With last night’s “Blackbird,” Season 2 of “Masters of Sex” is halfway over. It’s a wonderful midway point, a proper place to look at the racial, marital and sexual tension that has dominated this season — for each and every character. Still, we couldn’t help but feel a bit too well-versed in this week’s theme of lying to yourself.
In “Blackbird,” we see Libby continue to project her own ennui/dissatisfaction with her passionless marriage by meddling in Coral’s life. We find her looking out the window as Robert picks up Coral, wearing a face of fear, disgust and mostly envy. It’s a face that speaks to her own curiosity (Coral previously described Robert’s gentle touch, the way he holds her) and her inability to be anything but a passive observer to her deteriorating marriage.
At the beginning of the episode Libby tells Coral that she looked up Robert’s past and cannot have him continue to pick her up because he has a criminal record. Coral reluctantly says that she will have her aunt pick her up instead. Nevertheless, Libby follows Coral outside one evening and watches her get into a car with Robert, who parked a few blocks away. Angry and determined, Libby follows the couple and runs into Robert. As Libby prepares to verbally attack the man and the couple’s relationship, Robert tells her that he’s Coral’s sister, not her boyfriend. He also notices that Libby has scratched her leg and gets on his knees to inspect the wound. It’s a tender moment, relayed through Libby’s silence (for once). Here’s a man, a stranger in fact, touching her ever so gently. But, before anything else can happen, Libby snaps out of it and tells Robert that she has come to fire Coral and give a final severance.
Delusions run high, with Libby believing she’s looking out for Coral and the rest of us knowing that her own life, which is crumbling, is the source of her projection.
Meanwhile, Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) wages war with her own insecurities. In one of her hotel trysts with Dr. Masters, which continues to be disguised as “research” (even though it’s evidently something more), we see Johnson refuse to kiss Dr. Masters (Michael Sheen). In her mind it keeps things from getting real. However, she’s not icy with Dr. Lillian DePaul (Julianne Nicholson, her cancer-stricken friend whose prognosis is looking worse and worse. Dr. DePaul tires from lying on a radiation table and decides to abandon treatment after being told by her doctor that her condition is only going to get worse. Johnson, a fighter who cares about her friend struggles, but ultimately respects this decision.
The twosome have a heartbreaking moment at Dr. DePaul’s home. Dr. DePaul, who has been career-obsessed for all her life, resents not ever having someone by her side. Johnson refutes this by tucking her in, outlining the freckles on her face and being there for her. It’s the only relationship in “Blackbird” and in “Masters” that’s relatively functional. How refreshing.
However, in another great “Masters” moment, we see Johnson breaking down to Dr. Masters about Dr. DePaul. She asserts she is usually so careful with people, never letting them in. She doesn’t know how Dr. DePaul, who is so “not fun” managed to slip into her heart. Dr. Masters and Johnson lie in a hotel bed, fully clothed, consoling one another.
Although things look good between Dr. Masters and Johnson, the two face trouble at the segregated hospital where they work. Dr. Hendricks, the hospital chief, doesn’t want to allow Dr. Masters to include black people in his study, believing that it will only cause more damage. At the time, it was a common belief that black men and women were over-sexualized and animalistic and Dr. Hendricks fears an escalation of this stereotype. Dr. Masters, who is certain that these things are untrue, insists that by allowing black people to participate in his study, he will be able to refute these ideas. He makes clear though that he’s on no social justice crusade, but will be content if his study happens to shed light and help destroy these stereotypes.
To further complicate things, a reporter comes to interview Dr. Masters on his work. She’s thorough and finds out about Dr. Masters’ past, how he was very sick as child. She wonders if his illness is what drove him to become a doctor and gave him a god complex. The study becomes secondhand, and Dr. Masters fears that this article will tarnish his personal life. In a confrontation with the editor of the paper, he threatens to falsely publish information that would prove black stereotypes true if the article runs. Nevertheless, in a closing scene with Dr. Hendricks, he realizes how far he has gone and reveals that he cannot continue to work in such a way. Dr. Hendricks is cold, but understanding and tells Dr. Masters to leave the hospital–the third one.
Dr. Masters runs to Johnson’s house, looking for comfort, only to find a man who calls himself her “beau” at the door. The man says he met Johnson at a hotel (the same one where the two conduct their study) and how they’ve been dating for some time. Dr. Masters leaves dejected and has a first, much-needed meltdown.
Finally, we come to Betty DiMello (Annaleigh Ashford) and Helen (Sarah Silverman). Helen was DiMello’s girlfriend and her return last episode marked new trouble. DiMello finally seemed to be over the lies, revealing to her husband that she is unable to get pregnant (also, that she used to be a prostitute). Helen’s return, however, reignites the relationship. The two lie in bed talking and DiMello suggests buying Helen an apartment where they can continue to have an affair. Helen doesn’t want to be a mistress though and retaliates by proposing to DiMello’s husband’s friend, a simpleton named Al. This infuriates DiMello who storms out of her living room after witnessing Helen make out with her new fiancee. Unfortunately, her odd behavior arouses the suspicion of her husband who calls her out, first believing that she has feelings for Al before coming to the realization that she loves Helen. Although the whole plot line is terrifically acted, particularly by Ashford and Silverman, it continues to be the most tiresome and superfluous aspect of the show. Maybe things will be better with DiMello’s marriage practically over?
Anyway, “Blackbird” allowed us to dive deeper into these characters and acted as a frustrating look at their personal obstacles. We have Libby’s crappy marriage, Virginia Johnson’s trust issues, Dr. William Masters’ personal/professional ambitions and Betty DiMello’s list of lies. None of it is exactly new territory for “Masters,” but the episode definitely gives us much to anticipate for Season 2’s second half.