Intriguingly, Showtime withheld the advance screener of Masters of Sex‘s finale, “Untitled,” until after it aired. Ray Donovan, on the other hand, was posted almost a week early. What was it about “Untitled” that was perceived as so Earth-shattering that the network was afraid of spoilers? Even the twists at the end, which were genuinely interesting (especially as they incorporated, briefly, old characters), all played into a theme that has been running through the show since the beginning: Bill is in control, and anyone who gets in his way should prepared to be mowed down by his hubris. There’s no surprise there. Hit the jump, but only “if we put touching genitals back on the agenda.”
In this season’s two best episodes, Ginny and Bill tried to come to terms with the realities of their relationship. Was it about the work, or about them? In the very best episode, the two role-played a scenario that was all about them being in a long-term relationship, and wasn’t about the work at all. That shift worried Ginny, especially in light of Lilian DePaul’s disapproval of it. But “Untitled” had a desire to prove that it’s not just about the work or about the relationship, but about both at the same time. Without being in it together, they have nothing.
There’s nothing inherently problematic with that idea. It’s both romantic and aspirational … on the surface. But of course, the rest of Masters’ season has shown why, when you get down to the details, it doesn’t look so good, or feel so free. When Libby tells Ginny it’s time to start living life as it is, not as they wish it to be, it flips a switch for her. Her life really is all about the work, and even though many (many) in the past have called Ginny out on putting it before her family, she has been in indignant denial about it.
It’s definitely not as simple as that, as the final scenes showed. Ginny felt compelled to give up her primary custody so that she could put everything into the success of the work. Then, she could use that success to get her children back. But then there were two things that snapped back at her: one, that her children seemed entirely nonchalant at the idea of spending more time with George and Audrey than with her, which wounded her; and two, her realization that because the CBS piece was killed, she couldn’t get her children back, meaning that she gave them up all for nothing. The work, for once, did not come through for her.
Of course, we know the reason why: Bill sabotaged it. But I also thought it was a very honest moment for the show to not let him mourn for his own actions. Barton Scully, after almost an entire season away, calls Bill out on the fact that he has always been willing to do whatever — to blackmail whomever — to get his way. He might feel badly that Ginny gave up her children under the false pretense of the CBS piece airing, but would he have done it any differently given the chance? Let’s be sensible. Hasn’t Bill always been jealous of Ginny’s time away from him? Now, she’s completely under his control, and totally beholden to him, because she has nothing else.
That’s what makes their partnership feel more like servitude on her part. It’s possible that she might have chosen the same outcome had she known the full story, but she didn’t. When Bill and Ginny approach Lester and Barbara about being partners in this new study to help cure sexual impotence, they emphasize the fact that they need each other go move forward. But Lester and Barbara are operating on a level playing field: they are both fully aware of each other’s dysfunctions, and are working for each other’s good. Bill is doing whatever he wants, and Ginny is along for the ride. The thing is, she has no idea what the terms are, which leaves nothing triumphant about the acknowledgement that now, “finally,” they are partners both personally and professionally.
Meanwhile, Masters has attempted to alleviate some of Bill’s guilt by having Libby begin her relationship with Robert, and declaring to Ginny that she doesn’t feel like her children are enough. Thenshe tells Robert that she’s known about the affair basically from the start. This feels like an easy out. Libby “knows,” she’s found other outlets (first her obsession with having children, and now that that’s over, her obsession with having Robert as a lover), and therefore, Bill is generally off the hook as far as responsibility and fidelity to her go. It’s a cop out.
The best parts of “Untitled” were, as they always have been on Masters, the stories that revolve around the minor characters. There should have been more time given to Lester and Barbara’s sexless courtship, and not just the flip-flop of movie tastes that would have made Lester cringe at the predictability. Still, the strength of the actors and the sincerity of the complications (like Lester being ornery, but admitting it’s because he’s frustrated because of his impotence — something it took Bill literally years to even start to consider) made the vignettes some of the best parts of the episode. As for Flo and Langham, though her sexual enslavement of him is nothing to laugh about, the more casual fact that he’s basically her “dumb blonde” who she uses for sex and tosses away (the inversion of Langham’s experience with women) was genuinely a fun joke at his expense (again, mostly because of the comedic abilities of the actors).
I’ve already summed up my disappointment in this season of Masters of Sex in prior reviews, so I won’t go into great detail about it again. The baic problem is that while the show is beautifully costumed, and the set pieces are fantastic, and the actors are all exceptional, Masters of Sex has a hollow core. It’s not just about the failures of Bill’s character as an antihero, but the fact that a huge miscalculation for the series is that he’s not a hero at all; and yet, even more egregiously, the show doesn’t allow Ginny to be one, either. The final moments of “Untitled” seemed to suggest a sea change, not only in the political landscape, but in changing values for Americans. Bill and Ginny might can be more open in the next season, and really start to get back to the work (which this season almost entirely ignored), but for those burned by the lost potential of this season, that change may come too late.
Episode Rating: B-
Season Rating: B- (elevated only by the B-plots, and “Fight”)
— Some series shouldn’t trade in dream sequences, and this is one of them.
— I would be interested to see Coral’s reaction to Robert hooking up with Libby.
— “Eh, I dabbled in chemistry in another life. Back when I thought there was order to the universe. Now I know better. Now I always get contracts signed.” – Herb the divorce lawyer.
— I think Lizzy Caplan‘s two greatest scenes this season were possibly both in this episode: when she had to compose herself before answering the telephone, and when she broke down in front of Bill. Then again, that could be because those are two of the only times (if the only two times) we’ve ever seen her totally lose her veneer of composure.
— “I know we don’t have a conventional relationship, but I am … fond of you.” – Langham to Flo.
— I also liked the little historical note of people being amazed at having a President both with all of his hair, and who doesn’t wear a top hat.
— For all of the work Libby put in to having those kids, she sure doesn’t spend much time with them, does she?
— Lester: “All of the signs of a heart attack.” PR Man: “But were talking about sex.” Lester: “I must have missed that.”
— Ethan showing up as part of Kaufman’s news piece was pretty great, especially since Barton also had a hand in it.
— “For nothing!” – Ginny.