In my recap of “Blackbird,” I mentioned that despite an emotionally compelling episode (in part), Masters of Sex seemed to really just be treading water. That fact was also a disappointment primarily because of the Buell Green storyline, which flatlined before it had an opportunity to really be anything interesting. “Asterion” had two major time jumps, but ultimately, they showed that the more things change, the more things stay the same. Hit the jump for why “some things cannot be undone.”
Because of the era it covers, Masters of Sex, upon its premiere last year, was compared with AMC’s period drama Mad Men. There are many other similarities, though, besides setting; namely, that Bill Masters has a lot in common with Don Draper. He had a terrible and scarring relationship with his father, and it caused a pain that he carries with him through the present, one that informs almost all of his personal decisions (and mistakes). But Bill lacks Don’s charm and poise, and Don has never had such an egregious ego, making Bill much easier to immediately see through.
Libby also began Masters of Sex as a very different kind of put-upon 1950s wife, one who was, conversely, easy to empathize with. But in its second season, Masters has sought to make her into a Betty Draper type — one whose “bored housewife” sensibilities make her petty and aloof.
What Mad Men has taught viewers over the course of seven years, in part, is that Don’s problems cannot be solved by a woman, even one he feels he can be honest with and who understands him. Though we haven’t yet seen the conclusion of that emotional saga, Masters made its point on the matter with Bill much more quickly and succinctly. When Bill blows up at Libby for not “seeing him” or “knowing him,” she flatly says everything Bill thought she didn’t know — that he’s in pain, and he carries it with him. But her tone and her assessment were exactly what Bill didn’t want to hear (but which is the truth): you aren’t a special snowflake, everyone is broken in some way (subtext: deal with it!)
“Asterion” mirrored, in some ways, the Mad Men episode “Three Sundays,” which also incorporated some major time jumps. But “Asterion” took a long journey to just get back to where it started. Newly divorced Betty goes to work for Masters and Johnson in their new office we never see set up, and within the jumps from 1958 to 1960, she acquires her accounting degree. Her wizardry in that arena though all lead back to Bill’s mother Essie colluding to launder money through the business to keep it all afloat, something Bill had expressly forbidden a year earlier.
Betty acted as a guide, quite literally, through the entry to the 1960s, and Lester’s return also helped visually express the changes. His film stock went from black and white to color, and his sensibilities went from studio productions to documentary film and a focus on realism, capturing the happenings around the office in a cinéma vérité style.
Lester going through his old footage also caused Ginny to be reminded of how much her relationship with Bill has changed after he went to her house and saw Shelly. And, for two solid years, the two have the same conversation over and over, it seems, about the unfairness of Bill’s expectations for Ginny. He has Libby, so why can’t she also have someone? Granted, it’s a revolving door of someones, which Bill brings up harshly. But by 1960, Ginny acknowledges the truth in this, too. She only wants Bill, and Bill won’t let go of Libby, and around and around again.
After having expanded its world over the first half of the season, with Bill working at so many different hospitals, Masters narrowed things back down in “Asterion,” only bringing in characters we’ve known in the past, and not introducing anyone new (who is of any importance, anyway). Lester, Langham, Elliot the bellhop-turned-desk-clerk, and even Barbara, were all touchstones that kept “Asterion’s” journey through time from getting too unwieldy, or things changing too much.
“Asterion” was a jam-packed hour that featured so many side stories (like Langham and his girlfriend Holly, who went from a hand model to an adult films actress, causing him to unsuccessfully try running back to his wife), making it certainly an engrossing episode. But in the end, Ginny and Bill were right back where they started — right back at the Park Plaza, with Bill sexually controlling the situation. His self-satisfaction at Elliot bringing up Dr. Masters (still believing him to be Dr. Holden), and his mother saying how proud she is of him, rang hollow, though. What, exactly, has Bill done to deserve any of those accolades? It has been the women in Bill’s life keeping everything afloat: Libby growing their family, Essie providing financially, Betty holding things at the office together, and Ginny holding Bill together.
In anatomy, the asterion is a point just behind the ear where three points of the cranium meet. There are plenty of ways to interpret this regarding “Asterion” (which seems to fit better than its connection to Greek mythology), because the point seems to be that things always come back to Bill and Ginny, and no matter what else (and for better or worse), that convergence is what holds Masters together. “It is nice to be back,” Ginny says to Bill after their sexual reunification. Is it?
Episode Rating: B+
— I liked a lot of thing about this episode, almost none of which had to do with Ginny and Bill, though, which is why I didn’t bump it up to an A.
— Libby sure had that second baby fast. Good for her! (Now that she knows the truth).
— “Some men come home to fame and fortune. Some men come home to film ejaculate” – Lester, who really loved Windjammer.
— “I didn’t know there were postcards in Bitch Town” – Lester.
— Bill was so ridiculous throughout this entire episode with his selfishness about Ginny. Not once did he give a reason, either, about why he felt justified in keeping a hold on Libby while denying Ginny someone to go home to, as well. And yet, his petulance continued for two solid years.
— Thank goodness for Betty. I’m glad the show keeps finding ways to get her to stick around.
— I want to know more about Barbara and her “closure.”
— The transition of Holly from demure to debauched was hilarious, especially since it was Lester who got to stick it to Langham by showing a video of her at the bachelor party.
— Where are the Scullys?? Will we ever see them again?
— “You move more blubber through here than a Japanese whaler” – Betty to the Cal-O-Metric lady, Flo.
— Ginny forgetting everything about Shelly was pretty embarrassing for everybody. So is her friendship with Libby, which remains so awkward. Libby gave her a very knowing look this time, though. I wonder what she thinks of things?