Masters of Sex: One for the Money, Two for the Show

 Posted by on September 22, 2014 at 12:33 pm  Masters of Sex
Sep 222014

Masters of Sex: One for the Money, Two for the Show

Libby is on the floor rolling around with Robert. This has been inevitable for quite some time. We understand Libby to have been gawking at Robert with a complex desire for years. She wants The Other, she wants a less sanitized life, she wants the Sexualized Black Man, she wants wants wants and gets nothing from her husband. I think there is a fundamental mistake in filming the sex as director Adam Bernstein did in Masters of Sex episode 2.11, One for the Money, Two for the Show. As Lester emphasized throughout the episode, the way you film something matters; it gives more or less honesty, it is performed or it is real. By filming Libby and Robert in the manner of a soft-porn romance, the ambiguity and complexity is washed away in a haze of beauty. I don’t think that’s at all right for this relationship. Libby may be making amends in some way, by working at CORE, but she is still the woman who humiliated his little sister. Notice that we’ve never seen who Libby’s nanny now is. The problem is invisible, the dark and light bodies intertwined are exalted, and the outcome is pushed off to next episode. That’s disappointing.

There’s so much in this episode about people being observed, and observing themselves. This is an ongoing theme in Masters of Sex, of course. Masters and Johnson observe people having sex. Other people observe this work. People make assumptions about what they see. But filming Masters and Johnson, and having Lester as a character, layers commentary about observation on top of observation. So to film anything in a way that is prettied-up and dishonest, as Robert and Libby are, is a huge misstep.

The overwhelming theme this week is artifice versus authenticity. What’s real (for the money), what’s a put-on (for the show). Bill’s bowtie is real, his straight tie is for the show. Lester’s footage is real, the actors hired to create new footage are for the show. And as we push the juxtaposition of Libby and Ginny, both in brown suits, as we see the connection (finishing each other’s sentences) that Bill and Ginny have, that Libby and Bill do not have, we see that the Masters marriage, too, is for show.

Honestly, no one is connecting with Libby. Her “beautiful” sex with Robert is a connection as brittle and friable as the rest of her life. She sees the way that Bill and Ginny interact, and this is more convincing that catching them in bed together. It’s not the sex between Bill and Ginny that matters to Libby; it’s what’s real and what’s fake. But Libby herself is fake; her commitment to CORE is not about CORE but an attempt to remake herself; her seduction of Robert is not about Robert but about an attempt to strike back at Bill (among other things).

Once again, Austin and Flo are playing out an angle of the theme—the artifice of bedroom games—that doesn’t really work for me, and is less well-formed.

I’m annoyed that the show has pushed forward two and a half years—closer to three since the last time we saw Ginny’s kids—and yet these are the same child actors, the same age they were in 1959. I call bullshit. That’s just sloppy.

In the end, though, the performances save an uneven episode. Michael Sheen’s transparent agony at the end of the episode sort of rewrites one’s experience of watching. It’s such a stunning ending that it’s hard to fault much that came before.


  9 Responses to “Masters of Sex: One for the Money, Two for the Show”

  1. I assume people would have been more likely to say waiting for rather than waiting “on” someone. Also the producer’s making the now standard point about the different reactions, in polls, of people who heard the debate on the radio versus television, already *in 1960*, seems too pat. (Incidentally, Kennedy argued that America had fallen dangerously behind the Soviet Union and had to abandon complacency and get “moving again”. We were losing the Cold War, while Eisenhower golfed. Nixon defended the record of the administration.)
    I still don’t know why the writers think that “dildo” was a household word at the time. A review of Dr. David Reuban’s “Everything You Always Waited to Know about Sex” in the 1970s mentioned that no one would be likely to ask a question about such an obscure word. (The book has a question and answer format.)
    A more substantive point: one could argue that the real Masters’ and Johnson’s eventual marriage was “for the show”. Despite the emotional connection between their fictionalized counterparts, Johnson certainly said that they were never in love.
    As I’ve said before, I think the writers think Libby’s transformation is for real.
    It’s interesting that Masters’ thinks he’s an unlovable, loathsome nebbish, a hopeless beta-male. I take it the real Masters’ was confident, charismatic,dominating and tall. He has been described as being physically impressive and having a commanding presence.
    Finally, is the next one the last of the season.

  2. Not that comfortable with the way race is being handled by the show to be honest. It’s that uneveness you mention, Deborah, where from moment to moment the show kind of gets it right, but then diminishes the whole thing by turning it into a romantic subplot for Libby. Now obviously I’m okay with Libby getting this kind of plot – her character needs it – but civil rights is dangerously close to being magic negroised by this show. Robert needs, very fast, to stop being a secondary character if this is going to stop being a concern.

    • I agree. It feels as though all the show’s focus on civil rights and racism has been for the sole purpose of giving Libby a new love interest, which I find extremely disappointing. Robert had the potential to be an interesting character and now it seems like he’s been reduced to Libby’s bit on the side. Also the way Libby’s own racism has been handled is strange. Libby’s appalling treatment of Coral (correcting her speech and immediately assuming that she gave the baby lice), was at least partially due to racial prejudice. I find it difficult to believe that this same woman is now interested in civil rights and is having an affair with an African-American man. I’m not saying that people can’t change but the writers of this show have not adequately explained Libby’s change of heart.

  3. “I find it difficult to believe that this same woman is now interested in civil rights and is having an affair with an African-American man. I’m not saying that people can’t change but the writers of this show have not adequately explained Libby’s change of heart.”

    It is possible hat Libby’s affair is basically her giving in to some desire to see what having sex with “an Other” is like – giving her some kind negative thrill. And it’s also possible that her interest in the civil rights movement did not erase her racial bigotry. Even those who profess to being tolerant and sympathetic to the causes of others have been known to reveal their bigotry every now and then.

    • Ben Shawn, a long time progressive cartoonist who worked for New Masses magazine (he was an avowed Communist Party member at one time, at least) was commissioned by Time to do a caricature of Dr. King for the cover. When King saw it he said “I guess there’s a little racism in all of us”. It does have a definite… 19c… vibe. Incidentally Renaissance portraits of Black subjects don’t show a trace of this. The (Western) slave-trade had just got going.

      • What should we make of the caption (Martin Luther King)?

        The Feb 1957 cover was captioned Reverend Martin Luther King with Montgomery Alabama’s as superscript.

    • Well of course where they go with this remains to be seen. That said, as Deborah points out the lovemaking scene was… well, exactly that. It was all rather idealised and romantic and didn’t appear to contain so much as a hint of the dark pleasures you describe, Liz. So basically even if they do go on to complicate things a bit, for this viewer at least things are still going to feel a little uneven and bumpy. Anyway, for me it’s when you take all these things together that it really irks. Unless the show changes up pretty fast, Libby getting her magical moment with a magical earthy black man who really sees her *and* the opportunity to atone for her sins by joining the civil rights cause just seems off somehow – clumsy, insensitive and dumb. Give me Peggy’s clumsy, unsalvageable interactions with Dawn any day!

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