincent just flatly refuses, Tommy makes it clear that Abby and Bobby will lose their jobs, and that the Martino brothers can forget ever finding work in New York club business ever again.

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Rather than giving a definitive “yes” or “no”—perhaps because it’s been established that “no” isn’t an option—Vince buys a big baggie of cocaine and drives out of the city, stopping off in a quaint Vermont college town. Before leaving, he’d told Tommy, “All I ever wanted was a nightclub. That’s the best of me.” So as he’s sitting in a pleasant little pub, filled with students sipping on “drinks that give them cavities,” Vincent offers to hop behind the bar and help out the short-handed proprietor. Soon he’s charming these kids with exotic cocktails he claims to have invented—“It’s a Negroni,” the bartender quietly chuckles—and with stories about the mean streets of Manhattan. (The young folks, who’ve been to New York a few times to see Broadway plays and eat in nice restaurants, can barely believe his stories of mob muscle.)

Is the solution to Vincent’s problems? To relocate to the boonies, out of the mafia’s reach? By the end of the hour, he’s suggesting just that to Abby, who, as a Connecticut native, is pretty unenthusiastic. (It doesn’t help that she’s just come back from sleeping with Dave The Activist.) But Vince has also accepted the gift of a new car from Rudy and Tommy, who asks them to drive over to the new bar… where all three are promptly shot at, in a rare The Deuce cliffhanger. Once again, the more level-headed Martino finds himself written into a story that’s not really about him or what he wants.

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The title of this episode, “The Feminism Part,” comes from a painfully awkward meeting that Eileen and Harvey have with Marty Hodas and his fellow mob-connected financier, after they watch a rough cut of Red Hot. Eileen makes her pitch for more of an advertising and distribution budget, drawing on her longtime business relationship with the more open-minded Marty to argue that erotica made by and for women could broaden their potential audience (no pun intended).

She eventually gets kicked out of the conversation so that the men can talk, and is left not knowing if this movie she poured so much of herself into is going to be treated like it deserves, or if it’s going to be chopped up for loops—or perhaps even worse, sold as a novelty, blowing up “Candy’s” anonymity for the sake of a few bucks and nothing more. Compared to the other characters in The Deuce, Eileen and Vincent command respect, earn good money, have some creative outlet, and live semi-independently. But they’re still tethered to the grubby few New York blocks that made them.

“The Feminism Part” lacks the fervid momentum of last week’s excellent “We’re All Beasts.” It’s also feels like it’s circling back over some of the same ground that’s been well-trod all season, reiterating how tough it is to cut ties with organized crime.

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But even if it’s not as cohesive or incisive as some of the other Deuces this season (a common problem for TV dramas that may be holding back the best stuff for the final two episodes), “The Feminism Part” features a few impeccably crafted scenes. One of the tensest pits Dave against the pimps, who—as I predicted last week—are running out of patience with these do-gooders who are paying for their girls to leave town and giving them practical legal advice. As C.C. puts it, right before he burns Dave’s pamphlet, why would any prostitute need a pimp if they could walk the streets without fear of getting arrested?

C.C.’s at the center of one of the other riveting scenes this week, when he takes Lori out to dinner, not long after she’s learned from her agent that she’s being booked as the lead in three new porno features, playing the same character. Trying to pass himself off as a worldly sophisticate, C.C. orders them both shrimp cocktails and two huge porterhouses, “well-done to black.” It’s an example of how he can take even what should be a nice gesture and make it miserable.

Which brings us back to Danny, who—despite being a big dope—is smart enough to realize that he’s not going to be able to get away with killing Anita, not with his honest ex-partner Detective Chris Alston on the case. But in one last act of selfish idiocy, he blows his own head off, putting his pension at risk.

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And how does Alston react? He conspires with his boss to cover up the suicide: “losing” Danny’s watch that was found on Anita’s corpse, and coming up with a good enough story to let him die with some honor, and some money. Even good can’t get away from the mob—not the ones in Italian suits, and not the ones in police uniforms.


Stray observations

  • For the most part, the subplots this week felt a little disconnected and under-developed—more setting the stage for the rest of the season than than trying to tell any kind of full story, with thematic resonance. I was especially disappointed in Paul’s scenes, which only seemed to serve the purpose of bringing his relationship with Todd to an amicable end, both as lovers and as partners in the new Village club. (“We got so busy with this place that we forgot to break up,” they say to each other, practically chuckling.) The sight of Todd’s “Anita Sucks” placard in the background made me wish the episode could’ve made time for the gay rights march, which might’ve given these scenes a larger cultural context. There’s something worth exploring here about the choices available to Paul that don’t seem to exist for The Deuce’s other characters—and why that might be.
  • Here’s another “wait and see” subplot: Darlene’s pregnancy. This might end up being a way for The Deuce to show what abortion clinics were like in the late ‘70s. For now, it’s just a too-brief stop on the way to something else (though it was fascinating to see how complicated home pregnancy tests were back then).
  • There was one subplot that did have something of a beginning, middle, and end. Bobby’s son Joey (played by Michael Gandolfini!) develops a little crush on one of the gals at The French Parlor, and even pays for a session with her, before making plans to run off. Bobby puts the kibosh on the romance by the end of the episode, though there’s a good chance it could flower again.
  • Larry, having decided he loves acting, is now looking to follow in Eileen’s footsteps and tell personal stories through porn. His first idea? Remaking an Oscar-winning American classic about race relations: In The Heat Of The Meat.

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