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Masters of Sex 3.12 “Full Ten Count” Review: Save Yourself

28 Sep

The strongest episode of Masters of Sex to date is still “Fight” and this messy third season ends with a nod to this magnificent two-hander offering some semblance of hope despite the many missteps. It is far from a perfect finale and suffers from the weight of storylines that have come before it, but it finally feels like there is some forward momentum instead of entertaining the same back and forth dance we are accustomed to.

Due to other work and travel commitments I haven’t reviewed MoS for a few weeks now and my general view of those episodes is the strong (mostly Betty) moments have been overshadowed by the repetitive nature of Bill and Virginia’s disagreements; it’s not only Virginia that feels like she is suffocating.

Masters of Sex 3.12 BillBill is controlling and single minded and his recent behavior, particularly during the dinner sequence last week has been hard to justify or even tolerate. Virginia’s decision to flee is one that is easy to understand and yet I can’t help but feel the pull of Bill when he lays it all out to her in his last ditch move to get her to stay. His first attempt comes when Bill tells Virginia he is dropping the MD so they will be equals and this gets a brief consideration before the swirl of everything else going on takes center. Not the reaction Bill was expecting, but the drama levels at the clinic are probably far higher than he was anticipating. This idea of telling Virginia how he really feels came from Virginia’s other suitor and this romantic dilemma is part of what has been bugging me this season; Virginia has essentially become the center point of a love triangle and her role in the work has taken a backseat position.

The love story has always been part of Masters of Sex and I am so here for a good romance and yet it feels like Virginia has been reduced to the love prize between a man who is far too good to be true and the man with many flaws. Charming Dan is in part so charming thanks to the person playing him and Josh Charles has been selling the shit out of the perfume man and yet I can’t trust a character that is this good; Dan is the guy who makes bold gestures and then follows through. When he says he will leave his wife (the always amazing Judy Greer) for Virginia he does leave his wife for Virginia.

He can’t quite compromise with her work situation, but luckily for him everything is imploding and this is the ideal time to sweep Virginia off her feet, but how long can this perfect man act keep up? And if it isn’t just an act, how long will Virginia feel complete? I believe her when she tells Bill that happiness outside of the work is her goal, but her constant checking over her shoulder for Bill at the airport is a telling sign that this is still not enough.

Masters of Sex 3.12 Virginia and DanPieces of Virginia’s past have given further insight into her psyche from her contentious relationship with her mother to the impact of her long ago broken heart which was first alluded to in “Fight.” Dan is the chance to do things right while going against her mother’s desire to see her with Bill and if we’re breaking everything down into their base components then both Virginia and Bill’s behavior goes back to their parents. Bill’s father is the person who informs his desire to rail against authority no matter who else gets hurt in the process. As the not so subtle dream sequence shows at the start of this finale, Bill is incapable of staying down because he doesn’t want to be seen as weak. However weakness can be the inability to admit when a situation has spiraled out of control as this one has.

There are times to fight and times to fall and Bill ends up choosing the latter instead of running through the airport and catching Virginia just in time. Masters of Sex has already done the big rom-com ending back in season 1 when Bill showed up on Virginia’s doorstep in the rain and it is Bill’s decision to stop which gives me hope that this show is not a lost cause. If Bill had made it to the airport and won Virginia’s heart with a flowery speech then the cycle would just be repeating, now there is a chance they can build on the ruins Virginia has left behind. Okay so we don’t see Virginia get on the plane, but every time she looks back it acts as a warning sign to Dan that their union might be less than perfect and it wouldn’t be a shocker if she ditched the Mexico plan.

Masters of Sex 3.12 Libby MastersThe status quo has been altered in another much bigger way and the conversation between Libby and Bill is the one which truly excites me because now Bill knows that Libby knows and has known for a very long time. It is scenes like this one which draw me back into MoS and it must be said that for all the bumps and missteps this season, this cast has been doing some incredible things with what they have been given. Caitlin Fitzgerald’s reaction as Bill vomits out his ‘big secret’ is amazing from uncontrollable laughter to her taking no shit as this really is not the time to unburden his soul and feel better in the process. Libby was so close to finding happiness (for a second time) and instead she chose her family (again) and not just because of some ideal image she has cooked up in her mind. Libby is so much more than this and her anger at Bill after he points out how awful this must have been for her and how she deserves something better is justified; “You don’t get to decide.”

Bill is shocked not only in finding out that Libby has known for years, but that Virginia has been in on it. This is where Libby gets to twist the knife telling Bill they have a pact conjuring up images of kitchen table plotting of Virginia agreeing to never taking Bill away from his family. It is all too much for Bill to take in and Libby gets to sashay away leaving him stuck in jail without his bond paid. And she does so in a fabulous camel coat and pants which shows how far Lib has come from pastel dress wearing housewife. See also these sunglasses from earlier in the episode which make her look fierce and like she is on a glamorous mission, even though this is far from the case.

Masters of Sex 3.12 LibbyLibby’s reason for breaking things up with Paul last week also go a long way in showing why she is so adamant at keeping her family together; she doesn’t want the cycle of bad father/son relationships to continue forever on but by the end of this finale her usually resolute spirit has been broken. It is like the Virginia secret is the very frayed string that was keeping everything together and she doesn’t even lock the bathroom door to hide her tearful breakdown, which Johnny of course walks in on.

Bill is not a mirror of his father, but he has been so afraid of repeating this pattern that he is not a presence at all; even if they did split up it probably wouldn’t be that different really. I hope next season sticks to this separation because it will allow the show to explore so many more possibilities beyond Poor Libby and this character does deserve more; so does the audience when it comes to seeing this same old storyline on repeat.

Plenty of characters who have hovered on the sidelines are complicit in Bill’s current fate and when Bill threatened Dennis earlier this season he mentioned that everyone trusts doctors, which as it turns out is not always the case. Bill has been backed into a corner by not only Dennis’ mother, but also Nora who is working with religious fanatic and lobby loiter Ronald Sturgis (another person Bill has threatened). Bill has been somewhat naive in both cases and both have come back to destroy his career. He plays the kind card with Libby and instead of telling him what he wants to hear, Libby instead points out that this is indicative of his controlling and reckless behavior.

Early in the episode Ronald tells Virginia to save herself acting as an early warning about what is to come. The only warning Bill gets is rather abstract pointing to the broken nature of things as his suspender snaps and he has to wear Lester’s belt. Bill is very anti-belts which once again goes back to his father and his choice of weapon against him. I don’t know if we needed the beating flashback even if it underscored that it is not a fashion related decision. Virginia gets a sermon from Nora and in return she smacks her with a box. Nora is a character who is clearly deeply troubled, but she definitely deserved that from Virginia and I maybe (okay definitely) cheered.

Masters of Sex 3.12 Barton and JonathanIn happier romance news Barton and Jonathan (Richard from Felicity!) have acted on their feelings and got over their disagreements regarding how they want to present themselves – with a lot of help from magical advice unicorn Betty – and have a romantic birthday meal out. Well it is romantic and then Bill’s in jail predicament briefly interrupts things. When Jonathan mentions he isn’t getting younger it is hard to not picture him in college because he pretty much looks the same as he did almost 15 years ago.

Betty has been a strong presence throughout this season even when she is only there to dish out the advice and it would be remiss if I didn’t mention her conversation with Barton from “Through a Glass, Darkly” when she tells him about her relationship with Helen and how “it makes a difference” to be loved like that. Betty is often used as comic relief, but she is also important when getting to the heart of the emotional moments and I hope there will be far more for her to do next season even if she is very good at running interference. Betty also had another fantastic Twiggy inspired dress and wide tie costume moment this week.

Masters of Sex 3.12 BettyAnd this look also works when hiding out smoking in a dark office.Masters of Sex 3.12 Betty smokingTroubled teen plots were absent from this finale and Tessa has been one of the many issues this season and I have gone from a position of defending this story to rolling my eyes at how they have made the teen an irritating obstacle. I don’t think they need to be done with Tessa necessarily, but there has to be a way of exploring Virginia’s relationship with her daughter without this many teen cliches particularly when dealing with the work Virginia does.

Masters of Sex works best when it is Masters and Johnson; this is not to say there shouldn’t be conflict but the writers do need to go beyond the same push/pull we have seen for three seasons and hopefully the actions of Bill, Virginia and Libby in this finale will lead a revitalized show that leads to a return to form.

Masters of Sex 3.04 “Undue Influence” Review: Self Help

3 Aug

Bill Masters is not a charismatic guy; something he recognized earlier this season when he tried to promote Human Sexual Response solo. Bill understands Virginia is a vital component in both the creation of this book and selling it to the general public and it is why a book tour without Virginia would be a disaster. Virginia however has other things on her mind namely her baby, her wayward daughter and her son who is thousands of miles away in Vietnam and has written to tell her he is sick.

Her plate is already full and there is no room for anything else and so when Bill idly starts reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People while he is on a bookstore stakeout he attempts to adopt some of Carnegie’s methods throughout the episode.

Masters of Sex 3.04 BillIt would do Bill good to take a moment and consider the needs of others, particularly the long suffering women in his life, but Dale Carnegie’s self-help best seller* might not be the place start because it is essentially about getting what you want. One of Carnegie’s methods involves getting what you want by making the other person think it was their idea in the first place. It is all about exerting your influence undetected, but Bill is not so good with this aspect because he lacks the charm of someone like Dan Logan. Bill is good at referencing and quoting other people to prove a point and yet the subtleties evade him. When he tells his neighbor Paul that he understands how he feels in a gesture of kindness it comes across hollow, but the back pat and semi hug is a lot more human; even if Bill looks like he would rather crawl out if his skin in that moment.

*’You Must Remember This,’ the fantastic podcast detailing Hollywood’s first century is currently doing a Charles Manson series. ‘How to Win Friends’ has come up on numerous occasions as Manson read this book in jail and used the methods to get his ‘family’ to do his bidding. Not that Bill is a Charles Manson type, but it is hard not to think about how Manson manipulated plenty of people with the help of Carnegie’s teachings.

Betty can see straight through Bill’s new approach and has even had personal encounters with Carnegie himself; she doesn’t need to read an advice book to know why Virginia is shying away from the book tour and Bill could have saved himself both time and money if he just went to Betty in the first place. What Masters of Sex needs to do this season is give Betty more screen time because a) she lights up the screen whenever she is on and b) she shouldn’t be used just as the wise and worldly woman narrative device. Currently Betty is the Kalinda Sharma case solving magical unicorn.

Masters of Sex 3.04 TessaExtending to agony aunt as Tessa is spending the day at the office after being suspended from school and Betty’s other vital scene in the episode highlights the above points. Tessa wonders why people need to understand sex in this much detail anyway and she’s feeling shitty for a number of reasons; her first sexual encounter was traumatic and even though she acts like this is a good approach to not getting pregnant she is clearly in a lot of despair. She has also found out that her mother and Bill are involved thanks to the aftershave in both her mother’s bathroom and Bill’s desk drawer – is this not a common brand? way to jump to an accurate conclusion – and all she can smell is hypocrisy.

This brings us to another bleak scene between Tessa and Matt in his car. Talking isn’t making her feel better about her awful day and so she opts for the one thing which will make her numb. This time the act is consensual, but it doesn’t make it okay. I’m struggling with the Tessa stuff this week and while I mentioned how the last episode felt like a compelling/relevant teenage storyline in an adult drama rather than being shoehorned in, it is not without growing pains.

Masters of Sex 3.04 Libby and BillBeing honest is something that comes up on several occasions throughout “Undue Influence” with Carnegie’s tome suggesting things that sound truthful, but are really subtle manipulations. I believe Bill when he says those words to Virginia at the end regarding how important she is because it mirrors how he spoke to Libby when he felt like that toward his wife. But the gentle prodding with getting Virginia to take the fur coat feels like book reading Bill. He even points out that it is an uncharacteristic move and this is classic getting someone to do something by thinking it was their idea. I don’t think Bill is shady, but I am shaking my head in a disapproving way as he has taken a personal moment Libby has brought up and pretty much transferred it onto Virginia in this moment. Virginia is the “dazzling girl” and Bill is caught between real life and well, real life.

The discussion which really homes in on this idea of honesty comes from the returning Margaret Scully who encounters her husband for the first time since they signed their divorce papers three years previous. Margaret has a happy(ish) sex life in that she is having sex with someone who she knows is into her and yet there are underlining issues; premature ejaculation and the burden of Barton’s secret. Margaret and her daughter are no longer on speaking terms as Margaret bore the responsibility for the divorce and she believes she can’t be truly happy unless she can tell Graham about the real reason behind her split. Allison Janney sells this line of thought so beautifully as she tells Bill “it haunts me carrying around a secret that doesn’t belong to me and it isn’t mine to tell.”

Masters of Sex 3.04 Virginia and MargaretGraham doesn’t understand why they must look to the past to try and fix the present because he practices William Glasser’s Reality Therapy and this deals with living in the moment; however the past informs so much about who we are. Margaret’s experience with Barton has profoundly impacted her relationship with sex and love. For Virginia she guards her heart in box because of how heartbroken she was at 18 when she fell madly in love with a soldier who then returned to his fiance – in the book this show is based on Thomas Maier goes into detail about this relationship and its impact – and her conversation with charming Dan reveals just a little bit more of the romantic George referenced a couple of weeks ago.

Libby clings to the few happy moments in her marriage where it felt like Bill needed her, but also fretting about the fate of her neighbor who was about to break free. When Libby sees Barton on the sly (how did she get in undetected?) and he asks her about the pill she comes up with a decent excuse, but as a man who has lied to his wife many times he can see straight through her ‘keep the mystery’ reason. Being queen of denial comes in handy, but it doesn’t lead to the happy life she pretends she has.

An emotionally devastating outing, but thankfully there are humorous encounters peppering proceedings as Bill attempts to play out Carnegie’s advice with some eyebrow raising moments giving Michael Sheen a chance to flex his excellent comedic muscle. The brown paper is quite a good metaphor for what is happening on Masters of Sex at the moment as the show is still intriguing, but when you peel it back it isn’t quite what was expected as certain storylines like Libby’s have stalled and she’s stuck in the ‘Poor Libby’ life that she escaped from last season. Other plot points like Virginia’s ‘too much on her plate’ cycle is fine until we get these constant bickering “we’re a team” discussions and even though time has moved on by quite a margin some of the characters feel like they have stopped still.

And now to leave you with a few costume highlights including the Betty pattern treats.

Masters of Sex 3.04 Betty Masters of Sex 3.04 Betty patternsPlus Virginia’s buttons and scarf delight.

Picture1No Virginia in her fur as the screen went to black before she put it on.

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