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Masters of Sex 2.05 “Giants” Review: Taking the Plunge

11 Aug

So much of Masters of Sex deals with public and private battles for progression as these characters navigate a reluctant and repressive landscape; from the sex study itself to gender and most recently race issues. This is a period of fundamental change and as Bill’s new boss Dr. Charles Hendricks (played by the always excellent Courtney B. Vance) points out the actions of pioneers like Bill (and Virginia) are important when it comes to ensuring monumental change; someone needs to take the plunge.

Once again there are multiple power dynamics at play with the Virginia and Bill continuing their push/pull dance and home life at the Masters’ takes another turn for the awful. These aren’t the only relationships that are under strain as Virginia and Lillian continue to argue and Betty receives a blast from the past that threatens to disrupt her already precarious marital situation.

Masters of Sex 2.05 BillBill’s new place of work is a lot more amenable with who he wants to hire as part of his work requirements as well as being fully behind the study – well to a certain extent as it turns out that Dr. Hendricks is the one sabotaging the recruitment of new participants and isn’t as in favor of the sex study as he is projecting – on the surface Bill is getting what he wants. To Bill, his new office is tiny and yet he is being accommodated in a manner that is at a disadvantage to the other doctors, one of whom is now in an even smaller thanks to the arrival of Bill. Bill also manages to secure a contract for Virginia, something she insists upon and isn’t the norm for support staff at Buell Green. For Virginia job security is a condition of her moving hospitals as she has her family to think about and even though her working relationship with Lillian is in tatters she also needs to ensure that she can provide for her children. So while Bill might refer to the diet pills in a fanciful derogatory sense, Virginia is only selling them as a means to an end.

Financial security is one thing, but she also has another issue to work through with Bill and their participation in the study. After Virginia’s huge blowout with Lillian where Lillian accuses her of sleeping her way to her new position and scoffing at the scientific nature of her work with Bill, Virginia now has other stipulations. As with season 1, Virginia asks Bill if she has to participate in the study to get the job. Back then he said no and this is his initial response here too and then he changes his mind; it is indeed mandatory. Virginia finds a way to assert her dominance and agency when they venture to the hotel as she tells Bill to strip and pleasure himself. This is a twist on what happened in “Fight” when Bill told Virginia to strip and beg for it and instead she showed she has control over her body. Bill complies with Virginia’s demands from the Q&A – why he closes his eyes and who he is thinking about – to when she tells him to stop.

Masters of Sex 2.05 Virginia stopwatchThe Bill/Virginia relationship is in a state of flux as both are trying so hard to deny any actual feelings and the intimacy of their work can result in moments like this. When Virginia tells him to stop before completion this is another moment where she is fully in control and Bill continues to meet Virginia’s demands; it’s a banner week for lady pleasure as Bill follows the Outlander lead and goes down on Virginia. It’s also worth noting that as the camera pulls away we see the very naked Bill and the still fully dressed Virginia. Bill is later propositioned in “Giants” by Libby (more on the reasons why below) and the sex between this pair is stale and kinda awkward looking (plus Bill keeps his t-shirt firmly on). Having established a new power balance and one that is sure to ebb and flow as they continue to view these activities as research only, Virginia takes the position at Buell Green.

Masters of Sex 2.05 white coatThe return of the white coat! Virginia might not be an actual doctor, but the symbolism behind this garment is incredibly important. This indicates her experience, expertise and equal standing with Bill when it comes to their work on the study so while she doesn’t come with Dr. before her name she shouldn’t get overlooked. The dress Virginia is wearing is one of her super professional and very Lillian looking outfits thanks to the grey tone and high collar. We first saw this piece of costuming in the episode where Lillian was introduced and it also happens to be the first dress Virginia wore the lab coat with and this is significant. Inner strength is something Virginia possesses in droves and yet she has the same insecurities regarding her self-worth and how she is perceived as everyone else. The white coat is like armor and it sends out a message that Virginia is not here as a play thing for Bill. After her argument with Lillian it is understandable that she embraces this coat and dresses conservatively to portray a certain version of herself.

When Virginia fights with Lillian several home truths come out from both parties; Lillian gave her work away to secure its future as she always suspected that she was Virginia’s second choice and Austin’s revelation confirmed her fears. As with Bill, Virginia references money and supporting her family to explain her actions and tells Lillian that she “had it easier.” This is one of those bitter arguments where every single fear and resentment is laid out and when Lillian first met Virginia she believed that she was using her looks to get by; in one respect Lillian believes her initial assessment has been confirmed, however it is far more complex than that. In a hurtful argument it is all the ammo Lillian needs to push Virginia further away. It is not the end of my favorite lady friendship on TV, although I suspect there isn’t much time left for Lillian and she is now done with work after she collapsed in the bathroom.

Masters of Sex 2.05 Lillian and Virginia“I am scared though for what’s ahead, which means I can’t really afford to be upset with you, can I?” The line that caused my screen to go blurry and despite their big fight this friendship has not been broken and there is no need to say sorry for the things they said to each other; the hand holding is more than enough. This has been a sublime representation of a female friendship and I’m really not ready for it to be done. I know it’s not that kind of show, but I really want them to find a miracle cure.

Masters of Sex 2.05 CoralMoving on from an interaction that is tear inducing to one that causes another emotional reaction – of the “Shut up, Libby!” variety – and Libby continues down the path of self-righteous destruction. Libby’s relationship with Coral reaches new lows of patronizing after she receives a visit from Coral’s boyfriend Robert regarding the degrading shampoo incident. Libby can’t understand that what she did was completely inappropriate until Bill points out just how horrific these actions were. Libby is being painted in a very unfortunate light and her attempts to do the ‘right thing’ like impart life lessons as she “knows a thing or two about the world” lead to further humiliation and anger. With Coral when she tells her to dump Robert, Coral uses her knowledge of the separate beds in the Masters’ bedroom to poke at Libby’s insecurities (and it prompts Libby’s ‘seduction’ of Bill later on) and Robert points out how she should be apologizing to Coral not him. Libby is shocked that Robert is calling her racist and while we saw some liberal attitudes from Libby last season there is still inherent snobbery that translates at racism with how she is treating Coral and Bill’s new workplace location.

Libby doesn’t apologize to Coral most likely because she thinks it will undermine her position and because she is already feeling inferior to her employee. This is the original reason why Libby corrected Coral’s grammar in the first place and a lot of Libby’s insecurities are bringing out this ugly side of her in the same it does with Betty Draper on Mad Men. Feeling powerless is not a reason to be awful and I worry that Libby is being portrayed in this way to make her less sympathetic when it comes to her marriage.

One thing we know about Libby’s past is that she did have it pretty hard as a child with her mother dying young quickly followed by her father walking out and never coming back. This makes her comment about knowing things about the world believable, but this is not how she presents herself so she comes across as spoiled and sheltered.

Masters of Sex 2.05 B and HEmbracing the past is something Betty has to do when ex-girlfriend Helen (oh hey Sarah Silverman) turns up unannounced and threatens to disrupt the marriage Betty is in the middle of trying to save. Gene is still upset with Betty, not because she can’t have children, but because she lied about it in the first place. The scene where she tries to serenade Gene with a cute song and dance doesn’t work (he compares her voice to “migrating geese” and Annaleigh Ashford is really a Broadway star, Betty not so much) and it adds depth to the Pretzel King and shows there is genuine affection here, even if it will never be that kind of love. In the same way Barton Scully is limited to how he can love in the eyes of society this is another version of this heartbreaking story. Betty married Gene as a way to secure herself a future away from the brothel and while she sees this as another form of prostitution in this version she gets a hat for each day of the week and gold facets. When Libby says she knows the world it sounds ridiculous, with Betty it’s totally believable when she states she “has seen things.” Gene isn’t a bad guy either, but this kind of settling is only going to lead to further misery for all concerned. This is clear during the double date when a story about how much Helen cares for Betty goes from hysterical laughter to teary bathroom kisses.

Betty reinforces why she chose Gene as there is no future for them; pretending to be sisters so they can live together is not enough and they don’t fit in with the style of the lesbian scene. For Betty it broke her heart, but she wanted a future for herself even if that future is built on lies.

Masters of Sex 2.05 Betty and HelenStyle wise like Betty, Helen wears colorful and bold attire refusing to blend in. They are an explosive pair and the chemistry between Annaleigh Ashford and Sarah Silverman supports this notion that they have been in love for years.

Masters of Sex 2.05 Gene, Helen, BettyI also really want to include this shot as there is so much going on in this scene costume and set wise; there is a clashing quality between Betty’s colorful stripped skirt, Helen’s floral teal dress and Gene’s camel suit. The opulence of the room (haunted by the ghost of a 93-year old) adds to the busy looking frame underpinning the conflict at play. There are ghosts in this room of course, but not the one Gene thinks there is.

Masters of Sex 2.05 VirginiaThis whole episode is full of vibrant colors with strong blues dominating scenes; Coral is in blue when Libby attempts to give her advice and Libby is in a similar shade when she tells Coral she can take care of the master Masters bedroom. Betty wears electric blue when she confronts Helen and Helen in turn wears this to dinner. It’s like there is a power struggle between the women who wear this color. Virginia reverts back to red after her initial grey power dress and it’s the Capri blue car that gets referenced as a way to show the neighborhood isn’t so bad; this car is also the location for the Virginia/Lillian reconciliation. In the final scene Virginia is wearing a beautiful darker blue outfit when Bill pays her the ultimate compliment by referring to something she does way better than he does and I’m not sure if I’m reading too much into it, but this color plays an important part in the power struggles between some of these relationships. Now Bill and Virginia are in a better place she is wearing less black around him. The overall challenge is far from over and this is not a conflict free situation, however it does appear that Bill and Virginia are on the same page in the same hospital once again.

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One Response to “Masters of Sex 2.05 “Giants” Review: Taking the Plunge”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Masters of Sex 2.06 “Blackbird” Review: “Lilantha” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - August 18, 2014

    […] to explain her actions. I worry they have pushed Libby too far into this corner and as I mentioned last week it comes across as an attempt to make Libby unlikeable so as an audience we feel less sympathy for […]

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