I’m enjoying so many parts of Masters Of Sex, oddly more than the overall whole of the series. The performances astonish me every single week: I watched Christian Borle’s AA speech at least four times. The frequent duets of two of our stellar performers playing off each other are magnetic: Gini and Libby, Gini and Bill, and especially Bill and Frank, again. (Borle was a sorely needed shot of exuberance to this season: He automatically raises every scene he’s in to a higher energy level.) So many elements of Masters Of Sex are similarly sublime: The settings, lighting, costuming, direction, Michael Penn’s haunting piano score. Even the editing is noteworthy: A shot of Gini on the right side of the screen gives way to Libby in a separate scene on the left; the applause at Frank’s AA meeting seeps into Lester’s liaison with Miss Kitty. It is an absolute treat to experience each week, and I’m always sad when it’s over.
It’s only when I start to think about the show overall that it troubles me. It’s hard to tell where the show is headed, except to point out how Masters and Johnson developed and expanded parts of their study. Subplots like Libby volunteering in the CORE office seem like too much of a leap, and too disjointed from the show’s main focus. We know that the pivotal moments in Bill and Gini’s lives are still years away, when they become famous for publishing this study—I’m still reading the book, honest!—but we don’t know how long the show will take to reach that point. Sometimes I think it doesn’t really matter. Until it does.
On top of all that, there’s still lots to explore in whatever internal chapter MOS delves into from week to week. “Story Of My Life” zooms in not just on people’s stories, but the truth (or lack of truth) behind them. Frank tells Bill that by facing the truth, he’s healed himself. Libby and Gini both attempt to lie this week, and fail miserably. But there are reasons why we all spend so much time and effort hiding and burying what’s really troubling us, often all the way back to childhood: Some things are just too painful to dig up and explore. Barbara uncovering the truth behind her dysfunction emotionally devastates her, and it’s maddening to realize how much Gini could actually be hurting her by trying to help her. Lizzy Caplan deftly displays appropriate horror as she realizes that Barbara actually went back and confronted her brother, but she still has to be a professional in front of her patient: Gini knows she’s in way over her head.
At least Gini’s impulsive and ill-conceived attempt to treat Barbara by therapeutic proxy leads to her to finally confront some things in her own life, from her pageant-pushing mother to the fact that what she’s doing with Bill could potentially devastate Libby. Frank’s efforts have taken him not to therapy, but an AA support group, where he also is exploring his past. Lester’s session with the energetic prostitute Kitty is not as successful, because it lacks any emotional connection that would help him get over the source of his impotence.
So our characters are searching for different ways to heal themselves: Although you can’t change the past, as Bill and Gini both point out, you can at least change the way you deal with it. Unfortunately, Barbara’s exploration takes an even more devastating turn as she considers the possibility that she was the one behind her relationship with her brother: “What if it’s my fault? What if I did this to myself?” By facing his past head-on—and sober—Frank is much more successful, coming to terms with his father’s horrible behavior in a way that Bill hasn’t yet, and needs to. One of the many things I love about Frank’s AA speech—the coin disappearance, the vanishing theme—is the way the camera viewpoint transcends from Frank to Bill, so that we eventually hear Frank’s stories through Bill’s eyes, as Dr. Masters keeps his arms crossed and becomes more and more closed off, until he just leaves. Frank’s devastation at the podium when he finds that Bill has abandoned him again is palpable. I love his whole character: Of course Bill Masters’ brother would have to be a bit of a clown, an entertainer, in contrast to his straight-laced, tightly wound brother.
This organic connection cements in their next scene together, when Frank confronts Bill about leaving the meeting. Bill protests that Frank stole his life story, without realizing that Frank endured the same abuse he did: “Because if I thought that was possible, I never would have left you,” as his voice cracks. Lester has already told Bill that as much as he’s looking for a scientific way to cure impotence, the cure has to be emotional, from partners that know each other, equally matched. Of course there’s only one person like that for Bill, and she’s been propelled onto her own journey into self-discovery due to her work with Barbara: Not just into her past, and her relationship with Bill, but her tendency to leap forward without figuring out all of the consequences.
Libby’s on her own voyage too, and while Caitlin FitzGerald offers not a little chemistry with Jocko Sims in the CORE office, this storyline is a stretch to me, that doesn’t quite fit into the overall picture. The viewer is as surprised to find Libby in the CORE offices as the workers are, but she’s propelled by Pauline’s proclamation about the advantages of doing what no one thought you were capable of. Others are trying to fix their past: Libby’s trying to change her future, and we’ll see what comes of it.
Frank states: “I’m healed, Bill. That’s what the truth does. You just have to be brave enough to face it.” And there’s a huge amount of courage involved, especially when the truth could conceivably upend the lives of all of our main players here. But Bill was never going to heal his impotence any other way: In the end, he and Gini reveal some realities about their relationship in their favorite hotel room, but Bill’s also starting to re-address his painful past, which can only be a positive step forward. The episode ends with his final, painful reveal to Virginia, so that the healing can begin.
- Nowhere near enough Betty.
- Michael Sheen’s Welsh accent really comes out when he’s yelling.
- Loved Lester’s compassion toward Barbara, his dysfunctional equal, hurriedly not just turning off the camera, but removing it completely.
- Honestly, I’m a little worried about the second Masters kid: Johnny gets mentioned again this week, as Pauline reads to him at bedtime and Libby describes him as a picky eater, but again no mention of the baby, why?
- “Maybe we could start by you telling me what you like.” “The French New Wave.”