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Tag Archives: Isabelle Fuhrman

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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Masters of Sex 3.03 “The Excitement of Release” Review: To Feel Wanted

27 Jul

At the end of Masters of Sex this week, Bill asks Virginia “Who goes somewhere where they’re not wanted?” and this is an important question that runs through Bill’s quest to get approval from the birthplace of the study. The book has been released and to glorious reviews from the medical community; a community which Bill has felt ostracized from thanks to the controversial subject matter. This is not enough from both a monetary and personal perspective and they must sell themselves and the work all over again in a variety of ways.

Masters of Sex 3.03 Betty and VirginiaPerception is important because they are trying to change how society thinks about sex and those old misconceptions about immorality and smut are still prevalent. There are bags of hate mail and someone from the Committee for Decency hanging around the lobby just waiting to tell Bill that hell is real place (“no worse than St. Louis in August” is Bill’s retort). Suitors or rather investors are just as interested in Bill and Virginia as those who object to the study and there are plenty of people who feel like they could have a mutually beneficial relationship. Motivations vary, but the one thing they have in common is using sex as a jumping off point to sell something else; hand massage machines, magazines, the sexual revolution and perfume. For Bill it is about teaching his work across the country.  

Pretending that everything on the outside is fine is something that runs throughout “The Excitement of Release” and Libby is queen of denial; denial about her own happiness and relationship with Bill. Libby’s neighbor Joy has confided in her that she wants to leave her husband because the idea of a future is a “straight, flat highway into the sunset.” The dreams they had are long gone and the monotony is too much to bear. To Libby ‘husband + wife + kids = happiness’ and she kind of ignores everything that is so blatantly obvious to everyone else; Bill’s grumpy demeanor when he returns home doesn’t sell Libby’s idea.

Masters of Sex 3.03 BillLibby sells out Joy or at least attempts to as she sets up a hangout for Bill and Joy’s husband Paul, much to Bill’s dismay. The two bond over football and when it looks like Bill might reveal Joy’s intentions to Paul he instead gets out his prize collection of football cards. What Paul does is tell Bill going it alone is sometimes the only way to get things done, but the final scene of this episode reinforces the idea of having a team to support. Maybe this is why Paul has a shitty marriage as his wife feels alone.

Paul does a very bad job of pretending he is interested and Bill realizes Paul couldn’t give a shit, but continues regardless; pretense to uphold social pleasantries run throughout this episode as do the catastrophic moments which threaten them. Joy doesn’t get to follow through with her new apartment/life plan because she has a brain aneurysm and even though it doesn’t kill her, the brain damage sounds significant. The ‘what ifs’ generated by this tragedy could send Libby further down her spiral of misery while acting like everything is fine or it might make her reexamine her own life choices. Is this the push Libby needs to admit that all is not well in her ‘happy’ home?

One home which is still under a considerable amount of strain is Virginia’s as her relationship with Tessa is still fractious. Tessa is accused of being ‘deliberately difficult’ and the back and forths between this pair tread closely to forced teen daughter storylines, which have been detrimental to other shows. I worried that Tessa Johnson would be more Kim Bauer than Paige Jennings, but this week showed just how vital Tessa is in relation to the work her mother has been doing and how sex is perceived. Tessa’s sexual assault is sadly just as relevant now as it was 1966 and while I thought her drunk moment in the first episode was a misstep, this was handled in a sensitive manner rather than for shock value.

Masters of Sex 3.03 TessaTessa is embarrassed by her mother’s work and she has been acting out at school; she claims she is being bullied because of the new book and while we don’t see any evidence of this the book does play a big part in how she is perceived. She hangs out with a cute boy on the bleachers reading Human Sexual Response and acts like she knows all about sex from personal experience; it is common to exaggerate sexual prowess and both Tessa and Matt suggest that they have ‘done stuff.’ Derogatory terminology is used with Matt invoking the word ‘nympho’ and he doesn’t get that women can like sex too without being sneered at. Matt has not been paying attention to the information from the book which is being read to him. Also if this is what they call someone’s mother who has simply been reading a book which includes sex it is easy to imagine that Tessa’s peers are saying some truly awful things about Virginia.

The homecoming dance is another source of contention between Tessa and Virginia with Virginia offering to chaperon as a way to show she is there for her. Tessa rejects her because of the notoriety factor and is then pissed when Virginia lets her go because she figures Virginia only changed her mind because she has work (which is true). Drinking games and smooches turns ugly when Matt reveals his level of inexperience and how he wants Tessa to ‘teach him.’ Making excuses as to why she can’t have sex is Tessa’s way out of not wanting to do this while trying to save face, but then Matt forces her head towards his lap and sexually assaults her.

Masters of Sex 3.03 Tessa bathroomVomit is how Tessa immediately reacts to this violation getting it all down her pretty new dress which we see her scrubbing in the bathroom afterwards before breaking down sobbing. It is a heartbreaking scene which is further compounded by her silent tear stained interaction with her mother in the car afterwards. Virginia is late to pick her up and takes Tessa’s insolence as a reaction to this. Her questions about boys at the dance further add to the gulf between them and I definitely yelled ‘tell her’ at my screen. This is not the relationship they share and even though Virginia is so good at talking to strangers about sex for some reason she cannot with her daughter (as evidenced by her asking Bill to have the chat with her in the season premiere).  

At school Matt approaches Tessa as if nothing bad has gone on aside from the schnapps that he thinks made her throw up; is he so clueless that he doesn’t realize what he did was wrong? Tessa smiles through the ordeal, but it is clear she is hurting and Isabelle Fuhrman’s performance throughout is excellent showing Tessa’s vulnerability and how she tries to cover it up.

Teen characters can be hard to warm to when they act out in a way which is detrimental to the leads; Tessa highlights the failings Virginia sees in herself as a mother so it is easy to feel just as exasperated as Virginia is in this moment. The sexual assault could be read as an easy way to get an audience to feel sympathy toward this character and there are shows which have done this, but in this case the escalation is meant to reveal just how out of her depth and isolated Tessa is. Motherhood is something Virginia feels like she has failed at and while Bill gave her an excellent pep talk last week about being a working mother, he’s kind of an ass this week as he worries she is spreading herself thin. Virginia is late for work because she is dealing with Tessa at school, she is late picking Tessa up because of work. The middle ground is hard to find.

Masters of Sex 3.03 VirginaThe timeline settles this week and this in turn means the overall story is a lot more focused. There are a couple of welcome returning faces as well as some equally welcome new ones. Beau Bridges is back as Barton Scully and he has a new wife and different job at the university after rumors led to his demotion (which he claims he is fine with). Bill has turned to his old friend for help getting his book on the curriculum at his old university, but the stigma remains as does Bill’s passionate response to academic rejection. Bill can’t fathom why Barton still works somewhere where he not respected and offers him a job where he is wanted.

Jane is back much to my delight even if she is far from the optimistic and happy person we last saw back at the start of season 2; gone are the bold yellows and here is the miserable and tired look. She’s still rocking excellent pins.

Masters of Sex 3.03 JANEWhile I assumed Barb was the wife Lester referred to in the premiere it is actually Jane and Lester fucks up big time when he calls her a ‘morbidly grumpy housewife’ when she is stood behind him. Awkward. Lester later refers to her as a ‘she-wolf’ to which Betty tells him to get a clue and understand that Jane is miserable because she is bored and she is too smart for the stay-at-home life she is currently living. Betty’s idea is to get Jane to go through their bags of mail as there might be some valid letters among the threats. Lester repeats Betty’s thoughtful comments to his wife and while she’s still mad at him things look a lot better between the pair.

Betty really is a “student of human nature” and a vital part of the team, particularly when it comes to meeting potential investors. Before we get to that here are all the amazing patterned outfits worn by Betty this week. With bonus skeptical looks in places.

Masters of Sex 3.03 Betty and Lester Masters of Sex 3.03 Betty pattern Masters of Sex 3.03 Betty Masters of Sex 3.03 Josh CharlesThe charm offensive comes down to Hugh Hefner and Josh Charles (who is recurring as Dan Logan – flavors fragrances expert) with the hand massage dude really not being up to the save selling technique as these guys. Hef has the resources and a huge built in audience, but Bill objects because it will cheapen the work. Dan sells his business proposal hard and it is so good to see Josh Charles in this mode as it felt very much like having Will Gardner back in court, but selling fragrance instead. Bill might regret his choice as Dan is very interested in Virginia and he certainly has the flirty skills down.

Bill might end up feeling insecure when it comes to Dan Logan, but at the moment all is pretty solid with Virginia aside from his not so subtle watch check when she rocks up to work late. Cut that out, Bill. Returning to the question from the end of the episode as Bill ponders why people go where they are not wanted and Virginia assures him he is wanted by her. He takes the babies crying as a cue to make his exit, but instead he is told to stay and is content to share the bed with a baby that is not his.

Masters of Sex 3.03 Bill, Virginia and LisaConflict swirls around them and yet in this moment there is peace; now to apply this kind of harmony to those around them who are experiencing rejection and isolation.

Julie Hammerle

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