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Masters of Sex: Fight

“I just had you up against the wall in our bathroom. That doesn't exactly qualify us for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, does it?”

Masters of Sex puts aside their episode structure M.O. in favor of a delicate tribute to our brightest modern playwrights in the spectacular breathtaking ‘Fight’.

Yes, this episode revolves around a boxing match as an analogy for intimacy. Yes, the episode opens with Bill delivering a baby boy with 'ambiguous genitalia' to remind us of his (and our) struggle with defining masculinity. And yes, even above this, 'Fight' contains intermittent interactions soaked in cliche. But you know what? I'm starting to think that's the point. Because there are sublimely crafted moments in this episode (as well as in previous ones) that are so unexampled in celluloid in their transformative potential, it's almost as if we couldn't handle them without the other.

We might look like white-picket-fence types, but we're not. There's nothing ho-hum about us.

Visually, 'Fight' is like looking through one of those panoramic sugar eggs. But beyond the soothing gorgeous aesthetic confection lies something distorted and really human. “And one of the most interesting things about people is they’re so often the most unreliable narrators about their own lives.” That’s what Michelle Ashford said when she was interviewed about the concept for ‘Fight’. Of course that’s the conceit that laid the foundation for this intricate layered trance of an episode. Whether privy to the self-conscious construction of Dr. and Mrs. Holden, Bill’s father or Virginia’s heartbreak, there were countless times we could have pondered what’s really real here. But the point was--it didn't matter because without reservation what is real is Bill and Virginia's partnership. And by the way, they're fenced in alright, safe and secure, that’s what a hotel room is for (or a boxing ring for that matter). And in fact, they need that picket fence, that fairly mundane icon of marriage, ordered chaos and normalness and they know it. Their work together, apart, and together again can’t actually be done without one.

Sometimes the best fighter isn't the one who lands the hardest punch. Can be the one who absorbs it.

Bill knows this by heart, he believes it to be true. But in her own way, so does Virginia. There's a false nobility in this idea and they both know deep down it's bullshit. Bill, as tenuously put together as he is, is naturally going to attempt to build a sense of self on this vanity but given the story about her first love, Virginia has, too. Her 'keep your heart out of it' worldview is constructed from the same conceptual DNA. At least she's smart enough to know how her 'magnanimity' might as well be made of air thus is not the least bit worthy of her son. One of the most heartbreaking moments was when she was telling Bill how she will teach her own son that being human is being a man. He dropped his ego just long enough to silently thank her for being on the planet to raise a male that will be more evolved than he is.

You learn to resist your body's instinct, which is to run, flee. You start to, uh, invite that feeling.

There we have it. The Masters of Sex worldview of intimacy. Especially for the attachment-adverse. Which is of course everyone at some point or another. Watching Bill and Virginia pulsate this incongruous play of counter-intuition is the source, cause and origin of this show's greatness. The magnetism between Sheen and Caplan is so substantial, I keep waiting for my computer to burst into a million radiating solar flares. The precise instances of their intimacy are metered out with such restraint that one would have to intuit that we are in capable and loving hands with the creative team when it comes to this portrayal.

This is where a married couple would kiss.

Toward the end of 'Fight' when another epic night together has come to a close, it occurred to me that what we're seeing here is all of the little ritualistic beats to their hotel science. This episode, so contained in its bottle, could be shown at any moment, in any season during this stage of their relationship. It's true, this dioramic view holds layers of endearments, but why now? Because things are changing. They're resisting their body's instinct to run.

Bits and Pieces

*It was not at all a throw-away when Libby told Coral in 'Kyrie Eleison' that Bill has never told her the details of his childhood even to the degree that she can infer that he was abused.

*All of the scenes with the baby, particularly when he was being poked, prodded, stared at etc. almost ended me.

*The article I pulled Ashford’s quote from is here if you’d like to read it.


Virginia: “You’re making fun of me.”
Bill: “Aren’t you making fun of us?”

Virginia: “I’ve never seen you so much as glance at the sports page.”
Bill: "Well we don’t have breakfast together, do we.”

Virginia: “Two acts of intercourse, mutually satisfying. One masturbatory act. Role-playing throughout. Am I forgetting anything?”

Virginia: "I want to see how this ends."


  1. What an emotional episode. I feel as though I have gone fifteen rounds (couldn't resist).

    As you mention, the scene where Virginia is talking about raising her son was where I really lost it. And, what brilliant camera work. Every so slowly, the camera moves closer to Bill as we watch different emotions flit across his face and as we listen to Virginia. Truly genius filmmaking.

    This was the best episode to date. I feel as though these two have crossed a line and I am very much looking forward to where it will take them.

  2. Great review, Heather!

    This was such an incredible episode. I kept thinking "Emmy, right?" as I watched. I loved the way the boxing match did more than just act as an allegory for the relationship between Bill and Virginia (or between Bill and his father, or Bill and himself...); it also provoked some of their discussions.

  3. TVLine gave Caplan and Sheen their Performer of the Week nod. Well deserved!


  4. You guys, jfc. This show is really so good. I'm in that place with a series, and honestly it doesn't happen that much, where it does something to me on a molecular level when I watch it.


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