“Masters of Sex” recap (2.10): How Bill Got His Groove Back

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This week, The New York TimesA.O Scott published a widely-shared essay titled “The Death of Adulthood,” in which he bemoans (or celebrates, even he isn’t clear on which) the fall of traditional American grown up-ness, which he defines as a man with a briefcase coming home to a wife with a casserole. I could debate the merits of his argument long past the point that anyone would want to listen, but I was interested to see that he describes Masters of Sex as “a prehistory of the end of patriarchy.” In other words, this show is The Hobbit and a clitoral orgasm is The Ring. While that’s an amusing idea, I’m not sure it’s quite right, since it positions Bill as the heroic Hobbit, bravely exploring an uncharted new world. In reality, Bill is more of a Gollum, a sad, broken creature who stumbled upon a powerful secret and sought to keep it all for himself. There is much more heroism in Ginny, but the past few episodes have stubbornly refused to be about her.

This episode mostly covers the same tired ground as last week, so we’re going to skim a bit. First up, Libby continues her work with CORE, although it’s unclear if she’s doing it out of genuine passion for the movement or a desire to get into Robert’s pants. Since they’re the only couple even remotely worth cheering for at this juncture, I hope they get around to kissing soon. I never expected to be rooting for Libby after the lice incident, but at least she’s working on improving herself. I’m even willing to overlook the actor who plays Libby’s disastrous turn as a guest judge on Project Runway this week. (It’s an avant garde challenge, lady. Stop talking about whether or not the clothes are wearable.)

I think Libby’s search for satisfaction and purpose outside her marriage fit in nicely with overall season two arc; I’m less certain about Austin and Flo the Cal-O-Metric lady. Austin, of course, loves his new job as a diet pill huckster, since it requires nothing more of him than charm. Er, well, but it also requires him to sleep with Flo, apparently. She orders him to make love to her or risk losing his job. It’s an almost perfect reversal of the Bill/Ginny dynamic, except that Flo has the personality of that film producer who was briefly obsessed with Shane in The L Word. Austin protests that he’s not attracted to Flo, but his boner betrays him. I don’t mean that as a joke; just because your body has a physiological reaction to sexual stimulus doesn’t mean you consent to sex. They go through with it and afterwards Austin assumes that it was a one-time thing, which Flo quickly corrects. I have a bad feeling she’s going to use her status as his medical patient as blackmail material to keep him as her sex toy.

MASTERS OF SEX (Season 2)

It seems to be another instance of the show pointing out that men were as much unwilling prisoners of sexual norms as women, but then at times it is disconcertingly played for laughs. I’ll be curious to see how this story is handled in the next couple episodes.

Lester and Barb come together this week, which I thought would really make me happy, but both of them are rather flat characters for me. First, Lester insults Barb for believing in God over science (which was the “I’m only into hard sci-fi” of its day) and then they compare tales of sexual dysfunction. And I’m not trying to quantify heartbreak here, but I don’t think “getting dumped by a woman eight times hotter than you” really compares with “your first sexual relationship being with your brother.” Also, the whole concept of two broken souls coming together to fix each other is hackneyed, and goes against the episode’s strongest theme, which is that you can’t fix another person.

Naturally, the person begging to be fixed is Bill, who begs Ginny to cure his impotence. They try everything: blowjobs, bondage…actually that’s it. They try two things, but Bill’s willy is as shy as ever. I know I’m supposed to be feeling for him and appreciating the fact that impotence is distressing to both partners but I Just. Don’t. Care. Not even Betty telling a story about a nice man she couldn’t get off could make me care, because all these stories just make the men in them sound like children who want their women to mother them and fuck them at the same time. Grow up, men.

Apparently, desperately servicing Bill’s member counts as Ginny’s story this week, because Bill himself gets to go home and have some family drama. He and his brother try an patch things up, a task made more difficult when Frank starts accusing everyone of being an alcoholic. Like, you could make a legitimate case for Bill being a substance abuser, but leave Bill’s mom alone. As much as I liked Frank last week, in this episode he is one of those insufferable people who treat sobriety as a religion and all non-teetotalers as the damned. They argue again about whether or not Frank was actually abused by their father. Frank, while being a bit tedious, is a good man at heart, and says that he forgives their father. But Bill has absorbed his hatred too completely for forgiveness; he can’t give up his hurt anymore than Gollum can give up The Ring.

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So he lashes out at his brother, calling him weak and pathetic, until finally Frances beats him bloody. As Bill stands there, bleeding and screaming and looking like he’s auditioning to play The Joker, the icy veneer melts away for a moment. Bill is briefly interesting. The problem is, he’s an interesting asshole.

After the fight, Bill meets up with Ginny and cries and bleeds on her and his boner is magically restored. Wake me up when this storyline is over.

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