Things get even worse when an overweight john propositions her at the Hi-Hat and she leads him huffing and puffing up a flight of stairs at the Lionel Hotel. (To have her asked on “a date” while she’s unwinding at the bar is a nice touch, like an overworked store clerk getting called back from a much-needed smoke break.) All that exertion leaves his tortured heart unable to handle any more stimulation, and he keels over. Her reaction isn’t horror or anything approaching the visceral shock from the rat’s crawling on her head. She watched a man get stabbed on the street, after all, and walked away just as everyone else did. But there’s a symbolic value to the what happened: She may die in a fleabag hotel, too. She may disappear like the prostitute who has only a nice suede jacket as evidence that she ever existed.
And yet how does she go? She doesn’t have a pimp like Darlene does, who can’t easily follow through on the bus ticket to North Carolina that Abby leaves for her. But a date with Jack, a handsome single father she meets at a record store, reveals how difficult a “normal” life might be for her. She has to deny she has kids, which is false. She has to bat away a simple inquiry into what she does for a living. And she’s as uncertain of herself as a romantic partner as she is confident when she’s turning tricks. She listens to his answering machine message over and over, as if to disappear in some impossible fantasy, like a schoolgirl daydreaming about Davy Jones. When she kisses him after their date, the intimacy is so foreign to her that she can barely process it.
Also strung throughout this episode is the effect of corruption on working people, from the cops who demand a cut of Vinnie’s business to the gangsters who demand a cut of union paychecks to the pimps who get their cut at the end of the night. Eileen has removed herself from that system through self-employment, but that has also made her extra vulnerable to dangerous situations. She’s starting to realize that she can’t keep doing this for long, but stepping away is more terrifying than it looks.
• Maggie Gyllenhaal’s weary, are-you-kidding-me attitude has been deadpan gold all season, including during two laughs before the opening credits. The first is her response to Lori’s hilariously strained attempt at a Noah’s Ark reference (“I should build a boat … for animals, you know?”); the second is the look she gives the second time she’s asked if she likes movies.
• Vinnie’s being good with all kinds of people has quickly made the Hi-Hat a melting pot of businessmen, prostitutes and some of the gay bar’s previous clientele. Asked why he accepts all types, he replies: “A little of this, a little of that. It’s New York. People want to be surprised.”
• Alston’s testing the “no-go zone” indicates an interest in applying the law fairly that will probably get him in trouble. No one will tell him why it’s forbidden, but he’s not the type to let it rest.
• Wonderful scene in the diner between the women about doing their jobs while on their period. It’s good, practical information for one, but particularly fun to see Larry squirm over talk about sponges stanching the flow and about creative uses for needle-nose pliers.
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