Prior to “Fight,” the most promising moment of this season of Masters of Sex — the moment when many of us sat up, adjusted our glasses and thought, “here we go!” — was when Ginny and Bill had the heart-breaking conversation in the hotel where they tried (and failed) to define the intricacies of their relationship. In “Fight,” the topic was brought up again, and explored with the depth it deserves, and with a strangeness and emotional honesty that made Masters of Sex feel, for the first time truly, like Mad Men. Hit the jump for why “a hole is easier than a pole.”
At the beginning of “Fight,” Ginny challenged her daughter’s notion of princesses and fairy-tales by asking what would happen if the prince were to be disfigured before he was able to rescue the princess. She replied that a kiss from the princess would, naturally, restore him to the handsome prince she initially fell in love with (because if she hadn’t seen him before, how would she recognize him?) This was a theme that came into play later, too, when Ginny asked her over the phone if the princess could have adventures of her own, or even save the prince — and she did so as she put on Bill’s wedding ring. Ginny has her own fairytales about a relationship with Bill, and her ability to save him, and transform him back into a man with passion and intellect, but with far less denial and anger.
What made “Fight” feel so much like an episode of Mad Men was its use of visual metaphor throughout the hour, and its story playing out against the backdrop of a historic event, which helped mold the fabric of the story itself. Bill had made clear to Ginny that they were not having an affair, that it was all about the work (something she agreed with, though his implications denied any emotional aspect, which was clearly a lie). But when she went up to their hotel room, she found Bill distant, buzzed, and engrossed in a boxing match. Is there anything that looks more like the standard of a regular married relationship than that? Irritated, she goes to take a bath, but Bill comes after her and makes completely unscientific love to her standing up.
It was the beginning of a night that had sex, romance, history, stories, role-playing and even some shadowboxing (as Archie Moore battled Yvon Durelle). The boxing was a metaphor for the back-and-forth feints and jabs the two lobbed at each other, and also dodged. Bill required Ginny to beg, and she refused, taking the power back in the moment by pleasuring herself in front of him. When Bill spoke of absorbing a punch, it was like what Ginny did in response to his angry sex. She let him do it, but then parlayed it for her own usage: to get some emotional honesty out of him. And, through the match, she was able to slowly chip away at the walls he has up around the history of his relationship with his father. But she didn’t praise him for the way he had chosen to react. Instead, she said quite plainly that hiding pain is not the definition of a man.
There was a lot of defining of manhood, and what it means, as well as power dynamics, that also played out in the story with poor Sarah, the baby who was definitely a boy — despite having ambiguous genitalia — but who had the misfortune of having a bully for a father. His definition of masculinity was clear, and it was also clear how Bill was reminded of his own father and his definition of masculinity, which he took on. But in the end, after his night talking with Ginny, he ran to the child’s aid, even begging the father as he would never do for his own, to allow the boy to be a boy. It was too late, and that reality left him devastated.
Like Breaking Bad‘s “Fly,” or other episodes that confine two actors to a space and let their characters work things out, “Fight” was a mesmerizing acting showcase, as well as one which allowed the writing to give additional depth and detail to these characters, which both Bill and Ginny sorely needed. Motivation is an important key for understanding any person, and both Bill and Ginny, through their role-playing and sharing of personal histories, revealed so much about who they are and where they are coming from. It’s the first step of an important road of redemption for Bill, but one that (because of Masters‘ pacing) might not have immediate effects.
“Fight” was a rich episode, full of exceptional moments and detailed storytelling that makes it probably the show’s best so far. It also portends that this season, despite a dip in the second episode, may indeed be full of surprises that will make it even better than the first. Just when you thought Moore was defeated, he came back to win it. I want to see how this ends.
Episode Rating: A+
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Regular readers of my reviews will know right off the bat that “Fight” fixed for me a lot of the major problems I have had with the show. Its narrow focus required an examination of Bill and Ginny’s characters, which I probably would not have relished the thought of if I had known what was coming (it’s been the side characters and subplots that have been the most engrossing to me in Masters). And for all of my detesting of Bill, “Fight” did finally show a more interesting and honest side to him that is key in bringing him back from the asshole abyss.
— Everything was terrible with the surgery on the newborn. How he was put into a display case kind of thing for photos, and stared at on a table by a host of doctors. The teeny tiny instruments for the procedure … hell no. Poor little thing.
— “Better a tomboy than a sissy” – asshole father of the year (Bill is now in second on this show).
— I still dislike Bill, and think Ginny is way too good for him, but this episode proves once again why it’s ok for Bill to leave his marriage without the show having to demonize Libby. Bill has a chance with his son, but he’s too broken to take it. He needs to heal first, and apparently only Ginny can provide that. It’s better for Libby to be set free now!
— The appearance of Elliot, the chatty waiter, was also somehow Mad Men-esque. But I really liked Ginny’s response to him regarding romance and trinkets: “[Bill] does other things for me. He takes me seriously, and listens to me.”
— I’m glad the show addressed the issue of ambiguous genitalia, and people’s confused (and often wrong) reactions to it. Jeffery Eugenides also covers the topic in his incredibly engrossing novel Middlesex, one of my all-time favorites.
— Bill’s father = the worst. Hearing the (more) complete story was important, and explains a lot about Bill. But again, I liked that Ginny didn’t just pat him on the back and tell him he did the right thing. He made a choice, but it’s not one she would have, and she explains clearly why. And somewhere, there seemed to be a flicker of understanding from Bill about that.
— Ultimately, Ginny also rebuffed his desire for romance, stopping their marriage role-play with a note about his wedding band. As soon as they step outside that door, they are different people. It’s all about the work … right?