Sunday, September 6, 2015

REVIEW: 'Masters of Sex' - Bill, Virginia, Dan and Libby Have to Figure Out What They Want in 'High Anxiety'

Showtime's Masters of Sex - Episode 3.09 "High Anxiety"

In the weeks following a tragic loss, Libby tries to mask her feelings by setting Paul up with a friend. Bill continues his surrogacy program, now under the critical eye of Virginia, in which Lester volunteers as their first male surrogate.

The theme of this third season of Masters of Sex seems to be "people connecting to people they shouldn't be connecting to." The dynamics that have shaped these characters' lives in the past are no longer the foundation for their interactions. The relationship between Bill and Virginia was something truly special in the early days of their research. And now, they have pulled away from each other during a time where they should be united as they embrace the public spotlight that accompanies their book. Instead Virginia has grown much more comfortable with Dan Logan and the scent study while Bill has been focused on promoting the book and starting the surrogacy program - which now includes a closer relationship with Nora. Elsewhere, Libby is much more in love with Paul than Bill, Betty and Helen are stuck in an awkward three-way relationship, Bill is more willing to be a father to Dennis than to Johnny, and even people like Barton and Margaret have struggled to find people they are comfortable being with.

It's a very delicate theme that the show has established this season. It's not all that subtle though. The opening minutes of "High Anxiety" feature Virginia being intimate with the two men in her life. That sequence physically shows just how much she has changed this season. She only looked at Dan in that way in the first place to avoid falling into the trappings everyone expects of her with Bill. Their affair has had disastrous results in both of their lives. She's trying to do something different that is perhaps better for her. Her connection with Dan is genuine. Sure, they are still in the bubble of their love for each other. The real world is slowly creeping in with the fact that their research has reached its conclusion. The scent study was a waste of time with no meaningful results. And yet, both want to stay with each other despite the real world pulling them apart. That stands in contrast with her current dynamic with Bill. It's easy for the two of them to be together. They still spend so much time together. And yet, they've lost almost all intimacy in their relationship. Bill still wants to feel that closeness with her but she isn't capable of forgetting or forgiving what is happening at work while they are in bed together. She simply wants him to climax more quickly so that she can get back to what she'd rather be doing.

Bill and Virginia just don't understand each other anymore. They've become different people. They work together and are both passionate about the work. But they no longer compliment each other the way that they did in the past. I suppose the book was the point in time that caused this divide. The thrust into the spotlight forced them to look at what's next professionally. They were allowed the ability to explore different avenues of their research. That has resulted in them doing separate studies. Virginia is excited by the scent study while Bill is convinced the surrogacy program can do great things. They are somewhat blinded by their own opinion with both studies though. Virginia has legitimate concerns about sex surrogates but Bill doesn't care what she thinks. Meanwhile, Bill can't disassociate Dan's influence as the thing that caused this change in Virginia. She has changed because of their investor. But that hasn't been a bad thing. Dan is more aware of her feelings than Bill ever was. That's a huge component of this separation. There's a reason why the two end the episode in the embrace of different people and not each other.

At this point in time, Virginia and Bill do understand Dan and Nora better than each other. Virginia is doing whatever it takes to give Dan a reason to stay in St. Louis. He has changed his life in order to be with her. That could be very self-destructive for both of them at the end of this season. But right now, their intimacy is something they both want to cherish. They've had horrible past relationships. This doesn't feel like that. But then again, their past relationships all started well too. Meanwhile, Bill is prone to freak out on people when he doesn't get his way. He does so to Betty when she doesn't find out what he wants about Virginia and Dan. And then, he does it again when Nora, his best surrogacy student, crosses the line during the first official treatment. It's because he is furious with his regular life that he has outbursts like this. He doesn't understand the world around him as much as he used to. He believes he's doing his best to make things work. But he's not. Not even close. But he is able to understand Nora in a way that he doesn't with anyone else at the moment. He's ready to fire her after one mistake. Then she tells him about her abusive childhood which is a story he is able to connect to. Instead of firing her, they share dinner together in the lobby. It's a dynamic that never becomes intimate or sexual. But it really is just lying under the surface between the two of them.

Elsewhere, it was a very strong idea to pair Austin with Betty and Helen during this part of the season. Sure, their story is largely tangential to the overall narrative. Betty's problems at work don't pop up in her personal life. They are able to nourish this new three person dynamic despite their massive failure at trying to foul Bill last week. Austin's depressed state over losing his children shouldn't really work because he's not that great of a character and the audience only briefly met his children a long time ago. And yet, the enthusiasm and concern that Betty and Helen express make the story work. It's uncertain how this story will develop. Austin could easily be the ex-boyfriend who lingers after the breakup. But he's a man searching for purpose in his life. That's what everyone is doing on the show right now. They are trying to figure what they want in life and then going after it.

Some more thoughts:
  • "High Anxiety" was written by Jonathan Igla and directed by Dan Attias.
  • The suicide note fake out was a completely unnecessary story beat with a very lame explanation in the end. Though it is amusing that Helen treats it seriously upon first reading it while Betty and Austin both question how one would be able to get to the top of the St. Louis Arch.
  • Libby may not have any more love to give following Robert's death. But she does know she wants something with Paul more than she wants it with Bill. That is meaningful and could set up an interesting divorce for a married couple who don't really act like a married couple.
  • Dan and Virginia have been able to be as intimate as they have been with no concern for his wife because they have a mutual understanding of being with other people. That's an explanation that perhaps should have come earlier in the season.
  • Football season is over which means Bill no longer has to be a reluctant coach. But him offering advice and knowledge to Dennis is still ongoing. And it is still such a dreadful story beat. All it does is point out that Johnny really is just like his father in his reaction to the situation. But that's something that the show painfully has to telegraph to the audience with absolutely no nuance or consequences.
  • Virginia sure is comfortable with her children spending more and more time with George lately. He was still very irresponsible the last time the audience saw him. Did that ever change?