Masters of Sex: Dirty Jobs
August 4, 2014 5:51 AM - Season 2, Episode 4 - Subscribe

Langham observes Masters and Johnson exiting a hotel room and shares his suspicions with DePaul. Meanwhile, Betty attempts to conceal her infertility from Gene; and Masters tries to bring Johnson aboard as his assistant only to be thwarted by the head of the hospital, who takes a prurient interest in Masters' study.
posted by oh yeah! (2 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This episode totally stressed me out.

The worst is Libby's behavior toward Coral. I had hoped that in Coral Libby would find a confidante and a friend, but that's really a hackneyed Hollywood trope, isn't it? This is more realistic and much more infuriating. As much as it upsets me and I don't enjoy it, I think that if it proves to be in service toward building to the hackneyed Hollywood trope, it'll upset me even more.

Lillian utterly breaks my heart. I don't know if it's just me, but that character pushes all my buttons and I just want to nurture her and make everything right in her life. That's she's tragically dying is like a kind of audience torture.

I was amused at Bill's attempt to leverage homophobia to dissuade whatshisname, but also deeply annoyed by it. I really sort of think that trope has worn out its welcome -- its deployment strikes me as regressive, these days. But that guy earned his punch in the face. I think that Bill could just barely tolerate his skeeviness, but his outright lying about talking to the board about Virginia pushed Bill into nuclear rage.

And speaking of Bill's inner-self, I thought that moment between Libby and Bill when she confronts him about being fired was very well acted by both of them, but especially Michael Sheen. Bill really and truly doesn't much think about how Libby and their baby depend upon him, regardless of what he claims, but it does go to the very core of his notion of self-worth. Seeing Libby frantic and angry at the uncertainty and fear of Bill being unemployed went right to the heart of Bill's self-image. Suddenly, he was frightened and worried about himself and his decisions in a way that he otherwise had never considered. And, in that, I think he realized that he doesn't actually have a lot to hold onto, there inside himself. And so he came very close to just breaking into pieces, in a mostly understated way. Sheen portrayed this well; but so did Caitlin FitzGerald. Her affect changed dramatically as Bill began stuttering and, I think, trembling. And what I thought as I watched that was, aha, for once Libby is seeing the frightened boy that lives inside Bill and which he's gone to very great lengths to hide from her. Libby doesn't know Bill at all, although I think she suspects much; and there was something about that moment that was transformative. I might be reading it wrong; we'll see where the writers go from here.

But it's interesting when paired with last week's episode where, there as well, Bill found himself revealing much more than he intended to a woman who loves him.

One thing that you see in this show, set in an era where, according to some, men were thought to be men and unlike today, is that, in fact, they weren't. They were in many respects boys who looked to the women around them to mother them in one form or another. They were manly in their job and income, but in all other respects they depended upon their wives to materially and emotionally provide for them, to take care of them in many respects. And all while taking this completely for granted.

I deeply dislike this development with Gene and Betty. Of course I wanted the truth to come out and for Gene to accept Betty as she is, even though that's unrealistic. But this is only one step above the hooker with a heart of gold romance -- that doesn't describe Betty, but the other form of that story is the fantasy of johns falling in love with prostitutes and being loved in return. Which is extremely unrealistic; and this fantasy and its status as a trope are sexist in the same way that the MDPG trope are sexist. If the show wants to deal with this revelation realistically and seriously, then it will depict Betty being repulsed and angry with Gene about it, not relieved and strengthening the relationship. In her way, the person Betty was trying to be with Gene, though a fabrication, was honest and real in that it was who Betty wants to be, who she was trying to become. What Gene has just told her is that the fantasy she presented to him as a prostitute is the person that he loves. But that's not only a fantasy, but very much a performance of self that Betty has strongly disavowed. Gene hasn't accepted Betty for who she is, he's just told her that she's been involved in a year-long high-dollar engagement with a john.

But I don't think it will be realistic. Those tears on her face might have been of anger and disappointment, but I worry that they were meant to depict something more positive.

In a few of the previous episode threads, some people have complained that they feel the show is too much like a soap opera. But it's not a soap opera because it's not sensationalistic, really, it's about the kinds of relationships that real people had then, and still have, today. Furthermore, this is entirely appropriate because, ultimately, sex is about relationships. Even when it's about physical response, you can't take the people out of the interaction, it's a social interaction.

I don't think I've previously mentioned this, but one of the first college courses I ever took that I truly enjoyed and learned from was a Human Sexuality course I took in the spring of 1984, when I was nineteen. It was taught by a sex therapist and the textbook we used was Masters, Johnson, and Kolodny. I still have that textbook.

It wasn't perfect; but even as recently as 1984 it was still far more comprehensive, scientific, and sex-positive than the general culture and this represented, for me, the beginning of my being outspokenly sex-positive. It provided me with valuable information when I had partners who suffered from vaginismus, or who were sexual assault survivors, or just debunking folklore or helping my partners, some of whom were small town 18-22 year old women who grew up with deeply repressive messages about their sexuality, better understand their responses and experiences and possibilities. So, in a way, Masters and Johnson are heroes of mine; they have been for thirty years, my entire adult life.

And the thing is, from that course and that textbook, even given all the physiological detail and such, it was always very clear that sex exists in a social, psychological, and interpersonal context. It's absolutely true that there are all sorts of autonomic physiological responses to arousal and that orgasm, for example, isn't some nebulous completely opaque psychological enigma; but, even so, all of this physicality exists within the context of people doing people stuff.

A theme of the show is that Bill Masters, on his own, would have only approached and understood the science of this work from a very restricted and medicalized perspective but that Virginia Johnson's influence, though also rigorous and scientific, placed this into a more human context. Given that, it is entirely sympathetic to the theme of the show to explore the psychological and social context of the love and sex lives of these characters; to spend a lot of time on the subterranean. Because the actual physiology of sex itself was subterranean, culturally, and the tension between the act and the thoughts and feelings is reflected in the tension between what Virginia and Bill like to believe they are doing together, and what they actually are doing together. Because the reality is complicated and messy and difficult. Like sex.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:14 AM on August 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think this was my favorite episode of the season so far - not sure if it's the quality of the episode or just that I've gotten past the "where is this season going?" feelings that I've had since the premiere.

I had hoped that in Coral Libby would find a confidante and a friend, but that's really a hackneyed Hollywood trope, isn't it? This is more realistic and much more infuriating. As much as it upsets me and I don't enjoy it, I think that if it proves to be in service toward building to the hackneyed Hollywood trope, it'll upset me even more.

I like that they're not writing Coral as the 'Magical Negro', and, yeah, it will be annoying if they try to write Libby & Coral into some bonding friendship after all this. (I was going to say I couldn't imagine the writers going there, but they did write Ethan & Gini back together despite his hitting her in the pilot, so, I guess there's always the danger of a Libby redemption arc, but, I still don't really think they will.)
posted by oh yeah! at 7:08 PM on August 4, 2014

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