Don’t you love it when people tell you what to do, how you should live your life and, my personal favorite, who you are? ‘Kyrie Eleison’ examines this adorable compulsion of the human psyche but underneath this intention lies deep abiding reasons this merry band of misfits has come together. And it’s all pretty brilliant.
In the third act of ‘Kyrie Eleison’, Libby sits on the couch smoking while Coral (Keke Palmer) irons Bill’s shirts. In a very short time (three days by my count), Coral has become proficient in the language of expectation in the Masters’ household. But wait. Not so fast says the mistress of the house who has, in the meantime, been crumbling straightaway. Things are so bad for Libby her only perceived tether to her illusion of control demeans Coral. But worse yet, it dishonors herself. All about the pronunciation of the word “ask.” This is among the worst of it… that capacity for cruelty we all share when our own feelings of incompetence become intolerable (Libby is only acting out the effect of living with Bill, after all). But others, like Betty and young Rose, a girl whom the episode is centered around, reflect in interesting ways the lasting effects of being caught in that kind piercing cold light illumination, if you will.
He said I'd thank him later, as this secretary is, in his words, eminently qualified, knows the hospital, and is a gem.
First of all, Betsey Brandt: I have missed you so. Perfectly delightful and cheekily cast as Bill’s new secretary at Memorial is she. Seriously, her presence brings more TV aristocrat cred than pretty much anyone they might have cast as Barbara Sanderson. There was not one moment of her screen time that she was not sublime. Additionally, her comedic timing nimbly aligns with the tone of humor of this show and that is hardly an easy tone with which to mesh so thoroughly. And maybe I got the perverse implications of Doug Greathouse, well, twisted, but I think she’s going to play quite a role this season.
I suppose your mother powdered you like a little doll.
You guys, we are in for a world of hurt with Lillian and Virginia as the inevitable approaches. Ashford and company are making for damn sure that every considered interaction between these two illuminates and promotes the essential nature of female friendship in all its detailed and darling splendor. It bears mentioning that the chemistry between Julianne Nicholson and Lizzy Caplan is a freaking goldmine. The actresses' performances miraculously never veer into trite even when their storyline might occasionally be predicated on the mundane. With Lillian’s cancer metastasizing these two go from juggling steak knives to chainsaws. And in some ways, I can’t wait to have my heart broken.
Oh, I’m Betty. Yeah, just one of the hospital busy bees.
Halfway though last season, Betty all but disappeared from the show. The creators kept promising that she’d be back in a big way for season two but because of the actress’ commitment to Kinky Boots on Broadway (of course that’s the show she was in) a reduced back half of the season was necessary. Her addition to ‘Kyrie Eleison' might just be incalculable. For one, she gives us such an interesting way to look at Bill, it’s earnestly so rooted in emotion that it's hard to articulate. Yes, she’s great at cracking wise and yes, she’s as endearing as she is infuriating for Bill to be around but we never forget what a huge asset she has been to him from their very first scene together in the pilot, all the way up until now when she becomes furniture in his new office. Betty's perspective on women, the study and herself provides a wonderful highly refined insight that the show very wisely keeps dipping into. Her scene where she passes along her own experience of her hateful mom to Rose is easily among my favorites in the episode.
You know, for hundreds of years, people who fall outside the bounds of normal sexual behavior have been labeled deviant, amoral, whores but that kind of thinking is just reactionary and stupid.
Well, Bill manages to engender respect, sympathy and esprit de corps in a brilliant hat trick. First he refuses to toe the hospital’s ridiculous party line of favoring morality (and money) over medicine when he’s asked to perform a hysterectomy on an 18 year-old girl who’s ‘too promiscuous’ for her parents’ liking. He then tells Doug Greathouse what’s what so subtly it’s unclear if Greathouse even knows what hit him. Then he makes one final lap when he tells Rose that she’s awesome and that there’s nothing wrong with her. All this while he tries to manage his own pain over Barton’s suicide attempt. The life and death stakes of the study all the while becoming more crystalline.
I'm hitting the gas and I'm steering into the skid.
My favorite revelation of 'Kyrie Eleison’ is the single unifying reason why all of these peoples’ lives are intertwined. They all approach life from the same place. They are incapable of what’s becoming obsolete moral judgment. Simply said, they represent a new consciousness in cellular form. It’s the same stream the Masters and Johnson study came out of. These are people who have no interest in social conventions that don’t allow for the total of humanity to exist as equals. For all of the ways they, individually, are fractured, they share a commonality (that was briefly referenced in the conversation between Virginia and Austin) that is so cohesive it might as well be super glue. Great is the beauty of an episode that dramatizes how the world tells us what to do by presenting hope in the form of a pantheon of characters who have necessarily, fortunately and courageously transcended that particular mortal coil.
Bits and Pieces
*Betty breaks a heel. And broke a heel into her mom’s eye years back.
*You know there’s a common misconception that people who don’t subscribe to traditional moral codes, don’t have any moral code at all. Obviously that’s ludicrous anyway but here we see the compass by which Bill and Virginia operate. Bill implores Betty to tell Gene the truth about her infertility. And both Virginia and Bill have to contend with two a-holes who are too wrapped up in their repression and exploitation, respectively, to behave appropriately by their own imposed morality.
*As for the subtle way the episode dealt with abortion… bless.
*Even though the scenes with Vivian didn’t rank among my favorite, she provided a real depth of character when juxtaposed with Austin's clowning, then she stood very strong with Virginia (something not many can or would do) and finally she offered a changed up version of herself when she beautifully and honestly relayed the details of her dad’s attempted suicide to Bill.
*Can we talk about Bill Masters’ car? The MG MGA Roadster? Yeah, I’ve noticed it before. About 10,000 times. But it’s just so elite, I couldn’t actually bring myself to comment on it until now.
*One of my notes says, “Bill’s bedside manner is insane amazing.”
*In a surprising tender moment between Betty and Bill, Betty’s just been recognized at the hospital by a former client and it visibly throws her off (this is when she breaks the aforementioned heel on her shoe). Bill holds the door open for her when they get to his office and they both take note, for a moment, that he understands what just happened on at least as many levels as his brain can process it.
*I should probably offer up the fact that I grew up in St Louis. (About 1 mile from where Masters and Johnson shared a marital home, my parents recently informed me!)
Bits and Pieces: 1950s Edition
*I guess babies are not allowed to cry yet. Even around an OB who likely only hears babies cry every time they are in his presence.
*Dr. Spock is the first and last word on raising kids.
*And apparently it’s not widespread to swaddle your baby, which, well, explains a lot.
*Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Bat Masterson and Love of Life are all a thing.
Bill (to Betty): “What could be more fancy than the fact that you're sterile and yet engaging in fertility treatments?”
Betty (when Bill’s new secretary refers to her as his wife): “Actually, uh, I'm Mrs. Moretti. Mrs. Masters is some other lady that drew the short straw.”
Austin: “My wife moved back to her mother's in Alton, Illinois. I got to drive across the river now to see my kids.”
Barbara: “I-I'm no expert, but how do you think you're going to get pregnant just from sitting in a chair?”
Betty: “Through the miracle of modern medicine. Oh, and look at that. Time's up. I hope it's a boy.”
Bill: “You have no idea how people are suffering!”
Betty: “You… you do not lecture me on suffering ever. 'Cause what I've seen of suffering makes all this look like amateur hour.”
Doug: “’To bruise her breast immune to pain, to make in her astonished flank a wide and gaping wound.’ Fleurs Du Mal. Baudelaire. You've read him, of course.”
Bill: Somehow I missed "Flowers Of Evil.”
Austin: “You know what they tell you to do when you're driving on a slippery surface and you lose control?”
Austin: “That's what most people do. They panic. They, uh, slam on the brakes, end up skidding into a ditch. What you're supposed to do is hit the gas and steer into the skid. The car automatically straightens itself out. That's all I'm doing.”
Rose: “He said that I'm just somebody who needs help, like all of us. And then he said, 'I'll tell you what you're not, Rose. You're not your worst part.' I'm not my worst part.”
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