The vast number of years Masters of Sex has covered over a three season period and particularly this season does not render it immune from cyclical plot points and “Monkey Business” goes a long way in demonstrating how patchy this season has been. It is disappointing that despite how far these characters have come, they are still falling into certain traps.
Bill is showing off his unpleasant side as he still can’t fathom why his son is so distant (don’t befriend the kid who beat him up for starters) and he unleashes his controlling side all in the guise of helping broken men (and apes) like himself. The gorilla that was introduced at the end of last week’s episode comes into focus this week as Bill and Virginia are asked to help with Gil’s mating issues. What goes from being a flight of fancy and nothing more than a whim for Bill becomes a huge metaphor for all the suffering dudes on this show, but with a strong whiff of manipulation revealing Bill’s competitive and jealous streak.
Whereas Libby Masters, forever on the periphery has been languishing in her own illusions and it is hard to see quite how she will break free without ever leaving Bill. One step towards freedom does take place this week as she acknowledges just how terrible her personal life is; now if she can move forward rather than backsliding as we have seen her do in previous seasons.
Initially Virginia is the one who champions the gorilla project with Bill scoffing at how ridiculous it is. They later switch positions with Bill linking his own performance problems to both the impotent (and human) Keith to gorilla Gil. With Gil it is all about point scoring and a good anecdote to tell Newsweek magazine if they are successful. Human patient cases can’t be spoken in any detail due to confidentiality and the one which leads to the interview is pure fiction. Isabella and Al were papped on the way out of the clinic and so they have spun this into a good PR story for their broken relationship, but they can use the exposure to showcase their real triumphs. Virginia appeals to Bill’s ego by pointing out how he has a soft spot for “suffering males” and this is a point which Bill uses on her later on by reiterating how much she helped him.
While it could be said that Virginia uses manipulation to get Bill on board the ape plan, Bill certainly runs with it when Dan comes calling with plans for a night out. At this point Bill has no idea Virginia and Dan are sleeping together, but that doesn’t stop him exerting his power in preventing Virginia from going by insisting on the gorilla shenanigans. It would have probably made more sense for his jealousy to kick in if he was aware of their hooking up and instead this just comes across as dick measuring pettiness.
One awkward scene follows another as Virginia ends up flashing her boobs to get Gil in the mood with Bill offering directions out of Gil’s sight. It is all just a little uncomfortable although I should point out that we are not privy to what Gil and Bill can see; the use of nudity on Masters of Sex never feels gratuitous. They are successful in getting Gil to mate, but the victory is hollow for Virginia and she sees it as no more than a fluke. Bill wants to tell all and at dinner he teases their ‘ape’ triumph and instead references the celebrity couple lie that led to this interview in the first place. It is disappointing to see him play with Virginia in this way and even though he is focusing on the broken people they have helped he is so narrow sighted when it comes to those he is closest to.
It is no surprise Virginia turns back to Charming Dan after this dinner and despite Bill’s assertion last week that certain people are slipping away I don’t think he realizes just how isolated he might become; his son despises him, Libby is starting to come to terms with her situation and Virginia has a new ape man.
The man who spoke about love in such a powerful and meaningful way is still there and Bill does want to help the broken and in need; however he is also a controlling asshole who likes to bask in his success. It is a credit to Michael Sheen’s exceptional performance that he is still so watchable and sympathetic even when the story doesn’t support this.
Impotence 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 with his former gf and had children with her; it was only after overhearing Virginia and Bill discussing her husband that Jane found out about his issue.
In a roundabout way the original ‘important work’ ethos of the study is utilized to make Lester see why Jane wants to be the surrogate in helping her friend and while I love spending time with these characters (especially with Jane in signature yellow) it all comes across as slightly tenuous.
Meanwhile, Tessa is chatting to Dan about her mother’s extracurricular activities with Bill while never revealing who she is. That is until Virginia introduces them and causes Dan to squint in confusion. Does her believe her more now he knows she most likely has insider info or does he read their interactions as spiteful lies? When really it is a mixture of the two.
Every week I have been lamenting about the lack of Betty besides her fabulous costuming and amazing advice; the return of Helen prompts her own subplot and yet this is also on the dissatisfying scale because it all revolves around getting pregnant. Seeing Annaleigh Ashford and Sarah Silverman bouncing off each other is always a treat, but I wish there was a way to feature them without resorting to biological clocks. We already know Betty can’t have children so it is Helen with all the bunny infested dreams and how do you find a surrogate in the 1960s? Tap up Dr Austin Langham that’s how.
The fabulous Betty costuming continues in her late night adventure with paisley prints and silk head band (which is making me reach for this one again) coupled with Helen’s leopard print delight.
Betty did also get to hold my favorite props from “Monkey Business” (no not the artificial insemination equipment) and old magazines whether mock ups or real hold an instant appeal to this magazine aficionado.
First up Betty’s face while showing the Isabella Ricci Newsweek article (and accompanying fake Lord Harry ad which made an appearance in season 1 – would a company really use the same copy work for 10 years?)
And then I fell down a Google image black hole looking at Photoplay covers and this plays right into my recent You Must Remember This inspired interest in 1960s (and all those earlier decades) Hollywood.
This season is far from a disaster and there is still plenty to enjoy as the performances are always solid even if the storytelling has been on the bumpy side. They just need to get out of some of the character ruts and show progress beyond the work of Masters and Johnson.