"...one pubic hair at a time..."
In '72, the Knapp Commission - a five member panel organized by Mayor John Lindsay in April '70 to investigate police corruption in NYC - issued a report that identified two types of dirty cops: the “meat-eaters” and the “grass-eaters.” Meat-eaters are officers who “aggressively misuse their police powers for personal gain,” while grass-eaters “simply accept the payoffs that the happenstances of police work throw their way.” Of course, corruption was viewed as a slippery slope, as some cops “ate grass” to prove their allegiance to the fraternal blue brotherhood, while others just enjoyed a free donut every now and again. But it didn't take much for "grass eaters" to become "meat eaters", as infamous snitch Frank Serpico once summed up corruption within the NYPD rather succinctly by saying: “ten percent of the cops in New York City are absolutely corrupt, 10 percent are absolutely honest, and the other 80 percent - they wish they were honest.”
This sense of absolute corruption permeates Episode Six of The Deuce (titled "Why Me?"), as the flatfeet have been ordered to round up all girls and their managers for the next two weeks. It's Christmastime in Times Square, and the brass is looking to have those corners clear so that the decorations shine instead of those gaudy dresses. But Officer Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) is no fool. He instantly recognizes that the areas they're being told to clean up are in the now infamous "no go" zones, and that he's probably got a story for Sandra Washington (Natalie Paul), who's been quietly compiling a lengthy exposé on the girls on 42nd Street. Alston's done being Sandra's "source", as her constant interrogations and rebuffing of his attempts to form a more personal relationship have grown aggravating. Though after cruising the area and seeing that there might still be some "indoor activity" happening, the good cop teases the reporter with a "big story", knowing that there's a difference between being a snitch, and requiring a clear conscience in your day-to-day life.
As pornographer Harvey Wasserman (David Krumholtz) puts it to hooker-turned-actress Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), there's been a “change in the weather” with regard to New York's community standards ("we have none"). While there's been no real documented alterations to the obscenity laws in NYC, Harvey explains that the baby-steps of previous years and necessary “socially redeeming value” his work has required in order to not become evidence vanished essentially overnight. The judges downtown are tossing out every single porn case that's being put in front of them, and Wasserman doesn't have a fucking clue as to why. Later, we get to watch one of these proceedings with "one of the guys who got caught with all that film out in Queens" (as Rudy Pipilo [Michael Rispoli) puts it), and the judge does exactly what Harvey just described to his new employee. ”These personal freedoms are protected by the 1st and 14th amendments,” the ruling authority hands down as rationale for his lack of judgement, and it seems that nothing is being deemed dirty in The Deuce any longer.
Falling under this new umbrella of deregulation is prostitution, as long as it occurs in a massage parlor instead of under a marquee. The question when it comes to any form of corruption is always going to be "who profits?", and the answer here is Rudy, Vincent (James Franco), and Bobby (Chris Bauer), whose new fuck palace is finally open, just in time for a holiday jerk job. Vincent and Bobby try to go around to the local pimps, offering rent in exchange for a place to operate, and are practically chased out of the barbershop where C.C. (Gary Carr), Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe), and Gentle Richie (Matthew James Ballinger) all hold court. The logistics of staffing a parlor are unexpectedly tricky, until the wagons start rolling around and tossing these dickheads in the back, along with the girls they "manage". Now, the dudes all come crawling back to get any business on the street, happily renting cots in Vinny's House of Pleasures. But one of the aforementioned "meat-eaters" - Lieutenant Gerald Sweeney (Shaun O'Hagan) - comes rolling around as well. These dudes may think they're protected by Pipilo and the city, but the district cops still want their taste for turning a blind eye.
Meanwhile, Rudy's recruited Frankie (also Franco) and Big Mike (Mustafa Shakir) to keep an eye on the money coming out of his peep machines in the book stores around Times Square. He knows that those who're collecting the funds are probably skimming a few times over, and he wants to catch them in the act, just to keep things fair and square when it comes time to divy up cuts. Frankie and Big Mike actually prove themselves quite reliable, tailing these greasy doofuses over the course of one chilly night, all while Mike masterminds a new way for lonely men in trenchcoats to enjoy their peep shows with a little more privacy. Partitions, used to create viewing booths, are his grand design, and Rudy can't help but be a little impressed by the dude's ingenuity.
However, these innovations - just like the deregulation - are going to only profit those at the top. Though we're seeing change occur on 42nd Street, David Simon and George Pelecanos are keen to remind us on a few occasions that the girls at the bottom doing all the work are going to still be run into the ground until they can't squeeze out another dollar. Whether its CC infiltrating a porn set, demanding money from Wasserman for one of his ladies' time, or Candy being kicked to the curb for a month following her last shoot, the working girls are still seen as disposable by nearly every man who surrounds them. One of the most haunting images in The Deuce comes at the end of "Why Me?", as Darlene (Dominique Fishback) stares at the wall in her new fuck stall, as it rocks from the action happening on the other side. These new digs may help the girls continue to do business, but the laws and houses made to circumvent them do not operate in order to better these women in any way imaginable. For them, we're all "meat-eaters" in the end.