It’s amazing how much of a
360 180 Masters of Sex can do. The difference between last week’s Monkey Business and this week’s Surrogates is a case in point, as the show has gone, in two weeks, from rock bottom to excellence. With Monkey Business, not only was it kind of weird and creepy, it was also hard to understand the point. But the latest episode of Masters of Sex was not merely enjoyable, it also worked its themes and motifs extremely well. (Almost) all of the characters were true to themselves, true to what we know of their back stories, and firing on all cylinders.
Is it a coincidence that none of the children were seen this week? An episode without Johnny or Tessa works remarkably well, no? And speaking of Bill and Virginia’s various progeny, what was the point of that whole pregnancy? Now that it’s over, we never seen the baby at all, and she does very little to complicate Virginia’s life.
The idea of surrogacy was introduced thematically (albeit sloppily) last week, and it’s obviously here in Surrogates–people seeking for something that isn’t quite what they really want, because it’s the best they can get. As Betty says, it’s their only choice. This applies to Jane and Lester playing out the combat of their marriage through the surrogacy program, it applies to Libby (I’ll get to her), and it applies to Betty and Helen. However, I see much more interest than that in Surrogates.
The real story here seems to be about gift-giving. There’s an extraordinary spirit of generosity permeating the episode, from Betty and Helen finding a way to help Austin and vice versa, to Virginia and Dan helping the heroin-addicted would-be thief, to the volunteer surrogacy program itself. Now, the surrogacy program has been specifically contrasted with prostitution, and we could surely say that Austin prostitutes himself, as he’s being paid for his surrogacy. But it’s really desperate people helping each other, and I find it very touching. The contrast of what we pay for/what we do for free is subtle here–note that one of the surrogates being interviewed asks if she gets “paid more” for something, even after being told she is a volunteer–four or five women walk out when told they won’t be paid, but this woman had stayed. It’s like, she can think she’s being generous, but her brain is still in “pay me” mode, and this contrasts with Austin and Betty and Helen, who are paying each other, but really just helping each other.
Despite the aforementioned absence of kids in Surrogates, children was certainly a motif–sparing the heroin addict because he reminds Virginia of Henry, Helen and Betty’s desperate ploy for children, and Austin longing for his own children.
Deception is always a part of Masters of Sex, and it is kind of a part of surrogacy as well–here is what I really want and cannot get, here is what I’ll get instead, here is the lie I tell to myself and/or others in order to accept it. So Betty confronting Bill about his ongoing bullshit was welcome, and fun, and totally on-point. Also on-point is Dr. Scully getting gaydared by New Cute Gay Doctor. Boy did I see that one coming the minute the guy started talking. And good–I hope Scully finds a way to appreciate Classical music in more life-affirming ways.
Emily Kinney, formerly of The Walking Dead, joins the cast this week as Nora, and gives a warm and delightful performance. For reasons that elude me, we’re back talking about women helping male animals again. It’s not less gross with stallions than with gorillas, but Nora’s openness and clarity make it seem like just a little piece of a bigger conversation about acceptance of our animal natures, rather than bestiality. Her entire introductory interview just warmed my heart–she gave more, and had more presence, than in three seasons of The Walking Dead. Do we think Bill Masters will have an affair with her? Yes we do.
My “almost” in praising this show has, again, to do with Libby. I appreciate that she struck a different note, other than the yelling hysterically note which has been her go-to mode this season. But the tragic romance that ended tragically isn’t going to work for me as an explanation, sorry. I am on record as disliking her “relationship” with Robert. Robert was simply never a fully-fleshed character, he was a personality-free Handsome Black Man onto whom Libby could project her desires and frustrations. Then they had attractive sex on the floor and he was never heard from again. Now, all these years later, we learn this is because he died conveniently off-screen so that she can proclaim tearfully how much he cared for her. It’s just such a load of manure, and it’s frustrating because the rest of the episode really was so good.
Looking over this review, I realized I didn’t talk about Virginia and Dan, even though the bulk of screen time was given to their relationship. Dan Logan is so sweet to her, and seems so effortlessly to just get her, that he’s becoming more Prince Charming than man, but I am utterly charmed despite myself. I can eat those two up, I really can. Josh Charles really makes the character believable.
What do you all think? How’d you like child-free Sex (see what I did there)?