“You’re not your worst part.”
The episode’s title “Kyrie Eleison” is Greek for “Lord, have mercy” and there’s no shortage of mercy being asked for this week as many people try to get back into the swing of things and rebuild normalcy. After the emotional stabilizer that was last week’s premiere, it’s back to work for everyone as this episode explores the idea of reintroduction and expectations. Masters is beginning work at Memorial Hospital, Coral, a nanny has her first day with Libby looking after their child, everyone is rebuilding schedules, but in spite of this familiarity, things are not the same; a change is coming.
Michael Apted brilliantly frames Rose and her perfect, idyllic family in a doorway, giving the impression that all is well when she in fact is bleeding out and powerless underneath. Similarly, Bill is framed in the side view mirror of a car pristinely as he walks to his first day at Memorial while he smolders underneath, or when he drops his car keys later in a panicked mess after hearing the truth about Barton. All is not well, and people are hiding behind the façade of routines, and it’s visually shown throughout this episode perfectly.
It’s somewhat comforting to see Masters of Sex return slightly to the patient-of-the-week approach that the first season sometimes adopted, especially since the plotting has all gotten so dense now. But this week’s indulgence in Rose is terribly bittersweet. She is having complications after her second abortion (which her parents were oblivious to), and her parents want to push sterilization and having her get a hysterectomy, while Masters insists that it’s Rose’s decision and in issue of her well-being, not theirs. It’s some appropriately heavy material as Rose cries out how she can’t even fathom herself to be a fit mother, no matter how far down the line it were to happen. Masters has become such a monster progressively through the show, this creature of ego and self-preservation, that it it’s truly pleasant to see him doing the right thing here. So much has happened around, and within Masters, that it’s nice when moments can be taken just to show you how good and caring he is at his job, even if he’s putting it on the line in the process.
In fact, throughout this episode, Bill and Virginia are both shown excelling at their work when they’re allowed to just get to it and do their jobs. There’s a wonderfully playful scene where we cut back and forth between Virginia and Bill answering questions on their study, as their questioners get flushed and fumble (and some inspired editing being done with Virginia’s counterpart having an orgasm from discussing the work, as we then cut to Dr. Greathouse looking relaxed as he smokes a cigarette with Masters). These scenes of power and confidence hold much weight as through the politics of their work, there’s much more struggling.
For instance, Bill is back doing his study at Memorial, but because Betty’s husband got him this job, Bill is kind of at the mercy of Betty as she continues to extort him in this new position. It surely doesn’t help that Bill is well aware of Betty’s unscrupulous past, such as her prostitution and inability to conceive with Gene. So Betty is calling the shots with wanting more than just Bill keeping mum, but also fertility treatment in spite of its uselessness on her. Bill is also roadblocked by wanting to re-integrate Virginia into his study, but Dr. Greathouse doesn’t think she’s qualified enough (ie. Important, necessary) and is more concerned with giving Bill a new secretary, a “gem” of a woman named Barbara Sanderson, (the very welcome cast addition by Betsy Brandt; The Michael J. Fox Show) much to Bill’s chagrin. As last season showed, Bill didn’t exactly have the best reputation with his secretaries before Virginia came along. Masters almost glares at her like he does his child, as he finds more and more restrictions being placed on his work.
On the other side of things, Virginia is also placed in a difficult situation where she isn’t sure if returning to work with Bill is in her best interest, in spite of their new romantic entanglement. She obviously cares about the work they’re doing, but she’s also aware that Dr. DePaul is getting more and more dependent on her as her cervical cancer worsens, and if they are to be successful in normalizing Pap smears nationwide, she’s going to need someone to help continue her work after she’s no longer able to do it; what she’s looking for is someone to continue her work after she’s gone, and Virginia’s being torn between being both Masters and DePaul’s protégé, unable to carry both of these legacies. A decision is going to have to be made soon enough.
DePaul seems to be getting worse, as she appears to be drinking heavily on her own to numb her condition, but seems to be putting herself in harm in the process. There are only so many medicine cabinets you can hit before ending up in the hospital. It’s tough watching her practice her speech like a ventriloquist dummy, re-training herself on things she should know, or seeing Virginia help her with her makeup to cover up her bruises, unable to help herself. This all pales in comparison to when she actually attempts to record the Pap smear procedure video, cracking and messing up words as it becomes increasingly clear that she’s drunk. It’s a devastating scene that borders on the sadness displayed with Barton last week (who, happens to be in Venice with Margaret this week, after some super sleuthing done by Masters and Johnson…And if True Detective season three is reading this…). Dr. DePaul has always been such a strong, rock of a character and one of the most confident female voices to be featured throughout the show. Seeing her relegated to a drunken mess as she struggles to hold on is really moving, and hopefully not how her character ends up going out.
Back at home, watching Coral interact and bond with Libby is really touching as you see them get close and trade burn stories. It seems like Libby might finally have someone to talk to to help alleviate all of the stress she takes on. That being said, the scene where she coaches her to stop saying “ax a question” is pretty painful, especially since she frames it all as them being a team, as she tries to co-opt her. Coral takes it though and plays the ventriloquist’s dummy, just like DePaul, and Betty, and Virginia as they burp out forced phrases. Missing is the strength that Betty talks about when she was young and stabbed her mother in the eye with one of her pumps for repeatedly calling her a whore and judging her. The young Betty blinded her mother because sometimes you just need to stand up for yourself.
This opens up the larger idea that while this episode is very much about reintroduction, it’s also about this concept contextualized through powerless women. Rose is void of a voice here, DePaul a slave to her drinking and disease, Coral is intimidated by Libby’s upbringing, Barbara flounders on her first day with Masters, Vivian is physically even put in a cast, and Betty, even in spite of all of her power over Bill here, still can’t get her opinion on Rose’s situation to be heard or help from getting knocked over. Even Virginia, often the most powerful woman in the show, is seen helpless and asking for mercy to try to push the Pap smear study forward if DePaul continues down her current path. As mercy is asked for these women, some seem like they’ll have a chance, like Virginia and Rose who is finally given agency by the end of this. But people like DePaul, Coral, and Betty still seem like their work will be cut out for them.
Much power is up in flux everywhere with a lot of characters seeming to barely be holding on and we’re already only two episodes in. Masters and Johnson are also barely getting any time together, spending most of their scenes at their not-affair hotel room off camera. It currently looks like their relationship is one of the few things that is allowing them to hold on and get through their lives. Whether it’s a good idea or not, you know what they say to do when your car starts to skid, you hit the gas and steer right into that skid. And as everyone is steering into their respective skids, a pileup is inevitable.
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