Masters of Sex: Mirror, Mirror

 Posted by on September 2, 2014 at 1:23 pm  Masters of Sex
Sep 022014

Masters of Sex, "Mirror Mirror" Bill Masters meets with FrancesIf the Masters of Sex episode Mirror, Mirror proves anything, it’s that the show is committed to the structural experimentation we saw last week, with Asterion, albeit this time with considerably more success.

At one point in Mirror, Mirror, Virginia, watching a pair of study subjects have intercourse, notes the symmetry between men and women: Their bodies are not identical, but they have symmetrical reactions during normal intercourse. Skin darkening is mentioned, but you can continue the thought process; both men and women have erectile tissue, both men and women lubricate, etc. This is not even mentioning the things that are identical: Heart rate, respiration, and so on. Virginia postulates that abnormal sexuality is also symmetrical, and the episode focuses specifically on impotence (now more often called “erectile dysfunction”) and vaginismus.

Once we parallel impotence and vaginismus, we get the episode’s tour de force, the intercut monologues of Lester talking to Bill, and Barbara talking to Virginia. These stories are deeply personal, and yet they’re transpersonal; once you know that trauma, fear, or anger are frequently the seeds of these dysfunctions, all the stories blend together. The gaps left in one person’s story while we cut to the other person don’t matter; we get it without knowing every detail.

I think we could parse out a lot of parallels and mirrors in this episode; Austin and Flo the Calmetrics lady, Libby and Robert (Coral’s brother)…I’m not sure I have them all, and I’m not sure it matters. There’s an elegance to the episode structure, yes, but it falls apart once we get past the central stories. I don’t even know what to say about the guy who ate himself to death. I could see it as a vicious joke about fat people, except the show has actually shown some consciousness about body size that transcends such visciousness. Flo (played by Artemis Pebdani with extra doses of awesome…and a cigar), talks about her curves in a way that makes Austin look like the fool, not her. Spokesman’s death is more like a fetish gone wrong, and calls back to Betty saying that impotence can be caused if the guy has a thing for “farm animals or whatever.” It’s part of a story about being unsatisfied, and angry, and traumatized. Sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar. People are satisfying themselves in ways that may kill them.

The other important mirror, of course, is Master’s brother. I don’t think this was done particularly well. The big mystery, paying off in a long-lost brother, felt awkward to me. I like the actor—Christian Borle was one of a number of excellent Smash cast members who just couldn’t make the show work. (Were he and Harry Connick, Jr. separated at birth?) I mean, is this guy going to have a real character and real plot, or is he just someone to swirl around Bill and be a foil for his rage and self-loathing? A mirror, if you will.

The racial story this week feels awkward and shoehorned. Libby has to lie and then Think Deep Thoughts before deciding that she needs to speak up about what she saw. And why? So she can feel important, and meanwhile express a little of her frustrated sexual feelings for Scary Black Men. I’m not impressed.

Not impressed by Libby, that is. I remain impressed by Masters of Sex. How about you?


  7 Responses to “Masters of Sex: Mirror, Mirror”

  1. The writers may or may not know that Masters’ and Johnson’s brainstorm this week –that impotence is usually psychosomatic — is no longer considered true. It was discovered several years ago that it was more often connected to nitric oxide levels. After all, Viagra isn’t an Indian potion. Of course psychosomatic cases do exist.
    Ginny’s larger idea about symmetry between sexual disorders (e.g. impotence/ vaginismus, psychosomatic) strikes me as possibly arbitrary — speaking, on my part, with all the customary authority of someone with zero knowledge of medicine. Perhaps, though, similar mechanisms would be prone to similar disruptions?
    Finally, how do we know what Libby’ s unconscious motivations (self-regard?) are? Couldn’t she have a conscience?

    • I’m not talking about Libby’s unconscious motivations, but her stated ones. “Who am I?” she asks Bill, and then, after asking, goes to Robert to tell what she saw.

      While impotence can be treated medically, generally this only happens in conjunction with ruling out psychological causes. Biological ED isn’t variable—if you have erections during, for example, masturabation, or nocturnal erections, and only have ED with one person, or some people, or other people generally, then that is rooted in the psyche.

      In addition, though, the brain/body split is not nearly as neat as we used to believe. “Psychosomatic” implies, to most people, that the physical condition is imagined or generated by the psyche. In fact, the psyche affects neurochemistry which then affects other body systems (such as blood flow).

      • Nicely said.

        Then there’s ED triggered by a particular perfumed handkerchief.

      • Presumably we agree that some cases of impotence are purely physical and some are due to complex neuro-psychological causes. I am merely saying that until recently it was believed that the latter group accounted for nearly all cases, and now it’s believed that while there may be very many such cases a majority are in the former group.
        While I have no particular brief for the Libby Masters of the show (and know next to nothing about the real one) I interpreted her question cited above as questioning who she is if she doesn’t do the right thing. I assume the *writers* intention is a narrative of gradual enlightenment. The point about her sexual obsession with”Scary Black Men” is well taken. The show is very interesting and sophisticated in its exploration of the connection between sex and racism.

  2. I was watching a couple episodes on Showtime Anytime, and I noticed that in a synopsis that Bill has been impotent since around the time of running into Virginia’s beau and child at her front door. I may have missed something along the way, but this was news to me. It makes some situations make more sense, like him using alcohol as an excuse to not sleep with Virginia. Have they done the necessary leg work to make this evident to us? I just don’t remember anything of significance. Am I the only one who wasn’t aware that Bill is impotent?

    • According to the most recent episode, Bill hasn’t had sex with Libby in a year. He was not having sex with Ginny until the end of the previous episode, but in that episode, he stated he was only going to touch her with hands and mouth, and wasn’t going to take his clothes off. Additionally, we’ve seen him with multiple prostitutes who were unable to get him erect.

      Is he drinking as an excuse? Or is it alcohol-induced impotence. He drinks a LOT.

      • Thank you for reminding me of the failed alley blowjob. Maybe this is a consequence of being a hopeless romantic, but I thought his lack of erections was due to his lack of interest in any other women than Virginia. That was my calculation. In my opinion, they failed at providing the necessary information for the audience to come to the conclusion of impotence. And having it as a primary theme in this episode lends nothing to hinting at Bill being impotent, either. What a sloppy season this has been.

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