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Masters of Sex 2.12 “The Revolution will not be Televised” Review: Leap of Faith

29 Sep

The first season of Masters of Sex ended in an unlikely rom-com fashion; boy stands in the rain telling girl how much he needs her. This year the new President of the United States closes out the episode making grand statements. Using the Kennedy 1960 election victory and inauguration marks a time for great hope and the promise of change as witnessed by the reactions to his speech and victory – while we don’t find out how any of these characters voted there is a sense of wonder at his election – there are tears and smiles at what might be, plus shock at the lack of top hat. There is a new guard in town and he is ditching with tradition. The same could be said for the pioneering work of Masters and Johnson, however this is not their time to stand in the spotlight as there is still much work that needs to be done and Bill is no longer fearful of their rival after he reads how unsubstantial Dr. Kaufman’s work is.

At the heart of “The Revolution will not be Televised” is an examination of compromise and trust; two of the cornerstones of a successful relationship. Taking a leap of faith can require both so what happens when Bill makes a huge decision and sets the wheels in motion before he consults Virginia? Bad things that’s what and while on the surface everything between Bill and Virginia at the end of the season is in a good place, this sabotage and its impact on Virginia’s personal life is going to loom large as a point of potential conflict.

Masters of Sex 2.12 Bill and VirginiaThis finale covers a lot of ground both in time (from November 1960- January 1961) and story. This has been true of the entire second season and at times episodes have felt overstuffed with how many different plot points and social issues they attempt to cover. This finale was mostly successful in addressing the major storylines of the second half of this season; Bill’s impotence, Barb and Lester’s dysfunctions, the Flo/Austin dynamic, Libby’s desire to feel part of something and the recent custody battle between Virginia and her ex-husband George.

Starting off as the episode did with Bill’s problem and we see how the pair comes at it from a scientific angle with moments of success and failure; overall it appears this new method is one they can base their line of research on and Bill is cured to an extent. As a team they work incredibly well together on this matter when Bill finally opened himself up and admitted that a) there was an issue that needed addressing and b) he let Virginia see him in this vulnerable state. Intimacy is one thing, but without trust and completely laying yourself bare (both physically and emotionally) only so much can be achieved.

Bill ended last week being cradled by Virginia and this week it is his turn to provide the comforting embrace. Virginia has not been very present at home and after allowing her kids to go on a 6-week trip to Europe with their father George and his new wife Audrey, the question of custody comes up. Back when the divorce papers were drawn up George never signed the custody document and this leaves Virginia wide open to legal proceedings. So for George to have a chance at custody it means an impending smear campaign to show what an unfit mother Virginia is, effectively putting both Virginia and the study on trial. George takes a drink to the face for this threat – which looks so satisfying – and it causes Virginia to spiral.

Masters of Sex 2.12 Libby and VirginiaOne thing Virginia does is contemplate quitting the study all together and rather than discussing this with Bill she instead talks to Libby who also happens to be going through her own crisis. Libby’s response to Virginia’s dilemma is to ask her what she wants for her kids – safety, happiness, that they know they’re loved – and to suggest that maybe what is right for both Virginia and her kids is to let them go for now.

The question of “Can a woman have it all?” in this form is a relatively new idea, but it has clearly existed for a lot longer than the last twenty years and just because the 50s/60s were predicated on this notion of a certain type of family dynamic with the ideal housewife it doesn’t mean women didn’t struggle with this same BS question. Libby mentions how maybe they should look at what their lives are actually like rather than what they thought they would be and this is an extension of her speech to Robert from last week. Libby has been deeply unhappy for a long time and motherhood has not filled the empty void as she expected it would. Instead it left her feeling more alone and the gulf between Libby and Bill has got even wider.

Like George who suspects that Virginia is sleeping with Bill, Libby knows Bill has been having an affair for years and while she doesn’t mention Virginia by name after her reaction to the TV interview last week, Libby has to know it is Virginia. Libby explains to Robert the different stages of her denial about Bill’s affair at first pretending she didn’t know, followed by looking the other way and then focusing on the children. It hasn’t been enough and then she met Robert; she’s not willing to give up on finally feeling. The Libby story has been a bit of a mess this season, but these final two episodes have been rather satisfying in finally seeing Libby experience a connection like this and in how she has articulated both to Robert and Virginia this idea of wanting something more.

Masters of Sex 2.12 John and JackieAnother cornerstone of a successful relationship is communication and this is something Virginia and Bill possess in droves, except when they don’t. Communication is key to overcoming Bill’s boner problem tying in with the Kennedy election victory and in Bill’s dream he gets to play the role of JFK with a ticker tape parade and Virginia in Jackie Kennedy attire. The celebration is cut short by Libby standing in the middle of the road as the wronged woman dressed all in red.

Masters of Sex 2.12 LibbyThe outfit and shot (this episode was directed by Alan Arkin, pulling double duty) are stunning and at this point Libby is both the scarlet and the wronged woman. Is this Bill’s subconscious pointing out that Libby is stepping out on him (and at this moment is recalling her incredible sexual encounter with Robert in the bathroom) or that she is someone who should be considered before he can ride off into the sunset with Virginia?

Both Virginia and Bill neglect to tell the other what they intend to do with Bill killing the TV appearance without telling Virginia about his plan to do so and Virginia doesn’t let Bill know about her George custody issues. Bill gets some much needed advice from an old friend and I definitely cheered when Barton Scully sat down. Barton points out that Bill has a very specific way of blazing ahead and not considering the people he might hurt in the process (as well as himself in the long run). It’s the one man show and focusing on Bill’s terms only that leads to moments like this. Barton talks of letting people in and taking a leap of faith; how even though Margaret left him, by telling her everything has still meant they have been in it together. Bill and Virginia are so in sync in certain ways, but they still have a habit of shutting down when they are at their most vulnerable.

Virginia scoffs at the tissues that are placed in front of her earlier in the episode and she projects this very 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 the way she answers the phone after she has told her kids about the new arrangement as she sucks back in her anguish and holds it together, to the full on letting it go despair after they have seen their rivals on TV (oh hi Ethan!). There’s also a manic energy when Virginia explains what she thinks is a foolproof plan to get Henry and Tessa back, a plan that would have been better if one of Bill or Virginia had spoken to the other about these matters. I couldn’t quite figure out just why Bill was so insistent about Virginia scrapping this plan other than he knows how much her kids matter, that is until it is revealed who the saboteur is. Oh, Bill.

Masters of Sex 2.12 group shockCostume designer Ane Crabtree and her team have been killing it all season and here’s just one such instance; in the scene above they are watching the Dr Kaufman/Ethan TV piece and I love how in tune everyone in this scene is as they are all wearing something on the grey/blue color spectrum in similar tones from this palette. Even Betty who tends to stand out in a bold ensemble is wearing something more muted and this offers a sense of unity even if there is someone among them *cough* Bill *cough* who “has massively fucked up.” Unlike the first half of the season, the study has a home, even if it is a shaky one at this point.

Masters of Sex 2.12 mirroring colorAnother case of compatible colors with Barb and Lester both in autumnal tones and earlier they even wear matching clothes, well pajamas. There is a certain synchronicity to this pairing and watching their relationship blossom has been incredibly satisfying. Lester uses his passion for film to come to terms with his approach to romance; he doesn’t want the phony Hollywood ideal, instead he wants something passionate but messy like Antonioni. After a discussion with Bill regarding taking sex out of this relationship and how it hasn’t been problematic, it becomes clear that Lester and Barb do want to explore this side and this is how we close out the season. Both Bill and Virginia admit their past failings when treating Lester and Bard – this also in way feels like Bill silently apologizing to Virginia for killing their TV appearance – and they want to start again by really helping them this time. Trust and a leap of faith are both key to this process; they are all in this together as equal partners striving for the same goal.

Masters of Sex 2.12 Barb and LesterHere’s a stunning shot (although rather dark) of Barb and Lester outside the movies talking about Pillow Talk. It might be because of all the Kennedy imagery throughout the episode and a similar hairstyle, but the pink ensemble Barb is wearing is giving me so many Jackie Kennedy feelings.

Masters of Sex 2.12 BettyAnd even though she didn’t have a crazy amount to do in the season finale, I wanted to include this shot of Betty in a beautiful pink cheongsam complete with a stunning butterfly pin as she gets all misty eyed at JFK’s speech. Betty did also pipe up about while she makes fun of Bill’s bow ties, the long one he wore on TV just isn’t him and he should insist on his regular attire. I hope that Betty gets to be more than just the comic relief in the office next season and gets something more substantial like she had at the start of this season.

One story that has been far more miss than hit for me is Austin and Flo. The general tone and direction of their interactions have felt widely out on their own and while this is still the case this week, the gender reversal aspect felt more of a success this week. It turns out that Flo is connected politically and now that Kennedy is in office so is one of her brothers and this is super appealing to Austin. Austin wants to go to the fancy DNC party with Flo and she turns him down explaining by pretty much calling him a dumb blonde. Austin is dumbfounded that he isn’t up to the standards of Flo’s family and this is the most I have enjoyed this pairing all season.

So while Cal-o-Metric has been one of the weakest aspects of this season, there has been a lot more good on Masters of Sex to make up for narrative messiness and at times a lack of clear direction. At the heart is the Bill and Virginia relationship and whenever this has been the focus it has been mesmerizing, which is why “Fight” is such an exceptional episode. Everything to do with Lillian and Virginia’s friendship was a pure knockout and I’m so glad we got to see something this special, even if it was cut short by Lillian’s cancer. There will always be Lilantha. Masters of Sex is an ambitious show and this has been clear by how many different topics it has covered this year and despite not hitting all the marks, it has been a stimulating watching experience and one that will hopefully be a bit more focused in season 3.

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One Response to “Masters of Sex 2.12 “The Revolution will not be Televised” Review: Leap of Faith”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Masters of Sex 3.01 “Parliament of Owls” Costume Design Recap | TV Ate My Wardrobe - July 13, 2015

    […] thing to take note of is the time jump as season 2 ended in early 1961 and the very useful title card at the start of “Parliament of Owls” tells us it is now […]

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