In the aftermath, Darlene, dabbing her bruises, is nude, but she’s never the camera’s focus.Instead, our gaze keeps settling, with nosy clarity, on her bald trick’s big-bellied torso, his matted back hair, his exposed crotch, forcing us to consider body—both pathetic and intimidating—not hers.It understands that, when the world aims at erasing you, it’s a thrill to be made visible, by whatever means necessary.♦An earlier version of this piece misidentified Frankie, one of the identical twin characters played by James Franco. Bougere; Yusef Bulos; Eisa Davis; Robert Gilbert; Gregg Henry; Edward James Hyland; Nikki M.James; Christopher Livingston; Elizabeth Marvel; Chris Myers; Marjan Neshat; Corey Stoll; John Douglas Thompson; Natalie Woolams-Torres; Isabel Arraiza; Erick Betancourt; Mayaa Boateng; Motell Foster; Dash King; Tyler La Marr; Gideon Mc Carty; Nick Selting; Alexander Shaw; Michael Thatcher; and Justin Walker White.As Wolcott (not exactly the world’s greatest women’s libber) put it, “The contempt for women that often wore a sneer in porn films on its liver lips was an everyday dragon-snort in Times Square.” The satirical Web site the Reductress neatly nailed the earnest contradictions of modern feminism on this theme, in a post titled “Why I Feel So Passionately That Sex Work and Porn Is Problematic but Empowering but Good for Them but Bad for Them.”“The Deuce” is certainly a feminist series—and half its directors are female—but its smartest move is to resist turning sex into a thesis, exploiting the contradictions instead.Often, this means visually scrambling cable clichés, starting with a rape role-play in the première that spills into genuine violence.
That strikes me as unlikely—and, also, beside the point.
There’s warmth, too, particularly through Gyllenhaal’s mournful, electric presence, her fame itself upending the hierarchies of cable, which typically dictates that extras bare it all while the stars cover up.
With the polarities reversed, and the biggest celebrity somehow exposed and not objectified, I found myself craving a sex scene between the one non-sex-worker African-American couple on the show: in this context, such a sequence became elevating, not debasing, a sign that the characters were taken seriously enough to see their private world.
Some of the liveliest scenes take place in a beat-up diner, where everyone gathers at the crack of dawn, to eat eggs and gossip, a grimly companionable demimonde that resembles an office cafeteria.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is spectacular as Candy, an iconoclastic glamour-puss who works without a pimp and who glimpses, earlier than anyone, the potential of porn.