Masters of Sex: Story of My Life

“I’m doing the right thing, aren’t I, by trying to fix myself?”

We've returned to the source that inspired 'Fight', the concept that people are the most unreliable narrators of their own lives. But the stakes are much higher in 'Story of My Life'. In some cases, the highest.

Masters of Sex is sort of going from a balance beam to a tight wire. Whereas Bill and Virginia in their bubble of a hotel room role-playing and redefining what's true carries a degree of difficulty, the difference between a functional life (or even one lived in freedom) for, say, Barbara or Frank or Leonard Gilroy, well, the truth's crucial. As is the art of saying something audibly.

These things are complicated, I’m just learning myself how complicated.

The time spent with Dr. Madden is so well-designed. (Oh how I love John Billingsley, going back to The X-Files days through True Blood and beyond.) Virginia is actively knowingly an unreliable narrator, she even feigns mild indignation at the idea that she's not for real so they can keep playing this pretend game because they both know she's not for real. And while the advice doled out by the doctor is for Barbara, it's still effecting. (Her "No!" to the mirror in the hotel room bathroom as she attempts to stand up to her mom is just adorably awesome.) Before too long, Dr. Madden (well he is the best in St. Louis) drives the examination to Virginia and who she is in her world. You get the sense she's never said some of these things out loud to anyone before, or even to some inside place within herself.

I know -- the Masters charm.

Pauline Masters (Marin Ireland) is sure a welcome addition to this world. She's comfortable in her skin in ways Libby can only dream. But remarkably, it's not intimidating or even particularly envy-producing, and Pauline's all the more lovable for it. It's like she and Libby are having an alt-universe experience with these brothers. There's definite crossover (it's not a coincidence that both boys learned how to lie from their parents and one channeled it into the survival of an addiction and the other a survival of an affair). Some of it eerie. I did wonder just how the wheels in Libby's mind were turning when she silently checked off impulsivity and secrecy in her own Masters experience.

You tunneled under the wall, I went over it. We both escaped.

My favorite scene was Bill and Frank, post-AA meeting. It's equally incredible and entirely believable that Bill could have lived this long without the realization that Frank suffered the same hell he did. (Michael Sheen, every week, just plays the shit out of this role it's borderline heart-stopping.) More walls and more getting past them someway. Even more than the tender handling of human sexuality, I credit Masters of Sex with showing the brilliant impeccable aptitude of the human psyche to construct whatever architecture it takes to prop up our own self-image. The sophistication for such an undertaking not to mention the sheer nerve deserves awards that have yet to be created.

What we do in this room doesn’t make a damn bit of difference to anybody but us.

And by the same way, it's just as believable that Virginia hasn't allowed herself the realization that Bill's suffering some kind of sexual dysfunction. That she'd actually rather chalk it up to one drink too many or the odd winner of an excuse that he's just been with his wife. If you think about it, Bill’s impotence throws a rope to whatever it is they’re doing. And the timing really is impeccable. (Oh, psychotherapy.) So another scaffold is built on top of whatever crossover image it is they share about the necessity of their relationship. You know, maybe it's in fact sex that gives the worldview of our transforming proclivities such a spectacular platform since without having to interface with other people (or the occasional moment of self-reflection), our view of ourselves would be impervious.

Bits and Pieces

*I read a lot of reviews about this show and a common criticism I see is that each episode amounts to 'a collection of scenes'. Well, that's true of every show but more obvious when the scenes are driven by dialogue (Downton Abbey, anyone?). Moreover, when a show is as character-driven as this one, breaking each episode is not going to involve mapping out beats of action that push the characters through but rather beats of character interaction that create an action through-line.

*I'm loving Lester (Kevin Christy) and everything going on with him. There was a quick moment I wondered if he would end up with Barbara at some point?

*Libby's arc from unreliable witness to intern at CORE had me cheering. And I loved her talk with Virginia in the diner.

*Frank's monologue at the AA meeting was riveting, expertly delivered -- just thoroughly enjoyable.

*There's a cool juxtaposition of dialogue at times in 'Story of My life' where the only two people in the room are having a conversation with someone else who is not currently in the room. I think the point of showing it stems from the idea that sometimes just putting words to something is necessary, relevancy be damned, but it's also a manifestation of this thing that happens when we're not really listening, therefore informed only by our own experience.

Bits and Pieces: The 1960s edition

*AA was largely a men's club when it first started in the late 1930s but even once women were welcomed, meetings were segregated by gender for many years.

Quotes

Bill: “I enjoy watching you enjoying yourself.” (I’m sorry that had too many ‘enjoys’ in it.)

Barbara: “Couldn’t it be a holiday? Doesn’t it sound like a holiday? The feast of vaginismus!” (I love you, Betsy Brandt.)

Libby: “I’m trying to remember the last time something I said mattered this much.”

Frank: “My dad – the greatest magician of them all.”

Bill (to Lester's suggestion that he'd prefer to know the woman he's with even if she's inept sexually): "That'd be tantamount to the blind leading the blind.
Lester: "Not if they're already a couple. If they know each other's bodies, have feelings for each other. So many subjects have come through your door. Don't you know a couple like that?" (Do you, Bill? Know a couple like that?)

Virginia: “I don’t read instructions, I just take things out of the box and I plug them in. To hell with the consequences. Too hell with blown fuses. The fingers almost lost in the spinning blade.” (This line of dialogue is pure writers’/word porn and I love it!)

Francis: "I was reintroducing myself to you. I needed their support. It's in rooms like that I found the courage to tell the truth. My truth."
Bill: "Well, which is it? The truth or your truth?"

Frank: “What makes you think that the same thing didn’t haven to me after you were gone? That I was your replacement?”
Bill: “Because if I thought that was possible, I – I never would’ve left you behind.”

Virginia: “Then tell me, Bill, what sexual dysfunction are you proposing we treat?”
Bill: “Mine.”

2 comments:

ChrisB said...

This episode moved me so much I struggled to breathe. Bill's story made me ache as did Virginia's realization, finally, of what it is they are really doing. Beautiful writing and beautiful acting.

There was a quick moment I wondered if he would end up with Barbara at some point? Me, too! I would love to see these two damaged people find a way to reach each other. They are both so sweet and charming, yet in so much pain.

Heather said...

Chris:
I am frequently on my living room floor in a heap after each episode. Especially as the season progresses.