Masters of Sex 2.09 “Story of My Life” Review: “Victim and Narrator”

8 Sep

Early in this episode of Masters of Sex we see Virginia looking into a mirror using the technique of saying “no” to something that has occurred in the past and while it is far less horrific than what Barbara experienced, it informs who Virginia is now. Despite Virginia’s duplicity during the actual therapy sessions as she poses as Barbara the lines get a little blurred as Virginia injects some of her recent personal experiences into the Barbara tale she is passing off as her own. There is a certain duality to many of the plot points in “Story of My Life” as characters confront their past and try to reconcile it with their current transgressions.

When Lester explains his interaction with Kitty, the prostitute Bill has hired to help with Lester’s impotence he does so from a point of reference he finds comfortable using terms that relate to fiction while he discusses a real issue he is uncomfortable talking about. Lester describes himself as “victim and narrator” and Masters of Sex is dealing with a variety of these two roles as characters learn to stand in their truth while these decisions reverberate and impact those in their vicinity.

Masters of Sex 2.09 VirginiaStarting with the woman who doesn’t read instructions and Virginia’s desire to fix Barbara’s sexual dysfunction with a psychological approach. Bill and Virginia differ in strategy when it comes to Barbara’s treatment as Bill wants to use the expertise they have in abundance pertaining to the physical side of sex. Barbara does of course have deep trauma relating to her first sexual experience which took place with her brother when she was 12 and her anguish is deeply rooted in this. Virginia is right in suggesting that they need to consider the mental to fix the physical, however she goes about it in completely the wrong manner. In this respect Virginia and Bill are like Jack Shephard and John Locke on Lost, but instead of science and faith acting as opposites they differ from a body/mind perspective. They are arguing the same thing, just taking it from very different angles when really the best approach is a combination of the two rather than vehemently on one side.

At the end of the last episode Virginia posed as Barbara during a session with the best psychologist in town, Dr. Lloyd Madden and this terrible idea continues this week as Virginia attempts to solve Barb’s issues through the methods she witnesses while pretending to be Barbara. To the doctors credit he does question the validity of this story, suggesting that it sounds as if it happened to someone else as there is a lack of association. Virginia notes this is a coping mechanism and later in another appointment she brings in her own experiences as she mentions Lillian’s (*sob* I really miss you Lillian) disapproval at her relations with a married man. This opens up a whole other can of worms as Libby’s role is brought into question with Virginia considering Libby’s position as the wife and her friend for the first time in a long time; the work and their affair can no longer be used as a reasonable excuse.

Masters of Sex 2.09 BarbsSo not only does Virginia act as a conduit for Barbs, but she is also confronting her own very complicated situation with Bill. Virginia passes on the technique of speaking for the past version of herself to Barbs, but it’s not as simple as saying “no” to a mirror. This is a case of not fully understanding the ramifications because while Virginia’s imagined version of Barbs simply tells her brother no, the real one is still in contact with her brother Paul. Barbs takes Virginia’s advice literally and discusses what happened in the past with the real Paul. Paul shifts the blame onto his sister, suggesting she was the one who instigated everything and Barbs takes this as what happened as a new memory has been jogged. This is why Barbara really should be seeing a qualified professional rather than someone who is incredibly unprepared for the variables of a past experience like this. Virginia is trying to help, but you can’t fix someone by acting as a proxy in this manner.

In a later conversation Virginia responds to this and her feelings of guilt about Libby by rejecting Libby’s declaration that Virginia has courage. Instead Virginia points out the reason she demanded a job at Memorial is because she has a false sense of entitlement and that she doesn’t consider the consequences. This conversation is fraught as Libby is holding Virginia up as a bastion of bravery and Virginia just feels like a fraud.

Libby is searching for purpose and for once something she has said is being taken seriously after Robert came to her about what she witnessed last week. Unfortunately Libby didn’t see enough and Robert demonstrates how Libby will be ripped apart on the stand if she lies about what she saw; her testimony will be detrimental rather than helpful. Libby wants to do something and after her sister-in-law Pauline has told a charming anecdote about how she ended up with Frank – Libby’s Bill story is clinical and devoid of any personality – followed by the tale of how she offered an ultimatum regarding his drinking this is just the push Libby needs. Pauline could be describing Libby when she mentions how people thought she was a “ninny” and the laugh you could always count on; no one thought she was capable of standing up for herself and she claims that rather than saving Frank’s life, she was actually saving her own. Libby is striving for meaning and I hope that she isn’t simply going to act as a tourist in the CORE movement. This is probably why the first task Robert gives her is to go on a sandwich run to see how she responds and whether this is more than a fad for a bored housewife looking for excitement.

Masters of Sex 2.09 Bill and FrankBill’s brother Frank is still in St. Louis dragging up a whole lot of resentment and what looks like a happy family reunion dinner turns into passive aggressive needling about fondue and alcoholism. Frank gets Bill to go to an AA meeting by dressing it up as something else, which immediately puts Bill’s back up. It’s important to Frank as he’s getting his chip for his sober birthday and he wants to reintroduce himself to his big brother. Bill takes umbrage at Frank’s tale as he thinks he is reappropriating what happened to Bill and making it his story. To Bill, Frank is the golden child, the one who his father gave his name to – it is unusual that Frank Sr. didn’t give his name to his first born – but everything Bill knows about this situation only comes from while he was still at home and he missed a lot of Frank’s formative years. It is likely that if his father was an asshole to him then the pattern would have repeated when Bill left.

To believe that Frank is taking Bill’s story rather than Frank experiencing this brutish behavior himself is easier on Bill than to think of the alternative and we get to see some rare Bill tears as he acknowledges that he wouldn’t have left if he knew it would happen to his younger brother too. Not that Bill had a choice about leaving home; he didn’t do so of his own volition. Frank points out that they both escaped in their own way with one over the wall and one under while also saying that their father left Bill and Bill left Frank Jr. Bill can’t be blamed for leaving his brother initially although he really could have reached out to him since his father died and the tension between this pair isn’t going to be resolved easily; too much time has passed for it to be a simple hug it out resolution. It’s also worth noting that in the shot above, they are framed by the alcohol in Bill’s office and Frank hints on several occasions that he is concerned with his mothers drinking and Virginia points out in the hotel room that she is usually playing catch up with Bill on the drinking front. Also for all the similarities I am glad to see that Frank’s costuming is not a mirror of Bill’s and the bow tie is definitely still the Bill signature (I’m very into the polka dot number from this week that you can see below).

Masters of Sex 2.09 BillIn her excellent essay Libby Hill discusses how the MTV reality show Catfish resonates with other recent fictional material demonstrating how truths that are presented by a false narrator can reveal so much more than when characters are saying these words as themselves. Using the episode “Fight” as one example Hill points out that Bill and Virginia share far more in this set up of fake husband and wife than they have previously done so in the past and it has opened themselves up to where they are now. Bill doesn’t want to discuss the past as he doesn’t think there is anything that can be done about something that has already occurred; it can’t be changed. What happened in the past can have a direct influence on the present despite how much he protests this isn’t the case and in this hotel room Bill and Virginia have gone from using the guise of a fake marriage to unburden their soul to saying the unspeakable with no playacting involved. Prior to this final scene Bill has not been able to reveal his own dysfunction using the excuse of wanting to pleasure Virginia or that he has just been intimate with Libby.

The tipping point has been reached as Virginia notes that what goes on in this hotel room hasn’t been about the study in years and all they are doing is lying to each other and to Libby. Bill’s surprising confession about his recent impotence brings it back to the work as Bill has taken on Lester’s observation that to explore something like impotence needs more than just a prostitute and the person experiencing this condition. It’s an important moment as Bill is acknowledging his own shortcomings even if it is out of fear of losing what he has with Virginia; it still comes with a massive dent to his pride. Though really how long was he going to hide this from her and even if Lester had managed to get an erection with Kitty this wouldn’t have necessarily been the magic cure for Bill.

Intimacy can come in a host of forms and by just admitting to this issue Bill has taken the next big step in how intimate he is with Virginia. Virginia is also partial to closing herself off and her guarded heart is exposed as she acknowledges Libby’s role in all of this as the woman who is completely oblivious to what is going on between her husband and her friend. Earlier Pauline mentions how it is embarrassing how much she missed with Frank and his drinking; she could have been talking about Bill with Virginia and I wonder how Libby will react when she eventually finds out what has been going on for all of these years.

It hasn’t always been clear exactly what this season of Masters of Sex has been trying to say as there has been so many story threads taking place and now it finally feels like they are building towards something as there is a stronger sense of connection between the various plots.


2 Responses to “Masters of Sex 2.09 “Story of My Life” Review: “Victim and Narrator””


  1. Masters of Sex 2.10 “Below the Belt” Review: “What is Wrong with Me?” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - September 15, 2014

    […] where we left off last week with Bill and we get to see the rest of the post-confession conversation between Bill and Virginia […]

  2. Masters of Sex 2.11 “One for the Money, Two for the Show” Review: “Stake Your Claim” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - September 22, 2014

    […] patterns he wears with these ties? Bill doesn’t come across as a polka dot kind of guy, but there they are on his choice of neck wear. The long tie is alien to him and he doesn’t even think the one […]

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