Bill Masters has a point to prove and an audience he can’t wait to show how wrong they are. This battle is one which dates back long before the time period covered on Masters of Sex and his relationship with his father has informed how he reacts to the people he perceives as bullies. This covers those at Washington University who branded him a pervert and kicked him out to the several other institutions he was fired from last season. Now is the time he can perform a victory lap and laud it over the doubters and naysayers. Except it isn’t quite this simple or satisfying and an incident with Bill’s son Johnny dredges up feelings of inadequacy from his own childhood.
The Philip Larkin poem “This Be the Verse” repeatedly popped into my mind – “They fuck you up, your mum and dad” – throughout “Masters of Gravity” as we finally get to meet Virginia’s parents. This season is delving deeper into her past as she alluded to her first love last week and why her heart is so carefully guarded. With Bill we have seen in some detail the difficult relationship he has with his mother and the traumatic events from his childhood at the hands of his father was explored in the exceptional “Fight.” Bill doesn’t like to share too much and yet circumstances have led to him revealing far more about himself than Virginia. The surprise visit organized by Tessa – on the one night where she knows her mother will have company – offers up plenty of opportunity to see what drives Virginia and gives Lizzy Caplan so many occasions to use her best exasperated expression, which she does so well.
Frances Fisher plays Virginia’s picky mother Edna – like a less snooty version of her Titanic character – and she is queen of the backhand compliment mentioning how great Virginia looks and how she only has a few more lbs to lose. She doubles down on the weight hints over breakfast by pointing out how fattening margarine is just as Virginia takes a bite of her marg covered toast.
Nothing trumps the humdinger she delivers after Bill’s ‘illuminating’ speech “Here I thought you’d made a mess of your life, but now I see that you are this close to being able to fix things.” Virginia hopes the evening has given her mother insight into the importance of their research and instead Edna sees this as an opportunity for Virginia to be the ideal man, all she has to do is get Libby out of the way. The entire thing has been lost on her and the pride her mother feels has nothing to with this achievement as all she can think about is her daughter scoring the perfect husband.
This seed has been planted by the meddling Tessa who has placed one of Bill’s signature bow ties in with Virginia’s laundry and Edna correctly assumes they are having an affair. I doubt Tessa wants her grandmother to approve this relationship so she would be just as horrified by this comment as her mother is.
The episode opens with Virginia and Bill in the afterglow of a hookup, which for once has not been interrupted by the baby and instead they get disturbed by the arrival of Virginia’s parents. Despite the difficulty they have in finding alone time together everything is good between them, until Edna sticks her oar in. The expected reaction would be one of horror that Virginia is sleeping with a married man, instead Edna sees this as an opportunity and Virginia’s immediate response is to ask out Charming Dan Logan. Really, Josh Charles is charming all over the place and his character has a well earned nickname.
This is how happy Virginia is by her mother’s comments.
Appearances are what count and Virginia’s chief complaint about Edna is how she tries to polish something until it is perfect. This dates back to being made to hold a Popsicle on her teeth before a beauty pageant to try and combat her overbite. Just how accurate these memories are is called into question as her dad points out that she was the one who entered herself. Even if this is the case it sure seems like her mother was a rather enthusiastic supporter to the point of pushing her too hard. In Virginia’s mind there is nothing she can do to live up to the standards her mother sets and even being part of a pioneering scientific research team is not enough if she doesn’t have the love life to match. Her mother wants her to have it all, but maybe isn’t so bothered by the career aspect.
The desire to prove something is also deeply embedded in Bill’s psyche and even though Chancellor Fitzhugh comes cap in hand to Bill needing a favor and offering a platform to show off his success; the resulting feeling is not the gloating or fulfilling one he expected. Instead all Bill can see as he gets his standing O is the time he bought his father’s birthday gift while wearing a gift of his own from his father’s fists. In a moment of openness and vulnerability with Libby he tells her “making that man happy was like trying to walk to the horizon.” His father is dead and it doesn’t matter what he does because he will never experience making his father proud. All he has are the physical and psychological scars he imparted on him.
Bill’s a pretty absent father himself and he finds it hard to engage with his children in a meaningful way. The opportunity presents itself this week as his eldest Johnny has been beaten up at school. Bill knows the feeling of being beaten by someone bigger all too well and isn’t going to stand for it happening to his kid. Luckily for the bully Dennis he didn’t go for the Ray Velcoro route (knuckleduster/threatening to fuck his dead with his headless mom’s corpse) and while he possibly went a smidge too far as he later admits to Libby, he didn’t lay a hand on him. He just scared him to the point of pissing himself.
When Johnny has tried to reach out to his father we have seen him dismissed or ignored so it is not surprising when Johnny rejects Bill’s attempts to bond over the book he is reading. First of all Bill, Johnny does not confirm he has got to the part in the book which you then go into detail about. Spoilers, Bill. Maybe if Bill had revealed the real reason he went up to the attic to read Johnny might have stuck around to watch TV, instead he leaves his father alone and they are just as distant as before. One awkward conversation does not lead to a new found bond, but it is a step and hopefully Bill won’t completely retreat from his son after this.
Also maybe Johnny just wants to read his book.
After his successful and prepared speech which didn’t go into the bitter depths I feared it might he takes audience questions and he is asked “Where is the love?” as the book goes into so much detail without discussing emotions. Bill’s response is masterful (I’ll see myself out) as he uses another scientific discovery to explain why love is absent from their work. Gravity is the shape of space itself and “the apple falls to the ground because it is following the lines and grooves that gravity has carved into space.” In the same respect love “is the very fabric of those bodies. Love is that which carves the lines and grooves; the curvature of our desire.” It can’t be “rendered into columns and graphs.”
The crowd as a whole responds with emphatic applause and yet not all are thrilled by this eloquent sentiment. Libby looks downcast probably because she has never experienced such a thing with her husband, while Virginia beams with pride and joy (and looks a little turned on). There is an awkward unspoken exchange between the two women and when Bill returns to the table his body language shows his closeness to Virginia; Edna is perceptive enough to spot all of this.
Time for another round of poor Libby. This is no consolation of course, but Libby as always is impeccably turned out and I bet Edna likes this about her, even while she encourages her daughter to break up her marriage.
There’s a whole lot of denial wrapped up in truth telling in Margaret’s relationship with Jimmy Cooper (okay Graham) and his other girlfriend Jo. Margaret is so focused on fixing the sex related issues with Graham she doesn’t want to confront what the real problem is.
The session with Bill and Virginia includes helpful demonstrations – which are interrupted by the protesting religious group and I have a feeling they will keep being a nuisance – and the instructions they give prove to be fruitful.
Margaret has not been living in her truth, instead she has been living in Graham’s and he happens to be a guy who is everything Barton isn’t. While this season hasn’t quite been hitting those high notes, “Masters of Gravity” manages to do just that with every storyline and even though I have left the Scully’s until the end they are just as vital to the success of this episode. The intimacy and vulnerability here is so striking; Allison Janney and Beau Bridges are so good at portraying all the pain and love that exists between them.
When Margaret asks “Where is home?” it is devastating and yet Barton knows exactly what he must do to give his ex-wife the resolution she deserves and he makes the difficult call to his daughter to reveal the truth behind their marriage breakdown. Maybe it would be better in person, but this is likely due to actor availability and the image of them holding hands is perfect.
The truth can set you free and yet it can also complicate matters tremendously; confessions are spilling all over the place and the denial is just as free flowing.
Once again Betty doesn’t have a crazy amount to do sadly and the scenes she is are of course a delight. This includes giving Virginia a break from her parents and helping with Dan’s research. She also fixes Bill’s back, which he hurt while sneaking out of Virginia’s first floor window. There are quite a few farcical elements this week and this injection of humor is welcome. As are Michael Sheen and Annaleigh Ashford’s expressions in the above shots. Betty mentions Helen and this gives me hope for Sarah Silverman and a juicy Betty storyline.
Outfit I Would Wear in 2015
There are many clothes I would wear from this show and this is a feature I do on The Americans reviews and as soon as this Breton striped long sleeve tee and pants pairing made me realize I need to add this to these reviews. This really is my Platonic ideal of a casual outfit.