If 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?