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Masters of Sex 2.10 “Below the Belt” Review: “What is Wrong with Me?”

15 Sep

On Masters of Sex Bill Masters spends so long trying to ignore the past and listing off the things he either refuses to do (beg) or acknowledge as a potential reason behind his current condition (rejection) so even when he does admit there is a problem it is hard to feel sympathetic. There is something about Bill that draws Virginia to him even when he is pushing her away and it’s this push/pull that is compelling both to us an audience and the PR man who thinks Bill and Virginia would be great on TV. The back and forth between them continues to shift the power dynamic and Virginia is remarkably similar to Bill in how little of herself she gives up; even in the therapy session where she is admits deceit, she is still holding back anything that resembles her true feelings. Only giving snippets here and there when she is pressed and the psychologist can see through her defense mechanisms.

“Below the Belt” explores both those things physically below this item of clothing and confrontations that take things to an uncomfortable level; the success of these different storylines varies and it’s another case of an episode trying to address too much in one hour.

Masters of Sex 2.10 BillStarting where we left off last week with Bill and we get to see the rest of the post-confession conversation between Bill and Virginia while at her therapy/coming clean session. Virginia explains this isn’t an affair as an affair is primarily about sex and this isn’t happening right now (although Virginia doesn’t include those times Bill has recently ‘taken care of her,’ how very Bill Clinton of her). The doctor doesn’t not buy this for a second and neither do I; Virginia and Bill both recoil from the word ‘affair’ as it taints what they are doing, but it is clear that this goes way beyond the work even if curing Bill’s impotence is work related. In this scene we see Bill reiterate once again the importance of finding a cure without looking at the why, despite the fact that they are probably intrinsically linked. This would involve too much soul searching and as we know Bill is not so good at looking inward. Bill admits to being “broken” so this is something I guess and then explains how Virginia is the only one who can help him.

Circling back to this point at the end of the episode and after a huge blowout with his brother, Bill comes to the hotel room and admits everything to Virginia that he should have said to his brother and it appears that this unburdening has possibly solved the problem at hand (pun intended). Not sure how enticing the blood face marking and generally pulpiness of his face is, but I guess Virginia doesn’t have an issue with this. He really should clean up first, but bearing the outward signs of this fight is maybe Bill’s way of exhibiting manliness. That’s what a lot of this has to do with really and Bill considers not begging for pain to stop to be an exhibitor of being strong. It is incredibly fuzzy logic and a sign that Bill probably really needs to be in therapy to get beyond this particular sticking point. He taunts his brother into beating him by calling him weak and a coward in response to Frank’s assertion that the reason their family is broken can be traced back to alcohol.

Frank believes alcohol is why their father was a monster, Bill recollects things different stating that Frank Sr. only had one drink a night (like their mother’s one Tom Collins) and his despicable treatment of his family had nothing to do with alcohol. So who is right? Well Bill doesn’t know what the drink intake was after he left so they could both be right as Frank Sr. could have drank more in those later years. Bill is so convinced that his brother is stealing his story that he can’t admit his guilt in his presence, even if they had a variation of this conversation last week that didn’t end in a fist fight. Essie’s assertion earlier when she’s talking about Frank with Bill is an accurate take on this scenario “Everyone has their own version of everything that’s ever happened.”

Masters of Sex 2.10 lobbyThe precarious financial situation continues as the power is shut off for a brief moment and Betty reinforces the point that they need to rent out more office space. The lobby looks majestic and with ice rinks and roller skating jokingly mentioned – Michael Sheen’s reaction to the roller skating question is hilarious and I’m glad we got to see a hint of his comedic side – but really it ends up as a boxing ring. Frank and Bill spar first with words and then with fists as Bill ignores Libby’s plea to “summon your better nature.”

Only in the safe haven of the hotel room can Bill admit that he is at fault; it’s not Bill’s fault for leaving home as he was forced out, but it is for pushing him in this manner. Bill asks “What is wrong with me?” and rather than getting an actual answer it is in this moment where things appear to be working for him. This could turn into a whole Freudian thing, but really what it comes down to is acknowledging how he feels complicit in abandoning his brother and this weight being lifted even if his question doesn’t come with an answer. Rejection played into the origin of his problem and this could easily go beyond what he saw as Virginia’s abandonment. It might also be a post fight adrenaline thing and I worry that Bill hasn’t really come to terms with anything as he’s only saying these things to Virginia.

Masters of Sex 2.10 VirginiaFrank’s return has helped repair one family connection, though he might not be happy with the how as Bill and his mother bond over their disdain for the 12-step program mocking certain aspects suggesting that accusations are dressed up as an apology. They refer to it as being like “policeman” and “amateur psychiatrists” using it to spin the past in the way that benefits them. There’s a clear divide here with Essie and Bill on one side and Frank on the other with an argument erupting while Frank is giving their mother stitches after she got involved in a car accident after having one drink. There is an element of projecting here and while I think Frank’s got a very real problem with alcohol, he might also be looking too hard for a solution as to why their family is so broken and landing at a shared alcoholism. Through his prism this is the answer; Bill and Essie feel very differently and while they both do drink I can’t see it being to the degree that Frank fears. Bill’s secrecy and impulsive decision making comes from a whole other place and that is this one of trying to do great things and make his mark on the scientific community as a whole.

Hubris is a strength for Bill as much as it is a weakness when it comes to their work and he feels challenged by Dr. Kaufman’s published study of which they are simply a footnote. Bill wants to be much more than this, he wants to be first and so he sets about doing this by seeking the advice of a PR guy. Shep Tally (played by episode director Adam Arkin) sees potential in Bill and Virginia for television throwing Bill completely. Virginia is very much into this idea of showing off their work to the world in this manner, for Bill TV does not have the same gravitas as a medical journal even if they would be reaching a much more substantial amount of people.

Masters of Sex 2.10 Virginia and LibbyElsewhere Libby continues to volunteer for CORE despite Bill’s reservations – Bill is put out as he has lost the stability of knowing Libby is at home preparing his dinner, instead she is getting lunch for other dudes, ugh Bill – and she’s striving to make a difference. She complains to Virginia that people think she’s just a bored housewife and she wants to show she is more than that. In a way she is just this and yet her desire for purpose makes so much sense, I just still get the sense that she would have picked any cause and this just happened to be the one in the building her husband works in.

Robert’s initial concerns about her coming to help with flyering seem genuine and I can understand why her presence could be an issue, but she’s just as stubborn as her husband can be and she goes regardless. Libby ends up being a help and so Robert doesn’t dissuade her from coming next time. Libby asks Virginia to lie to Bill for her (while fixing her tights with the classic clear nail polish trick) and Virginia agrees to this. Feelings of guilt are probably why and Virginia also notes potential flirting between Robert and Libby; if Libby has an affair this will surely ease her conscience of the ‘non-affair’ she is having with Bill.

Masters of Sex 2.10 BettyOne theme that runs through this episode is the notion of giving up and Betty* tells the story of a former customer and impotence sufferer who she ended up avoiding through a variety of excuses because she couldn’t stand the look of agony on his face coupled with a plea of why aren’t you fixing this? There is a similar expression on Bill’s face when an attempt at arousal almost hits the mark through a technique of withholding as he can look, but not touch. Virginia has tied Bill’s hands behind his back – her dress embellishment doubles as seduction tool – putting him in a submissive position, but as soon as she stops talking he loses what he had.

*In this scene Betty is wearing the stunning dress that is featured on the Masters of Style feature and I’ve been waiting all season to see this frock. It looks just as good on screen as it did in the behind the scenes segment. 

There’s another submissive/dominant relationship going on and it is one that might not be quite hitting the mark. Austin is now working full time for Cal-o-Metric and after turning down Flo’s advances in the past she is now telling him that if he doesn’t do as she says then he will be fired. This is of course sexual harassment and while I get what they are going for the tone of these scenes is off. Quite often Austin has been the comic relief and so these scenes, particularly with the cat still have what seems like a light and jokey edge for something that shouldn’t be funny at all. Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but for me there is something troubling about this storyline.

Masters of Sex 2.10 Barb and LesterA different kind of connection is made elsewhere between Lester and Barb with an overt discussion about giving as they talk about their dysfunctions. This meet cute doesn’t get off to a good start as Lester accidentally insults Barb regarding her religious beliefs. Later Lester apologizes and they acknowledge they both share in despair and giving up; maybe they should not give up together? It’s a little neat bringing these two characters together in this way, however I am all for them finding happiness and if it is with each other then I can’t argue with that.

The breakthrough at the end of “Below the Belt” could be temporary or if Bill is willing to look deeper beyond just the desire to find a cure, then perhaps he will be prepared to respond to his own “what is wrong with me?” conundrum. When Masters of Sex focuses on Bill and Virginia the narrative feels like there is a strong narrative, as soon as it goes elsewhere it becomes a bit of sprawling mess and I hope in the last two episodes these elements are reconciled. Performances remain as strong as ever, as do the costumes which I continue to draw inspiration from.

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2 Responses to “Masters of Sex 2.10 “Below the Belt” Review: “What is Wrong with Me?””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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

    […] he has no control over what he can and cannot say on television. The Bill Masters bravado has been punched out of him by his brother and now he’s just a guy sweating profusely on TV; he is the Nixon to Virginia’s John F. […]

  2. Masters of Sex 3.07 “Monkey Business” Review: Apeman | TV Ate My Wardrobe - August 24, 2015

    […] has affected several characters on Masters of Sex with Lester suffering from the condition last season after a very bad break up from Jane. During the several time jumps Lester has got back together […]

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