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Masters of Sex 2.08 “Mirror, Mirror” Review: Beneath the Veil

1 Sep

Observation is no longer enough on Masters of Sex as the study broadens its scope through a variety of methods with Bill and Virginia both experiencing variations of crossing the line. There is a lot going on below the surface in “Mirror, Mirror” as the traumas of past relationships come to light and another part of the Bill Masters jigsaw falls into place as he deals with his own psychological block.

At times Masters of Sex takes a slightly heavy handed approach with its use of symbolism and this is one of those occasions as veils are used to suggest that which is hidden in plain sight. Not everything is related to sex, although past and present encounters are used to highlight trauma and Betsy Brandt delivers a powerful performance when she realizes what transpired during her childhood. This episode does grind the forward momentum on display last week to a halt; however it is still remains a compelling hour of television while also highlighting some of the narrative issues this season is having.

Masters of Sex 2.08 Virginia“You think it’s enough to fix the outside. That’s the easy part.”

Bill’s brother Francis stops by to imbue some wisdom on his older brother and to tell him to stop ignoring him – this final scene gave me all the Dick/Adam Whitman feelings – and we spend the whole episode thinking that Francis is just an old college friend* until the final reveal. Francis is similar to Bill from his chosen profession and his low sperm count. Bill is extra cagey when questioned about whom Francis is and even Betty’s snooping doesn’t reveal his true identity. On the surface it looked like Bill has made all the family reconciliations that he needed to last week after he let his mother back into his life, but this is far from the truth.

*In real life Bill did have a college roommate called Francis Baker as well as his brother Francis.

Bill is also withholding other important information from Virginia and he uses the three drink excuse as to why he can’t perform. The decision to include the participants they initially rejected due to sexual dysfunctions is beneficial to Bill and the stack with the highest number affected happens to be the problem he is suffering from. Bill’s issue came directly after he discovered that Virginia had been seeing another man and his physical problems are almost certainly caused by the psychological. The correlation between mental and physical feelings has been floating in the background since the first episode with love and feelings as the eternal elephant in the room. First it was transference as a reason for initial attraction, now it is the mental block Bill is having as a result of the complicated relationship he has with Virginia.

Masters of Sex 2.08 Betty in purpleUsing all the resources at hand also includes asking Betty about her previous profession and the techniques they used at the brothel with performance problems. Betty notes that generally if you could get the head to believe then the rest would follow suit. Sometimes this involved a magical potion – rum and cayenne peppers – to work as a placebo and it has the not so subtle name “punch for suckers.” There are many reasons why someone might experience impotence, but in her experience it is generally more mental than physical. This would seem to be the case with Bill as he didn’t experience anything like this before his other man encounter at Virginia’s and what looked like a panic attack in the rain. Bill is of course keeping all of this information to himself. Standard Bill Masters shutting down protocol.

Masters of Sex 2.08 Bill and LesterBill has a hard time with empathy, it’s not that he doesn’t and can’t empathize; it’s just not his emotional wheelhouse. When he spots a fellow sufferer in Lester, who is feeling both personally and professionally impotent after his time in Hollywood with Jane, Bill turns the camera on him and makes him more than just an observer. Lester’s father has died and after Virginia suggests using his talents to make a slideshow of his father’s life as part of his eulogy; Lester realizes he is only present in two photos out of over a hundred. Bill sees this opportunity to make Lester part of the project he is documenting and it is an act of kindness that shows Bill is far more than the brusque standoffish figure we have come to expect.

Later in the episode Bill doesn’t show the same level of understanding with Libby as she also wants to be part of something. Unfortunately for Libby, Bill thinks she is already part of the study even though she is more on the outside than anyone. So while the study is Lester’s biggest inspiration as every day brings something brand new, for Libby it is the same old cycle.

For a week she gets to show off her sales skills as she raises money for the Veiled Prophet Ball and makes $300 using a whole host of persuasion to get businesses to sign off; we see her hone her skills with Flo. In fact Libby is just as much of an asset as Virginia is at the initial dinner, as she uses her knowledge of society events to get their foot in the door by targeting the police chief’s wife (oh hey! Peri Gilpin). Libby might not have been a debutante, but she knows how to work this angle.

Masters of Sex 2.08 LibbyThis is the Libby from season 1 that was sympathetic and proactive who wasn’t reduced to a paranoid racist mess; while it doesn’t excuse her behavior from earlier this year and I still think it was a huge misstep making Libby the villain she does go some way to rectify her past actions. Last week they mentioned that CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) had moved into the same building and this continues Masters of Sex engaging in stories that explore racial tension from this period in a way that goes beyond the passivity of Mad Men in this area. Libby is a witness to the aftermath of an attack that is blamed in the press as a drug deal gone bad, when really it is a horrific racially provoked assault. One person who comes to the aid of the beaten man is Robert, Coral’s brother and he clocks Libby driving by. Later Robert visits Libby at home imploring her to speak up in a manner in which the other white witnesses are too afraid to.

When Libby mentions this interaction to Bill her rhetoric is far different from how she previously discussed Robert with her husband as she’s no longer painting Robert as a threat and it’s Bill’s turn to come across as narrow minded telling Libby “This is not our issue.” Libby has been a witness to a crime and it is disappointing to hear him tell her that she shouldn’t do anything about it. Seeing the veiled man and Robert mentioning other men who wear hoods is the prompt Libby needs to act on the injustice she saw and later she visits Robert to tell him that she did see the truck.

This 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 Libby embark on an affair? Libby taking on the role of white women savior is going to be made even more complicated and problematic if sex is thrown into the mix; while this version of Libby is far more preferable to the one on display earlier this season, they need to tread carefully and not just use this as a reason for Libby to fill the emptiness that she is feeling. A further exploration of Libby’s loneliness is appreciated, just don’t let it become a prop in a story exploring race.

Masters of Sex 2.08 BarbsThe person who prompted Virginia’s desire to include those with sexual dysfunctions in the study is Barbs and after tracking her down Virginia opens up a trauma so deep that Barbs has buried it for what sounds like her entire adult life. Barbs explains the horror story of the pregnant girl who bled to death when she was younger as a potential reason for her condition. Virginia comments that it is curious that Barbs can’t remember the name of the first boy she had a sexual encounter with and a night time house call reveals the true horror of what occurred to Barbs. Betsy Brandt gives an incredible and heartbreaking performance as she recounts the childhood games with her brother that changed with time and how she believes God is punishing her for what she did with her brother. It is a devastating scene and having it take place away from the clinical landscape with Virginia in her home and in her nightclothes increases the desperation from Barbs, while highlighting Virginia’s lack of experience with handling something of this magnitude. This is something so traumatic that it can’t wait until the following day when there are no children sleeping upstairs.

Bill thinks a line has been crossed with this interaction taking place in Virginia’s home and while he could serve to be more compassionate what Virginia does next is a cause for concern. Barbs doesn’t want to talk to a man about this and she refuses the referral to a psychologist so Virginia goes in her place retelling the story she heard in her living room. Virginia’s intentions are honorable as there’s no way she can get qualified in time to help Barbs and yet there are flashing warning signs that this is a terrible idea. Despite the cool exterior Virginia projects she also has a lot buried beneath the surface as she protects herself far too much. The few times she has let her guard down with Lillian and Bill have been brief and her heart remains locked up; will these therapy sessions end up unlocking that box?

Masters of Sex 2.08 FloMasters of Sex went to some dark places this week and so I am incredibly thankful for Flo and her no BS, cigar smoking ways. Flo was introduced as a means for Virginia to make some more money and having her as one of the building tenants is a fantastic move for injecting some fun. It also brings Austin back in and even though this is a tad convenient to keep him relevant on the show, I also believe his character would leap at an opportunity to be adored by a large group of women and revive his flailing confidence. Austin has been rejected by his wife for the final time and he is seen as a joke at work; by becoming the spokesperson for Cal-o-Metric he gets adulation and a fancy title (even if those in the medical community would see this as an inferior position).

When Flo mentioned her original spokesman was going to be staying at a hotel outside of town I was convinced she was going to spot Bill and Virginia together and use this as a reason to not pay rent, instead the only crossover is that Bill was called upon by Elliott as the doctor on call when a man had pretty much eaten himself to death. The connection here being that this man was Flo’s spokesman, but Flo never crossed paths with either Bill or Virginia.

As Bill and Virginia move from a position of observation to intervention it looks like there will be further development of the inner lives of these characters; while we had one episode this season that did just this, there are ways to go to understand just who Bill and Virginia are in relation to each other, themselves and the study. There is a lot going on in Masters of Sex juggling multiple characters and plot points and it’s all feeling rather scattered at the moment. The ambition of this season is commendable, however the best episode of the season was the most stripped down (punnage ahoy) and the Bill/Virginia anchor is important. Let’s hope the show remembers this.

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One Response to “Masters of Sex 2.08 “Mirror, Mirror” Review: Beneath the Veil”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Masters of Sex 2.09 “Story of My Life” Review: “Victim and Narrator” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - September 8, 2014

    […] the end of the last episode Virginia posed as Barbara during a session with the best psychologist in town, Dr. Lloyd Madden and […]

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