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.