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Masters of Sex 2.01 “Parallax” Review: Going off Book

14 Jul

The big rain soaked grand gesture that ended season 1 of Masters of Sex is revisited in the form of flashback from both Bill and Virginia’s perspective throughout this premiere – the different points of view give the episode its title – and it is even followed by an equally rom-com like “What do we do now?” This question is incredibly loaded and neither Bill nor Virginia is very good at saying what they really mean; there is no scientific instrument than can speak for the (metaphorical) heart. Everything has been displaced and in this excellent first outing back we see pretty much every character clinging to the past while being deluded about the present. As with last year these reviews will be looking at Masters of Sex through the prism of costume design and how this plays a part in the overall narrative, as well as exploring other broader themes this show is addressing. Masters of Sex 2.01 no eye contactStarting at the end of the episode, which in a sense is the beginning of this seasons time line as Bill and Virginia discuss the finer points of Freud’s “there are no accidents” philosophy – this is one occasion where they agree with Freud after debunking his female orgasm theory – and end up in their standard stalemate relationship position. Bill and Virginia work incredibly well together and are both rather intuitive when it comes to the work, not so much with saying how they really feel as one of them is always erecting walls to protect their heart. Bill was the one to lay it all out this time and then pulled the classic “oh you misunderstood what was saying” after Virginia use word “affair” and how amazing he is for getting that she choose work over love. They can barely look at each other in this scene and they’re wearing their standard armor; Virginia’s high neckline/dark palette is her serious person wear and Bill’s immaculate suit and bow tie reflects his stiff exterior. Masters of Sex 2.01 Bill and Virginia suspendersTheir versions of armor do get stripped away in the bedroom and this is the first time they have been intimate outside of a controlled environment and it is jarring seeing them engaging like this outside of blue robes and medical instruments. The quick cuts as they go from doorstep to bedroom and finally a longer sequence of them naked enhances how impulsive this moment is and they are both laid out bare both physically and emotionally. Bill’s inquisitive side comes into play as he checks Virginia’s pulse and the first mention of no medical equipment is uttered; it’s impossible for this pair to separate the study from intimacy. This is the barrier they have used in the past to justify what they are doing as science. Now comes the psychological side of sex and Virginia ponders how they will measure this kind of data. Ah the study and its ability to provide an excuse for ignoring what is really going on while confronting these feelings in equal measures; Virginia even refers to it as “like nuclear rain falling on us all.” That is some stark imagery. Masters of Sex 2.01 kimonoVirginia barely wears any color in this episode and the ones she does are relatively muted aside from the celadon scarf that gets commented on at the hotel (“you can call it green”) and this incredible floral kimono. Again this is a much different look to the blue robes worn during Virginia’s previous sexual encounters with Bill and while they have of course been intimate with each other prior to this, the different setting and personal details like this kimono show how this relationship enters a new phase only to be back where they started by the end of the premiere. The different versions of the phone call, one in which we see Bill with a post-sex hopeful glow as Virginia turns down Ethan and the other as we hear Ethan’s side and see Virginia choosing work over love (even if she was never really in love with Ethan) earn an “it’s complicated” relationship status update. Masters of Sex 2.01 AustinIf this episode had a sponsor it would be denial and the result of what denial can do is helpfully demonstrated by Dr. Austin Langham as he hides from his scorned wife in Dr. Lillian DePaul’s office – he interrupts Lillian and Virginia having their own conversation about denial – as she roams the halls with her kids in tow yelling about her unfaithful husband. I have to admit that I totally bought into Austin’s sincere sounding declaration that he was a changed man and was no longer the cheating hound dog he was last season. Instead he has actually been sleeping with his sister-in-law and his fear of the study being like a mummy’s curse wasn’t his downfall, his inability to keep it in his pants did that just fine. Virginia getting to hold yet another baby reluctantly combined with Lillian’s admonishing of Austin made this the comic relief this episode craved. It also raised the question of whether Virginia should have ratted out where Austin was as a sign of solidarity even though Austin is the one who is her friend, not his wife and this situation is even more problematic as Virginia is also currently sleeping with the husband of a friend (no I am never buying the “it’s for science” defense which is why the Bill/Libby/Virginia love triangle is so fascinating). In one other moment of hilarity Lizzy Caplan did get to show off her fantastic comic timing as she attempts to use the script given to her to sell the diet pills, improv is definitely more Virginia’s speed. Masters of Sex 2.01 Libby and VirginiaWhile I’m on the subject of the Libby/Virginia friendship it is a good time to point out the stunning outfit Libby wears while on her trip to the hospital – inspired by Dior’s New Look – and there’s a couple of things that stand out to me here. First there’s light and dark; Virginia is in her standard dark tones and it’s not surprising considering the reaction from hospital employees that Virginia is doing all she can to not stand out. Libby is facing similar stares when out at functions and I’m not sure if she is aware of these disapproving looks or is she is using standard WASP protocol and pretending everything is fine, I suspect the latter. The color of this dress matches her son’s attire and it instantly made me think of how the Virgin Mary is often depicted wearing light blue and white. Masters of Sex 2.01 baby johnnyThis is reflected later when Bill scoffs that their baby isn’t Jesus despite being a ‘miracle,’ no to Bill he is like a crying monster to be drowned out by records and thoughts of Virginia. If only he could see the above shot to make things even more jumbled in Bill’s mind. Masters of Sex 2.01 horror povPure horror movie POV as Bill contemplates entering dear, sweet Johnny’s room before opting for the record player. Libby later calls Bill a “baby magician” before realizing that his mother is the one with the baby skills beyond the hospital. Bill’s baby fear stems from his own troubled family history and he banishes his mother back to Ohio after spitting at her how he is sleeping with Virginia and that he has become both his father and her. Bill really needs therapy as these issues are not going away and it is unfortunate that Libby has to deal with both their crying child and her repressive husband. Masters of Sex 2.01 LibbyLibby asks for advice from Virginia with how to deal with Bill’s work situation and Virginia’s words of wisdom focus on Libby “most of all I would take care of myself, it’s all you can do” as Bill is not great when being pushed in a certain direction. Libby does some of the former, but really more of the latter and this calls for more stunning vintage garments including this blue alpaca coat. Masters of Sex 2.01 poisedLibby is all poise at this event showing off what is under the above alpaca coat – a spectacular necklace and pale blue dress -as she tries to make things work, all while Bill is polishing off multiple martinis and snarking about her attempts to talk to Greathouse. Bill has his own chance meeting that helps him secure a new job and outlet for the study (more on that below). Masters of Sex 2.01 Libby floralTying Virginia and Libby together through floral print is not something I would have necessarily expected; Libby wears hers to maintain her social standing and to help Bill’s career through the only way she knows how and Virginia’s comes as personal and professional intersect in a new location. Libby and Virginia are of course linked through Bill and as their friendship developed prior to any Bill/Virginia sexy times it makes everything even more complicated. Libby is a sympathetic figure – which a lot of other shows with a difficult/brilliant man storyline have struggled with – and at the same time she isn’t painted as a weak 1950s housewife. There is real steely determination here and I worried when Masters of Sex first started that Libby would end up as nothing more than a pretty face with a nagging disposition so that you would will Bill and Virginia to be together. Instead we have a character who has strength and isn’t afraid to go against her husband’s wishes if she thinks it will help her family. That Bill has two women like this in his life who want to go to bat for him, despite his prickly and difficult nature is pretty astounding.

We know that when Bill lets his guard down there is a very caring side as he shows when he accompanies Barton to his electroshock therapy. When Barton pukes on him he barely blinks “it’s just a suit.” Bill can’t hide his disgust at this barbaric course of treatment and he uses science to try and convince Barton that he shouldn’t continue down this path.

Masters of Sex 2.01 Scully womenI’ve talked about how the theme of this episode is denial and Barton has this is droves as he tries to convince himself and Margaret that he can be ‘cured.’ Margaret sees through his sexual advances as soon as he wants to do it from behind pleading with him “there’s only a shred of me left that feels like a woman.” Margaret and Barton break my heart on every level in this episode – and have all but guaranteed repeat Emmy nominations for this time next year – as they both struggle with the reality of Barton’s sexuality. He so desperately wants to feel another way that his last resort is suicide and he is saved by his wife and daughter who have just returned from a shopping spree. Mother and daughter discuss the color of Vivian’s new top – she’s moving away from the pinks of last season as she has grown up and is talking about moving away – when they hear what they think is a thud from the basement window. Instead it is Barton’s hanging attempt and thankfully they reach him in time to save his life. Where the Scullys go from here is unclear, but they aren’t letting even those nearest to them in as Margaret makes excuses to Bill; a long distance phone call is the 50s version of a video call I guess. Masters of Sex 2.01 LillianWhat dish of denial is Lillian cooking up with her medicine cabinet story? Am I wrong in inferring that alcohol might be behind this shiner? One thing that I love about Masters of Sex is that it doesn’t have just one great lady friendship, there are currently three – though Jane will be departing soon sadly – and each brings out a different richness. Lillian and Virginia call each other out on their BS, Lillian disapproves of the diet pills Virginia is hawking and Virginia quickly flips the tables when Lillian blames her black eye on an object and not a person. Lillian has trouble getting her words out which might add to my booze theory or it could be down to her illness which I fear will take this incredible character away from us. It’s all about being careful and not reckless, a position that sends Virginia down Bill Masters memory lane for the final time in “Parallax” (this title also sounds like a diet pill to be honest) as their guarded nature could be seen as being careful, but it is probably going to be far more detrimental in the long run. Lillian as ever is buttoned up and muted in her costuming. Masters of Sex 2.01 Jane yellowYellow bag, coat, dress and jewelry is what I wanted from Jane’s brief appearance this season (Heléne Yorke is switching with Annaleigh Ashford as the actress with Broadway commitments this year) and I’m really going to miss this character’s ability to be honest without being hurtful. Jane wants Virginia to move to California as she thinks Virginia is deluding herself with the study and Bill. It’s colorful versus muted tones once again (Virginia’s collar is making me think of vicars and how she is trying to reject the sexual image people associate with her after the presentation) and Virginia also uses this opportunity to convince her friend that maybe she isn’t making the right choice either. Jane is following her dream and in a way Virginia is doing the same by putting her faith in Bill and their work. Masters of Sex 2.01 BettyBetty is back! Welcome to another installment of denial as she still hasn’t told her husband that a) she is gay and b) she can’t have kids. Masters knows about both of these things and is pissed that he has been drawn into this mess again, but hey he also gets to restart the study and get a new job out of this association so let’s play nice Bill. Betty is also not thrilled to see Bill and the Pretzel King is oblivious to all of this. Oh, Greg Grunberg (and another Felicity alum getting discussed on both his former and current show). Betty wears red, which was a staple color during her brief, but memorable stint last season and her relationship with Bill is one of the many conflicts I am looking forward to them exploring this year. An excellent first episode back propelling the story forward while characters try to adjust to big changes while denying that anything is different despite the obvious shifts and upheavals. Incredible work from Ane Crabtree and her costume design team as they add another layer to the text through what the characters wear and how they wear it.

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7 Responses to “Masters of Sex 2.01 “Parallax” Review: Going off Book”

  1. lizzie September 25, 2015 at 12:10 am #

    THAT SCARF IS NOT CELADON!!! i don’t know why this is bugging me so much!!!

    Virginia barely wears any color in this episode and the ones she does are relatively muted aside from the celadon scarf that gets commented on at the hotel (“you can call it green”) and this incredible floral kimono.

    • Emma Fraser September 25, 2015 at 10:01 am #

      Yeah I thought it was too dark for celadon, but I was just going with Virginia in this case.

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