Masters of Sex, Season 2, Episode 2: “Kyrie Eleison”
Written by David Flebotte
Directed by Michael Apted
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on Showtime
In case you haven’t already scuttered over to Google for quickie research, “Kyrie Eleison” means “Lord have mercy” in Greek. A bit of an on-the-nose name for an episode about people having to put up with all manner of off-kilter bullplop, but it works. While steeped in an unfortunate sophomore episode downturn after the premiere, this was still a good week. The show is still shifting gears as it maneuvers the leads into the place they’ll need to be to re-start the sex study.
The episode opens by signaling that we’re not there yet, as Gateway Memorial isn’t willing to take Gini on as an equal lead on the study. She can’t even come on as Bill’s secretary, since one’s been provided for him (Betsy Brandt!), but that’s fine by her, since her secretarial days are well behind her. Unfortunately, the rest of her story in the episode is a comedown from her assertion of her own independence at its start, as she keeps inflicting well-meaning but drastically miscalculated pushes on Lillian. First there’s the disastrous PSA shoot, and then there’s her insistence that Lillian get a test which confirms what she already knew: her cancer has metastasized.
The running theme to this episode is how people battle to assert that they know what’s best for others. It’s the concern of its central story, in which Bill butts heads with a woman who believes that sterilizing her teenage daughter is a surefire way to “cure” her rabid sexual appetite. It’s also the focus of Libby’s b-plot, in which she chafes against the new nanny (Keke Palmer!) when the latter proves to know a few things more than Libby does about caring for infants.
That subplot brings out a side of Libby that we’ve never seen before — her inner Betty Draper. Coral effortlessly calming the colicky baby and humiliating Libby in front of Bill leads to Libby nastily “correcting” Coral’s elocution. It’s a horridly effective scene, Libby’s coldness boosted by a deeply uncomfortable flavor of racism. As Libby confessed in an earlier, friendlier exchange with Coral (the fact that they started off on good terms makes the degeneration all the worse), she expected the baby to “fix” things with Bill, but she’s now realizing that’s just not happening. And it’s starting to crack her spirit.
Other characters run through their own disappointments. Gini’s appointment with Dr. Ditmer, so promising when they set it in the previous episode, turns to rot pretty quickly, as she realizes that his interest in the workings of Ulysses is much more puerile than professional. Her drubbing continues with an unfortunate confrontation with Vivian (between that scene, her confession to Bill, and her dressing-down of Dr. Langham, Rose McIver was on fire this episode). Bill learns the truth about Scully, which both sends him into an emotional down and strengthens his resolve that his mission to bring sexual practice into the light of day is an important one.
In his one big contribution to the episode, Dr. Langham gives Gini a brief but strangely enlightening lecture on “turning into the skid” when bumps in the road come around. We see that in practice with Betty, who goes through the charade of getting fertility treatments from Bill, even though everyone except Pretzel King knows that’s not going to help anything. But Betty also gets to deliver a refutation to everyone who erroneously thinks they know best, telling Rose, the girl over whom Bill is fighting an ethical battle, about her own slut-shaming mother. She admits that half-blinding her mother was perhaps a step too far, though.
The terms that Bill, Dr. Greathouse, and Rose’s mother throw around in regards to Rose illuminated their drastically different perspectives on her “condition.” Bill and Greathouse even directly square off on the subject of people who don’t act in accordance with society’s mores: “nymphomaniacs, fetishists, and homosexuals” says Bill; “sluts, perverts, and queers” says Greathouse (which is rich, given that an earlier conversation about the particulars of the study suggests that he has some “perverted” interests of his own). Greathouse is far more beholden to the accepted views, while Bill, though not quite right in his assessment (he’s still pathologizing behavior that we are now fine with (or, okay, are more fine with than we used to be)), is more compassionate and scientific. And his approach bears out, as he manages to talk Rose out of a hysterectomy and introduce her to the IUD. “You’re not your worst part” he tells her. It’s the one big win in an episode that mostly kicked the characters down (or had some of them do some kicking).
Gini and Bill are together only at the beginning and the end of “Kyrie Eleison,” with a whole lot of trouble in between. It emphasizes how they’re both floundering without each other. Hopefully the show soon gets back to some good old-fashioned sex science again, because it is sorely missed.
– Dan Schindel