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Masters of Sex 2.06 “Blackbird” Review: “Lilantha”

18 Aug

Intimacy comes in a variety of ways far beyond the study at the center of Masters of Sex and in “Blackbird” we see multiple characters wrestling with the truth behind certain relationships. This takes place in both a personal and professional setting as the two overlap in several cases; new lows are hit and life changing acknowledgements are proclaimed. Change is coming and there is of course resistance, particularly when there are different agendas at play. While Bill claims he will let the facts speak for themselves, when his own personal space is penetrated by the press he pushes back in the most abhorrent way and he’s not the only one who goes to extreme lengths this week.*

*While watching this episode and seeing the depiction of racial tension in 1950s St. Louis, Missouri it is incredibly bleak spotting similarities and the lack of progress with what is happening right now in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.

Masters of Sex 2.06 LilanthaI’ve talked a lot about Virginia and Lillian as the best female friendship on television and “Blackbird” cements this assertion (and I’m pretty sure I’m going to end up crying while I type this). Lillian references Virginia’s inability to take no for an answer – I realized while watching this that there is a slightly Leslie Knope steamroller like quality to Virginia – and by the end of the episode Virginia has learned that there is a point where you stop pushing someone. Lillian decides to end her treatment, which is met with resistance by Virginia as she believes there is still plenty to fight for. At this point Lillian is performing this fighter charade for Virginia “I can’t do this for you. I tried, but I’m done” (aaaaand the screen just went blurry as I typed that).

Between Lillian and Bill, Virginia has opened herself up emotionally in a way that she can’t quite comprehend and she tearfully explains to Bill that she never lets anyone in the way she has done with Lillian emphasizing “She knows me.” Virginia doesn’t do close emotional relationships (remember she locked up her heart a long time ago) and Bill points out that the reason Virginia didn’t see it coming is because Lillian is a woman. Yes we have seen Virginia with other female friends, well Jane, but none this intimate. They are of course complete opposites and yet they provide that something the other has been missing.

Like Virginia, Lillian has erected walls and she tells Virginia over wine that she has missed out on being loved. Lillian tells a story of her cotillion, the cruel name she was called – giraffe as she was both tall and spotty – and how a little piece of us is the girl we were at 13 (which I kind of agree with). So while Lillian hasn’t experienced romantic love, this here on this sofa and later when Virginia tucks her in bed is love. Lillian is also the only one who can get Virginia to accept that Bill loves her, even if this comes with a feigned shocked expression followed by eye acknowledgement. If this episode was just these two women sitting on the sofa drinking and telling stories I would be more than happy. Alas, the end is here and Virginia puts Lillian to bed in the same way she does her children; by drawing words on her forehead. What really slays me in this scene is Virginia telling Lillian she sees “constellations in these freckles” including the previously undiscovered “Lilantha” a “Warrior princess, strong and brave” and if I wasn’t already a wreck then this line would tip me over the edge “But she knew who she was. And that is why she burns so brightly, you can always spot her in the sky.”

Earlier Virginia has told Lillian she will take care of the letter to her family and that she will ensure that her body goes to science so she can maybe help with the cause she has spent so long on beyond her death. Virginia returns to Lillian’s house to pick up the letter and finds her in bed struggling to breathe after she has taken a bottle of sleeping pills. Virginia’s natural reaction is to call 911 and halfway through the call as she looks at her friend she hangs up, recognizing this isn’t her fight. Instead she lies down next to Lillian and makes sure she isn’t alone in her final moments.

Masters of Sex 2.06 Bill and VirginiaWhen Bill and Virginia have sex they don’t kiss, if they did then they might have to admit to themselves and each other that there is something here that goes far beyond research. This point is emphasized in the opening scene and while it might seem like a bit too on the nose for them to reference this in such an overt way, I’m glad they did as I haven’t actually noticed before that they don’t kiss (I’m not sure if this makes me horribly unobservant or if my brain is filling in the gap). So when this moment takes place it’s not while they are sleeping together, instead it comes in at a point of vulnerability as Virginia is opening herself up rather than closing herself off. We don’t see anything beyond the kiss so it’s unclear if it leads to anything else, the way I read it is that it is just the kiss and nothing more.

This is a strong and effective scene; the “I know you” and everything that comes before and after really underlines everything this relationship is about. One aspect that works incredibly well is how the camera pushes in so slowly starting at a distance and ending in a close up. It’s like we are Bill and Lillian sneaking past Virginia’s carefully constructed walls.

The red of Virginia’s blouse in this scene is in contrast to the blue in her later scenes with Lillian; one suggests passion while the other is nurturing and both represent the two sides of Virginia we see in her relationships with these two characters.

Masters of Sex 2.06 MorganBill’s being all Mr Sensitive with Virginia, however when things get a little too personal with the story reporter Morgan Hogue is writing he ends up in a scenario he has never found himself in. Morgan wants to talk about Bill’s past and his recent estrangement from the white medical community; this is not the angle Bill wants as it reveals far too much about whom he is and is a narrative he finds uncomfortable. To kill the story Bill threatens the editor of this newspaper with made up research findings that will paint black people in a negative light. It’s repugnant and so unlike the Bill we have seen admonishing Libby for her recent racist actions. Bill is for what it is worth disgusted at himself for stooping to this tactic telling Hendricks that he has never misrepresented his work like this. Hendricks refers to Bill’s methods as coming from a desperate place, but it still leaves a nasty taste behind and Hendricks fires him as this pairing is not going to bring the change that either of them is striving for; Bill needs to go out on his own as Hendricks did.

Masters of Sex 2.06 LibbyThese last few weeks I have been pretty much watching Libby scenes through my fingers as she continues her descent into obsession and paranoia going from watching Coral and Robert to getting a police check on Robert. Banning Robert from picking Coral up leads to following them to their home and Robert confronts Libby as she’s figuring out where Coral lives. Robert tells Libby that he’s Coral’s brother (they haven’t different surnames) revealing Coral’s ruse for getting under Libby’s skin (which Libby deserved in that moment). Libby has cut her leg, something Robert notices and asks if he can help her. Libby accepts this aid for a moment and then things get too personal for her and she overreacts by firing Coral and fleeing the scene. Later she caresses that cut and smokes in the darkness; this act of care and intimacy has stirred something in Libby. Part of her obsession with Coral and Robert is from this factor of closeness that is absent in her own relationship and while this doesn’t excuse Libby behavior and prejudice, it goes some of the way 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 her and her loveless marriage.

Masters of Sex 2.06 awkward double dateWhile I’m on the subject of loveless marriages “Care is what you have for a stray dog you find in the road. Love is what you have with someone you share your bed with.” These words by Gene to Betty suggest that this relationship has come to an end as Gene finds out the biggest secret Betty has been keeping. Gene’s friend Al is beyond clueless as even though he witnessed the kiss between Helen and Betty last week he doesn’t connect that this is romantic as his only experience of lesbians is a stereotype; neither Betty or Helen look like this so they can’t possibly be. This also goes back to what Betty said about them not being accepted by this community as they don’t fit this description. Gene figures it out and while he thought Betty’s outburst was because she was into Al – he tells a sad story about what it’s been like to double date with Al in the past – when Al mentions the kiss he instantly knows who Betty’s heart belongs to. Betty thinks that she can make it work with both Helen and Gene as they have money now and “money means options.” They already live an unconventional life and they can maintain afternoon hookups as long as Helen is willing to go along with this. Helen isn’t content with being the mistress in this set up and plays Betty at her game with an impromptu proposal to Al.

Masters of Sex 2.06 Betty and GeneWhile Betty is okay with performing this charade and she really does care for Gene as she suggests, it’s not enough. For Gene he could get passed the kids lie and he doesn’t want to adopt, he tells Betty “You’re enough.” The problem is that Gene is not enough for Betty and he never will be. An unconventional set up yes, but one that isn’t fair to anyone involved. Helen pushed her point with the Al proposal and Gene confrontation with Betty about truth shows that he can’t play this game. Ultimately I don’t think Betty can either and while she has got used to comfortable living and an incredible wardrobe she owes it to Gene, Helen , Al and herself to own her truth.

Masters of Sex 2.06 BettyAs I’m on the subject of Betty frocks here is another incredible one. There is nothing quiet or subdued about either Betty or Helen’s clothing choices. They clash at times in both color and pattern as they clash in their methods of continuing their relationship. Even their underwear is in stark contrast as Betty wears the white of innocence and Helen’s strapless basque is in super sexy black. Now that Betty is no longer getting ‘fertility’ treatments from Bill this story is now rather separate to the overall narrative and I wonder how they will converge again in the future. Sarah Silverman has been a terrific addition and I hope we get to see more of this relationship as we move forward.

This episode marks the halfway point of season 2 and it has an end of chapter like feel to it as Bill realizes that he can no longer work in a hospital if he wants to continue his work. Other characters hit low points (Libby I’m looking at you), relationships hit their natural breaking point as secrets are revealed and walls are broken down exposing a whole new set of raw emotions. Bill discovers at the end of the episode that maybe he doesn’t know Virginia as well as the thought he did as when he turns to her first after yet another sacking he finds her ‘beau’ on the doorstep. This is a guy Virginia has been dating for a couple of months and like Bill we are only just finding out about this relationship. Bill stumbles away having what appears to be a panic attack and the Virginia/Bill merry-go-round continues to spin.

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4 Responses to “Masters of Sex 2.06 “Blackbird” Review: “Lilantha””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Masters of Sex and the Betty Fashion Parade | TV Ate My Wardrobe - August 25, 2014

    […] open with a title card telling us it is 5 months after the events of last week (which I noted felt like the end of a chapter) and in total the episode covers 2 years of time going from October […]

  2. Masters of Sex 2.08 “Mirror, Mirror” Review: Beneath the Veil | TV Ate My Wardrobe - September 1, 2014

    […] scene builds on the last time Libby went to see Robert at home and it suggests there is an attraction here; are we going to see […]

  3. Masters of Sex 2.12 “The Revolution will not be Televised” Review: Leap of Faith | TV Ate My Wardrobe - September 29, 2014

    […] strong, unbreakable figure and her only moment of teary weakness this season has been to do with Lillian’s illness (*sob*). Lizzy Caplan is exceptional in this episode at conveying the unraveling of Virginia; from […]

  4. Variety Emmy Studio Conversations or Pick Your Dream Dinner Dates | TV Ate My Wardrobe - June 16, 2015

    […] experience with a storyline that devastated me last season and made this the second show that made me cry while writing a review (the first was The Good Wife and the recent third addition was Mad […]

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