“Just because you’re born with one face doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it.”
The idea of doubles is a fascinating one; these different, for better or worse, versions of ourselves that either exist, or we create. There are many different ways to explore the concept of duality in this other, and it seems to be especially appealing lately. It’s interesting that Dostoyevsky’s The Double was not only adapted into a film this year, but two, with Richard Ayoade’s The Double and Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy taking this idea of broken symmetry to even greater lengths by exploring it with very different approaches, bifurcating and fracturing everything even further.
This idea certainly isn’t new to Masters of Sex either, with Masters himself playing a different version of himself at the Park Plaza hotel, or the double life Betty found herself in as she tried to keep her past from Gene. This week it’s never been more prominent than with the arrival of Frank Mason. Frank is a plastic surgeon and practices in making people look beautiful; perpetuating this artificiality, so that you look like a different version of yourself when you look in the mirror. A better version of yourself.
But while this literal example of a mirror version is present, it’s also figuratively seen in the form of Frank, whose life seems very much like the mirror version of Bill and Libby’s. Bill’s alias at the Park Plaza is even nearly a copy of this, taking the name “Frank,” and while he claims it’s just a coincidence, he surely wishes he was this better version of himself as he proceeds to live this double life there.
Frank Mason returns, with a reluctance that’s seen on both ends, from Bill’s past asking him for help with infertility treatments. We see this mirror version of Bill, but a version who is doing it right, as Frank selflessly cares and gives for his child before he even has one, as Bill constantly fights to budge an inch. Frank is even so magnanimous that his problems with alcoholism have caused him to go sober for over a year now, while last episode made a point of showing Masters at his drunken worst. So it’s interesting when Bill is put in the position of making his life even more perfect.
Bill struggles to hide the case from Virginia and Betty while also keeping his connection to Frank a secret too. Virginia eventually pries the details out of him that they went to medical school together and had a “complicated relationship” where things didn’t end well between them, but she only gets this information out of him after connecting the dots over his Park Plaza pseudonym.
Masters and Johnson’s study itself also examines this idea of the mirror double as Virginia talks about every dysfunction having both a male and female version; that impotence would have a female equivalent and so forth. This is broken down even further with the idea of these dysfunctions in turn being mental or physical problems, almost setting the line of symmetry inside of us as the mental and physical are paired against itself. As the episode progresses we see more and more examples of sexual dysfunctions being predominantly a mental problem in spite of it involving the physical. Frank even tells us that you can make people look beautiful on the outside, but they’re still damaged on the inside. These two areas are constantly in flux.
Director Michael Apted, who started the season off with some of the best directorial efforts of the year, is back and visually illustrates this perfectly with some interesting stylistic choices like smashing Lester and Barbara’s sexual dysfunction backstories together, cutting back and forth mid-sentence, literally having them completing each other sentences, as these very different, yet similar stories again show the mirror theme that’s constant through this episode.
More of a face is given to this idea with Virginia wanting to help Barbara Sanderson with her peculiar dysfunction she mentioned in the last episode about vaginismus, when the vagina becomes impenetrable, and the equivalency of severe impotence. Brandt’s done a fine job with the character so far, with her mostly being used for light comic relief, but she really gets to show off her skills in this episode, conveying an entirely different side of the character. Barbara’s story is a terribly crushing one, and her tale drips with empathy, as she explains how her childhood naivety with her brother led to them having sex, getting caught, and her viewing her “closed up” condition as a result of God being angry with her, that he’s sickened by her, again showing the mental aspect at work in dysfunction.
We even see Virginia trying to pass her off as a patient, almost like a mirror version of what Bill tries to do with Frank. And later on Virginia is literally regurgitating Barbara’s story to a therapist, becoming her for a brief moment, as this idea on the double is built up further.
Bill and Virginia are also in need of a board of trustees so their audit and increasing financial issues can end sooner than later. Watching Bill and Virginia tag team the chief of police to get him to join the board is deeply enjoyable material, but it becomes even better when Libby gets involved too, with her fundraising being much more the factor in getting him to agree. Last week the idea of Virginia going on vacation with Bill and Libby was joked about, but this week it seems like something that’s increasingly plausible as she keeps getting inserted into their lives, whether it’s their dinner plans or the Veiled Prophet Ball. Virginia getting mistaken for Bill’s wife is maybe a little much, but it’s hard to deny it as situations like this continue to occur.
Libby is taken deeper down the rabbit hole she’s been going down all season as she witnesses a hate crime in the form of an African American, Leonard Gilroy, being killed on the street, mercilessly. The news reports that the death was apparently the result of a fight, fixating on the alleged ounce of marijuana that was on Lenny, while outright hiding the fact that he was a history teacher and did work for racial equality. Here the mirror of the media is shown as it takes reality and reflects back a twisted version of the truth. The event clearly upsets Libby, hollowing her out as she lets things like dinner burn without caring, in what are some great scenes that feel reminiscent of season two Betty Draper on Mad Men in all the best possible ways.
It gets to the point that Libby is asked if she can help in building a case, offering what she saw, but in the end she chooses to be silent. Obviously regret is experienced over this decision though, as she talks about it to Bill as well as longing for a place to fit in, and by the end of the episode it seems like a change has started or she’s perhaps found that place, albeit in an unlikely location.
After all of the doubles that are compared and contrasted here, the biggest revelation of the episode comes in the form of the bombshell at the end over what Frank’s connection to Bill actually is. He’s his brother. This is beyond satisfying and played so matter-of-factly, and it’s the perfect connection of all these roving elements. You see both Frank and Bill have been telling themselves this lie about being an only child, but Bill is the only one doing it because he wants to, or needs to, even.
With Masters’ mother recently re-entering his life, and his brother wanting to do the same, it’s an interesting idea that this season, while about many things, has also been saying a lot about Bill gaining more and more of a family, and him continually trying to be resistant of it, whether in the literal sense, or pushing away the support system of a hospital. Of course, this family of Bill’s is the antithesis of this life he has tried to create for himself. He has edited them out for a reason, and as they keep picking away at the edges of him, it’s likely going to be messy as he tries to reconcile this.
That mirror is going to get some cracks.