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'The Deuce' recap: 'Why Me?' sets up the next chapter

For The Baltimore Sun

“In this town, nothing’s dirty anymore,” Rudy says.

This week on “The Deuce,” it’s a triumphant day for the porn industry in New York City. The courts have dropped all charges against pornography producers, who are now free to film and sell as much porn as they’d like. Though it’s a relatively tame episode in comparison to last week’s shell-shocking “What Kind of Bad?”, it sets up the next chapter in the Golden Age of Pornography with anticipation.

The episode’s title, “Why Me?”, stems from an existential moment that Vinny has with Rudy. “Why me?” Vinny asks Rudy about why he selected him to run sex empire. Because he’s trustworthy, or in other words, boring.

Sure, Vinny is essential to keep the show grounded while his brother goofs around and the sex workers do all the real work, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are more important and interesting things to discuss. So on we go.

In Candy’s case, it’s not so much why me, but why not me? Why should she be stuck on her back in front of the camera when she could be using her business acumen to help launch the porn industry? Although it’s comforting that she’s not risking her life by working on the streets anymore, starring in pornos still isn’t the job she wanted. She’s more about the lights and camera than the action.

“I know I’m not an actress,” she admits to Harvey. “I came to you because I want to learn to do what you do.”

Harvey. Ugh. What an unfortunate name for a character to share with Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein, especially in the wake of the recent sexual harassment and assault allegations against him. It doesn’t help that the character is also a producer in the sex industry. Oof, that’s a double-whammy.

That “The Deuce” writers named the character after the notorious real-life producer is doubtful. Still, it’s nauseating for the audience and unfair for the character, who’s actually a good boss. He’s respectful to his talent and crew, even when they’re naked. Take notes, Hollywood.

Fictional Harvey also genuinely cares about his employees. He praises Candy for her professionalism on set, and puts her in touch with a female pimp since they won’t be shooting for another three weeks. It’s not the camera job she’s been vying for, but it’s something that pays the rent.

What a sad day for Hollywood when a fictional porn producer is more ideal to work for than one of the most powerful men in the legitimate movie business. In fact, it’s sad for most industries and companies, because not all bosses are decent human beings.

But the porn industry has its downsides, clearly. Though Candy no longer has to fear abusive johns, she does have to worry about STDs. So far this season, we’ve seen her have a gonorrhea scare and learned that most of the sex workers have syphilis. Yikes.

What’s especially troublesome is that Candy warns newcomer Lori that they don’t use condoms. The STDs mentioned above can be easily cured with penicillin or another antibiotic, sure, but the real threat is the deadly viral disease that still doesn’t have cure: HIV. “The Deuce” is set from the ’70s until the ’80s. And although Season 1 still in the early ’70s, it won’t be long before the AIDS epidemic hits — and it won’t be pretty when it does.

More highlights from “Why Me?”:

Best line: “Y’all done gone crazy with this [expletive],” Larry says to Chris while car is being towed as part of the NYPD’s annual “clean house” measure. “Not really in the holiday spirit, is it?” Chris replies. “Damn sure ain’t!” he fires back.

Most “Wire”-esque line: “Why don’t you get the cab?” White Frankie tells Big Mike. “We’ll be out here all night,” Big Mike replies. With one subtle exchange, David Simon illustrates the everyday, painful racism that African-Americans endure. It’s his modern take on Dickensian themes, showing the social divides not only between wealth, but also race — just like he accomplished in “The Wire.”

Most bittersweet moment: Ashley and Lori, two of C.C.’s sex workers who hate each other, are sitting at the diner, when Lori orders them each a slice of pie — Ashley’s choice. There’s a part of me that’s hesitant to applaud Ashley for her civility toward Lori. She must have been the one who told C.C. that Lori took a part in the porno, where he stormed on set and demanded far more than his cut of the money. But then I remember the horrific scene where C.C. cut Ashley for wanting to take the night off because it was raining. No amount of pie could keep my mouth shut with a terrorizing pimp like that.

Mixed signals: Tired of giving Sandra information for her story and getting nowhere with her, Chris gets the nerve and asks her on a date. She initially refuses since he’s her source, but eventually gives in. “I’m not your source,” he tells her at the jazz bar. Not even five seconds later he says, “I’ve got a hell of a story for you.”

But, you just said that you weren’t a source. Ugh, the things men do to get a woman to date them. Their relationship is so confusing that I’m not even sure who’s benefiting from it more — Chris, who wants to spend one-on-one time with Sandra without talking about her article? Or Sandra, who wants to get that article published? Speaking of...

Good cop, bad cop: While he was on patrol, Chris saw another officer shake down some pimps, then go into Vinny’s “salon.” There, the crooked cop demanded $500 ($3,000 in today’s money) each week to keep the cops at bay. Sandra was already arrested for posing as a sex worker while working on this story, but facing a corrupt officer presents a slew of other challenges. Will he threaten to arrest her? Or end Chris’s career? I wonder what lengths she’ll go through to get this story published.

Trouble at home: Eileen is visiting her son and mom when she hears a car park in the driveway. It’s an estranged male relative — maybe her father? She scrambles out of the house, and leaves without saying goodbye to her son. This is coming from someone who doesn’t hesitate to pepper spray a sketchy john. Why is she so terrified of him? I’m worried he might be the reason why she got into the sex industry.

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