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Masters Of Sex: “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

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In tonight’s finale of the second season of Masters Of Sex, we see two couples bare themselves completely—Bill and Gini, Libby and Robert—while the sweetest couple of the series, Lester and Barb, undress behind closed doors before they sleep together pajama-ed, side by side, holding hands. Yet their little smiles as they go to sleep are so hopeful: It takes trust even to be able to sleep next to a person, let alone be intimate with them. While emotionally they may not be able to admit it, the ease in which the other four players stand nude in front of each other speaks to the trust they have in the other person: It’s one of the scariest things someone can do, to open themselves up completely in front of another person, and it takes a definite leap of faith in all these instances to do so. It’s telling how pronounced these naked moments are in the finale, indicating how far everyone has come this season.

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Springing off of John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration speech, trust and faith are our two big watchwords tonight. Because trust and faith, Bill and Gini discover, hold the actual key to unlock sexual dysfunction.

Gini trusts Bill, but by killing the CBS broadcast, he takes away from her what any mother loves most: her children. Of course, he didn’t know that outcome was impending (it does seem like a highly irresponsible move on Gini’s part, hard to believe that even her lawyer Mr. Schleeb would be on board with it), and once he does, he frantically tries to talk Gini out of it. This is what we risk when we trust other people: Gini trusts Bill with her work, her love, her entire life, and suffers the consequences.

So we can’t blame Lester and Barbara for being tentative, with their corresponding sexual issues, which makes it all the more gratifying to see their courtship: She likes Pillow Talk (which actually came out in 1959?); he favors the more sexually charged foreign film L’Avventura, which enables him to passionately kiss her against a car. Lester and Barb are the emblems for why the Masters and Johnson study is important: They personify the scores of people the study could help. So it’s nice to see the two actually creep toward some sort of resolution on their own, even if at first it’s a celibate one. I think even Barb’s relaxed hairstyle indicates that she’s ready to open up more for Lester.

There’s so much at stake for the study—getting the word out first, all those thousands of case studies possibly gone to waste, lost in some index of a medical journal—that Bill absolutely panics over his work being publicized in a sanitized, whitewashed version far from his original intent. So much so that he pulls in Barton Scully, in a welcome cameo by Beau Bridges, to help push another study ahead of his. It’s classic Bill Masters, and Scully calls him out on his “one-man show, your terms and your terms only. Well, it’s hell for the people around you and no picnic for you either, as far as I can tell.” Scully dug himself out of his own personal hell by taking “a leap of faith: I decided to trust.”

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Because people have been burned by Masters before: his brother, his wife, to name two. Lester, after the failed experiment with the prostitute. Bill tries to sell him on the new impotency cure method he and Gini are devising, because “Sex is as basic as breathing, eating… your entire being will eventually rebel.” Although it’s nice to have someone’s hand to hold in the dark, the couple may want more eventually. But trust comes in to play here as well, as both Gini and Bill have bungled previous efforts with Lester and Barb.

Libby and Gini get in a nice talk on a park bench, made all the more poignant by the later acknowledgement that Libby has come to the obvious realization that Bill and Gini have been having an affair for years. Libby urging Virginia to “Live the life you have, not the life you thought you would have, to just accept what is” explains how she has so easily glided into the affair with Robert, that she loves her children, but she and her husband have drifted apart. Libby rejects the Women’s Day approach to motherhood, by acknowledging (unusual for the time period) that her children can’t be all she has. She tells Robert later that “I know I want to feel”: She needs more.

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Gini’s career was compelled more by financial necessity than Libby’s was, but in the end she chooses her work over her kids. She signs them over to her ex-husband instead of having her name and the study’s smeared all over a courtroom. A more devastating decision can not even be imagined, even though she plans to get them back eventually. She puts the future of her entire family in the faith that the study will eventually be revolutionary and life-changing. Lizzie Caplan does some of her best work this season (in a sea of great work) when she realizes the horrible mistake she’s made, and now all she has is the work.

Fortunately, the inauguration and Kennedy’s hatless speech indicate a game-changer, “signifying renewal, as well as change.” The new promise the new President Kennedy discusses will lead the way to a brighter new world, one that will eventually be ready for the findings of Masters and Johnson. Still, it’s totally fitting that the season ends with their apology to Lester and Barb and a plan to help them, as they both chime in on this sentence: “The key is: It takes both of you to make a leap of faith, of trust, working together.” And Gini and Bill now realize that this togetherness and life-binding trust is key for them as well.

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Season finale: A-

Season overall: B+

I am grateful to Sonia Saraiya for letting me step in for MOS season two. I know there are great differences between this season and the last; without the study to anchor much of this season, Masters Of Sex focused on many internal explorations, sometimes with mixed results, and sometimes with amazing ones (“Fight”). While I understand the show’s frequent criticisms, overall I enjoyed it immensely. I wish there had been a better way to integrate Libby into the season, I wish Betty’s life hadn’t been dropped halfway through, and I’m still not sold on Austen and Flo (I could have done without their whole role-reversal “blonde” scene this week). But when the show focused on the study, and the all the emotions behind it, it was like nothing else on television. Thanks for reading (and commenting), and we’ll see you in season three.

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