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The Final Season of HBO's 'The Deuce' has Arrived
September 9, 2019  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

The Deuce
, HBO’s complex exploration of the New York sex industry during its 1970s-1980s golden age, was always projected as a trey. 

Three seasons and out was the plan, and so the eight episodes that kick off Monday at 9 p.m. ET will wrap it up. 

Unlike some adult entertainment providers, The Deuce has delivered on its promises. It has told its engaging tales with a rich cast of characters, many of them sleazy and almost all of them human. 

While we’ve met a lot of lost souls, The Deuce has never caricatured or dismissed the people, mainly women, who go into the sex trade. They aren’t reduced only to being victims, though that’s a component of every conversation.  

The Deuce has also never treated the sex trade, or New York’s tenderloin district of this era, as a ticket to cheap voyeurism. In the third season, as in the previous two, we never have the sense we’re looking at something salacious through a peephole. 

What we do get, more intensely as the third season begins, is the clear sense that while sex is one of history’s most durable industries, its economic particulars can be as mercurial and fragile as those of any other industry, from cell phones to designer coffee. 

Candy Merrell (Maggie Gyllenhaal, top) has been and remains our guide through this shifting landscape. 

When we first met her, she was a streetwalker trying to break out of the pimp system and become an independent contractor. That business plan had mixed results, so she segued into the rapidly growing porn movie biz, and wisely maneuvered herself into management. 

She did this by the simple, basic trick of getting to know people who could help her, from bar owner Vince Martino (James Franco, who also plays his twin brother Frankie) to slick, low-rent entrepreneurs who saw porn as a good way to make a quick buck. 

The third season fast-forwards to late 1984, which means we’re entering the age of widespread VCRs, enabling porn fans to watch in the relaxed comfort of their living rooms rather than in darkened theaters. 

Candy and her fellow producers all see that shift. Candy just has a bigger problem than most of the others, because she’s still lobbying to make romantic porn movies. She argues that if you make the sex sensual rather than simply graphic, you can attract a whole new market of women. 

The industry says this won’t work because women will always remain a minor, economically insignificant niche. The porn audience, they say, will always be men who just want the basics: nymphomaniacs who will do anything to please men.

The practical impact of this belief on Candy is that she can’t get financial backing for video production. As Season 3 begins, she’s still fighting that uphill battle. 

Everyone, meanwhile, is starting to grasp the implications of the exploding AIDS crisis. Suddenly the sex game has a new risk factor that goes beyond morality to mortality. 

Creators David Simon and George Pelecanos also will be using this last season to expand further, if not always wrap up, the arcs of the many characters with whom they have populated their world. 

Lori Madison (Emily Meade), for example, stepped right off the bus from Minnesota into the sex trade and scored big in the movie game. Where it has gone from there, we see early in the first episode. 

Vincent and Frankie Martino’s ties to the Mob also start to play out here, and they are hardly the only folks who have operated on the dark side. 

We don’t get a neat wrap on every pimp and sex worker. We do get a storyline that rings true. As Simon said, not all of this happened, but all of this could have happened. 

There aren’t a lot of characters in The Deuce, even Gyllenhaal’s sympathetic Candy, whom you want to rush up and hug. There’s a wariness to people in this game, a sense that they build walls to guard themselves against an outside world that judges them first and gets to know them later, if at all. 

By the end of this final season, it has made its point. 

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I've been impatiently waiting for The Deuce though I did not know it was only planned for three seasons. Too bad.

I really, really like this show. I feel like I'm right there with all the characters as they go about their lives. And many of them are so real and likable I could easily while away my time there. I never would have guessed that I'd feel at home in the Deuce.
Sep 10, 2019   |  Reply
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