The Deuce has always done an excellent job of setting up atmosphere. Considering the show is about the sex trade on 42nd Street in New York City, this may not seem like a difficult task. What the creative team has done so well is not overwhelm viewers with an overwhelmingly depressing feeling. As dark and gritty as the previous seasons were, there was also a sense of excitement and hope. The streets were certainly dark, but there was always the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
The concluding chapter of the HBO drama has a definite sense of finality. Despite being set in the 1980s – a decade known for its greed and self-indulgence – there has been little about the season that has been fun or given reason for optimism. Even a character learning their immune system is working normally comes with a frightening caveat.
This may be due to the fact that as much as people look back on the period with rose tinted glasses, the 80s saw plenty of horrible moments. The drug use that was so carefree the previous decade now comes with serious ramifications. In the 70s people used drugs to have fun, in the 80s they did them to forget. The biggest change is the onset of AIDS. During the first two seasons of The Deuce, everyone was indiscriminately having sex. Each of these interactions now have a new terrifying side to them. The specter has always been there but now that it is a reality on the show, the fear is palatable.
The times may also be catching up with the many characters on the Deuce. Since Frankie’s first introduction, it seems like people have been after him. Through sheer luck (and help from his twin brother, Vinny) he has not only managed to stay alive, he has somehow thrived. His fortunes have come up with a negative side effect, however. Vinny was never one shy away from taking risks, but now he is more emboldened and defiant. It is becoming more obvious nothing good can come of this.
Frankie is not the only character who has problems looming in the distance. Despite the illicit activities that go at Club 366, Vinny’s club has been a success since the 1970s. It appears as if his luck is going to run out. His always rocky relationship with Abigail has seemingly become more strained. Lori has been using cocaine since the early 70s. She is a big-time up porn star now, but drug abuse, the changing porn industry, and her increasing age (she is about to be a ripe old 30) are threatening to ruin her life. The Deuce has always been been a dark series with harsh consequences, but now the stakes seem higher than they have ever been.
The one difference this season has been Candy. She is still struggling to do what she wants, but things seem to be looking up for her. After meeting a man named Hank on New Year’s Eve, her self destructive tendencies take over during a date. This time however, she is unable to push her date away. Whether working the streets or negotiating film rights, Candy has always exuded a false confidence. Her cynical guard is still up, but she seems more willing to let a man into her life.
The final season of The Deuce is off to a great if troubling start. The series remains as exceptional as ever, but things have never been gloomier. It was always headed in this direction, but that does not make things any less horrific.