The Deuce didn’t have the seismic impact of creator David Simon’s earlier HBO drama The Wire, but it’s nevertheless been an understated joy over the past three years, as under-appreciated as the sage bartenders it focused on.
The show centred around the Golden Age of Porn and chronicled its origins in prostitution, but also served as a gorgeous periodisation of a New York City that no longer exists, and a meditation on struggle, futility and letting go.
The final episode aired last night in the US and it tied up the the stories of its vast array of characters perhaps more neatly than we might have expected, largely due to an unexpected time jump to 2019.
Here’s how we left the show’s main characters:
Eileen “Candy” Merrell (Maggie Gyllenhaal)
Hank (Corey Stall) seemed to be a positive influence in Eileen’s life, and genuine in his lack of concern about her colourful past. But the couple’s relationship appeared to come to an end when Hank asked Eileen not to go back in front of the camera. As resolute as ever, Eileen fulfilled her obligation, shooting her big return porn scene even though she was required by the directors to do more than was negotiated in the deal. With trademark pragmatism, she noted: “I’m gonna cheat a condom on the anal” and promptly walked to set.
Eileen lost faith in her semi-biographical arthouse film, and appeared not to finish it. However, in the 2019 flash-forward we learned that she did in fact ultimately complete the movie. In a bittersweet conclusion, we learned that the film, A Pawn in the Game, was revered as a landmark in feminist cinema, though not until years after it was made. In the New York Daily News, Vincent learned that Eileen died from cancer aged 73.
Harvey Wasserman (David Krumholtz)
Porn director and Eileen’s mentor, Harvey wasn’t given a huge amount of time in the finale, but, in quite a tender moment, was moved upon watching a rough cut of Eileen’s film. He finally fully appreciated her artistry, even suggesting she take the sex scenes out of it entirely.
Bobby Dwyer (Chris Bauer)
Bobby’s “massage” parlour was among those closed by city officials in its ostensible crackdown on the spread of the AIDS virus. His business was on its way out anyway, in spite of a last minute lease of life provided by Russian prostitutes that were shipped into the parlour. Out of work, Bobby was left to return to a union job and what he perceived as nuclear family misery.
Joey Dwyer (Michael Gandolfini)
He had it coming. Joey was arrested for insider trading, and learned that he hadn’t successfully shorted the pharma stock anyway.
Black Frankie (Thaddeus Street)
Black Frankie never felt tied to New York, an unemotional character and very much a rolling stone. It made sense, then, that when the parlour closed he decided to move to Baltimore to help out a cousin (a nod to Simon’s Baltimore-set The Wire, maybe).
Melissa/Margaret Ross (Olivia Luccardi)
Having decided against moving home, Melissa stayed in the Bronx and, upon realising that he was dying from AIDS, married her gay housemate Reg in celebration of their friendship and bond.
Gene Goldman (Luke Kirby)
It was quite a bleak ending for Gene, who was part of the Koch administration’s crackdown on parlours and bathhouses that he himself frequented. He told himself he was doing good and driving regeneration in Midtown, but you could tell he didn’t fully believe it.
Chris Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.)
The lieutenant was a major character in season one but slid into the background somewhat as the show went on. In the finale, he was left to survey streetwalking and other crimes popping up elsewhere in the city, lamenting how the police never really ‘clean’ the streets, “all we do is push it.”
Big Mike (Mustafa Shakir)
Last seen starting to decompose after dying from AIDS in a small, remote cabin.
Paul Hendrickson (Chris Coy)
We never found out for sure if Paul had contracted AIDS, but his health was clearly declining. His story was left very much open in the wake of boyfriend Todd’s death, Paul musing about how he had come to appreciate the changing of the seasons more than he used to as a kid, before walking off into the night. His presence in the flash-forward’s semi-dream sequence implies he didn’t make it to 2019.
Lori Madison (Emily Meade)
Lori made a surprise exit in the penultimate episode when she shot herself in the temple after briefly returning to prostitution. She returned in 2019 Vincent’s daydreams, and Vince looked guilty for having not done more to help her.
Abigail “Abby” Parker (Margarita Levieva)
Abby stuck to her guns in leaving Vincent after finding a gun in their apartment for the second time, but the pair managed to find some hope and look back on the time they had together fondly as they prepared to move out. They weren’t sure exactly what to make of their difficult relationship, but as Vince rubbed Abby’s feet one last time they agreed they’d “had something”. Abby gave the Hi-Hat to Loretta and vowed to return to her studies.
Abby was later given the final shot in the show, emerging from a throng of pedestrians in 2019 Times Square while wearing a suit and talking on a cellphone– for better or worse, she did ultimately go into law.
Vincent Martino (James Franco)
The Deuce didn’t really have a protagonist, but Vincent became the character most closely studied in the final season, particularly after the death of his twin brother, Frankie. Vince managed to successfully extricate himself from the mob, buying himself out, though Tommy Longo charged him $200,000 for the honour.
In the little epilogue, set in 2019, we found Vince in a hotel room flicking through channels – past Game of Thrones and the news – before hovering over an adult film but deciding not to watch it. It turned out that he now lives in Florida and was back in New York for a wedding. He sat in a bar – a bar very different to The Hi-Hat – and remembered the old days with a somewhat uninterested bartender, before walking out into the din of Times Square. Walking past all the musicals and neon lights and food vendors, he caught glimpses of deceased characters as though they were standing right there, young and in their original ’80s clothes. Reuniting with a vision of his brother, the vibe was one of an older man questioning the intangibility of his past.
The decision to jump forward to the present day was a daring end to The Deuce. It was a little sentimental, but a little sentimentality was exactly what we needed at that moment after seeing so many characters meet fairly sad, or else just numb, ends. There was such a palpable affection for – and fascination with – New York City running through The Deuce, and the closing shot of a bustling Times Square at once felt romantic – the proverbial ‘love letter to the city’ – but also a lament on how it has changed and what has been lost. Vince’s stroll through Manhattan echoed what chef Leon had once told him, that people leave this world and each other’s lives by “walking into the arms of time.”
‘The Deuce’ season three arrives on Sky Atlantic in the UK soon