There are times that Masters of Sex doesn’t work, and times it frustrates its fans. But then it comes around with an episode like Story of My Life and all of that is erased in an instant, the way a baby’s dazzling smile somehow makes parents forget a recent crying jag. When it’s good, it’s very, very good.
Story of My Life does something very indelicate: It tells us a story about telling our own truths, about the truth setting us free, and it does so with a bunch of techniques that should make us cringe, including a long-lost brother, and an A.A. meeting, total clichés in the genre of confession. Yet in the very act of using a blunt instrument, it twists gently back in on itself. Story of My Life is a Möbius strip of confession.
Virginia tells Barbara’s story, not knowing that how one tells the story is as meaningful to the psychologist as the story itself. By telling Barbara’s story in her own voice, Virginia ends up telling her own story, a twist she ultimately gives in to, talking about Lillian, and about Libby, while still pretending it’s part of Barbara’s story. Meanwhile, Barbara’s own story has twisted back around on itself, and it is Virginia, not Barbara, who cannot accept the truth.
Bill and Frank have stories that parallel each other, and again, this could be rather too blunt—Bill hears his own story through his brother and is awakened! Let’s all cry and hug. Except that Bill rejects the story, and his reason is so poignant, so real, so startling, that you want to cry. But then Frank twists that reason around as well, puffing himself up with his own wisdom and his own forgiveness, but really, sounding to me like he twisted away from truth and towards bitterness. In his last bit, comparing Bill to their father, is Frank doing much more than taking a shot at the brother who abandoned him? True, Bill is terrified of becoming his father, but Frank’s version is fundamentally about Frank, and doesn’t qualify, to my mind, as insight into Bill.
Bill’s confession at the end is placed as if it is a surprise, the shocking ending! The twist! But of course, there are no shocks anymore. Showtime has been talking about Bill’s impotence as if it was already revealed. Indeed, it’s been implied the past couple of weeks, but not stated explicitly. Still, the episode didn’t need a twist; the delivery, the rawness of the confession, Virginia’s plain shock that there’s another truth to be revealed, is enough.
Bill’s impotence is mostly likely the result of his prodigious drinking, in my opinion. Both Dad and brother were/are alcoholics. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure this out.
Libby’s story was slightly more interesting this week. This time, the twist on the truth was explicit; the CORE activists don’t want Libby to own up to the truth of what she’s seen, they want her to lie. Truth and lies and plausibility and who has the right to tell a story and have it be believed are political in Libby’s case. Her choice is ultimately still selfish. She wants to matter, which is the noble version of selfish (we’re all selfish, and it can be noble if you choose to enhance yourself with goodness instead of venality). But she also wants to be listened to, which is a legitimate need to have, but not exactly a political statement.
Libby listens to her newly-discovered sister-in-law talk about surprising people, and it’s clear that Libby wants to surprise someone; she wants to have weight in the world. I’m still not fascinated. Sister-in-law Pauline, by the way, played a significant role in Seasons 1 and 2 of Homeland, another BOK show, in case you’re wracking your brain like I was about why she’s so familiar.
About Lester’s story I don’t have a lot to say. His nervousness was overplayed, his description of disassociation was horrifying, and the solution he offers Bill is too neat. But it did lead to Bill’s confession to Virginia, so that part owas worth it.