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Masters of Sex: One for the Money, Two for the Show

“Well, we tell people -- we're married to the work.”

Just not each other, Virginia adds when the two are asked in the CBS interview to speak to what people may say about their partnership. They really have that line down pat.

As with most things, what Bill and Virginia are leaving out is way more interesting. What’s clear to us, as onlookers to all that’s unfolded, is that the work is unmistakably made up of each other, their genders, their personalities, their intimacy, their desire to connect authentically to another person -- that the work is irretrievably unalterably reliant on who the other is, specifically, in the other's company. Yet to illuminate that to just anyone, would be like having to explain a recipe without mentioning a single ingredient.

Pleasure is a human need. It drives us the way hunger does.

Masters of Sex has a unique magic. For instance, every time we see or hear about something even remotely mundane on this show, I die a little of joy. Watching Bill and Virginia huddle during this stage of his sexual dysfunction is riveting. In fact, the more banal the better. Yes. Please. Show us what every little victory or struggle for these two to win something together really looks like because when you do it with the impeccable discretion that Masters of Sex does, it's gold. (By the way, what tv show would dare call reveling in the commonplace a part of its arsenal? Lol.) Equally thrilling and along those same lines is to hear Virginia and Bill refer to peoples’ reactions to them, Virginia's own version of how they met, the details of the findings of their study so far, well, I'm hanging onto every word. There's never not a psychological strip tease of some kind going on here. And sometimes that tease is so refined, so second nature, it's borderline insouciant -- as if to say, 'See? Our desire motors every part of us.' Every single thing we do and want, no matter how extraordinary or ho-hum.

The goal is to provoke conversations about human sexuality that are not conducted in hushed whispers.

I was practically doing split-jumps over my coffee table in my living room when the one thing that Bill had no problem expressing on camera was the source, cause and origin of this study, the impact they hope to have, the change in the conversation about sexuality that must take place, the mountain they are trying to move. (Did you catch the cut-away to the camera guy when Bill was being a revolutionary? It was hilarious. As was the swell of music.) And somehow, it all works even better coming out of someone's mouth who doesn't own anything other than a bow tie. And speaking of the source, this show will always triumph when they tap their own motivations behind making a series about Masters and Johnson. When Shep tells Bill, "You've got to be first," I smiled, thinking, "Yes, you must persevere and keep going so you can be high-profile enough to have a cool tv series made about you 50 years later." Ha.

Maybe you need someone who will tell you -- you look very weird in that tie.

And it's Lester, upholding the Bohemian ideals: truth, beauty, freedom and love. (A lifetime of thanks, Moulin Rouge!) Lester has quietly been Masters and Johnson's biggest supporter all season. It comes through everything he says and does, too. Even his endorsement of Bill to Barbara in 'Below the Belt' was subtle but meaningful. I loved the scene in the bathroom when Lester declared unabashedly that he knew Bill as well as anyone can. That took confidence and moxie. After this episode, it occurred to me that it might just be that Lester's not an audience proxy but the creative team's proxy (which is super-sweet) -- the one who's documenting the lives of these two historical figures because the belief in their principles is so thorough and compelling.

I am not at home. I'm not putting my kids to bed. I'm here. With you.

It's inspiring to see Virginia getting so good at resisting her body's instinct to run, flee -- to be around Masters at this point she has had to move to that other side, the one where she is instead inviting that feeling. Wasn't it interesting in the opening scene that when he asked her to talk about the night he and Frank fought (as they were climbing into bed), she says you mean what it was like to see you hurt? Um, no, girl -- that is not what he meant. That was one of the most revealing things she has accidentally said about herself that I can remember. So in the midst of the uncomfortable weird glare of the spotlight, not to mention a moment where Bill is temporarily lost in self-pity (and possibly unreachable anyway), she does the opposite of what either one would rather do and she embraces him. I don't say it enough but Lizzie Caplan is fantastic at showing the dichotomy of Virginia's motivations so completely. I will be sad to see the show end for this season.

Bits and Pieces

*Have I stated explicitly enough yet that with his integrity alone, Lester held this episode together like glue?

*The strong emphasis on clothing as a reflection of one's inner-state was great and gave Ane Crabtree, the fantastic head of the wardrobe department, further chance to shine. Libby had to buy Bill a straight tie because he didn't even own one. She and Virginia were basically wearing the same thing. Robert's shirt needing to be sewn and the camera focusing on clothing being unbuttoned during Robert and Libby's scene on her kitchen floor -- all were really well-done. And while I am on the subject, Annaleigh Ashford and Ane Crabtree must have that rare relationship that creates wardrobe perfection because every single time the woman is on camera she looks fucking amazing from head to toe.

Bits and Pieces: the 1960s edition

*That heart attack that Clark Gable had led to a blood clot that caused his death 10 days later. He was 59.


Betty: “Don't get your knickers in a knot. They're way more interested in nookie than in a bookie. Hmm, that rhymed. Ha.”

Virginia: “Bill always wears a bow tie.”
Bill: “It's not a fashion choice. It's a matter of practicality, so it stays out of the way during exams.” (The bow tie's origins!)

Austin: “What was Clark Gable doing changing his own tire?”

Dwight: “So, Ulysses is a dildo.”
Lester: “What did you think, our female subjects are having intercourse with a Greek leader in the Trojan War?“

Lester: “I wasn't making From Here To Eternity, although that is an excellent, excellent movie. I was filming the truth of people being sexual. If you sanitize it, you're completely undercutting Dr. Masters' and Mrs. Johnson's intentions, which are to encourage an honest discussion about what really happens to the body during sex.”

Bill: “As Henry David Thoreau said, ‘Beware all enterprises that require new clothes.’”

Bill: “Ah. Um, Mrs. Johnson and I are, uh, tremendously advantaged by the fact that she's a man and I'm a woman.”

Libby: “They wanted a few words with the woman behind the man. Well, the woman behind the man behind the woman behind the man.”

Bill: “Well, it's easy to be idealistic when your life's work isn't at stake.”
Lester: “Isn't that exactly the time to be idealistic -- to hold on to your principles, to be true to yourself?”

Tessa: “Who's gonna give you presents?”
Virginia: “You will send me letters and postcards from every place you go.
And you'll tell me everything you're seeing and everything you're doing, and that will be my present.” (I predict that whatever portion of this is depicted on screen is going to be heartbreaking.)

Bill: “How can you possibly want to be with me? With-- with this? Someone who looks like this? All -- all the makeup in the w-- I'm the guy who doesn't smile. I -- I can't twinkle! I can't fuck!”

1 comment:

  1. This show has made me sob this season more than any other I can think of. I spent the last fifteen minutes of this with my heart breaking.

    Libby has never been my favorite character, but dear God, her speech was moving. I'm sure many women in that time and in the place felt invisible, made even worse by her realization that her husband is in love with someone else. He may not admit to it yet, but he clearly does.

    It couldn't be more obvious than in that last bit with Virginia. This is a man who is changing the world, and yet his self-esteem and sense of worth is so low he (literally) can't function. When his emotions get the better of him, I can't help but respond.

    Finally, a massive amount of love for all the Clark Gable references. He, and his most famous movie, have been tops of my list since I was nine.


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