Tag Archives: 2.11

Masters of Sex 2.11 “One for the Money, Two for the Show” Review: “Stake Your Claim”

22 Sep

So much on Masters of Sex takes place behind closed doors as the nature of the study dictates this course of action; the one time Bill did try to present his work it was met with such a negative reaction that he lost his high powered position that set him on this journey of finding a more permanent home for their work. The first half of season two dealt with the conflicts and difficulty of finding a new environment to work in and eventually it became clear the only option would be to start something of their own. By presenting the work on television means putting themselves out there in a much broader scope and if they are rejected from this avenue it will have a devastating impact on whatever reputation Bill has left. I only mention Bill because he is the one who is finding the whole TV aspect to be incredibly challenging, although Virginia is dealing with separate personal issues that show a crack in her normally perfect facade.

Bill repeats the assertion throughout that he isn’t a salesman, but this is far from the case as he has been selling himself and the study from day one. The difference here is that he is normally so single minded and stubborn that he doesn’t let any self-doubt come into the equation. This feeling of impotence comes with his actual medical problem and how 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. Kennedy twinkle.

Masters of Sex 2.11 Bill and Virginia on TVThe switching of the ties makes a big difference and while Bill only refers to the practical reasons behind his tie choice – it stays out of the way during exams – stating that it isn’t a fashion decision, it is part of his uniform and he loses part of his armor with this swap. It seems like such a small thing and even though the CBS dudes think a long tie looks less academic, by taking away the bow tie they are removing the one fun aspect of Bill’s look. Have you seen how many different 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 Libby finds at home is his; it’s not a good start to feeling confident when you are informed that your look is wrong and then end up in a tie that’s not even yours.

Bill emphasizes how awkward it makes him by quoting Henry David Thoreau “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes” and Lester not only mentions how disappointed he is that Bill is compromising his position, but he also notes how weird the tie looks. There are multiple references to sweat starting with Nixon and ending with Bill’s drenched shirt lying on the floor; not only did he want to rip the tie off, but his shirt too.

Shep Tally keeps talking about the importance of appearance and presentation on television with the infamous sweaty Nixon debate getting referenced; on radio Nixon appealed to more voters, on television Kennedy’s smile had just as much impact as the talking points. Virginia has a spark and natural stage presence, after all she was a performer before this became her career. Virginia looks the part from her sleek simple outfit with an incredible deer broach – Virginia’s accessory choices give me similar glee filled reactions as The Good Wife’s Diane Lockhart – and there’s nothing about her style or manner of speaking that needs correcting. When Libby points out they are wearing the same color this is of no importance as they are shooting in black and white. It also ends up being of no importance because they never get around to shooting Libby, or even wondering where she is and so it is not surprising that she views herself as being invisible.

Masters of Sex 2.11 Bill and VirginaOn camera Virginia is the natural one with all the magnetism and charm, however when Bill loosens up and relaxes he also possesses a spark of sorts. He talks in hushed tones and yet his explanation of why this is an important line of study is captivating and it’s like the body equivalent of how fear is what leads you to the dark side; censorship perpetuates shame which leads to ignorance and ignorance prevents change. Shep was originally drawn to Virginia and Bill as a result of their natural back and forth. When Bill becomes more comfortable in front of the camera it becomes clear just how in sync they are as they finish each other’s sentences and Bill even laughs off a word stumble. See Bill, you do smile. Libby watches all of this and her expression grows increasingly sad and I wonder if she is figuring out just how close they are or if she is just acknowledging they have a bond that she has never possessed with her husband.

Masters of Sex 2.11 Libby and GeorgeLater on Libby and Virginia’s ex George are mistaken for husband and wife in the same way Virginia and Bill are often misconstrued as being a couple and the only similarity here is that Libby and George are sitting in a waiting room waiting for the couple who are married to their work. Libby refers to herself as “The woman behind the man behind the woman behind the man” noting just how insignificant she is to this whole process and subsequent fanfare. It doesn’t matter that she is “a looker” with Virginia ahead of her in ‘this race.’

This is what the Libby storyline has been building to all season and while they touched upon this aspect of the ignored wife at home in season 1 Libby was preoccupied with her desire to have children to create a family. Now she has those children and nothing has changed; there is still something missing. Libby’s story has been incredibly messy this season and at times it has been hard to feel any kind of sympathy with her. Tying her to an exploration of race issues in the late 50s/early 60s has at times made her come across as both racist and a race tourist (or a “silly fly-by-night do-gooder”). I was worried that Robert would become a prop in Libby’s journey to ‘find herself’ and she even admits that she wants Robert to kiss her to try and figure out who she is. Libby explains how she never got to be a dumb kid – maybe just dumb – and her nickname when she was younger was “The Little Grownup” and I expect this is because she had to grow up so quickly after her mother died and her father abandoned her. Libby goes on talking about how she has never made waves and how deep down she has maybe been ignorant and prejudice (everything with Coral suggests yes) and Caitlin Fitzgerald nails the little girl lost sadness when she says “So quiet that you forgot the sound of your own voice.”

Masters of Sex 2.11 LibbyWith Robert his feelings of disdain towards Libby was actually a relief as she no longer felt invisible and she has found a fight that she believes in and now understands. Using Libby as an entry point to explore race this season hasn’t always worked and part of this has been because it’s been just as much as it about Libby and her experiences as it is about the civil rights movement; we have been viewing it pretty much through her prism. Having Libby admit to her shortcomings, fears and attraction to Robert while stating that she wants to do something reckless shows that Libby isn’t considering the big picture and she’s spent so long alone that she doesn’t want to contemplate just how dangerous this is (or this element of danger adds to the attraction). If a police officer reacts this aggressively just with them sitting in a car, imagine how bad things could get if they get caught. Libby wants Robert to kiss her, but he doesn’t want to make the first move so she goes ahead and kisses him first. This leads to kitchen floor sex and it’s unlike any of the sex scenes we have seen between Libby and Bill; there is passion, longing and desire. I wonder if this is the first time Libby has had an orgasm.

Going back to Bill and despite his triumph of maintaining an erection at the end of the last episode his problem still persists despite trying again. This adds to his fear of presenting results in front of a camera as he feels like an unattractive fraud. The episode ends with Virginia telling Bill that she finds him attractive and cradling him on the floor. It’s a motherly act rather than a sexual one and to get all self-help Bill has to learn to accept that he is a flawed but brilliant person, not one or the other. Plus he really needs to get out of his own head space. It is rare to see Bill in this vulnerable state and without the same self-assured confidence that has got him to where he is now. He looks out of his comfort zone in pretty much every scene he is in this week and he is out of his depth as Virginia and Shep stand tall discussing what they will be undertaking.

Masters of Sex 2.11 BillOne person who gives a really good pep talk is Shep and considering he is in PR this is not surprising. He manages to appeal to Bill’s ego by reinforcing the notion about coming first and adds some comfort by suggesting the goal you have can be just as important as achieving it; just because they haven’t cured anyone yet, the hope and promise of doing this is part of the initial pitch. Shep tells him he needs to “Stake his claim” and by doing both this and “reaching for it” then he will be able to connect with people in their homes. Does Bill want to be a Kennedy or a Nixon? So on one hand there is Shep telling Bill that it is okay to make a compromise with his work so he can reach people and then there is Lester who is disappointed that Bill is sacrificing his integrity. What “One for the Money, Two for the Show” doesn’t do is tell you which version is the right one, instead it shows the various ways these characters are being challenged as they reach for the moon whether it is Libby wanting to be noticed, Bill feeling attractive or Virginia realizing that she has been so focused on work that she knew nothing about the type of woman George’s new wife is.

Virginia’s ex George wants to take the kids to Europe for 6 weeks while he is on tour and this concerns Virginia deeply. George has remarried and his new wife Audrey has become a big presence in Tessa and Henry’s life without Virginia even noticing. Audrey helped Tessa pick out her project subject and is very much part of their life, plus she’s not a flake like George; there is now stability in her ex-husband’s house and he won’t forget to feed them until late. This all takes Virginia by surprise as she’s been so busy at work. Thankfully there isn’t any ‘you’re a bad mother’ judgement, just an acknowledgement that this trip could actually be a really positive thing for Tessa and Henry. What it does mean is that Virginia will be spending the holidays (both Thanksgiving and Christmas) alone and I wonder if she will receive an invite to the Masters’ house?

Elsewhere the Austin/Flo sexual harassment continues and even though they work in the same building this story feels very much out on its own island. Flo is upset that Clark Gable is dying as he’s her dream dude and Gone with the Wind is her dream fantasy; she wants to be ravished against her will (this worryingly comes across as a rape fantasy and I’m not sure they are quite hitting the mark in this gender role swap as it is still coming across as slightly comedic in tone). By questioning Austin’s manhood she gets her unwilling participant and he’s continued to sleep with her since the last episode. Instead Austin is the one who reluctantly takes part in this role play and Flo ends up being the Clark Gable. Despite wanting to change roles it doesn’t end up that way and they are still stuck with who they have always been.

So how much can we adjust and evolve? This goes much further than just sex and the work as Bill and Virginia have entered a co-dependence of sorts that didn’t exist at the start of this season despite the grand rom-com like rain gesture at the end of last year. With only one episode left it is unclear just where these characters will end up, but it is clear that far too much has happened overall to return to where they were, not just for Virginia and Bill, but for Libby as well. It’s been a bumpy season that has attempted to cover a wide range of storylines and this ambition is commendable; however Masters of Sex is at its best when examining the deeply personal and intimate nature of relationships. Bill and Virginia are at the heart of this and with each episode they are nearing a real definition of what they really mean to one another as they dance around the notion of love. Is this a declaration we can expect to see in the finale?

 

The Americans 2.11 “Stealth” Review: Making a Difference

8 May

Even when Philip and Elizabeth disagree on how to deal with their daughter’s new found interest in religion, they present a united front and this harmony has been developing since the pilot episode. Family has been in focus this season and the idea of making a difference comes to the forefront this week; it is why these characters take the risks they do. This takes several different forms and since Jared’s family was murdered in the premiere the fear for their own kids and Elizabeth’s sense of duty to her fallen friends has taken over.

Stan’s visit to Jared poses a threat on several levels; an ideological one as Elizabeth doesn’t want an American to reveal they were KGB and a more immediate danger as he’s once again looking for the illegals who just happen to be them. Larrick’s revenge mission is fueled by the deaths at the Contra camp and while we don’t know if he has any personal connection to the men Philip and Elizabeth killed, they could just be symbolic brothers to him.

The Americans 2.11 Philip and ElizabethStarting with Larrick and he once again proves what a terrifying enemy he is as he barely questions Kate before he snaps her neck. Larrick is picking off those who Elizabeth and Philip rely on for contact with the Center as he continues his quest to find them. Larrick wants to put an end to this mess, which he in part blames himself for. Unlike Stan who works within certain parameters (which he has broken in the past with Vlad), Larrick is dangerous because he doesn’t appear to have a stopping point and it’s all about self-preservation. Larrick is pissed that he’s had to do so much to damage his country, but he’s done it regardless and when it comes to finding Philip and Elizabeth there’s no guessing what he will do to achieve this objective. Even though he said he didn’t kill Emmett, Leanne and Amelia can we trust him? Threatening or even killing Paige or Henry doesn’t seem beyond the scope of what Larrick is capable of.

Larrick is also doing a very good job of covering his tracks and he removes any trace of his presence in Kate’s apartment. This includes untying her dead body from the ceiling fan and putting everything back as it was. Kate does leave a message behind on the cardboard toilet roll tube showing she’s not the dolt Philip might have suspected she was and she valiantly fought against Larrick, but his size and experience overpowered her. Kate’s last act of defiance involved spitting in his face and not everyone can be coerced into betraying their country. I’m sad to see Kate go so soon as Wrenn Schmidt barely got to scratch the surface with this character; who will be their next handler and will they be up to the high Jennings standard?

the Americans 2.11 Elizabeth puff shirt“Stealth” is very much a table setting episode as the tension and unease continue to grow. The Jennings’ have a list of issues they have to deal with and thankfully Philip seems to have recovered from his brief personal torment a few weeks ago. This isn’t to say that this isn’t going to resurface at any point, but at the moment he is very much focused on the mission at hand. Larrick is one threat and he’s not alone as Stan continues to connect the dots with the illegals and Emmett and Leanne, not to mention the Paige drama that continues. It’s all a balancing act and in part it’s why Elizabeth relents so quickly when Paige asks to go to a demonstration. Paige asks at a time when her parents have much bigger concerns and her pre-planned “Who I am and what I think and believe is mine. I’m me” speech isn’t really necessary – it’s annoying in a way when you have a whole argument ready and your parents say ok straight away. I understand why Paige decides to plead on a personal level as earlier Elizabeth refuses to explain why she can’t go to camp beyond the vague and frustrating “Because I’m your mother” and there’s no way to argue against this kind of reasoning.

In the final scene Elizabeth has an epiphany about her daughter as she notes how similar Paige is to her and how they both want to make a difference, however Paige is looking in the wrong place. Elizabeth talks earlier in the episode about how she doesn’t want Paige to get indoctrinated, but this is also what has happened with Elizabeth and Philip with Communism; it’s just a different kind of ideology and there’s probably a lot of similarities between the Young Pioneers camp that Nina spoke of last week and what Paige wants to do with her summer.

The Americans 2.11 Stan and SandraThis is the “they’re just like us” portion of the week and Stan’s desire to do something worthwhile is not all that different from why Elizabeth and Philip do what they do. Stan’s work is more transparent as he can talk to Henry for his school project about his job in a way Philip never could. There’s a hint of envy when Philip asks Stan to do the hero paper with his son as while his cover job is kind of boring, he would get hero status for what he is doing if they were back in Russia. Stan doesn’t see himself as a hero and the fantasy of the FBI comics he read as a kid chasing down the bad guys outside movie theaters is nothing like his reality and he seems ashamed of his commendation. Feelings of guilt might be overshadowing this joy with his betrayal to his country over the documents he gave Oleg, or because he killed someone in cold blood and then received an award for killing someone else. Being an FBI hero sure looks different to the days of gangsters and Henry’s surprise at the existence of these comics shows just how much the world has changed. Stan still has the desire to make a difference and do something good; this requires compromise and getting your hands dirty and it is something both Philip and Elizabeth know so well.

The grass is always greener and all that as Stan is still very taken with Philip’s new car and his own disintegrating marriage mirrors where we found Philip and Elizabeth at the beginning of the show; the gulf between Sandra and Stan has grown as Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage gained strength. The framing of Stan and Sandra’s scenes has reflected this distance all season and this technique is used once again as they discuss whether their marriage is over. In every sense beyond them saying it out loud it has been done for a long time and there’s no emotional connection between them beyond nostalgia for what they were.

the Americans 2.11 Oleg and NinaStan’s got other problems to deal with as Nina comes to him doing some damsel in distress posturing as she explains her deception has been discovered and while Nina is in a very precarious place, we know part of this plea is a manipulation as Arkady has known for a long time. They are using Nina to get Stealth information from Stan as he has the clearance they need, but Nina will get sent home and face a trial for treason if it all goes wrong or so Arkady says. How much of this is part of a bluff or double bluff is unclear and yet I am pretty certain that Arkady wanted Oleg to tell Nina that she is in danger.

Oleg praised Nina earlier this season for not trusting him and in the world they live in there aren’t many people who can be relied on. Philip and Elizabeth have this trust and no matter how much Oleg cares for Nina (and I think he has fallen for her), Nina is caught in a perilous position as she is being used by both sides. The Lenin Young Pioneers pin is a very sweet touch as Oleg has moved from antagonist to confidant. I could be completely wrong and Oleg might still be working all the angles for himself, I just don’t know anymore.

The Americans 2.11 PhilipOne person who keeps coming up with the goods is Fred as he provides Philip with the necessary person who knows all about the tech side of Stealth and it’s one of the ultimate “Hey! It’s that guy!” Zeljko Ivanek. Ivanek is playing John Skeevers who worked on RAM and has since got cancer that he blames on the paint that was used to suspend microscopic balls as part of technology for Stealth. This introduces us to a new Philip disguise and this one is on the very hairy side. It’s all about finding someone’s vulnerability and using this to their advantage; John’s memory might be a bit unreliable as he can’t remember who Philip is (which also is a bonus), but he is coherent enough to reveal some important detail about the paint and the bad side effects.

The Americans 2.11 ElizabethJared is also in a vulnerable position and Stan’s visit prompts Elizabeth to don her short wig and big glasses as she poses once again as someone from the Child Advocacy Center. Elizabeth is feeling guilty for burning Leanne’s letter and Elizabeth feels responsible for him. Jared knows that something is up and boy does this kid break my heart as his eyes plead with her to tell him the truth. Jared also meets with Kate and this is another mystery for The Americans to solve in the next two episodes; why was she visiting him in no form of disguise? Why do they have to get Jared out?

Making a difference and compromise are two key themes in “Stealth” and this episode suggests that achieving both is an extremely difficult task when the stakes are this high. Missions have been going wrong all season and as the tangled web grows, Philip and Elizabeth might get to a point where they will have to make a choice between family and their duty to the cause.

Julie Hammerle

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