In “Story of My Life,” Bill and Ginny both used surrogates to gain unexpected, deeper understandings of themselves. This season of Masters of Sex has not been as even as most of us had hoped, having both some great episodes (“Fight”) and some clunkers (last week’s “Mirror, Mirror” to name but one). Many of Masters‘ best stories come from characters who aren’t Masters or Johnson, but what made “Story of My Life” one of the better episodes this season was that it took that idea and applied it to Masters and Johnson, making them better in the process. Hit the jump if you like French New Wave.
In “Mirror, Mirror,” I opined about the absurdity of Ginny trying to get any viable information out of the psychiatrist by parroting Barbara’s story to him. Further, how could she meaningfully interact with such limited emotional and historical knowledge? The doc saw through her bull pretty easily, but allowed for the possibility that it could be part of Ginny’s own particular psychosis. And indeed, Ginny’s knowledge ran out quickly, and she allowed the session to turn to herself, and her relationship with Lillian. Her guilt over what Lillian knew (or thought she knew) was something she was invited to explore. The results included a lot more guilt, particularly about Libby, and how her relationship with Bill affected her.
As Ginny later said to him, that conversation has been absurdly long in coming. Both deluded themselves for a time, but it seems odd that Ginny, who is so straight-forward and level-headed, would never have broached the subject with Bill before. It just speaks to her own failings and hangups (like we all have), which she is only beginning to recognize and internalize.
That internalization began to happen for Libby, too. She wants to make a difference, and do something that matters. After talking to Frank’s wife Pauline about the limitations and ultimatums in their relationship, Libby is galvanized to make a big change in her own life. It doesn’t involve giving an ultimatum to Bill, or noticing that his stories don’t add up, either (and that she’s purposefully missing so much), but rather, she turns it outwards and goes to CORE to volunteer.
Here’s where things start to get a little messy. Is Robert supposed to be a good guy? Or does he just really like messing with white people? Libby was right to stand up for herself and point out the fact that he came to her looking for her to be a witness. His casual, and then cruel dismissal of her stung, but it also didn’t make much sense. Was he never intending for to testify, and only meant to embarrass her like she did to Coral? Is this all revenge? When Libby came to CORE looking to volunteer, he sneered at her and sent her on a sandwich run. There was a definite sense that Robert gets a lot of pleasure from belittling Libby, and it leaves the situation uncertain. It’s very reminiscent of Bill’s relationship with the head of Buell Green, who similarly invited him in, then sabotaged his project. It’s a strange and troubling thing Masters is doing with its black and white relationships, and I’m not sure any of it is helping anyone.
As for Bill, he continued to do everything possible to pawn his own issues off on others, and avoid self introspection at all costs. He uses Lester as his guinea pig, as Lester himself says, trying to see if he can solve his issues through Lester’s self discovery (something Ginny does to herself to try and help Barbara). Of course, it doesn’t work and it’s just as reckless as Ginny’s manipulations of Barbara (who has a lot more problems than Ginny could even fathom), so Bill then transfers his issues to his brother Frank. And, emulating their father, he walks out on Frank just as their father did to them countless times.
After Frank essentially tells Bill to pull his head out of his ass and acknowledge that he wasn’t the only one to suffer (ever on this Earth), Bill, broken down, unites with Ginny at their hotel room, and gets berated again. She too plays up his guilt and selfishness, and he finally breaks down. Them being together wasn’t about the study, but now it is again, because Bill needs help. And Ginny, just like an addict, gets pulled back in.
“Story of My Life” was a tight episode that had an intriguing framework for its difficult emotional stories, and it mostly succeeded in working them out (as regards Ginny/Barbara and Bill/Lester/Frank, anyway). Libby’s story didn’t land quite as well, and while poor Lester’s dissociative episode played for some weird comic relief, it feels cheap (and it’s comedy that doesn’t extend to any character other than Betty. It’s ok for Bill, Ginny, or Libby to have funny moments too, y’know). As Masters of Sex‘s season winds down to a close in a few weeks, it will leave us with a better sense of what the full season was all about. But after Bill’s revelation, it seems like next week could be another “Fight,” with some breakthroughs both emotionally and physically. Fingers crossed.
Episode Rating: B+
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Lizzy Caplan‘s eyes were opened so wide throughout this entire episode.
— I liked that they kept Lillian relevant by dropping her into Ginny’s conversation with the psychiatrist.
— Kitty: “Tell me what you like.” Lester: “I like French new wave.” Kitty: “About me.”
— I don’t want to say I don’t like all of Lester’s weird awkwardness and the jokes that come from that, but the humor just needs to be spread around a little more, and Lester needs to be given more moments of pathos (like Betty). Him looking at Barbara and seeing a person and not just vaginitis was, for instance, a beautiful moment.
— Betsy Brandt is just killing it as Barbara. The revelation that the game was her idea, and that she still talks to and meets up with her thrice-divorced brother though was too much even for Ginny to handle.
— Watching Leftovers just before this made for a very weird Ann Dowd (Essie) marathon. She’s on every show I watch, I swear.
— Why did the show have emotional music playing when Bill told Lester he would be a pioneer? It was all BS, something quirkier would have made more sense.
— Frank gave a great speech. It felt like a play. Bill’s asshole rating was off the charts when he vanished, though.
— “The Feast of Vaginitis” – Barbara.