Masters of Sex: “Story of My Life” Season 2 Episode 9

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“What do you tell yourself, Bill, that makes all of this okay?”

Masters of Sex has really come into its own this season. In a sea of prestigious period dramas, it jumps out at you like a great white shark…that’s suffering from sexual frustration. Week after week, I’m delighted to tune into an hour filled with brilliant performances, interesting plot direction, and wonderfully accurate costumes and set dressings. It’s a highly enjoyable thing to take in.

The show features a number of moving pieces, each individually compelling. The one problem, however, arises when you look at the story as a whole. Though there are several plotlines actively working to progress the season to its final destination, some of them feel completely adrift.

Take Libby’s arc this week, for example. On its own, it works just fine. The growing chemistry between Caitlin Fitzgerald and Jocko Sims is palpable, and it nice to see Libby doing some real good in the world. Still, this whole plotline could’ve occurred on an entirely separate show. What does Libby’s integration into the Congress of Racial Equality have to do with Masters and his study? How does it tie into the show’s central premise? Furthermore, what does it say about Libby as a character? It seems like a lot has changed during the years that passed by in “Asterion,” none of which we got to see.

These grievances are only frustrating because otherwise, this episode was absolutely excellent. Not every part of a show can be perfect, but when all but one aspect pretty much are, it can be a little irritating. Elsewhere, there was plenty of greatness.

Any time the show pulls back the curtain on Masters’ past it’s a moment of excitement. For a man who’s scientifically genius, it’s amazing to see just how socially inept he can be. So any glimpses we get as to what makes him tick are fascinating.

With “Story of My Life,” we get a reveal through his brother Frank. Masters’ brother gets him to come to one of his AA meetings under the guise that they’re meeting friends. Frank is actually up to receive a sobriety chip, and delivers a speech in front of the whole crowd. Christian Borle has a magnetic presence, which serves as the perfect foil to Michael Sheen’s tight-lipped delivery. Frank’s speech about constantly pulling a disappearing act is mesmerizing, making it all the more heartbreaking when Masters abruptly leaves the room.

What’s really interesting, is the hypocrisy we discover in Masters’ life. Frank might have lied when he said the story about getting kicked out of the car by their father was about him, but Masters lied to himself in thinking that when he left home everything was just fine. It’s another layer of an already immensely complex character, and we’re already beginning to see how it will bleed into the rest of his life, and his work.

Gini also faces an internal truth when she tries to help Barbara. After struggling through therapy sessions trying to impersonate her, she begins to realize that her pseudo-psychology is doing more harm than good. Not only does Barbara begin to suspect her molestation was her fault—Betsy Brandt is, once again, amazing—but Gini is confronted with her own demons in the process. Through a combination of both her dealings with Barbara and a conversation with Libby, she comes to wonder why she always shoots first and asks questions later.

In the middle of all this is Lester, who has a brief but important role this week. Masters still refuses to accept that physiological dysfunction in the bedroom has any correlation with psychological issues. Yet, after Lester fails to rise to the occasion with an experienced prostitute, he finally sees the light of day. Lester admits that he knew things wouldn’t work out; you need someone who truly knows you to help you through your problems. So, off the the hotel Masters goes.

The final scene in “Story of My Life” is easily the most powerful. Gini arrives at the hotel still reeling from the notion that none of their time there has ever been about the study. Masters enters with knowing that Gini is the only one who can help him. After an intense confrontation, Masters finally admits he’s impotent. The final shot, of a totally vulnerable Sheen, is both a moment of growth for Masters and a moment of exhilaration for viewers. Of course, I can’t wait to see what happens next. Masters of Sex might have its flaws, but the pros far outweigh the cons. Besides, the show figured out how to pull Betty back in just as she was beginning to float away. I’m sure they can easily get Libby back too. Grade: A-

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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