I don’t think Masters of Sex has time for subtlety. I don’t even think it has time for time. From the point of view of ‘Giants’, no one who is doing epic battle with the gods of change to alter the course of human history does.
Bill surprises Virginia with a new residence for the study. Lillian and Virginia argue and lament their current stations. We meet the infamous Helen (Sarah Silverman), Betty's true love. Libby is paid a visit by Coral's beloved, Robert (played by Jocko Sims) to give her a reality check. Everyone secretly prays for business as usual at Buell Green but, alas, no such luck. Hospital chief, Dr. Charles Hendricks (Courtney B. Vance) tries to stress to Bill and Virginia their influential role in integrating his hospital. This one way of looking at the events of 'Giants'. But there's another, too. A more expansive vista where we can see for miles and miles. (One that the creatives cleared the way for. Bless.)
What are you thinking about?
Virginia asks Bill when he closes his eyes. Of course he's thinking about her. She knows he is, too. So far the bravest thing this show has depicted through the portrayal of Virginia Johnson is that women understand the immense power they wield over men because of sex yet don't really care to have it. There's no victory here to be won. No contest in any real way. Virginia already knows this but it's all she has at the moment to get a hold on things. For her to dominate their sexual interactions because she always will because women always will is not at all what she wants. It will never fulfill the need to be seen as valid, relevant and necessary to the world for all of the other things she has to offer. Somewhere Bill can intellectualize this. It's why there is no air in the room during their scenes. We're all not breathing together for fear we might miss something in witnessing their vast layers intertwine and traverse this whole thing. (I actually might need an oxygen tank before the season is over if there are many more scenes like this one!) But it's not Bill's fault either. Neither one has to or can hold the weight of the world on their shoulders all of the time which is why they both know it's imperative to be part of the same study they're running. With their participation, they can just be human beings when they're together. Given our species, that's the tallest order possible so when the camera pans the room and settles on a mirror reflecting the dining room table where they previously talked about what they are, Virginia's final words echo. "There’s nothing ho-hum about us."
We both like dresses.
Please add Sarah Silverman to the list of sublime women cast in this show. There is so much to love about watching her and Betty try to maneuver their love. If a hospital that serves multiple races is a reach, these two women together in love might as well be alien. Betty and Helen are invisible to the society they live in which is what I think makes their story a compelling one to tell. The double date they go on with Gene and his friend Al is one of the best scenes in the series. The two men can't even begin to contextualize their relationship. (It's a wicked sharp mirror to Bill not being able to grasp the fullness of who Virginia is.) Annaleigh Ashford has never been better than representing the complexity of Betty's emotional state now that Helen has reappeared. Her whole face is different when she's near her. (I loved the scene in the ladies' bathroom with the fire of 10,000 suns.)
I am scared, though, for what's ahead. Which means I can't really afford to be upset with you now, can I?
Lillian and Virginia's scenes are a real standout in 'Giants', too. Their argument about Virginia's involvement with Bill is so real and true while being simultaneously miraculously (mostly) impersonal. They're on the same side and they're arguing something bigger than either one of them is individually. But there is also a personal component. Lillian gave the study away for reasons she won't articulate because she can't tolerate that level of vulnerability. And Virginia didn't share the complicated situation with Bill because she can't talk about it out loud or else it might collapse in on itself into a black hole of shame. I think what gives them the ability to step over certain conflicts is that their respect and love for one another transcends all of the things that seemed to hold people back then, namely the oppression of the era, society's gender concepts but also the individual damage both have suffered in life.
You were the cold lake, and I jumped in with both feet.
So why then would Buell Green secretly undermine the study? Well, because if it's not seen as perverse, crude and offensive, the study of human sexuality is something that wasn't (isn't) valued at the same level of importance as fighting for equality in race, gender, class and so on. But really they're all giants, aren't they? Because any conclusion we can come to, by any means necessary, that reveals our enduring symmetry seems to be worth an epic battle. Isn't it?
Bits and Pieces
*Bill pulls out Virginia's chair for her at the hotel bar. Lillian and Virginia's talk is a more complex variation on this. Virginia asking Bill about the terms of her employment symbolizes this, too. It's like everyone's actively participating in these conventions but there's also this dichotomous awareness present where people both need these conventions in place so that more pressing issues can be confronted while also knowing how silly they are.
*Can you tell the Libby storyline is my least favorite to write about? I don't have a handle on where they're going with this yet thus do not feel comfortable analyzing it within the big picture of the series. I do love Coral and the intro to Robert. All of the scenes in this storyline are really well-done. I'm just reserving judgment on the themes and character path for Libby for the moment.
*Betty singing to Gene was pretty adorable.
Bill: “Have you eaten?”
Virginia: “I’m not hungry. (Bill slides a key across the table to her) Your way of saying, ‘let’s skip dinner and go right to dessert’?”
Virginia: “What would it matter what I did outside of this office, as long as I’m good at my job here?”
Lillian: “I think it would matter very much to Libby Masters.”
Lillian: “You were smart enough to do it another way.”
Virginia: “It has nothing to do with intelligence.”
Lillian: “Admit it, you were always going to leave me and follow Bill.”
Gene: “You know who would love Helen?”
Betty: “I can’t imagine.”
Virginia: “At some point haven’t we exhausted the possibilities?”
Bill: “Of sexual research? That’s like saying one’s done mapping the Milky Way.”
Helen (quoting Shane): “Well, I heard you’re a low-down Yankee liar.”
Betty: “Ah, this story ends in tragedy.”
Helen: “The horse broke a leg.”
Virginia: “You have good stretches. You were very articulate the other day when you were expressing your extreme disappointment in me.”
Lillian: “Was I? Did I apologize? (Virginia shakes her head no.) Good.”
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