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Tag Archives: teenage girls

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.

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Teen Girls Rule the World on The Americans (They Just Don’t Know It)

15 Apr

Paige Jennings is having one hell of a year on The Americans (and still two episodes to go) and there is something impressive about the importance of teenage girls to the central plot and balance of this season. The Paige Problem has been at the heart of pretty much every argument between Philip and Elizabeth ever since they were informed of the KGB’s second generation program plans. While Paige has been relatively protected up until now there is another fifteen year-old who has been less fortunate at falling prey to those targeting her father.

The Americans 3.11 PaigeThere are plenty of parallels between Paige and Kimmy particularly when it comes to absentee parents; however Kimmy has been searching for connections from a more traditional teen source with booze and boys. Or rather weed and a dude pushing 40. Exploiting weakness is one way to make an asset more complicit and Philip has tapped into Kimmy’s desire for someone to be close to and in this case her hormones are driving the situation. Paige has gone in a more spiritual direction and both are essentially dealing with identity. Fifteen was a long time ago for me now, but that feeling of not knowing who you are or whether what you are feeling is normal is hard to wipe clean from your memory. That’s the kind of shit that might stay buried until you are given a prompt – in my case it happens when watching/writing about teen shows (see My So-Called Life/Freaks and Geeks) and these pit of your stomach awful feelings can be quick to resurface.

I am drawn to teen TV/movies and not just the ones which prompt nostalgia (related – I saw The Duff yesterday and Mae Whitman is a treasure). Like pretty much everyone I had my fair share of soul crushing teen moments where I longed to be in my twenties and everything would be far less complicated and my skin would be great (nope and nope). Teen girls getting their moment to shine in adult drama doesn’t always play out well and can often be a source of contention – I think Morgan Saylor was excellent on Homeland but Dana’s storylines did not hold up to Saylor’s performance – however when they do play a pivotal role that goes beyond just being an obstacle for the main characters it is something I find incredibly compelling; there is something so raw and open about this period in your life.

This season of The Americans has been brutal on a physical level – suitcase, dentistry, necklacing – but it is the emotional weight which has left me drained and invigorated after each episode. The story truly sings when the focus is on the relationships at the heart of it all; Philip’s small nodding gesture which sets in motion the huge revelation in episode 10 is indicative of this as a huge emotional weight is lifted and comes crashing down all at once. The spy stuff is a big draw, but the dynamics between these characters going far beyond the wigs is why The Americans is so compelling.

The Americans KimmyNeither Paige nor Kimmy are aware of how significant they are in the grand scheme in the fight between the Soviet Union and America. It sounds somewhat ridiculous when typing it out like that, but without Philip’s semi-seduction of Kimmy they would be without good access to the main operation they have been running this season with the CIA Afghan group. With Paige her relevance comes on both a macro and micro level; we know how the Cold War ends but at this point this is still over six years away for these characters and if Paige were to get on board she could access the CIA in a way Philip and Elizabeth never could. On the smaller scale Philip and Elizabeth have been experiencing disagreements aplenty regarding the fate of their daughter and even though they ended up telling her together it isn’t necessarily a quick fix for their relationship.

One teen is easier to control at the moment and this makes Kimmy’s story all the sadder for how she is being manipulated. Philip’s not a complete shit and there is a paternal quality to how he treats her with a side order of frowny face because of how much she wants to sleep with him. This storyline is far from over and it is hard to seeing it getting resolved in a way which will benefit Kimmy; the better for her would be to have her heart broken with plenty of tales to tell when she is older of the guy she listened to music with who ended up being an asshole with issues. Alternatively this story could end with far more than her heart getting trampled on and while Paige is the one who knows the truth about who her parents are, I fear if Kimmy is to find anything out about who Philip really is she will end up paying a grave price. That’s far more than the typical identity issues your average teenager might experience.

Paige’s power has shifted from in the dark and passive to a more dangerous and unpredictable place. She has questions aplenty and picking a time to ask them is not her strong suit. Being pissed off at your parents is pretty standard teen behavior and in this case Paige has earned all snark privileges. While it is easy to write off her sniping as bratty her entire foundation has been destroyed; figuring out who the fuck you are is hard enough without the extra bonus of everything about your family being a giant lie.

Rebellion for Paige has so far included the odd lie here and there coupled with her religious journey. What if this moment leads to Paige rebelling in a much more familiar manner? There are only two more episodes to go and plenty of ways for her to add to her parents already stacked roster of shit they have to deal with. Something as simple as Paige going out and getting wasted is going to compound things or she could start poking around the real family business. Whatever they have planned for these final episodes it is not a stretch to say this season of The Americans has been exceptional and devastating television with the two teen girl characters playing a big part in this. Special mention to both Holly Taylor and Julia Garner for their performances which cut straight to my soul and have me longing for happy endings for these characters however unlikely that is. What sets this apart from other drama shows with a teenage girl character of this kind is they feel incredibly relevant to the story as a whole; they are not here to remind us solely to remind us the leads have children or as another obstacle for them to overcome (see 24Homeland).

Cliches are avoided and Kimmy could have easily come across as the sad, whiny, horny girl with daddy issues (see The Fall) instead all of these aspects are part of who she is, but those are not the only things that define her. Kimmy is the parallel to Paige and the writing/performance is just as strong for each character. Even Henry avoids total second child/teen boy insignificance as others have (waves at Chris from Homeland) thanks to his interactions with Stan and his accidental awkward timing when it comes to doing impressions. Henry hasn’t been the cause of every argument ever between his parents, but they still have found time to give him a personality.

Oh and Paige if you need a therapist I have a really great idea for a spinoff/crossover thanks to Betty’s decision to go study psychology on Mad Men; after all she knows a lot about living with someone who hid their true identity for years. TV world make this happen.

 

Julie Hammerle

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