HBO’s The Deuce is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. The final episode aired a few months ago and I am ready to speak my thoughts. Please stop here to avoid spoilers.
The Deuce was about the golden age of porn centered on Times Square. I know some feel it represents the end of an HBO era with the coming of HBO Max but I believe HBO will always have a home for art house television among the superheroes and fantasy warlords. A few years ago when The Deuce premiered it did seem like there was too much art house television with streamers flooding the market and it outdid them all. The Deuce was rawer than the others, less about Emmy moments. Instead each season examined a period in a slow built to a breathtaking conclusion. To me, the show told narratives about a period of freedom, we can never return to. Times Square was a playground for desire in all its forms. The dark and the light while it never romanticized any aspect of the brutal realities, it separated justice from judgement. I know that lack of judgement frustrated some viewers but freedom will always have a dark side. The Deuce never asked you to forgive anyone for their wrongdoing but it never let you forget their humanity either. Bobby wasn’t a good husband or man but refused to physically assault the sex workers who quit his parlor. Great moment in humanity, no. But it was an important one for Times Square where that was status quo. It was a show that didn’t give a fuck about next week. I will be honest, I watched seasons 2 and 3 after they had finished their initial airing because watching one a night for ten days straight gave me a preferable pace. Narratives were almost all seasonal arcs. It was a beautiful experience in television. More than traditional episodic and far from the decade long questions of Lost and Game of Thrones. In many ways, it reminds me of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City without the hippie grace of San Francisco.
The reason I started this was to discuss the closing scene of The Deuce. The final scene of a series is a hard feat to pull off. In particular, a series about how the cesspit of NYC became the main tourist drag. Vincent returns to NYC in 2019 and goes for a walk down the old way. In an elegant bar, we learn Candy has died (but important enough to get an obituary in a major New York daily). He then walks the hazy fake daylight of the LEDs that make up the neighborhood today. He sees the ghosts of all the dead characters. Most are in their 60’s rock bottom era costumes. At first I hated this scene but I grew to love it. One the final moment is Vincent meeting Frankie in front of an Olive Garden. There’s a wonderful joke in that shot. The two Italian American New Yorkers both forced out and the corporate vision of their culture which matches the corporate vision of Gotham around them. I know a lot of people who hate it, people whose 70’s New York was Manhattan which kept to the parts where polite company gathered. In Simulation and Simulacra, Baudrillard discusses Disneyland and particularly the emptiness that hits in the parking lot after. We see the illusions that we have created in our lives. Times Square is a similar space. In the 60-80’s, it was the illusion that you had to go there for your taboo desires. In 2019 it is the illusion that we no longer have those desires.