This week, Carrie Raisler of The A.V. Club joins Kate …
Masters of Sex
the title of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” forebodes that the news story on the Masters/Johnson study doesn’t make it to air. But, while it was never beyond expectations that Bill would be the cause of the story’s failure, one wouldn’t have guessed that he would stop the segment by outright sabotaging it. And it’s doubtful that anyone guessed that rival sex researcher Dr. Kaufman’s assistant would be none other than our old fiend Ethan
Even to someone who’s bad at taking notice of a lot of production design in film and TV, Bill Masters looks wrong with a regular tie instead of a bow tie. Of course, when he’s put in front of a camera, everything about him feels off. The man’s already extremely uncomfortable in his own skin, and the task of explaining his work to an audience of millions is daunting, to say the least. And that’s before the considerations of national television come into play — censorship (and lots of it), having to “dumb down” his talk without sounding prurient, and most troubling, having to use “creative reenactment” to fill out the story. Bill is obsessed with even the most minute details of how the study is perceived, to the point where even the slightest chance that the public could be misled about it sets him off.
“Everyone has their own version of everything that’s ever happened.” There’s more weight and truth to these words Ann Dowd speaks than in any of the many speeches she got to deliver in The Leftovers. It’s an easy sentence to seize upon as a master key to interpreting the ideas in “Below the Belt,” but “easy” doesn’t mean “unintelligent.” It’s there from the opening scene, in which Gini confesses to her psychiatrist that she’s set all their sessions up as a charade to try to help Barb. It’s in the fundamental misunderstanding between Langham and Flo about the nature of their new sexual relationship. And of course, it’s at the heart of the episode’s biggest conflict, as Bill and Frank clash over whose version of their past is the truth.
This season of Masters of Sex appears to be shaping up to be more like two mini-seasons aired consecutively. The first six episodes had Masters, Johnson, and their sex study bouncing willy-nilly between different hospitals. There was a minorly conclusive note by the midway point, what with Lillian dying, Libby settling her feud with Coral by firing her, Bill and Gini getting kicked out of Buell Green, and Betty’s marriage collapsing. The back half has seen the study finally settled into a home, with the opening of its own clinic, and new characters have been introduced (along with a few old ones not seen since season 1 coming back). This show is not settling into a lull by any means. The lack of cohesion in the central narrative is frustrating, but the series has consistently upped its game in every other respect this season, so I don’t feel compelled to complain too much.