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Masters of Sex: Blackbird

“Don’t move.”

Alright, we won't. But also we can’t. Luckily, ‘Blackbird’ is executed so skillfully it holds us in our grief.

Grief not least of all for the dissolution of Bill and Virginia's profile in their final hospital setting (I will miss Dr. Hendricks), or the end of Gene and Betty, Libby's sense of self or Bill's identity. But in the end, it's the loss of Dr. Lillian DePaul that's the most permanent and bottomless.

You just can’t take no for an answer, can you?

I loved every last scene between Lillian and Virginia in 'Blackbird'. They were both so authentic unto themselves. The tiff with the nurse in the oncologist's office, their confrontation outside where they both acknowledge that they have no idea how to do this and the relief in Lillian's face when Virginia arrives at her door because she just can't take no for an answer, communicated the relationship we've come to know so accurately, any one of us could have predicted beat for beat those scenes. That's real loyalty moving in multiple directions. And of course Lillian had made her mind up. No, Virginia, she doesn’t need groceries, or for you to run any errands, she’s all set. She's all set. I think Virginia knew, too, on some level. Did it really just slip her mind to leave behind the envelope holding Lillian's dying wishes?

As long as I’m yours and you’re mine, that’s enough for me.

With this, Gene puts the adoption issue to bed. Not knowing yet that Betty's not being able to have kids (or her lying about it) is wholly insignificant compared to the revelation to come. It's been anguishing watching these two navigate this minefield all season because they're both good endearing people so there's some solace seeing the truth come full out. Even Betty's love scene with Helen echoed the same kind of gentle but sad moment reserved for this story. Was what we witnessed the final straw of the Moretti marriage? We shall see. But their final words exchanged at the bottom of the stairs definitely leveled me.

The mandate of our study is to only go where the research leads.

Did I say yet I will miss Dr. Charles Hendricks? The research leads Bill down a catastrophic path in 'Blackbird'. So dire he takes complete leave of his senses and behaves deplorably. The moments of push/pull with reporter, Morgan Hogue (played by Renee Elise Goldsberry) connecting dots and Bill feeling so unnaturally threatened were so tense. Scenes adeptly laid so that their culmination, the newspaper editor settling Bill's hash with easy precision, proves powerful enough for Bill to question everything he is. What makes the scene on Virginia's doorstep so haunting is that this could easily be a bookend for the end of season one when he's thrown out of Washu, but instead, he has to face the realization of what he already knew: that Virginia will keep her heart out of it and have a million Shelley Decklins until she feels safe enough not to.

You didn’t see it coming because she is a woman.

Because she's a woman. I had another interpretation of this in addition to the contextualized one. Bill didn't see Virginia coming either. His walls, fences, partitions etc. all of it infiltrated by her. Given the Masters POV, that men just generally aren't prepared for the ferocity of women, the rare treasure that is their relationship is that much more exquisite. Because at least Bill has the good goddamn sense to acknowledge Virginia's power. Without that acknowledgment there is no chance for congruity. And what makes him exceptional and worthy and continuously sympathetic despite his (sometimes) actions is that in his finest moments when he can see her and what she is, he is humbled. Truly. This becomes apparent in the quality of their reciprocation which is getting ever more refined. When they kiss for the first time, he initiates it, but then backs off so she can respond on her terms.

You can always spot her in the sky.

That last night Lillian and Virginia share is flawless. Relaxed, affectionate, benevolent. I wanted it to go on for a million galactic years. Neither revealed anything that the other hasn't intuited but there still remained this validity to their connection, and the urgent vitalness it has for both of them. I absolutely loved Virginia using the same technique with Lillian she does with her kids, spelling out sweet things on their foreheads at bedtime. And she gave Lillian a myth all her own told by the stars that remain in the sky. To say goodnight, Virginia, freshly in touch with the gravity of a kiss, has the newfound capacity to brush lips with Lillian. Not with an intention like Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief, or like her and Bill but with a deep persisting fondness singular to women. Allowing their last night together to be sealed.

Bits and Pieces

*Earlier this week Masters of Sex was renewed for a third season. Here's the story. And Allison Janney won the EMMY for Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series. That story here.

*Lillian’s monologue during her radiation was fantastic—the very best of her wit, really. “I was raised by vampires.”

*Betty motions for Helen to come closer and Helen turns around to have her help clasp her bustier. It happens with such ease, it’s a ritual. It said so much.

*Incredible that it took Gene as long as it did to accurately interpret Betty’s behavior with Helen. Not until hearing about the two locking lips did it finally dawn on him. And miraculously, Al could never conceptualize it.

*Libby's story took an interesting turn this week. I truly felt for her when it finally occurred to her the hell she's put everyone (and herself) through as she ran from Robert and Coral's apartment with the bassinet and a face full of tears. In yet another nod to the visual storytelling, her exhaling smoke *through her nose and mouth* while sitting on the couch when she got home indicating she was inhaling that cigarette as if it contained the secrets of the universe said so much more about her state of mind than any words could.

*Jocko Sims as Coral's brother-not-boyfriend Robert was fantastic in the scene with Libby in foyer. The tone of that was not easy and could have just as much veered into melodramatic or about a million other undesirable things.

*This episode was written many months ago (probably close to a year), and was shot and edited I’d guess back in the late spring. So how do we process its accidental mirror to the current state of St. Louis, Missouri, USA without pure anger and heartbreak? That uncanny conversation at the table that Coral and Libby have about Robert's ‘criminal past’ is almost not to be believed.

Bits and Pieces: The 1950s edition

*Bill just immediately assumes the reporter is male. And even Virginia almost shrugs her off as a patient or participant for the study when they first meet.

*Even as progressive as they are, Bill and Virginia are totally clueless about the sexual stereotypes African Americans have to deal with.

*The framed ‘I AM A MAN’ poster outside the elevator.


Bill: “I could kiss you now.”
Virginia: “We don't kiss.”

Virginia: “You should have leveled with us.”
Bill: “Instead of ripping down our fliers in the dead of night.”
Dr. Hendricks: “I removed them in broad daylight.”

Dr. Hendricks: “No doubt there’s a gurney waiting for you somewhere. Find it.” (Dr. Hendricks, we hardly knew ye.)

Gene: “I wanted our kids to be you part you, anyway. And when I realize how much I want to see you in those little faces it always led me back to you. I'm sorry. That--that had too many ‘yous’ in it.”

Bill: “Because all taboos feel dangerous until they’re broken…” (Bill says to Libby about the study at Buell Green but the shot that accompanies that dialogue is from Libby’s POV as she looks on to Coral and Robert outside.)

Virginia: “I don’t know how to not fight.”

Bill: “It’s my study.”
Morgan Hogue: “And it’s my story.”

Lillian: “By taking this you’re promising me you’ll see to it… that my wishes are carried out. Will you take it?”

Wilson: “What kind of a man are you?”

Betty: “I’m just a woman who… yes, loved Helen but that doesn’t matter.”

Dr. Hendricks: “So let’s see if you have the guts to be reborn.”


  1. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I will post an edited version of two emails I sent Heather immediately after watching this episode:

    Oh dear!

    That scene on the bed. The description of Lillian that is the perfect description of Bill, getting around the wall, "she's my friend and I don't have a lot of those," "I know you," the kiss. And, all of this while they are fully clothed. The tears started to fall.

    Gene and Betty's break-up ("this fucking avalanche that is our marriage"), the tears became a torrent.

    That scene on the couch. "No one's ever stayed. You know, lingered;" "He loves you... That's everything, isn't it?" By the time we got to the legend of Lilantha, ("The warrior princess? Strong and brave? And, so tall and beautiful that she struck some men dumb"), I was sobbing so badly I had to pause the TV and walk away for a few minutes. I came back to the kiss, and had to walk away all over again.

    Of course, then Virginia hangs up the phone and climbs into bed with her. My roommate actually left her room to come check on me and make sure it was the show and not some horrible life event that had me gasping for air between sobs.

    I know that the Libby story (she's a freak) and Bill's finding out about Shelley were probably meant to be equally important. Everything else (other than that magnificent performance by the always brilliant Courtney B. Vance) pales.

    Although I cry easily and have bawled through a lot of television, I don't ever remember feeling that sick, kick in the gut feeling you get (or I do anyway) when you just can't stop crying. The writing was beautiful in this one, as was the direction and, of course, Caplan's and Nicholson's acting was sublime.

    I don't envy you having to review this one!

    Of course, you nailed the review, my friend. The more I think about this episode, the more convinced I am that it is the best hour of television this year. Stunning all the way around.

  2. Chris:
    You know that emoticon with the face that has hearts for eyes?


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