Masters of Sex: Asterion

“That is one world. And this is the other.”

Masters of Sex may not have time for subtlety but they have subtlety for time, if you will.

The 'Asterion' time leap was at times so understated, I didn't even see it until a second, even third viewing. Does seamless equal skillful? I think so. The show leaned on its original concept (a la Shampoo, "a man stuck in a world where he's surrounded by women and he knows nothing of what's going on--") to ground itself like a sturdy binding to the flip book animation jump in time. And really, could we have had two better tour guides than Uncle Betty and the return of Lester?

You can’t keep this up, Bill. You can’t.

At five months after that terrible perfect storm of a night of awfulness, Bill shows no signs of letting up his asinine childish castigation of Virginia after he discovered she and Shelley Decklin had been seeing one another. He delivers the coup d'etat when he tells her no, his practiced cold shoulder has nothing to do with his complex deep confusing love for her but rather he's concerned that she's a bad mom. But the way Virginia handles that blow is genius because she both absorbs it and deflects it. They both know that his accusation might just be the stupidest thing he's ever said to her. She elevates right over his behavior to say simply, as a matter of fact, you will not be able to sustain this. (Read: neither one of us can control this even if we fucking wanted to which of course we both do.) You know, fellow sufferers and all.

So whatever secrets you may have, they’re safe. They’ve been safe for a long time.

But Bill can't stop being a child, he has to let a whole year plus change (plus unsuccessful alleyway visits to sex workers) go by before he can get a hold of himself again. Because he's still that 5 year-old boy whose psyche was ripped by his violent unpredictable father and a mom who didn't protect him. So then, blessed is the return of Essie who in the end is really the MVP in Bill's healing. Bill realizes simultaneously how much dominion his mom still has over his quality of life because of the delicate things she's privy to and how her fidelity to him is an exhibition in guardianship. It's a moment of transmitted perceptibility that actually knocks him off his feet. He's so mad he cannot hold onto his identity constructed of his childhood pain for much longer. An aside to say that Michael Sheen is doing things in this episode, in this series, with this character that are mind-boggling amazing. He might actually have crossed into some kind of acting wizardry because I have never seen a character this insufferable and sympathetic before.

Point to one person in this entire world who isn’t suffering? Yet it is only you that insists on spreading the torment around.

Libby delivers the truest best line of the episode. In fact, her ability to take Bill on is astounding and admirable. Of course she's intuited the absolute crushing damage of his childhood, she lives with it every day. He has made their life practically impossible to live. And I love that she's been secretly seeing his mom for a year. And that it's probably her sole determination to launder Essie's money through Bill's practice. Her presence in 'Asterion' was relevant again to the story in ways that were wonderfully emotionally effective. One of my favorite scenes was her and Virginia in the powder room at Austin's party. Their repartee is so well-written, it works on multiple bittersweet levels. And the two of them in the Masters' kitchen together, Virginia is their family's icing and Libby is wise enough and secure enough to acknowledge it.

Aside from my children, everything I have is permanently, inexorably tied to this work, our work, to you.

What's incredible to me about the depiction of this relationship is that in the times when it's seemingly unequal in the power dynamic it's actually not at all. And that goes, well, equally, in both directions. It's Virginia, who after watching Lester's old footage of her with Bill in the exam room ("She used to do this thing every once in a while in the lab. She would lean in and fix Bill's bow tie, just sort of straighten it out, you know?") decides to extend herself (her whole self) as an open invitation to him again, to them again. The reflection on view for her to see on the 'Asterion' merry-go-round was just how little she was invested in "...Shelley and Kenny, Ethan and George..." You guys, I wish I had a more adult grasp of the scene on the balcony of Austin's party where I could add something more articulate than 'I was clawing my couch and climbing inside my own shirt when I was watching it' but alas. I will say this, if there's a likeness to the aspect of boxing, mid-round, fighting tooth and nail to lay your opponent out, that compels Virginia to remark, "it almost looks like love, doesn't it, the way they reach for each other and hold on..." then this is it.

Bits and Pieces

*Asterion was born ruler of the stars but was sent to lord over the underworld at the heart of a labyrinth. That is one world, this is the other.

*I hope that Bitch town not only has postcards but also an airport with flights to St. Louis because Jane.

*Lester, we missed you and your camera skills.

*Betty Moretti is a thing of the past as Betty DiMello rises again from the ashes into... a CPA!

*It's the official end to Austin and the mother of his children as well. And to Holly who held so much hope in her Ingrid-Bergman-by-way-of-Burlesque way.

*Barry Watson (7th Heaven) was in fact memorable as Shelley Decklin. He delivered a poignant line to Virginia in the lobby of their building that bored through some tiny part of her wall.

*By the episode's end, we are in late 1960.

*And sometimes the answer's just YES! Welcome back, Barbara Sanderson!

*As for the tenants of the Masters and Johnson building: a communist gift shop, a modeling agency, Chinese food, a diner, a foot doctor, women's lingerie, C.O.R.E., and Flo from Cal-o-Metric!

*The smoking in this episode is just off the hook awesome. Libby and Virginia smoking to manage their personal lives is just perfect. Libby and Virginia aware of the other's habit/origin of said habit is sublime.

Quotes

Bill: “What you are is a half an hour late. Hardly an auspicious beginning.”
Betty: “Does auspicious mean, ‘Hello to you, too’?”

Bill (to Elliot about his ‘wife’ Mrs. Holden): “You just don’t see it coming. That’s the worst part.”

Virginia: “Bill is married, Austin. We work together. That’s all.”
Austin: “I’ll take your overreaction to mean you’ve ended things with Bill. Good move.”

Betty (holding Bill and Libby’s babies): “Yeah, now you’re with Uncle Betty.”

Lester: “The story of ‘Windjammer’ is the story of real life. Danger, tragedy, triumph and risk. And it’s what we’re – you’re doing here, too. Your study is real life.”
(Count Lester in as one of the merry band of outlaws against morality)

Libby (to Virginia): “Why are you apologizing? He’s the one that should apologize. I think he fears an apology would weaken him. I think he fears so many things…”

Virginia: “Well, then, we are fellow sufferers.”
Bill: “Are we? Are we really?”

Elise: “Some things can’t be undone.”

Elliot: “With a doctor such as Dr. Masters, something could be worked out.”

Barbara: “Anyhow, I suppose I thought that I could learn something for your study. Learn something about the human body.”

Libby: “It’s much more pleasant to be around Bill when you’re around.”

Essie: “Sometimes exhaustion is the first step forward.”

6 comments:

Heather1 said...

The context is totally different... it's a totally different show... a totally different vibe... everything is different. But who else was thinking of Spike and Buffy in the balcony at The Bronze during the episode, "Dead Things"?

Heather said...

Awww, a Buffy reference. It totally fits. xoxoxo

sunbunny said...

Totally unrelated to this episode, but I've been considering starting Masters of Sex but I've heard from a few people that they consider all the male characters to be insufferable. And that doesn't sound like a super fun watching experience. Thoughts? Should I give it a go or will I be annoyed?

Heather said...

sunbunny,
Watch the pilot. I think there's enough there in the introduction to the characters to see how you'll feel/react to them. So far everyone, male and female, in the show has had their moments.

Josie Kafka said...

Sunbunny, it's worth checking out. I really like it, although I am currently many episodes behind.

ChrisB said...

After last week's lofty heights, I went into this week expecting to be massively let down. I was not. Maybe one of the best crafted episodes of television I have seen. Brilliant writing and acting that massively moved the story without losing any of us in the process.

I agree with Heather, sunbunny. Watch the pilot and go from there. I don't consider all the male characters to be insufferable, though many can be at times. It is the juxtaposition of the insufferable and the vulnerable within a single character that makes this show so compelling to watch.