Masters Of Sex: “Asterion”
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Masters Of Sex: “Asterion”

The ongoing search for fellow sufferers

Last week, for the first time ever in a review, I offered a painful portion of my own past. This week, I was reminded (by Libby Masters of all people, again!) how self-centered that was, as she yells at Bill in this episode: “Point to one person in this entire world who isn’t suffering!”

And she’s right: Everyone has something that they’re dealing with. In “Asterion,” we see our Masters Of Sex characters all adrift and searching for their anchor, the person who will make them feel anything but alone. Most times on MOS, it’s not even the person these characters are married to; still, hopeful connections remain, and they don’t have to be sexual ones: Bill and Betty are closely tied because they have been there for each other in the past. Libby needs Essie in her life, so contacts her behind Bill’s back. And Bill continues to search for the truth on his study because he still wants to fill the hole within himself. But deep down he knows it’s not the work that fills it: It’s Virginia.

I don’t even want to speculate on what the theme of this episode is. It’s worth so much more than that. There are time-jump episodes and then there are sagas like this one, that seamlessly move our story forward by a couple of years, using amazing cuts and progressions: the transformation of the building that Masters’ clinic is in (like the jump from the Communist headquarters to CORE), Lester’s helpfully dated clapboards, even the women’s hairstyles tweaked into 1960s poufiness. I loved it, as “Asterion” kicked MOS’s slow season-two plot progression finally into high gear.

Of course, being MOS, the plot progression is surrounded by some amazing performances, and this week the crown must go to Michael Sheen. His speech about how he still feels the sting of “the betrayal of that kind of wife who just comes in and opens you up and just leaves. That is a wife who can not be forgiven,” didn’t just leave Elliot reeling. Bill’s visits to an alleyway prostitute in an attempt to cure his Virginia-driven impotence are downright shocking, and his actions to both Virginia and his wife are beyond cruel. I’m always impressed when an actor can have a character perform heinous acts and still retain a sympathetic element, and Michael Sheen achieves that here without Jon Hamm’s eternal charm. Is it the way he smiles when he’s not sure how to react to something? Or the rage he displays when he’s finally unleashed? Or the fact that he finally decides to forgive his mother: not all the way, but even a little bit, which may be enough for his healing process to at least begin.

Almost all of our old favorites return this episode: Lester, Austin, Elliot (who is much savvier than we suspected), Elise, even Flo, the Cal-O-Metric lady. Best of all, the study is finally back in full force! The hilarity (the guy who ejaculates in under five seconds; the one who can’t find his mark on the floor) and light-hearted progress the study offers was sorely missing on this show, allowing a needed break from Masters’ dark, inner recesses.

Another loss this season was the departure of the Scully family, which offered deeper looks into issues like closeted homosexuality in the ’50s and a middle-aged woman’s orgasmic awakening, all valuable sexual viewpoints from the other side of the study. It looks like Betsy Brandt’s return this episode may help remedy that, as poor Barbara lacks a vaginal opening. As Gini points out, the doctor’s name in the study may draw these interesting types of cases, people they may be able to help, which again, would certainly add a lot to the series.

I thought Lester’s aside about the Windjammer was intriguing, so I looked it up: It’s a 1958 documentary (filmed in Cinemiracle!) about a real-life crew of 50 Norwegian boys on a sailing ship. Louis de Rochemont, a documentarian who made the old March Of Time newsreels, produced Windjammer, and his son, Louis de Rochemont III, directed it. As Lester described it, this documentary film showed all the drama that is available in real life. It explains why Lester would try to use these same techniques to film all aspects of the Masters and Johnson study, as they discover the drama in real life as well.

And so much drama! MOS continues to play out these relationships as they would likely unfurl in reality: Betty gets divorced, Bill and Libby drift apart, and Langham finds himself alone yet again. Both Elise and Gini point to irreparable acts: Gini says that what she and Bill have can’t be undone, no matter how much he snipes at her. There’s no way Elise could ever take Austin back (he slept with her sister!), even though he feels hollow without her, adrift, without an anchor. She says: “As much as you want to unring the bell, it’s rung. And when that happens, all you can do is listen.” So the “fellow sufferers,” as Gini and Bill describe themselves, find each other yet again, as they can’t tell where one of them stops and the other begins.

But “Asterion” indicates that some things can be repaired: Mainly, Bill’s relationship with his mother. I did not see the money trail that Bill did, that the women in his life conspired to trickle money back into the business for him. But I so appreciated everything Essie said, about how her job was not to judge, but to love, and how even though she knows how much she failed him as a child (he tells Gini that he knows “what children carry through from their childhoods”), she is so proud of him now. As this episode closed with Masters coming to terms with his mother, possibly finally beginning to patch the hole within him, and the film went grainy and then to black, I actually stared at the screen and said, “Wow.” I don’t know the last time I’ve done that, and as you can imagine, I watch a lot of TV. But episodes like “Asterion” offer so much more than I ever expected when I started watching a show called Masters Of Sex.

Stray observations:

  • “Didn’t know they had postcards in Bitch Town.”
  • I have to say, I did not miss those opening credits at all.
  • Bill Masters: Driving women to smoke all over mid-20th century St. Louis.
  • I leave it to the mythology buffs among you to decipher the title “Asterion” (although two weeks ago we were “Giants,” last week in-flight “Blackbird”s, and now we’re in the sky), but a perfunctory search led me to the discovery that Asterion was another name for the Minotaur. Could that be our Bill Masters, head of a bull, heart of a human? He does get pretty monstrous this episode.
  • “Some men come home to fame and fortune, some to measure ejaculate.” So glad Lester is back.
  • Also great: Betty rising to the occasion by getting her real estate and accounting degrees, and becoming the brains of the office. I especially liked her interaction with the podiatrist: “Feet are not a joke.” “I know that. They’re a business.”

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