Masters of Sex: Asterion Review
Masters is seen at his lowest point yet as he alienates everyone around him as the show fast forwards past the fallout from last week.
“It’s like we’re fated or something.”
The story of Asterion in Greek mythology often follows two possible characters, with the more popular Asterion being the minotaur that’s located at the center of the labyrinth. The creature that is trapped in a maze.
Masters of Sex is a show that’s largely cyclical even, but there’s no doubt that its namesake this week is in reference to Bill, who has found himself in the role of the plagued mythological character.
Last week’s episode ended on a mammoth note and its weight is certainly felt this time around, shown in the best possible fashion: a crazy time jump! Masters of Sex’s second season is said to cover the time between 1958 and ’61, so this sort of jump should perhaps not be that unexpected, especially as we enter the second half of the season. I also wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t the last time they resorted to the device this year, too. But we’re rocketed forward nearly half a year because Masters walking in on Shelley and what he represents was a breaking point for him, yet now matters seem to be business as usual on the surface level with Masters and Johnson having again relocated, this time to the “Masters & Johnson & Clinic” (appropriate name).
This introduction almost looks like a joking dream sequence as their new space seems to rival that of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce, even! We see them deep in their studies chronicling important business and solving the secrets of the sexual world, like ejaculate trajectory. Masters’ goal is 10,000 observed sex acts, with 100 of each type, and he and Johnson are roughly at the 5000 mark. While Masters tries to force an optimistic grin over all of this, the signs of him being trapped in this, not seeing the exit, begin to crack though.
In this time lapse, obviously Betty and Gene didn’t work out unfortunately, with her being back to her test subject ways and again proving herself to be more essential than predicted, but we also see that Bill and Libby haven’t fared that well in the matrimony department either. Bill seems upset about this situation, apparently, as he waxes on to a bellboy over the flaws of commitment and sanctity and betrayal, and it becomes much more obvious that he’s actually talking about Virginia, his more-wife-than-his-actual-wife. He spits venom at the oblivious worker, Sheen keeping his face twisted in a snarl as it’s clear that things are far from well between him and his co-worker. He and Virginia may still be together on the study, but Bill has far from forgiven her. He might even hate her, as he knocks back drinks before meeting his “family.”
In fact, he’s drinking the hardest we’ve seen him, as he later meets Virginia’s new suitor and turns an amicable situation into a drunkenly embarrassing powder keg. He’s unraveling; been doing it since he saw Shelley at Virginia’s home five months ago. He and his wife reduced to sleeping in separate beds, having not had sex for over a year, as Bill takes his wife’s berating and meddling, this another labyrinth that he is the minotaur trapped inside of.
It grows deeper as Libby learns of the loans Bill has gotten them into to finance his new practice, the labyrinth growing larger with Bill having no discernible plan. Stacking faulty pillar upon falter pillar. He keeps moaning in an exaggerated fashion that they’re not going to have to sell the house even though when this tone has been used in the past it’s indicated nothing more. Even Bill’s mother has been staying in touch with his family, tending company in the light outside of this dark maze as he’s trapped inside.
She offers him unconditional love, forgiveness, and help, and he still shuts her down, not taking this escape, and frustrated when it’s pushed upon him, getting lost further into his labyrinth. Focusing on the wrong enemy and getting angry over the wrong things. He explodes at his wife bigger than he has all season, but she’s wronged him the least of anyone. His mother calls him “Billy” and he’s never acted more like a child, tantruming and tailspinning away from the help.
Masters continues down this unbecoming path and “Masters the monster” is back big time this week as Bill says some absolutely terrible things about Virginia and her ability as a mother, that if we didn’t hear his bile session with the bellboy earlier, it’d be clear where Bill stands with her.
He throws at her outright, obvious lies designed to cut her deep so he can move forward a few extra feet in his labyrinth and get closer to that light outside. Virginia and he both exclaim that “they’re work colleagues. Nothing more” in this episode, but Bill’s is steeped behind lies and pain. They’re “nothing more,” but not because of Bill having his way.
The one moment of possible reconciliation between them, when it seems possible that he might be able to drag her down into his labyrinth with him (“This is one world. And this is another”), getting her lost, he turns his apology into hers and ruins it. The sex expert resorts to prostitutes for connection while all the other women in his life cannot stand him, and even then he can’t perform. He’s not escaping. He can’t escape.
It’s also worth mentioning that there’s another piece of Greek mythology involving an Asterion, and in this story, he’s the king of Crete who took the from of the Cretan bull and gives birth to Minos, the minotaur. This reading too applies to Masters in regard to his son and what sort of life he’s leading him into. The same thing happened to Bill, and in this way, Bill’s father could also be this Asterion, again painting Bill as the minotaur, Minos. In either interpretation, he’s trapped.
In what’s the most humanizing scene of the episode, Virginia and Bill finally reunited in their humble hotel room in the Park Plaza, Virginia explains herself to Bill when she doesn’t need to. She talks about how agonized she is and how she at least deserves some companionship when he himself has a wife and family. They trade sympathies about being alone and how deeply connected the two of them are, regardless of where they might stand on the surface, but we never get Bill’s answer in regard to if he can allow her this equality. Even after all of this, he still might not grant her that.
But as he talks to her about reacquainting himself with her body rather than just outright fucking her after such an absence, it almost sounds like wedding vows as he seriously, thoughtfully states what he is going to do to her. His study is his life, so why shouldn’t the machinations and language of it be his vows and code of ultimate honesty? When Bill finally smiles in this episode, it’s once Virginia admits that it’s nice to be back. Now good luck finding your way out.
But it’s almost upsetting to see Virginia back in bed with him, figuratively and literally, with his obsession over her always seeming a little more unhealthy than passionate. It may not be wise to perpetually be feeding it. Matters might be fine now (once again), but the next time Virginia seeks independence, Masters might not be able to let go so easily. He might like this company in his labyrinth. Some people can’t give up what they’ve had and changing their minds is impossible.