Another strong, if flawed, episode of Masters of Sex. Through a Glass, Darkly, has everything that makes Masters of Sex a great show, and also much of what makes the audience suffer with frustration about how much better it can be.
Showtime doesn’t advertise this show right. AMC would be all, “Only two episodes left this season!” but Showtime is just, “Watch Masters of Sex on Sunday nights”. So we’ll be, what? Surprised when it ends? This week was very much a cliffhanger and I think they should have emphasized the tension in the ads.
Through a Glass, Darkly addressed the growing tension between Bill and Virginia, and the way this touches the other people in their lives, who respond by acting out. In this sense, Libby and Tessa are functioning as perfect parallels to each other, each engaging in sexual relationships that are meant largely to strike back at Masters & Johnson, who are absent in their own lives. Libby wants both sex and romance, and finds a handsome man who happens to be the perfect man LIVING NEXT DOOR. These writers work so hard. Tessa doesn’t care much about the romance, she is getting dual revenge: Not just for her mother’s absence, but for Virginia’s sexuality as well.
I thought Virginia had two moments that sort of encapsulated the episode. First, when she angrily asserts that women are as capable as men of separating sex from love—their own research proves this! Yes, it’s true, except Virginia herself, now that she’s in love with Dan, she finds it increasingly different to have sexual interest in Bill. Last episode, she “rejected” him with the offer of a blow job and then with a faked orgasm. This week, she was reluctant, but ultimately agreed it would work if only she didn’t have to look at him. Yes, this was significant for the research, but it was also very much about her feelings.
The other moment was at the end, when she said to Dan that seeing herself through Tessa’s eyes was like seeing herself for the first time. And now she, too, wants to punish herself, and can’t face herself, as symbolized by turning the Bible face down. A sort of sloppy symbolism for Virginia, who’s never shown any interest in religion, but whatever.
Masters of Sex struggles more with its likeable characters than its really flawed ones. The writing team has known from the beginning that Bill and Virginia are both cold, that Bill has a mean streak and Virginia is a master of staying in control and self-contained, and both are often lousy parents. Similarly, Barton Scully has always placed his closet above the needs of others, as he does this week. These characters are complex, lovable and hateable at the same time. But when the show wants a character to be good, the writers seem to really struggle with the temptation to cross the line into saintly. Betty is the ultimately (Former) Whore With a Heart of Gold. She’s like Guinan on Star Trek, omnipresent with her wisdom whenever such wisdom furthers the plot. She’s delightful to watch, but I’d really like to see her be harsh sometimes.
Similarly, Dan Logan is as perfect a boyfriend as was ever whipped up in a writer’s room. Josh Charles gives the character an underlying darkness that helps mitigate the fact that he is always exactly as understanding as Virginia needs. But damn, he’s just too perfect.
Of course, any time you start to think the episode is weak, there’s an actor ready to KNOCK YOU DEAD. This week, the dead-knocking comes from Michael Sheen as Bill Masters, pushing Nora away, collapsing in his desperate need for Virginia and Virginia alone.
And then we end with the Nora surprise, a strange sort of cliffhanger in which we learn she was colluding with Religious Guy. For what?
Since we discussed set design for a minute last week, I’ll add this week that Football Guy’s house, as well as the Masters house, violates a rule Matthew Weiner often talked about with Mad Men. People in 1964 don’t own only 1964 things. Football Guy’s house looks like it was decorated that week—he should own some things (most things, really) from the 1950s.
So what did you think, Basketcases? Is Nora nefarious? Is Dan too perfect? Who is more perfect, Dan or Betty? Or is Gay Ultrasound Guy the most perfect of all?