Masters of Sex: Mirror, Mirror
September 2, 2014 7:19 PM - Season 2, Episode 8 - Subscribe

Masters privately treats a couple for infertility, without revealing his relationship to them. Johnson realizes her work with Masters can be used to help people suffering from sexual dysfunction - but quickly gets in over her head when she attempts to treat Barbara Sanderson on her own. Libby is unnerved after witnessing a hate crime that is then whitewashed by the police.
posted by oh yeah! (5 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't believe it took me all the way to this episode to recognize "Barbara Sanderson" as Betsy Brandt, the actress who played "Marie Schrader" in Breaking Bad.

I've been enjoying this season a lot. I feel like not a lot of people are watching the show (as the lack of participation in threads here implies) and I don't really understand why that is, especially given Caplan's Emmy nomination.

Speaking of, both Allison Janney ("Margaret Scully") and Beau Bridges ("Barton Scully") got nominations for Outstanding Guest performances in this show, and Janney won, and I've really missed them this season. Both nominations and Janney's award were well-deserved and while the other supporting actors on the show are giving good performances and are strong characterizations, generally, the Scullys were truly outstanding and on par with Caplan and Sheen.

Julianne Nicholson as "Lillian DePaul" was nearly as good, though not quite, but we've lost her. Caitlin Fitzgerald as "Libby" is doing a fine job, but between how the character is written and how she's performed it, I don't think she's carrying the significant load they've given her sufficient to the show's needs. I don't think it's the actor's fault, primarily, but an even better actor might have made it work. I don't know.

I was surprised the other day to realize how quickly this season has passed. I'm not sure what I think about the two year time-jump -- I appreciated the clever approach to portraying it, though I don't think it entirely worked. And regardless of whatever historical basis might require it, I'm not convinced that it was necessary. I'm left feeling sort of that here near the end of the season I'm waiting for the season to really get into its heart. But it's too late for that.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:10 PM on September 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this is a strong show with mostly compelling performances but it feels a little ... I don't know, meandering right now. It doesn't have a ton of confidence in its approach, and I don't think it helps that the story keeps (necessarily) lurching from location to location so that it has to strain to find continuity with anyone in the cast but the Masters family and Johnson.

I'm guessing the jumps in time have something to do with the way the showrunners are trying to line up the seasons of the show with the overarching story they want to tell, which is of course based on real people and events, so their choices are limited.

On a macro level, I feel like it's trying to find its way. But moment by moment and scene by scene, it's one of the best things on TV. Maybe people have let their Showtime subscriptions go on hiatus as they wait for the next season of Homeland to roll around. It's definitely suffering in the ratings this year, either because people just aren't interested or because it no longer has Homeland as a lead-in. Kind of a shame. And I've always wondered if a large audience wouldn't be put off by the subject matter — lots of sex, a not especially likable lead character, said lead's unusual and occasionally unsettling affair with a co-worker right at the center of the story ... the show really feels genuinely pervy at times. Which is of course one of its strengths, but I always feel like American viewers demand their titillation straight-up rather than with a twist.
posted by Mothlight at 7:02 PM on September 6, 2014

"Which is of course one of its strengths, but I always feel like American viewers demand their titillation straight-up rather than with a twist."

I think it's rarely titillating because there's almost always a lot of tension underlying the sex, or it's clinical and unappealing. Which I think is the point.

Sex is complicated and while M&J deserve a huge amount of credit for approaching it empirically -- because I think they did a lot of good both scientifically and socially -- I think that all the weirdness in their personal lives with regard to sex is quite deliberate of the show, and rightly so, as a way of making it very clear that sex isn't as simple as a set of clinically observed physiological responses. That's a theme they've been progressively exploring within the context of M&J's work, within the context of the interplay between Bill and Virginia.

In an earlier thread, someone characterized much of the show as like a soap opera, which I thought was totally wrong, but revealing.

It's a show about sex and about how people think and feel about sex and about our culture's recent changing understanding and relationship with sex.

If you expect it to be a docudrama about Masters and Johnson's work, you're going to be disappointed because this is a fictionalized narrative that is integrating an essential theme into the work -- that sex is messy and complicated and about people and their relationships and inner-lives.

And if you expect it to be titillating, to be a fun, prurient romp, then you're going to be disappointed because, frankly, that would be an insult to M&J's work and the subject matter. Additionally, I'll agree that the show does sometimes place the sex into the titillation context. While the clinical stuff shows us a very stark reality of sex as bodies and physiological reactions, the show doesn't portray all the other sex in a strict realistic way that would be far from titillating. Real sex isn't (mostly) like that. The show pretties it up, it makes it seem like it's trying to titillate us. My read is that it mostly fails at this because it isn't actually trying to titillate us. It's trying for an uncanny valley of titillation, so to speak, that unsettles us as much as anything else. And I think they're doing this because they're showing us that real sex isn't either the raw clinical stuff, or the pornified stuff, but something in the middle that is often psychologically uncomfortable, especially for observers. Most especially for observers, which we are.

There are layers of meaning in this. I think one reason that so many of the individual scenes and performances are as strong as they are, as you pointed out, is because there's really quite a powerful vision behind the aim of the show and its writing. That causes it to work in the moment. Like you, I think it's having difficulty with its longer-term narrative. Structurally, it's not working very well and I think it's because at this level the showrunner(s) don't have a strong or coherent vision. They know what they show is about, and that comes through in the individual scenes and many episodes, but they don't quite know how they're going to get from here to there.

But, regardless, I think that the show hasn't done well with its audience because a large portion of its potential/erstwhile audience is one of the two varieties I mentioned previously, and then another large portion are people who think that the scientific investigation of sexuality and the sexual mores of the 50s is utterly irrelevant to them. I sort of feel like this would be similar to a show about the civil rights struggles during that era, or a show about women's rights struggles of that era. There's a bunch of people who believe that this is ancient history, that it's irrelevant, that these issues no longer really exist, and that the concerns and people portrayed are utterly unlike themselves. I think they're very, very wrong, but I suspect that's part of why the show seems to have limited appeal.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:35 AM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can't disagree with any of that. At least Showtime must be OK with the show's performance, since it's coming back for a third season -- then again, I can't imagine it costs much produce and I'd imagine they're happy with the Emmys attention even when the ratings are iffy.
posted by Mothlight at 6:04 AM on September 9, 2014

I think the writing this season has been just terrible, and my girlfriend can't get over how horrible it is that Virginia is sleeping with her boss to keep her position in the study. (Which is covered earlier in the season.) I do think the actors are trying their best, but it's the writing that's suffering. It's as if the various writers for the season weren't comparing notes and keeping threads going properly. You can applaud the time jump a couple of episodes ago, it was handled well, but we didn't get ANY fallout from Virginia about Lillian's suicide, even though Virginia was broken up about Lillian the previous episode. That's just one example of my point about the writing this season getting sloppy.

Plus Bill Masters is at this point an unredeemable asshole.
posted by Catblack at 6:10 PM on February 15, 2015

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