"Someone gon' sell the pussy. Someone gon' buy the pussy. We just layin' in the cut."
There's a scene early in Episode Five of The Deuce - playfully titled "What Kind of Bad?" - where two college kids debate whether or not they should go see Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs ('71) or Clint Eastwood's Play Misty For Me ('71) instead of staying at the lame party Abby (Margarita Levieva) is also contemplating bailing on. Meanwhile, Abby's date rattles on about how his draft number might be just right for him to avoid dodging service and being shipped off to Vietnam, all while wearing an army jacket; his admittedly ironic fashion statement for the evening. Our girl knows it's time to get back to the Hi-Hat, where her now-smitten boss (James Franco) is not so secretly hoping she doesn't hop into bed with this tow-headed dweeb. Though the kids here are desiring jobs in liberal arts and protesting their country's involvement in a conflict they don't understand, they're still trying to decide which fascist work (both of which present female characters who are either sex objects or insane) they should see for two dollars down in Times Square. For some, beliefs are nothing more than fashion statements, just like that stupid surplus coat.
In Carolina, Darlene (Dominique Fishback) is on a recruitment hunt, using the bus ticket Abby gave her last week under the guise of getting out of the life. But she knows there's no abandoning that money for these podunk trappings, where she and her girlfriends sit in diners gabbing about Whatshisname crashing daddy's Mustang while out cheating on the mother of his child. The country may provide a temporary respite from the busy streets and johns trying to pay $20 a suck, but Darlene knows this is only a vacation, and in order to return to the Kingdom of Pussy, she's going to need to bring King Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe) some form of tribute. Thankfully, one of these young dumb hick girls buys into her stories of big city modeling and men who pay her way into every single event, and hitches a ride back on the bus, only to get traded to Rodney (Method Man) for $2500. Welcome to the big leagues, girl. You just got played.
"Daddys, husbands, and pimps - they're all the same. They love you for who you are, until you try to be someone else." Abby's new sense of purpose seems to be battling the patriarchy, and she can't help but feel slightly heartbroken once she sees Darlene back in the bar. But a quick lesson from Ashley (Jamie Neumann) knocks the priveleged college girl down a peg. It's easy to take pictures and harass pimps from behind the bar when your whole life has been paid for up until this point, but these girls have found a way to success the only way they know how, and it might be OK if a few of them enjoy it (or at least exploit it to their advantage).
Speaking of exploitation, Sandra Washington (Natalie Paul) has been not so quietly working on a story for the Amsterdam News (that her Editor hasn't even approved yet). Blowing her cover left and right before picking up a guide in prison (thanks to her shoes giving her away), it's been interesting to see Washington's character slowly develop on the periphery, gathering intel as she sloppily attempts to interview the various hustlers and sex workers they manage. Officer Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) offers to show her around town, taking an interest in the pretty, afro'd reporter and offering to get her some proper facetime with the most notable pimps he knows in Times Square. But she pushes her luck, pissing off his partner (Don Harvey, eating numerous donuts), and then probes about police corruption, alienating Alston for a brief moment. He gets over it (of course), as the beat cop has questions of his own regarding how these working girls are somehow being legalized by the city's "no go" zones (where he's not allowed to cuff anyone). Yet he can't help but fire a passive warning shot at the reporter, letting her know that he's here to help, but don't take him for a corrupt fool.
On a lesser show, Sandra would be our entry character and guide to this NYC Otherworld, but here she's been mainly kept to the outskirts, working her way in the same way we are. Based on Gail Sheehy (who covered the prostitution trade in depth for New York Magazine in '72), Washington is just another element floating in this strange universe, investigating the scene that Vincent (Franco) decides to establish himself inside, taking Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli) up on his offer to run a brothel on his behalf. However, Vince is going to leave the day-to-day to his union man brother-in-law (Chris Bauer), who's one more year on a construction site away from having a stroke. It's not hard to tell where all these stars are going to align, as one suspects Sandra will be worming her way into Vince's operation at some point, tracing the money that funded the place up the chain to the mob and (in true David Simon/George Pelecanos fashion) ultimately City Hall.
The real joy is reserved for Paul (Chris Coy), who gets busted for merely being gay and exiting a gay porno theater, but then discovers (high out of his mind on psychadelics) that there's a wild world of pleasure being set up just for him and his kind in the homosexual underground. Two years removed from the Stonewall Riots, a whole counterculutre is about to explode, and he's directly in the blast zone of this nuclear bomb of sexual freedom. Between his dancing and Candy's (Maggie Gyllenhaal) final rejection of the life she's been enduring (leading her back to the office of pornographer Harvey Wasserman [David Krumholtz]), its clear that some may return to the streets to hustle, while others are going to discover new selves in the lack of "community standards" being employed in the Big Apple. There's only three hours left in the first season of The Deuce, and it still feels like we're still just getting started. That's a good thing.