Masters of Sex ends the season not with a bang or a whimper but something in between.
After the credits rolled on 'The Revolution Will Not be Televised' I stared at the screen for longer than usual. I felt a letdown and let down. Season 2 of this show had some of my favorite scenes of any TV show for as long as I can remember. It also under or misused some of its best assets and veered toward soap opera more than once. And it is better than that, which makes processing this season as a whole that much more confusing and weird. But the things Masters of Sex got right, it nailed.
Sex is as basic as breathing, eating.
So Masters' impotence is quite possibly 'cured' and the two are more confidently than ever off and running in a new direction, presumably to be explored next season. I remember seeing something about Thomas Maier's book quoting Virginia that she and Masters were "sexual athletes" which was certainly the vibe of their work focusing on Bill. I thought the first and last scenes in 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised' showed the most alluring qualities of Bill and Virginia. Reflecting, at first, each other's best selves back to the other, then ending with a more complex variation of their likeness: their chance to shine light on Barbara and Lester. Every time the show chose to slide the curtain back so we could see how they complimented each other when around their patients and subjects, I was impacted by their humanity. Because it is in the slow careful gentle scenes such as these that everything that Masters and Johnson are and were exists simultaneously. Their deep belief that shame should never exist in the same space as sex, that we are perfect as we are because of how we essentially experience desire -- that these principles level the playing field in a more succinct way than most any other effort to show that we are all the same.
I know I want to feel.
So, then, the Libby and Robert romance is ultimately at odds with the show's concept. Maybe that's why it felt out of place, trite and contrived. And with the richness of sexuality as a ferocious equalizer, juxtaposing a storyline more interested in 'exploring' race and class just did not work in my opinion. It detracted from the realest message of Masters and Johnson. And worse, it reduced two potentially interesting and rich characters to melodrama. God how I wish Libby and Robert hadn't come together romantically. I felt worse for him, actually, because it didn't ring true at all with what small inkling we had about who he is (he wasn't successfully dimensionalized, in my opinion). It was, somewhat more believable even interesting for Libby, in her search for herself and her own substance, but they could have stopped at her CORE involvement and it would have never skidded off the road. All that said, I think Caitlin Fitzgerald and Jocko Simms are incredible and talented and magnetic. And given more subtle and organic material, I think they would kill.
All we can do now is get back to work, okay?
The dramatization of the rise of Masters and Johnson from the inside out is another winner storyline they should mine a hundred million more times because it provides us with another layer of their frailty, their vanity and their driven nature which, as Ashford is proposing, worked against as much as for them in any given moment. I think Bill's single-mindedness and Virginia's persistence do this dance where they are, at times, pulled apart as two distinct forces, held in nuanced feminine and masculine containers, that will then switch places depending on the situation, never hung completely on either gender. That's not to say I think the storyline where Virginia leveraged her kids was informed by this same brilliance that was more evident in other episodes so far in the series. In fact, on all three watchings, I did not feel the emotional weight of Bill derailing the story, unbeknownst to Virginia. I didn't buy that's she'd act so much on her own, dealing with George's custody demands, either. So when it culminated in her 'epic heartbreak' over the sequence of events that led to Henry and Tessa moving in with their dad, it all felt like drama for drama's sake. With heavy heart, I extend that to the re-appearance of Barton Scully, as well.
Art's not supposed to be clever. It's supposed to be true -- true to life.
Then again, there's Lester -- the writers' diplomat, reminding us why entire college film classes are taught on the films of Antonioni and not those of Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Because showing the real, sometimes fucked up manifestations of our desires and how it's a damn miracle we are able to have relationships with anyone at all half the time will be, for the self-selecting few, immeasurably more valuable than seeing what amounts to a neat fairytale perpetuated by those in charge of the moving image. Even when, especially when that art is uneven, disappointing and not always living up to its potential. What's more true to life than that.
Bits and Pieces
*The look on Bill's face when Libby was swept up by her own precarious situation as a mom with a new lover, voice breaking as she told her children she loved them, was wonderful. A great moment of visual storytelling because you got the sense that she has something all her own for once.
*Adam "Shep Tally" Arkin directed this episode (as well as 'Below the Belt').
*Aside from pretty much every scene with Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan together in every conceivable way, I thought season 2 slayed, specifically, with the Dr. DePaul, Helen and Frank storylines.
Bits and Pieces: the 1960s edition
*Please let someone awesome play Hugh Hefner next season. (like maybe Crispin Glover. Lol.)
Bill (when viewing a rough-cut of the CBS piece): “Is this for the St. Louis Tourist Board?”
Bill: “Uh, we barely have a handle on dysfunction ourselves, let alone any statistical success with actual subjects-- other than me. This is -- this is new work in, uh, a delicate and fragile state.”
Virginia: “The work is? Or are we talking about something else?”
Lester (re: Pillow Talk): “That's two hours of our lives we'll never get back.” (Lol)
Lester: “Oh, the-- the door is still open.”
Barbara: “Thanks.” (Betsy Brandt, you adorable goddess.)
Lester: “I'm 29. I'm not a kid. I understand you don't get everything you want in this life.”
Bill: “We're not talking about a Cadillac, Lester.”
Austin: “Because if you're implying that I can't keep up you know, intellectually, let me remind you I went to medical school. I am also a doctor.”
Flo: “One does tend to lead to the other.”
Betty: “Look. I used to poke fun at your bow tie in the past, anyway, but that regular tie they put you in for the filming -- that wasn't doing you any favors, either. I just mean it wasn't you. So I'm, uh, scheduling these follow-up interviews now. But may I suggest stick with the bow tie? I cannot believe I am saying that.”
Libby: “I don't know anything. Well, no. That's not entirely true. I know that my husband has been having an affair for years."
Virginia: “But the key is, it takes both of you to make a leap of faith.”
Bill: “Of trust. Working together.”
Virginia: “In it together.”
Bill: “That is the key.”