Before I start actually reviewing Masters of Sex Episode 3.09: High Anxiety, can we just look at this picture? What the hell is on the wall behind these ladies? The Bat Signal? Also, note the tragedy that is a St. Louis pizza box. I weep.
High Anxiety was an action-packed episode. Of course, the Mel Brooks title clues us in that it’s largely comedic, yet it explored a lot of pretty complex feelings. I enjoy the nuance with which difficult feelings are expressed; there’s Virginia’s anger at Bill and Johnny’s anger at his dad, there’s Bill’s desperation, made more ridiculous by showcasing it next to Austin’s, and there’s the lovely tentativeness of Dan and Virginia falling in love. “Just curious”, Virginia says when asking if Dan can stay in St. Louis.
Overall, this episode of Masters of Sex was extremely enjoyable, but there are some caveats, and as you might well expect, Libby and Football Guy are two of the big ones. Goodbye I Want You is so very much who Libby persists in being, and she just assumes everyone will suck it up and take her back. Robert was never a fully-fleshed character, he was there as Libby’s foil, but at least with Robert, you could see how Libby’s extraordinary privilege informs the way she toys with everyone’s feelings. Her perfect blonde beauty and her moneyed suburban comfort add up to give her a sort of invulnerability. She can say yes, and then no, and then yes, and never be punished for it. Her marriage is a sham, sure, but it’s also a shield that prevents her from suffering any consequences for her actions. She could divorce Bill, but then she’d be exposed to the real world, where if people act like assholes, they can’t just hide behind a husband until the consequences go away.
Unlike Robert, Football Guy has a personality of his own, although it’s not an interesting one. He should have stuck with Horny Divorceé.
Austin, on the other hand, has LOADS of personality, and his regression into “Mommy feed me” was hilarious. I wondered at first why Betty and Helen tolerate him. This is someone ripe to be kicked out. But both of them have spent a lot of their lives tolerating difficult and demanding people–Betty as a prostitute (and then working for Bill), Helen as a palmist.* They are used to sucking it up and making nice, and being closeted in that era plays into that as well. You live a life of not making waves. Presumably, they were also placating someone whose continued help they might need–getting pregnant on the first try being unlikely, although certainly possible. Congratulations, Helen and Betty! You crazy kids.
*Having worked as a tarot reader intermittently for many years, I assure you that people seeking that kind of advice can be incredibly needy. I have terrific clients, and I have also had to learn how to turn away complete loons.
Virginia wins the episode, though. Her delicate balance of self-sufficiency while she falls in love with Dan, and under Bill’s increasing demands as he senses the presence of a rival, is just phenomenal. What’s going on in that love triangle is stellar, and makes up for the weaknesses of the episode. The careful way she tries to maintain coolness as Dan prepares to leave her is devastating. The way she responds to Bill is kind of heartbreaking. It’s easy to recognize that move towards a blow job as the response of a disinterested woman who wants to shut a man up, and when that is rebuffed she fakes orgasm. Virginia, of all people, faking it, and Bill, of course, falling for it. Bill didn’t even understand that women might fake orgasm, or why, at the beginning of Season 1. As usual, the heart of my fascination can be attributed to Lizzy Caplan’s performance, both coolly distant, yet warm and revealing. She’s a wonder. And Michael Sheen is no slouch either.
Speaking of performances, Emily Kinney is still absolutely wonderful as Nora, but her part was weaker this week. Giving a speech about her sad childhood was a little too on the nose, I think. She did great with the material, and Michael Sheen was amazing as he walked a tightrope as she revealed that it was his explosive anger that was attracting her to him. I still think this will end up as an affair but I love how they dance around it right now.
What did you think, Basketcases? Are you Nora/Bill shippers? Or Virginia/Dan? Or do you want Masters and Johnson to live experimentally ever after?