Maggie Gyllenhaal in HBO's 'The Deuce'
Courtesy: HBO

Television

'The Deuce' Brings More Sex—and More Women With Power

The season two premiere of The Deuce ended with a shot of Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) considering an adult film she had edited, then edited again after a male director told her capturing the female orgasm through a collection of artfully collected images was not what male viewers want. The focus on a female porn director teases what the HBO show, and much of the hype around it, has been suggesting from the beginning. This is a series about women, specifically sex workers, taking power.

The episode's penultimate shot might hold the biggest key to this season, and represent what sets it apart from the last big period drama about a group of strong-willed women eventually eclipsing the men that once had full control over their profession: Mad Men. As Vince (James Franco) enjoys a post-coital cigarette, the camera pans to a copy of Sisterhood Is Powerful, the 1970s anthology of feminist writing. While the show could have chosen any feminist tome from the decade to telegraph not only Abby’s (Margarita Levieva) expanding feminist consciousness but that of the series, the choice of a book that focuses on sisterhood seems to capture an idea you can see throughout the season premiere. The women of The Deuce aren’t looking to just lift themselves up out of a man’s world. They want to help each other.
What Mad Men is and was will probably be dissected by TV buffs forever, but in real time, as the seasons went on, the critical narrative was clear. The series that started as the journey of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) was quickly becoming Peggy’s (Elisabeth Moss) story. Don was a man to be pitied, his career on the decline, while Peggy was successfully battering the glass ceiling.
But while the show had plenty of other strong female characters, from Joan (Christina Hendricks) to Betty (January Jones) to Trudy (Alison Brie), their journeys—from bending to the whims of men, to making their own way—were incredibly siloed. When Joan makes the pitch to Peggy in season seven to form their own company, it might have been disappointing from a fan-fiction perspective that Harris-Olson didn’t rise up to create the iconic ads of the ‘70s, but their lack of collaboration made sense within the world of the show. Though they’d sometimes meet up to commiserate about the well-dressed misogynists calling the shots, their feminist journeys were not group efforts.
The Deuce could quickly distinguish itself in a TV landscape that often starts a countdown clock on betrayal and backstabbing once two or more powerful women enter a frame.
The women of The Deuce, however, are lifting each other up. From little moments, like Abby congratulating Darlene (Dominique Fishback) on her GED and asking her what her post-grad plans are, to bigger ones, like Abby working with the leader of a strippers strike to help them raise back wages, it’s clear that these women are not just out for their own liberation, but for the liberation of the women overall. While the show isn’t unique for showing women in precarious positions leaning on each other, it could quickly distinguish itself in a TV landscape that often starts a countdown clock on betrayal and backstabbing once two or more powerful women, with the chance to gain more, enter a frame.

As the ladies on the streets, in the booths and in front of and behind the camera gain more control, the men, particularly the pimps, are getting angsty in a way that makes it hard not to draw comparisons to the many groups of men in 2018 who range from unnerved to furious that women are making gains in politics. As The Deuce’s second season unfurls more truly hideous polyester, the men of the show and modern-day viewers alike should take note—sisterhood is powerful.

2018 EMMY NOMINEE SPOTLIGHT

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