Entertainment

We Need to Talk About the Potato-Soup Sex Scene in 'The Deuce'

The Deuce
HBO

In addition to the promise of sex and the surface of grit, one of the appeals of HBO's porn drama The Deuce is its emphasis on authenticity. The show's creators, David Simon and George Pelecanos (who both wrote for the similarly journalistic The Wire), are revered for their ability to put you in a specific time and place through a combination of dramatic flair, sharp dialogue, and scrupulous research. When you see a movie title on a marquee or hear a pimp drop a political reference, you can bet that detail was fact-checked by a producer or a member of the writing staff.

But what about some of the more graphic details that come with making a show about the evolution of pornography in New York City? I'm referring to a very specific moment in last night's episode "Show and Prove," which saw Maggie Gyllenhaal's Eileen "Candy" Merrell acting in her first porn film, a Viking themed group sex romp shot in a dingy apartment. If you saw the episode, you know the part I'm talking about. 

As the schlocky scene reaches its less-than-thrilling conclusion, Candy and the other female performer in the film are sprayed with what at first looks like an unhealthy amount of semen. "Don't squint -- you're supposed to love Viking cum," says the creepy camera operator as he films the money shot. "Viking cum's OK," quips the other actress. "Cold potato soup sucks." In the scene we even catch a glimpse of the cans of Campbell's soup sitting on the floor, which a woman dutifully loads into a baster and sprays at the two women, who struggle to make sure it doesn't get in their eyes.

The Deuce soup
HBO

Was this another piece of investigative research or pure Hollywood hokum? According to a piece in the New York Post, the faux-semen has its root in historical fact. In the article, Pelecanos says that it was a detail gleaned by writer Richard Price, the New York crime writer who co-wrote the episode. Simon also confirmed that in research they "found out there are a couple desperate remedies when male performers failed to restrain themselves in sex sufficiently.”

Unsurprisingly, Price, the co-writer of HBO's The Night Of and the novelist behind classics like Clockers, had the best line about the soup cameo. "I guess it took the stress off multiple takes of the ‘money shot’ although there was a certain risk in regards to excessive starch,” he told the Post in an e-mail. “I wonder if it boosted sales of canned vichyssoise in Times Square."

the deuce sex scene
HBO

More than anything, the gross-out moment underlined what's so compelling about The Deuce: There's seemingly no element of sex work that the show won't demystify. Where many HBO series in the past have attempted to titillate viewers with premium cable nudity and tastefully lit sex scenes -- think of the leering detours to the Bada Bing on The Sopranos or the countless examples on Game of Thrones -- The Deuce uses sex to make droll, funny points about labor. The potato soup semen sequence doesn't end on a note of humiliation or shame. Instead, we see Gyllenhaal looking on with a bemused expression on her face, somewhere between curiosity and irritation.

The ambiguity of the moment is telling: Candy, a character partially inspired by feminist-porn director and educator Candida Royalle, is taking in all the details. Her time on the porn set is one of education -- we see her eyeing the lights and cameras -- and it's clear that the show is putting her on a path to eventually make her own films and go into business for herself. Presumably, those movies will be less goofy and Viking-filled. And hopefully, there will be less cans of cold soup involved.  

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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.