Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Masters Of Sex: “Mirror, Mirror”

Illustration for article titled Masters Of Sex: “Mirror, Mirror”

After the plot-propelling energy of last week, this week’s Masters Of Sex episode was undoubtedly going to be a bit of a letdown, but I wasn’t expecting “Mirror, Mirror” to be quite so…dark. We can find lots of parallels thanks to the obviousness of the episode title: Masters’ two “wives” are mirror images of each other, Libby light, Gini dark; Masters’ brother is a distorted mirror image of himself (same medical school, same semen count); Barbara and Lester share reflective stories in a cross-cut scene that points to what I believe is the real theme of the episode: When we’re in bed with someone, our emotional connection is not just to them, but also to everything in our past that came before them, and it’s the same for our partner. The intimacy of sex opens up regions of our minds that would probably stay closed otherwise.

Spurred by Gini, Masters and Johnson decide to tackle sexual dysfunction, using terms that I fortunately was not familiar with before now, like “vaginismus” and “dyspareunia.” I suppose that Gini commenting on the “symmetry” of the sex act as the researchers observe yet another coital couple is supposed to highlight how clinical full-on observation was for the researchers. But having the couple as a background for Lester’s father’s eulogy is a failed attempt at juxtapositional humor, and just seems cruel to Lester, who appears to have enough troubles. His, like Bill’s, is impotence, which, as Betty points out, is usually all in the mind. Masters keeps grimacing and looking uncomfortable throughout the entire episode, but he doesn’t appear to be any closer to curing his problem, even with Gini.

When Masters is on call at the hotel and has to deal with a 300-pound man who basically overate himself to death (and who was, ironically, the Cal-O-Metric spokesperson), he comments that at least the man’s demons are behind him and can’t taunt him anymore. Unfortunately, everyone else’s demons are engaged in full force: Lester is tortured by the thought of Jane with some Hollywood bigshot, so much so that he can’t have sex any more. Masters’ impotence, which was brought on by the discovery of Gini’s “beau” at her home, still seems to be snarled up with all his many other issues, personified by his long-ignored younger brother, Frank. We don’t yet understand why Masters wants to dismiss Frank so readily: Is it because he’s a reminder to such a painful chapter of his life? As the younger brother, did he receive preferential treatment that Bill did not? Frank mentions that he’s an alcoholic, so he clearly has his own demons to deal with. For someone who wants to delve so deeply into human sexuality, Masters certainly seems ready to shut off this door that might help him deal with his past, and in such a dismissive way to his only sibling, who hints that he’s been dismissed before. Bill is so good at avoiding what he doesn’t want to deal with: not opening up to his brother that he suffered from the same low sperm count; not telling Gini, an experienced sex researcher, about his impotence problem; not even noticing if his own toddler son is eating or not. (Speaking of only siblings, don’t the Masters have another kid now? Where was she at dinner? A simple ”Thank goodness the baby is sleeping” line would have fixed this problem.)

Masters’ lack of affect makes his eventual attempt to put Lester on camera, and mention that the study will now be attempting to heal, as well as observe, is noteworthy, and valuable to help us remember what we are even supposed to like about this person. However, except for another rah-rah speech by Gini, we have no clue as to why Masters changed his mind. He tells Gini that they should stick to what they know—physiology—but in his next scene he’s opening up the study to help dysfunction, not just research it. He’s such a closed-off character, we could have used more of the thought process behind this decision.

Especially when it’s based on the emotional rantings of Gini “Forge Ahead First, Sort It Out Later” Johnson. I understand that all she wanted to do was to help Barbara, but seeking her out and encouraging her to revisit the trauma that led to her vaginismus, for a non-medical professional, was beyond reckless. Betsy Brandt’s performance was amazing, and her story absolutely heart-breaking, so the sequence ends with Gini as a kind of mirror image of Barbara, posing as her so that she can receive medical advice to pass along.

Everything attached to the study and the practice appears to be moving right along, but Masters Of Sex (and first-time writer Steven Levenson) is having to accomplish some aspirational script acrobatics to keep some of our players in the mix. Austen Langham as the new Cal-O-Metric spokesman? Libby is going to testify for Robert? It’s not like these subplots can’t be entertaining on their own, but they seem to so tangentially connected to the main subject matter, it makes the whole episode seem disjointed.


Especially from Libby’s viewpoint: She’s not the only one wondering where she fits in. It was nice to see her asserting herself to sell ads for the Veiled Prophet ball, and really, she deserved a lot more credit for getting the Chief of Police on the Masters and Johnson board. She refers to her impoverished upbringing (she didn’t have enough money to be a debutante), but now that she’s finally at the ball, staring at the unnerving Veiled Prophet himself, she knows enough to be disturbed. Not saying that the race relations plotline isn’t interesting, or that she shouldn’t testify on that beat-up teacher’s behalf, but sometimes these scenes seem to belong to an entirely different show. Director Michael Apted returns this week, and even in this storyline, his camerawork is dazzling to witness, as Robert and Libby are far apart in the Masters’ kitchen, then hesitantly come nearer to each other, just as the camera zooms in closer.

When Libby goes to Robert’s apartment at the end of the episode, she’s trying to do the right thing, as Gini is with Barbara in her own convoluted way, as Bill is with Lester, and the many others with sexual dysfunction that he will try to help. Is healing a mirror image of science? Can you fix the body without fixing the mind? It’s interesting that Masters’ brother is a plastic surgeon, and as Frank rightly opines: “You think it’s enough to fix the outside. That’s the easy part.” But in our ongoing battle with our demons, which side will win out?


Stray observations:

  • Eh, the credits are back.
  • Essie = “the grapevine.”
  • When Betty stands akimbo in your office, you’ve got to be pretty sure you’ve screwed something up. She’s still one of the best parts of the show for me.
  • Kudos to the casting department: Michael Sheen and Christian Borle look a lot like actual brothers.
  • The Veiled Prophet ball is still a major St. Louis event. Our own Ellie Kemper was the 1999 “Queen Of Love And Beauty.”
  • This episode was dedicated to sound editor Paul Apted, Michael Apted’s son who passed away from cancer earlier this year.