Masters of Sex: Blackbird Review

The topic of race rears its head in Masters’ and Johnson’s study, leading to complications...

“She’s my friend. And I don’t have a lot of those.”

When interviewed about The Beatles song “Blackbird” in 2002, Paul McCartney said that the song is all about “waiting for this moment” to arise, and this episodeo of Masters of Sex, at the halfway point of the season, is absolutely bursting with moments of tension and near-climax as you’re just waiting for the other shoe to fall.

“Blackbird” is an episode about that moment where the power switches over and the tables turn and there’s a seismic shift, as nearly every relationship in the series goes through this here. This episode, more than any other this season feels about embracing this moment and walking forward into the unknown as the lies of the past are shed.

A lot of the machinations of this episode are opened up when it’s revealed that Hendricks at Buell Green has been forbidding his staff to take part in Masters and Johnson’s study, wanting their focus to be solely on white subjects. Hendricks brings up some incredibly insightful points here, as he insists that his people shouldn’t be put under the microscope here and that it cheapens their race who already have a history of being needlessly studied and belittled. Hendricks is worried of the public image it would create for their race, as Masters continues to oppose, eager to move things forward.

Ad – content continues below

In spite of Masters being usually altruistic when it comes to his profession, you can’t help but feel he’s more interested in self-preservation here. He never seemed so concerned with having African-Americans in his study before he was working at Buell Green.

All of this makes for a fascinating topic to explore though, and even feels akin to the first season of the show where just larger topics of sexuality were being looked at each episode, rather than the intense character study that is much more the show’s tenor. It’s funny how Masters’ “exile” to Buell Green felt like such a surprise initially, and almost a joke to go out on as the episode closed, but it’s been enlightening to see just how much the show has become about race (I mean, the episode’s title is even “Blackbird,” referencing The Beatles song about the Civil Rights movement), since it was never a factor in the show before, as it seamlessly marries together plotlines like Masters and Johnson’s institution with Coral and Libby’s situation and bringing it all together.

It makes sense for the show to get preoccupied in the topic simply due to it being a fact of the times (just like how Mad Men got equally infatuated in the issue when the clock hit the appropriate time), but I wouldn’t have thought it would have fit together so well. 

Elsewhere, Betty and Gene (continuing their role as our resident Scullys as it becomes more and more apparent they’re not going to be around for most of the season) face more turmoil as Betty and Helen have gotten closer and closer and entered into full-fledged affair mode now. Helen finds herself looking for that moment of opportunity to arise as she feels slighted by the whole thing with Betty’s insistence to cling to Gene. Sometimes if we can’t wait patiently enough for that moment to come, we’ll force it to happen ourselves, as Helen ups the stakes by getting engaged to Al showing that “she can play too.” As the results of this see all four of these people unspooling, with Gene figuring out what’s really going on with Betty and Helen, it’s hard to say if there’s much of a future for Betty and the Pretzel King, and how much longer Sarah Silverman will be sticking around for. With it encompassing such a large part of the season though, it seems hard to imagine them just dismantling and ending the story completely. Then again, remember Ethan?

DePaul’s material continues to shine as a radiologist gives her her true un-sugarcoated diagnosis in one of many crushing scenes from this episode, especially with how broken she looks as she’s forced to accept it all. She’s been waiting for this moment to arise ever since she got her initial diagnosis, but now she finally has the power (interestingly enough, because of her lack of power) to do something about it (by doing nothing). The episode opens by juxtaposing Masters and Johnson having sex on top of each other in bed while we then see DePaul on a table getting her radiation treatment in a cold environment, and it’s some brilliant camerawork by Keith Gordon.

Masters and Johnson are powerful and satisfied, DePaul is helpless and sardonic. This visual dichotomy is turned into a literal, verbal one as DePaul and Johnson end up arguing over what’s the bravest option to do regarding her bleaker prognosis. They go back and forth on the ides of fighting versus not fighting, as a weak DePaul pleads that she just wants to be friendly with Virginia in her final moments, and doesn’t she deserve that? DePaul’s admission that she was only doing the radiation treatment in the first place as a favor to Virginia is a shocking glimpse into how much she really does respect and loves Johnson, and how much the information she got about her and Masters last episode must have hurt her.

Ad – content continues below

More impressive work is done as Virginia shares all of this with Bill later on, as they sit close to each other in a wide shot of them huddled together on a big bed in a big hotel room, with the camera slowly pushing in more and more before we’re right on them is excellent stuff. Virginia rambles on about how hurt she is as Masters stoically keeps his cool offering wise, precise answers in one of the better examples of their intimacy and how important they are to each other.

Caplan has been killing it this season, but her breakdown here over not only making a friend, but then losing said friend is again more stand-out work for her. Interestingly enough, later on when Virginia and Lillian are having their own share session over wine and honesty, they sit on opposite sides of a couch, but their dialogue feels much more intimate than the stuff shared between Virginia and Bill; more effortless. The camera close on them from the start.

More tension continues to erupt from lies as Libby pries deeper into Coral’s life and finds out that Robert has a criminal record. She forbids Robert from coming to their property and beats down on their love, perhaps still sore from hearing about the power of their unity last episode, making life once again more difficult, with Coral almost expecting this sort of behavior at this point, is devastating. This makes the scene where Libby runs into Robert at Coral’s apartment building all the more difficult, as she learns that Robert is Coral’s brother, not her boyfriend, and that he’s a more than decent guy, too. Both Libby and Coral seem perpetually interested in searching for that moment to come, with Libby, the moment to finally sever ties with Coral and distance herself completely with her, and with Coral, her finally standing up to Libby and saying something about her treatment. Neither of them get that moment, genuinely, though.

Masters is deepest in the trenches of this theme this week though, with all of his work at Buell Green reflecting the want for a moment of freedom. “Blackbird” is very much about waiting for that moment of change, but it’s more specifically about the Civil Rights struggle, which is directly what Masters is dealing with here. The story that’s done on their study’s transition to African-Americans sees Masters forbidding the reporter from including certain things in her story as he insists that it’s “his study,” but seemingly fundamentally shocked when she responds back with, “it’s my story.”

With more and more people wanting their voice to be heard, Masters finds himself being rendered silent again and again. It’s chilling as Masters realizes that he can’t be apart of any hospital any more, and that a lengthy, prestigious career is now gone in favor of a study that he has to trust is important, essential work, because it needs to be at this point. 

In spite of all the tragedy and moroseness that this episode wallows in, the hardest hitting material is towards the end, when Bill goes to share with Virginia the news that their tenure at Buell Green will be even shorter than theirs at Memorial, but is beyond remiss when he himself gets even more shocking news, that not only has Virginia been dating someone for months, but that they met the night of the fight, when he and Virginia shared so much. Sheen gets to match the breakdown that Caplan displayed earlier as he says that “Virginia and I work together. That’s all,” as he lumbers into darkness, inches away from a panic attack, retreating back to his fragile wife, with less than ever now.

Ad – content continues below

Even though the blackbird in The Beatles song has broken wings, it’s an optimistic story about positive motion and the moment this all changes. At the end of this episode, a lot of people have broken wings so to speak, with Masters perhaps being the most fractured of them all, but even though he’s at the bottom right now, “you were only waiting for this moment to arrive.” It might not seem like it. And he might not even be thinking it, but Masters is going to fly to higher ground.

We all are, as so many of the issues that this song was written about have been overcome.

It’s just going to take time.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing! 


4 out of 5