Masters of Sex: “Mirror, Mirror” Season 2 Episode 8 Review

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There’s a few credibility issues this week, as the show attempts to keep up with it’s time-jump.

Masters of Sex is a show that makes great use of its guest stars. Last season’s breakout was Allison Janney as the long-suffering Margaret Scully, and this season continues to impress with lively turns from Sarah Silverman, Keke Palmer, and Courtney B. Vance.

This week, however, the prize for best performance goes to Betsy Brandt, whose character Barbara dives into some seriously dark territory. Towards the end of last week’s stellar “Asterion,” we discover that Barbara’s vaginal opening has closed shut, making it impossible for her to have “normal” intercourse. Gini, in an attempt to both help out a friend and gain some insight on sexual deviation, tries to make a connection with her. What follows, is greatly unexpected.

On Breaking Bad, Brandt proved she could juggle both comedic and dramatic material. The same seems to be true here. Though Barbara started out as merely a bumbling secretary, this episode delves into her psyche in a truly heartbreaking way. As it turns out, her condition is the result of getting molested by her brother at a young age, along with some shaming from her mother. Brandt sells it completely, delivering an aching performance as she becomes reacquainted with an incident she had blocked from her memory.

“Mirror, Mirror,” the episode’s title, serves to highlight a recurring theme throughout the hour. In the beginning, Gini posits that men and women have a symmetry when they’re in bed together, and so every form of male deviance likely has a female counterpart. We see these male and female opposites several times. Lester’s impotence is the mirror image of Barbara’s vaginismus. Both Gini and Masters try to help out these people with their deviations as best they can, thus, in a way, becoming mirror images of each other. It makes for an interesting examination of gender similarities, particularly when paired with Betty’s assertion that physiological hinderances during sex stem from psychological burdening. Here Masters and Gini begin to enter a fascinating new area of their study: the mindset behind sexual frustration.

Unfortunately, problems arise when the show tries to keep up with the excitement of last week’s advanced plot-progression. Libby, who spends most of the episode raising funds for The Veiled Prophet Ball—a real tradition that still exists, by the way—is faced with another racial inequality plotline when she witnesses a black history teacher being beaten and then later framed for drug possession. At the behest of Robert, she considers testifying in his defense. When she brings up the subject to Masters, however, he shuts it down, saying it’s not their problem to deal with. In the end, Libby goes to Robert’s apartment to tell him she’ll help out.

Huh? This feels like a strange role-reversal. All we’ve seen so far this season is that Masters is a champion of the underprivileged, and that Libby has some disturbing racist tendencies. Now, all of a sudden, Masters is saying not to get involved and Libby is gung-ho about rushing to the aid of minorities. I’m not saying that this character development couldn’t have happened over time—especially with Masters’ dismissal from the Buell Green hospital—but with no indication of it during last week’s episode, it feels rushed and out of place.

Furthermore, Masters experiences another change of heart after an argument with Gini over whether or not they should be helping their sexually deviant patients heal. Gini is all for helping out wherever they can, but Masters insists that they stick to the research. Later, he decides to give Lester an ego boost by allowing him to be in front of the camera instead of behind it. Though the moment is sweet, it’s unclear what made him decide to do this.

Gini, for her part, also makes a leap that’s more than a little unbelievable. After Barbara denies her request to see a psychologist, Gini decides to go and see him herself—while pretending to be Barbara. I get that her character is compassionate, and willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants, but this seems pretty preposterous. Would the real Virginia Johnson really have crossed such private and professional boundaries just to help out one subject in the study? I highly doubt it, and I doubt that her TV alter-ego would do so either.

Despite these blunders in characterization, “Mirror, Mirror” still manages to end on a high note. All throughout the episode, Masters gives private fertility treatment to a man named Frank (Smash‘s Christian Borle) and his wife. We learn that Frank went to school with Masters, that he’s a recovering alcoholic, and that his last name is “Holden,” which is the name Masters uses at the hotel. It isn’t until the end, however, that we learn Frank is Masters’ estranged brother. What exactly drove them apart is unclear, but I’m extremely excited to find out. This is the kind of development that Masters of Sex excels at, and I hope to see more of it on display next week. Grade: B

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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