Sunday, September 14, 2014

REVIEW: 'Masters of Sex' - The Lights Go Out at the Clinic While Bill and Virginia Continue to Deceive Themselves in 'Below the Belt'

Showtime's Masters of Sex - Episode 2.10 "Below the Belt"

Virginia is invigorated by the prospect of finding a cure for Bill's sexual difficulties. When Bill learns of a rival study, he calls in a public relations expert to help brand his work. Libby asks Virginia to give her an alibi while she canvases a tenement for a rent strike with CORE.

Like so much of this season, the emotional center of the story is on Virginia and Bill and Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen continue to excel at that. But there is also stuff on the edges of the show that seem aimless. The narrative drive of this season has been foggy at best but the show is able to distract from that by having Caplan and Sheen share many scenes together. Things have gotten better in the last handful of episodes with Bill and Virginia adding treatment of sexual dysfunctions to their study and now with the rival study. However, that also doesn't quite feel like the story the show is most interested in at the moment. It instead is focusing on Bill's personal life and what that means now that his brother is back in town and dealing with his own impotency. Those struggles are highlighted well in "Below the Belt" - even though they feel more connected than I was expected them to be.

Frank has gotten some clarity in his life through the Alcoholics Anonymous program. And yet, blaming alcoholism isn't the be all end all for life's problems. He's quick to point out that the rest of his family may be suffering from it as well. That's the easy solution for him to justify his monstrous father as well as his absentee mother and brother. It's not that simple. Alcoholism doesn't explain all of Bill's lying or his impotency issues. Nor does it explain why Frank throws a punch at his brother while completely sober. It's a starting point to bring all these nasty issues up. Bill is now willing to recognize that Frank was abused by their father after he left. Both of them still have their issues to deal with - and they'll have to continue dealing with those issues for their entire lives. But what I loved most about that big scene between the two is how it is staged. It's late at night but Bill is almost always showed with light on his face while Frank is frequently left in the dark. Bill is our leading man so it's easy for the audience to identify with him in this situation because we've spent more time with him. Frank is the outsider to this relationship. And yet, there is darkness within both of them. Bill is no saint and Frank is willing to call him out on that and forgive him for all his past transgressions. And yet, it's a thought that Bill doesn't quite want to deal with. It's a very complicated and complex scene that is only made even better because of the staging and the two actors involved.

It is also in that vulnerable state that Bill is once again able to be intimate with Virginia. He's been beaten down and she wants to care for him. Instead he just wants to pull her close and be with her. She has been trying to figure out how to fix his problem. First by understanding the problem, applying techniques commonly used in the past and later trying something completely different for him. None of them show any kind of lasting effect. The final scene is a big accomplishment for them both. However, how will they be able to analyze what just happened? How will they be able to use this event in order to better understand sexual dysfunctions and their treatments. It's on such a personal level. I'm looking forward to the psycho-analyzation and whatever conclusions the two of them will draw from it.  

Some more thoughts:
  • "Below the Belt" was written by Bathseba Doran & Eileen Myers and directed by Adam Arkin.
  • Both Bill and Virginia are called out for deceiving themselves in this episode which is very much true. That could also be a major problem within their relationship that could be willing to explode at any given moment.
  • However, it was nice to see Virginia come clean during her therapy season with Dr. John Billingsley and it wasn't as disastrous as many feared. In fact, it may actually be a good thing for her.
  • Is it in Adam Arkin's contract that if he directs an episode of television he also has to appear in the episode? I'm not complaining. Just noting that it has happened before.
  • But Arkin's PR guy was a very nice addition. This rival study did offer up a narrative propulsion that was a nice change of pace. I'm hoping this isn't the last we've heard of it.
  • Since the big time jump, Betty hasn't had as much to do - although it has been consistent and central to the main story. So her small moment about her feelings towards a guy who could never get it up was very nice indeed. As was her interaction with Bill about the electric bill and renting out more office space.
  • Moving over to the handful of subplots, I'm just at a loss of how Austin is important to the narrative spine of the show right now. Him sleeping with Flo is awkward and funny but what is the point? To make this woman feel young, pretty and desirable again. But why is that important to the show?
  • Elsewhere, Libby is slowly gaining some respect from her co-workers at the CORE office. There's not much of a plot obstacle she needs to overcome in this episode. She convinces someone to join the rent strike - and that even occurs offscreen.
  • Lastly, Lester and Barbara had some awkward meetings but they could be a nice pairing moving forward. It does seem forced a bit. Like will every season of the show introduce a new slightly awkward girl for Lester to be in a relationship with?