Masters Of Sex: Below The Belt Review

Bill must confront his history with his father and brother while Virginia reveals a hidden truth about her relationship.

“Everyone has their own version of everything that’s ever happened.”

This concept is mentioned to Bill early on in tonight’s episode of Masters of Sex by his mother, and it might be the truest statement of all. Just like how last week looked at how we want to make ourselves the main characters in our stories, or even add a narrative focus to our lives, this time what’s explored is the idea of everything being steeped in your own perception of it, inherently making it different than someone experiencing the same thing, and how this idea, more than anything, lets us be able to deceive ourselves.

This theme is all over the episode, but it culminates in the near-final scenes as Frank and Bill squabble in the most brotherly way possible as Frank tries to tend to a wound on their mother’s head, which Frank claims is because she’s an alcoholic. All of their own versions of what is going on here swirl around each other, deflecting each other strongly, as they create a different situation from the same events. Frank illuminates that Bill himself is an alcoholic, a tremendously powerful idea of self-deception bursting through as Bill continues to fight who he really is, and the family he came from.

It’s been a fascinating season in terms of pulling the layers back on Bill and actually seeing the tics and wounds in him that make him who he is. Bill and Frank argue over how much their father drank, and as Bill continues to deceive himself in ignorance, you get a much better idea of how much Bill has actually lied about and hidden himself. All of his behavior is thrown under the microscope as you see how much of a master (heh) he is at deception and hiding under the safety of a lie. Through this fight, Frank is hidden in shadow, but it’s Bill who’s the one who’s been in the dark all this time, unable to confront reality and the truth.

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Even after Frank tells Bill all of this, he still manages to deceive himself. He says that things got worse for Frank because he was gone, and continues to twist the story into something he can accept. He hurts his brother and attacks him as Frank tries desperately to bring them closer. Bill channels shades of their negligent father as he forces a fight out of his loving brother, even barking out that their father is inside of them both, and that he can’t be removed, as he’s never resembled him more than he does there, bleeding and cackling in the shadows.

While this episode is largely about Bill and dissecting his dysfunctions, sexual or otherwise, It’s pretty damn wonderful that so much of his behavior we’ve seen since that time jump, such as his inability to get an erection with a prostitute, Libby’s admission that they haven’t had sex in over a year, or Bill’s insistence to explore and “reintroduce” himself to Virginia’s body, focusing on her, rather than himself, has all been symptomatic of him suffering from impotence for two years now. It’s some wonderful threading, and for those that have thought that this season has been spinning its wheels, this sort of foreshadowing and groundwork may hopefully turn them around. The idea that Bill’s emasculating encounter with Shelley was the catalyst that caused this problem makes sense, considering the monster-ish lumbering Sheen displayed there, but it also connects to the feeling his father gave him.

After Bill’s admission of his dysfunction to Virginia, it’s as almost as if he sees himself like some sort of sexual dysfunction Messiah, and that if they can cure his impotence, they can cure all impotence (his dysfunction is everyone’s dysfunction; he even puts his blood on Virginia later on). This is kind of ridiculous and a more than unhealthy road for Bill to go down. It’s even scarier that Virginia supports all of this and believes that their affair and work is serving a higher purpose, and will be able to fix sex itself! These are both alphas though that are professionals at compartmentalization, but as the two of them barrel even more headstrong than ever into this unity, this deity complex can’t be good for either of them. Their dependency on each other gains more layers to itself as Bill tells Virginia, “I’m broken, and you’re the one—the only one, who can fix me.” It’s the most hyperbolic example of them deceiving themselves, something that Virginia’s therapist outright draws out of her.

On the topic, it’s great to see Virginia eking more and more non-reasons to see her therapist as it becomes obvious that she is the one in therapy, seeking help for Bill’s sexual dysfunction and their relationship. Virginia being in therapy is an aspect of the show that I’m more than on board with and holds a lot of potential. Hopefully we’ll ride out the season with it.

Off this idea of healing, Virginia using dom play, and making Bill powerless to try and fix his dysfunction is some deeply enjoyable stuff since we get to see Virginia having control over Bill in a very satisfying way. It speaks volumes for their relationship, and not just their sexual one. Having Bill get so close to beating his impotence, until shriveling up shortly after also feels like an appropriate metaphor for how he’s been lately booming out strength, and then wallowing in insecurity.

You almost forget where Bill stood at the start of this season, at his big, fancy hospital with almost carte blanche to do as he pleased. It’s wonderful later on when Libby is talking about her experience with impotency as Virginia stares upon Bill, more and more frequently. She talks about “dreading” seeing the person with dysfunction, and you can’t help but think that this could eventually happen with Bill.

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We’re presented with Dr. Joseph Kaufman’s work being published in the American Urology Review, and another sex study enters the fray. The idea of a rival study coming up against Masters and Johnson is a great idea that could add a lot of rejuvenated energy to the show. I’m sure he won’t be some bizarro version of Bill, as enjoyable as seeing him in an eye patch would be. Bill is furious that his study with Virginia has been relegated as a footnote, rather than Kaufman admitting he just stole their idea. Masters even recruits Shep Talley (Yes, the Shep Talley, the same one who helped out John Rock, yes, the John Rock, get the birth control pill out first) to ensure that their study is published and gains legitimacy before Kaufman’s does, rendering him as the footnote.

Talley even feeds into their God complexes, saying they’re like every married couple in America, and wants to get them on television so they can teach every American about sex. It’s their duty to fix the world with their work.

I wouldn’t have thought we’d still be getting Cal-O-Metric stories this late in the season, and yet here we see Flo forcing a sexual relationship with Dr. Langham. He talks about not being able to fake certain feelings, and not being able to be dishonest to yourself, as he operates exactly in the contrary, doing just that. It’s clear this is probably a bad idea in their working relationship, yet the deception moves on. Langham tries to stop it before it becomes a regular occurrence, but it remains to be seen.

Even this idea of self-deception is felt in Barbara and Lester, as they chat about religion versus science as she insists that life needs meaning and a purpose. She continues to deceive herself, outright leaving the room to escape Lester’s argument that increasingly worries her. Later on Lester admits that he’s envious of her and wishes he could believe like she does, and how this could have helped him with his dysfunction rather than just giving up and accepting life as it is. These are people that won’t deceive themselves, and they’re more fragile because of it. There’s an absolute sweetness in the infancy of this relationship, and I hope we get to see it naturally move on.

Returning to the fight at the end of this episode, and how it’s so antithetical to the idea of self-deception, almost as jarring as the fists that pummel Bill. It’s incredibly telling that after all of this, the moment where Bill is finally able to beat the impotence that has plagued him for two years Is when he admits to Virginia how broken he is, not just sexually, but inside too, as she sees him at his most beat down and fragile.

The powerlessness of the roleplay they did before nearly got Bill to overcome his ailment, but it’s the actual powerlessness he has here, admitting that his father beat him and that he too might very well be an alcoholic who’s treated his brother terribly, that pushes him to the light. Masters has gone through a lot of changes this year, and as the season begins to come to a close, with him acting progressively self-destructive every week, he may not be for the better when it ends. Realization isn’t always the way to get better.

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4 out of 5