Masters of Sex Season 2 ended with a cry of anguish for almost all concerned. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised was, as a title, disappointing. In retrospect, it is literal: Masters and Johnson will not air a television special, certainly not a revolutionary one. Meanwhile, the subversive and angry intent of the title’s origin is lost. That seems like title abuse.
There were five basic threads of the Masters of Sex season finale: Ginny and her custody issue, Bill’s impotence, Barbara and Lester, Flo and Austin, and Libby’s affair with Random Black Sex Machine With No Discernible Personality. I may be broadcasting how I feel about that last one a little bit.
It really horrifies me that Masters of Sex is using the fight for civil rights, of all things, to marginalize a black man and treat him as nothing so much as a foil for Libby’s rebellion against her marriage. He’s her personal Magical Negro, except this trope, as defined by Spike Lee, is normally asexual, which wouldn’t do on this show. So he’s a Magical Negro with an Outstanding Ass. Robert shows no personality, no consistency, and no actual desire for Libby, except that he keeps fucking her. He’s just a blank slate; committed to a cause conveniently located for Libby, proper except when she seduces him, virtually expressionless. Given the racist history of the perception of black male sexuality, this is problematic at the very least, and making him a civil rights leader adds insult to injury.
I understand that the writers are trying to parallel Libby and Virginia, but it’s just not working for me. Virginia losing her children is not analogous to Libby having only her children, and I have no interest in yet another “can we have it all?” conversation. Caitlin FitzGerald is doing wonderful work as Libby, making her vulnerable, desperate, and painfully self-effacing, but that doesn’t erase the script problems.
This show is brilliant with a tight lens on its main characters. Whether discovering a treatment for impotence that is sexy, loving, compassionate, and effective, or working at cross-purposes on their television special, Masters and Johnson are the heart and soul of this show, and every moment where either or both is on-screen is powerful. Ginny’s increasingly brittle attempts to hold on to, and then release, her children, is heartbreaking. Throughout the episode, she is more and more tightly wound, and it’s a testament to Lizzy Caplan’s abilities that Virginia never becomes shrill, or strange, she simply becomes tighter, and tighter, and tighter, until the final snap. She has lost her children. She is destroyed. It’s a terrible thing to witness.
More so when we learn that Bill has created the situation, or at least, he knows that Virginia will believe he did. In fact, I can’t help but doubt that a judge would really have returned Virginia’s children to her primary custody. It was a pipe dream on the face of it. First, there has to be a reason to reopen custody–you can’t just waltz into court whenever you’re annoyed. There has to be a change of circumstance. In the current situation, George’s new marriage constitutes such a change, and the absence of a signed agreement opens the door to a hearing anyway. But the airing of a television special would not likely be seen as a change. In addition, courts recognize that stability is important to children. Having moved them once recently, a court would be unlikely to do so again soon after. Now, in 1962, custody favored the mother very heavily, so it’s possible that I’m wrong, but in 1962, the world was far more prudish, and I cannot imagine that CBS would somehow make Virginia’s job seem less smutty (particularly if George raised the issue of Virginia “working” until midnight).
Virginia believed she could get her children back because she had to believe something. That it was Bill who undercut her would enrage her. She has given up so much for him, and for the work, and she believes deeply in both, but now she may have crossed an irreparable line. Bill, knowing this, can never be fully honest with her, even if honesty was his inclination.
While tragedy howls around Virginia, while Libby suffers and Bill suffers his complicity in each of their pain, the unexpected return of Barton Scully was truly a breath of fresh air. Words cannot express how I love Beau Bridges on this show. The simplicity of his presence is so honest that it grounds everything. His little speech is enormously contrived—he is Yoda, giving Bill exactly the wisdom about partnership and trust that he needs at exactly the right moment. Despite the contrivance, I love how it tied everything together.
Here, then, is the cure for impotence, the root of romance, the study, all of it: Partnership and trust. Bill trusting Virginia in the office and in bed. Lester and Barbara learning from each other, not from “sex experts” or hookers. Barton talks about trusting Margaret. He has a way to go, I’m sure; he has to learn to trust himself, and he may never do that, and trusting his wife seems to mean allowing her to have sex outside marriage. Well, more power to them both for working something out. At least someone is happy.
I’ve little to say about Austin and Flo. He has just discovered he’s a dumb blond, and we’re supposed to care. I feel I can speak for Basketcases as a whole when I say, we don’t.
Lester and Barb, on the other hand, moved away from cliché into sweet, and I am glad the episode ended on a note of hope for their relationship.
So, Basketcases, what did you think?