‘The Deuce’ Starts Questioning Itself In ‘I See Money’

Senior Television Writer
10.01.17 11 Comments

HBO

A review of tonight’s The Deuce coming up just as soon as I wear a Rolek watch…

“Why do you do this?” –Abby
“You don’t need to understand.” –Darlene

We’ve reached the midway point of this first season, and now that we mostly know who everyone is and what they do, it’s time for The Deuce to start interrogating this world and the people in it.

At times, this happens overtly, like the conversation I quoted above between Abby and Darlene, or Chris Alston and Sandra the reporter sharing similar puzzlement about why any human being would choose this profession. But the prostitutes and the show itself push back on the Woe Is You, Poor Sex Worker of it all. These are not happy lives, and they’re ones that certain characters like Candy are eager to escape, but nor are most of the hookers presented as naive dupes who have been thoroughly brainwashed by C.C. and the other pimps. They all have their reasons, and they’re not necessarily to be shared with the privileged likes of Abby, who has multiple soft places to fall if her current gig doesn’t work out, or Sandra, who still seems like a tourist (Chris is able to differentiate her from the sex workers because of her shoes).

And even though the relationship between pimp and prostitute is terribly one-sided, we see in one of the show’s funniest moments so far that even the big scary pimps don’t fully control — or really understand — the women in their respective stables. When Barbara complains to Larry about her heavy flow at this time of the month, this turns into an elaborate discussion among the women at Leon’s about the advantages of period sex(*), tampons vs sponges, and all sorts of other matter-of-fact issues about being an adult woman, prostitute or not, on this planet. And Larry and Rodney and the others could not be more disgusted, nor more baffled, by all of it. Literally their only job is to help these women have sex for money, and they have no idea how any of their biology works. It’s amazing.

(*) Rebecca Bunch might really enjoy this show, I’m thinking.

And while the sexual focus through the first few episodes was mostly on relations between prostitutes and their clients, “I See Money” expands its view outward to offer a contrast between those encounters and the kinds that aren’t paid for — or, in some cases, the kind that are, just not in the way that Darlene or Lori make their money.

Candy (who already has more freedom in her personal life than the other street walkers) meets a divorced dad while out shopping for herself, and is charmed enough to agree to a real date with him. During these scenes, she’s not Candy at all, but Eileen. It’s still a false persona in many ways — this Eileen doesn’t have a son, and sure as heck doesn’t earn her trade out on the Deuce — but close enough to reality, and to a life Eileen very much wants rather than the on she currently has, that she listens admiringly to Jack’s answering machine message over and over before the date. But when the evening comes, we see that the woman who is usually so in command with her customers is as lost and fumbling as anyone else is on a first date — maybe more, because it’s clearly been a very long time since she’s tried such a thing. Earlier in the episode, a john dies while she’s in the middle of performing oral sex on him — a new rock bottom, and a new story to tell herself each time she has doubts about trying to change professions — yet she almost seems more vulnerable when she’s at the restaurant with Jack. And when he drops her off at the end of the date, she gets caught between “Eileen” and Candy, at first resisting his attempt to kiss her goodnight, then perhaps going too far too fast before heading upstairs.

Chris’s attempt to go out with Sandra turns out to be more overtly transactional, even if he doesn’t realize it at first. He doesn’t have much experience with reporters, let alone attractive black female ones, so he doesn’t understand that while he’s looking for a date, she’s looking for a source. Still, at least he gets a burger and fries out of it in the moment, not to mention someone else who’s as curious as he is about why these women do this work, and what exactly is happening with these new no-go zones.

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