The Deuce: “Au Reservoir” Season 1 Episode 7 Review

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Well it happened. With “Au Reservoir,” The Deuce finally made the leap to greatness. In fact, thanks to James Franco’s impeccable direction and Megan Abbott sharp writing with heavy attention put on character, this episode is virtually flawless in execution, wringing out the show’s humor while using the wide ensemble to center in on genuine emotion, and not just pertaining to Vincent or Candy’s storylines. The latter doesn’t even show up until around the 20 minute mark.

The cold open sees Ashley dropped off at Bobby’s outpost, but after a searing joke about what their day is about to look like from Darlene, she refuses to go in. Ashley’s journey in “Au Reservoir” is so small and so simple, but also a perfect embodiment of her unmet expectations of New York. In Frankie she finds romance and style. In Boys in the Sand she finds a landmark moment in progressive culture. In Abby she finds a friend and a home she wishes she had, to the point where she even tidies up. But none of that changes the fact that she quit sex work, and for her that means work altogether, and now she has to leave the city. Her journey, for now at least, is over.

Ashley here represents a casualty of the changing yet thriving sex industry, though that’s more literally true for Reggie, who’s shot by one of the workers at the diner after one of his girls comes back with bruises. The pimps at large, however, also seem to be a dying breed. C.C. even remarks to his colleagues that he had time to see a movie one night (Fantasia, which he and Rodney both hilariously loved, especially the dancing hippos). “Au Reservoir” is the first episode of The Deuce where it feels like characters have to make genuine adjustments to their lives because of how rapidly sex work is changing. The fact that the show took its time early in the season developing its setting, establishing this small piece of Manhattan as the forefront for where the industry is heading. Now those shifts are playing out and the characters that the show worked so hard to develop into human beings that feel authentic either have to go with the industry or get out. It was happening right under our noses the first six episodes, but man did the show sneak up on me here.

But as the pimps and women committed to street work are pushed out, new people are coming in. Most notably in this episode that’s Candy, who I think I have to start calling Eileen in my reviews. Watching her on set, making a porn film from behind the camera, is the greatest reward The Deuce has delivered thus far. She’s not only acting, she’s changing the set design (the art department, another crew member remarks she’s in) and giving directions to her costars, most notably Lori. Initially stiff on camera, it’s Eileen who makes her feel confident with cream that’ll make her breasts pop on camera, and making the set feel sexy while she’s on camera. Porn is supposed to be sexy, and on this set, Eileen is the only one capable to making it that way it seems, doing it all with her clothes on. Naturally, and I barely even feel the need to remind you, but it would be remiss not to, Maggie Gyllenhaal remains an undeniable revelation as Eileen.

Another beneficiary is the gay porn star, here personified through Paul’s recent hookup turned relationship-of-sorts. Boys in the Sand, a landmark gay porn film shot on, you guessed it, Fire Island that was also reviewed by Variety, thus legitimizing it to the mainstream public, is having its red carpet premiere, to which Paul is accompanying his lover, one of the stars. Frankie and Ashley tag along, and the former’s reactions to everything from the artsy qualities (Franco using the word “vignettes” as if it was an insult in another language was amazing) to lots of man-on-man felacio were just so incredibly delightful. But as Paul states in his pillow talk after the premiere, people driving across the country for a gay porn film, which freely has its name on the theater’s marquee, is something worth celebrating. It’s a historic political moment for LGBTQ acceptance into the mainstream culture, as non-traditional as it may seem.

But don’t mistake The Deuce for glamorizing all sex work. “Au Reservoir” still sees how the industry evolves as the dangerous environment it was. Men walk into Bobby’s “massage parlor” and just pick the woman they want. Almost every scene that takes place here sees Bobby having to intervene as the manager of the establishment, whether it be abuse from the men, the women stealing money, or an unprovoked emotional breakdown at the work being done just to stay in New York. The Deuce is finally seeing the larger sex industry morph out of what it was into something new, and it’s highlighting just about every possible outcome from everyone involved in ways both rewarding and emotionally devastating. “Au Reservoir” represents that better than any hour of the show before it, and also puts the show on the path to becoming the classic it very well could become. Grade: A

By Matt Dougherty

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