The Deuce (S02E01) “Our Raison d’Etre”

HBO’s The Deuce opens season 2 after a time jump of five years.  Some characters are reaping the benefits of lessons learned, hard work and good fortune. Other characters remained anchored to the past, struggling with the same destructive issues in a world which threatens to leave them behind. The mob squeezes the industry and characters  hard just as California starts building the West Coast porn industry. Life goes on in The Deuce as all the players fight for money, opportunity and power.

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Eileen, wearing Halston, heading to Club 366 in the season 2 premiere of HBOs The Deuce


Spoilers follow so make sure you have watched “Our Raison d’Etre” before reading further. David Simon & George Pelecanos wrote “Our Raison d’Etre”; Alex Hall directed the episode.

Eileen/Candy is a “triple celebrity”

“Our Raison d’Etre” open with a shot of Eileen “Candy” Merrell (Maggie Gyllenhaal), in 1977,  walking to Club 366, Vincent Martino’s (James Franco) new mob-back disco club.  Eileen wears confidence and success with her stunning Halston gown. Unlike season one, her walk is relaxed, takes up bigger physical space, unconsciously, sensual because she is unaware of it.  She is dressed for herself, not for attracting johns. We know, before she says anything, that life has been better for Candy during the past five years.

Inside Club 366, Eileen is touted as a triple celebrity , actor, director and general movie star hotness. Her last film was ranked 100 on the Peter Meter!

“This Year’s Girl” in the opening credits

The new opening credits for The Deuce feature a mix of Elvis Costello’s “This Year’s Girl” with Wild Belle’s Natalie Bergman to update the song.  Vulture has the great story behind how “This Year’s Girl” was chosen and the mix made for The Deuce.


“Show Land is Frankie’s Ground Zero”

The writers use the plot device of Frankie Martino (James Franco) stealing all the money ($10,642) from The Show Land peep show business he runs before disappearing. Viewers catch up on most of the characters while Vincent makes the rounds of The Deuce tracking down his problem-child twin brother.

Vincent and Abby are still together as a couple, but their relationship has moved into routine.  Abby has many separate interests and doesn’t miss college.   She manages the High Hat now, and works to help a group of strippers who staged a walk-out strike over pay.  She likes punk music and hires a band to play the bar.  Abby and Vincent can’t seem to find time to be together with conflicting schedules in their night is day life.

When she wants to have sex with Vincent, he has to chase after Frankie.  When  he has time, she has to meet a stripper at the High Hat. Vincent hates the punk band she hired. Vincent doesn’t consider punk rock as real music and even admits he feels old for saying so. Their age and interest gaps create tension until Frankie brings them together again at the end of the episode.  They finally have the time and joint desire to make love in their bed.

“Ferregamo or Flash?”

Pimps getting a shoe shine argue the merits of understated elegance vs flash. Ferregamo shoes, which speak for themselves, or the old style of velvet flash and wild hats, which way is better? How to best show a pimp’s status and power to the community with elegance or flash?  It is a great little scene which describes the pimps’ struggle to adapt to changing times and new rules. Season 1 had officer Chris Alston getting his shoes shined alongside the pimps in The Deuce, but now the pimps now have more time on their hands in season 2 comparatively.

“Porn is our Raison d’Etre”

Eileen continues learning porn filming but cuts a film to show the progression of a woman’s arousal to orgasm.  Harvey (David Krumholtz) schools her harshly, stating that the men jerking off to the film have no interest in the woman’s point of view. They want to be watching  sex, seeing “dicks that could be their own”. Harvey reminds her that porn for men is their raison d’etre.  If Eileen keeps “the focus on the fucking” and adds back more shots of skin and action, then her orgasm-building shots can be added back into the final cut.  Eileen takes his advice to heart and re-edits her film to improve it.

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Harvey Eileen discuss her artistic film edits

Alston has grown up

Chris Allston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr) is also doing well as a detective.  He refuses to use his clout to clean up another mess his old partner Danny Flanagan (Don Harvey) created. Alston has grown wiser in several ways as “Our Raison d’Etre demonstrates. Season 1 Alston would have been compelled to help Flanagan but now he is self-protective.

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Chris Alston and Danny Flanagan at the diner


Alston catches the murder of a male tourist whose family came to New York to see “Beatlemania” . He realizes quickly that his tourist put his family in a hotel and came down to The Deuce to hook up.  As he investigates the case he clashes with the Mayor’s (Koch) new liaison, Gene Goldman (Luke Kirby). The Mayor is worried tourists will be frightened away from New York if the murder becomes big news.  Alston reminds Goldman that he investigates all cases the same way and continues his work.

Alston has a girlfriend, a nurse whom he picks up at the hospital after her shift ends late night.  They joke about Foxy Brown, Pam Grier and how he thinks of her like Foxy Brown.  It seems a sweet, realistic relationship unlike the Sandra Washington (Natalie Paul) crush-relationship.

Women are gaining autonomy

Lori (Emily Meade) has blossomed as a porn actress, making money, getting fame and fans. Her pimp,  C.C. (Gary Carr) interrupts her film shoot when a client wants to book a date right then.  C.C demands and gets the difference between Lori’s film pay and the lost date. Bernie (Steven Gevedon) , the producer, in front of the cast and crew, embarrassing Lori.  Bernie points out to Lori that she has to be dependable which she understands. How long will it take before C.C ‘s manipulations will cost her film jobs and professional respect?

Darlene (Dominique Fishback) secretly earned her G.E.D since season 1 and wants to secretly take college classes. Can she keep Larry from finding out?  Larry tells her that books are worthless, that only the streets will give her the best education.  Darlene remains stoic, determined to better her life and I cheer her on wholeheartedly!

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Dominique Fishback as Darlene

Paul Hendrickson (Chris Coy) has opened a successful gay club but wants to expand while cutting ties with the mob. He is willing to take all the risk himself, financial and otherwise, but his partner worries they will lose their money.  Paul is determined to have his freedom and we’ll see his steps in the next episode, “There’s an Art to This” .

“Now I’m a whore without a john”

A major plotline in “Our Raison d’Etre” comes from the women pushing back on the men who hold power over them.  A key scene comes when C.C. and Lori go to Club 366 to meet the client who had wanted a date during the film shoot. Lori’s status as a porn film star made the client long to have her after seeing her onscreen.

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Lori and C.C. at Club 366 waiting for a client

C.C. ruins the gig by  demanding $200 for her date but the client refuses. C.C. causes a scene and the client leaves after security threatens him. C.C’s greed has cost Lori a client and him money. He’s creating problems and alienating others trying to stay in power, at Lori’s expense. C.C. kept his old school thinking but the game and rules have changed.  C.C. must therefore either adapt and change or will ruin his and  Lori’s chances. Most of the pimps are trying desperately to keep control of their women and money. C.C is the most blatant example of how old thinking can self-sabotage everyone.

Lori isn’t willing to let it go . C.C. sees her as a fine commodity, a collectible item. “Know who you are,” he tells her.  She hits back with ” I’m a whore, C.C. You made that pretty clear to everyone on set today. Now I’m a whore without a john. ”

Everybody loves a Sucker!

Frankie finally returns to Club 366 with Christina, the missing actress, who is now his wife.  He spent the money on a diamond ring for Christina, a tattoo of Christina and playing the Big 8.  Frankie calls for champagne to toast his wedding as Vincent agrees to make the ring his gift. When Abby tells Vincent she loves him, he responds “Everybody loves a sucker”

Frankie promises to work hard for his wife and we all know that won’t happen.  Frankie will continue being Frankie but Vincent will continue cleaning up after Frankie. The world needs lots of suckers.

The progression of orgasms

The episode ends as Vincent and Abby make love intercut with shots of Eileen watching the final edit of her film, back and forth between the couple and the film.   Eileen has therefore learned her lessons as Vincent and Abby have learned to be a couple . Vincent, Abby and the film actress build to orgasm together as Eileen watches the film build to orgasm.