Long before The Beatles used the blackbird as a symbol for civil rights struggles, dark birds have been known to represent the unknown. In this week’s episode of Masters of Sex, titled “Blackbird,” nearly every character marches into the unknown — not necessarily by choice — to ultimately dismantle or alter his or her life. As Bill’s Buell Green boss Dr. Andrews tells him upon firing him, “It feels like dying, and it is. Let’s see if you have the guts to be reborn.” As a viewer, the possibility of a Phoenix-like rising that lies ahead is exciting, but damn if it isn’t exhausting. Masters of Sex — a show that changed very little in way of characters and setting in its first season — has become a bit exhausting to watch. Instead of stable footing, there’s the overwhelming fear that Bill’s job, marriage, household, and study are on the brink of breakdown yet again. This can be thrilling, but some of TV’s finest dramas know when let it up with a slow-moving episode or two.
Because this week’s episode was so full of loose ends, I’d like to look at each and discuss its eventual resolution:
It sounds cruel to say, but there is finally nothing to be done here. Virginia acts in an admirable way when Lillian poisons herself on sleeping pills: she lets her go. The moments between Lillian and Virginia were among the episode’s most touching, because they weren’t in a rush to get anywhere. Their easy, open conversations at Lillian’s house were not conduits for bigger action — they showed two friends connecting for connection’s sake, and knowing full well that one would soon be gone. All that’s left is for Virginia to see to it that Lillian’s body is donated to science, against her family’s wishes. Lillian’s line about a medical student finding the cure for ovarian cancer using her cadaver made me tear up, as did Bill comforting Virginia over Lillian’s desire to throw in the towel (he kisses her passionately and tells her he knows her).
Robert + Libby + Coral
Libby needs to chill on this Robert and Coral business, but finally it becomes clear what’s going to happen. When Libby follows Coral home after telling her Robert can no longer pick her up from work (after discovering his criminal record), it comes out that Robert is not Coral’s lover, but rather, her brother. Flabbergasted, Libby has little time to react when Robert notices her leg is bleeding. He caresses her calf and cleans her up, lingering for a moment. Unable to cope with her sexual feelings for a black man, Libby reflexively fires Coral via Robert and quickly leaves. This decision won’t stick, but it’s clear to me now what needs to happen for Libby Masters to overcome her racism: she needs to fall in love and have an affair with Robert.
Helen + Betty + Gene
Sarah Silverman is brilliant on Masters of Sex, but Betty might have gone and fucked it up. (Please don’t take away any more great supporting cast, MoS writers — we miss Beau Bridges and Allison Janney enough already). Helen makes a bold display of affection for her betrothed in from of Betty, a move that inspires a dramatic blow-up for the latter. Gene is suspicious, ultimately figuring out that Betty and Helen were/still are lesbian lovers. Betty doesn’t deny it, and Gene seems on the brink of divorce. I think Betty will try to fix it in episodes to come with adopted children, even though Gene decided she “was enough” since they can’t have biological kids. And of course, the adoption won’t fix the problem. Sadly, Helen may have to go in order for Gene and Helen to make marital peace.
Bill Fired… Again
It’s clear that Bill will continue the study somewhere else, as the show would fall apart without the guise of the work. But this “bad boy of OBGYN” bit is getting really old. Masters learns that Dr. Andrews has been tearing down ads for the study, in addition to forbidding his staff (or really any blacks) from participating in the study. The two wage a war via the press, but Bill is less than pleased with how the black reporter — who is whip-smart and doesn’t let Bill boss her around — frames his story in a dramatic way and digs into his past.
What began as leverage for Bill to get blacks in the study turns into an ugly scene: Masters in the office of the reporter’s editor, lying about sexual research that would paint a negative portrait of so-called animalistic black sexuality. The editor doesn’t buy the bluff, accusing Bill of racism in the process. Masters returns to Dr. Andrews with his tale between his legs, admitting he can’t function without complete autonomy despite his sterling track record before these recent dust-ups. He probably deserves being fired. Again. And he’ll be hired again too, perhaps this time at a university instead of a hospital, but it’s not exactly a rallying point for such a manipulative figure.
Bill + Virginia + Her New Beau
So what does Bill do after getting canned? He goes to Virginia’s house looking for comfort, and when her new “beau” — the man from the hotel lobby in the fight episode — opens the door, Bill asks an absurd amount of questions. Virginia, of course, is not there, so Bill puts on his best fake-ass smile and walks away from her house so tightly wound, it seems as if his bow tie is going to pop right off his neck from sheer force of anxiety. It’s infuriating, the way Bill thinks he’s entitled to every single thing, including Virginia and his consolation prize of a wife. This will hit the fan next episode, I’m sure, when Bill confronts Virginia about her new man. Maybe, just maybe they’ll finally admit their feelings.