“You’ve got to be first Bill. That’s what this is all about.”
It feels like everybody’s rushing this week, whether it’s to get a tie to Bill, or for Virginia to get a moment with her kids, or even Bill to get through this CBS experience, so Shep can posit their research above everyone else’s. Everybody is rushing, whether it’s because the finale is coming next week or otherwise, so it’s a little surprising that this episode lacks some impact, considering some of the stuff that goes down in it.
Much of this episode is concerned with Bill and Virginia’s television appearance on CBS, and so it’s fitting that last week ended with Bill getting quite the shiner and one of the first scenes this week is the suggestion of him covering his bruises with makeup. This becomes a runner throughout the episode, with him constantly checking his face and applying on-the-fly touchups out of insecurity and fear. This is not just rooted in vanity though, as the episode goes out of its way to reference the famous Kennedy and Nixon debate, and how this big opportunity for them could be ruined by Bill looking like trash.
Bill’s eager to get their work out there (and for a brief moment he comes into his own as he preaches on how the terminology of the body is crucial), but he doesn’t want to be turned into a salesman in the process. He’s a doctor and he just wants to educate. This season has largely been about perception, and this story is no different, except it’s extrapolated all the way to America’s perception of Bill. How can they trust him if he’s a bowtie wearing frail mess! Bill remains largely silent through the appearance as Virginia adapts and talks clearly and slowly for the layman as things like the “orgasm” are dumbed down to “peak.” While at the same time, Shep insists to Bill that he is a salesman, selling an experience or opportunity to people.
This television appearance on CBS has been one of the bigger plotlines that has been teased through the season, and it plays out in a pretty satisfying, albeit expected manner. Hopefully next week we’ll see how the segment does, and what the backlash, if any is for Masters and Johnson. There’s such an overwhelming sense of wanted to be welcomed into someone’s home through this material. It’s a strong feeling of inclusion, even if it’s fabricated, and it gives a little more poignancy to events like Frank and his wife going back to Kansas City after the fight he had with Bill. Here is someone who not only isn’t welcomed into someone’s home, but outright rejected. The man who just wanted to have a family ended up relatively alone, and who knows if his wife will become fertile not without Bill’s help.
One of Bill’s larger problems this episode is claiming that their work has fixed dysfunction, when it hasn’t even done that once, in spite of heading in the positive direction. Even the cure to Bill’s impotency apparently hasn’t stuck, as he still sees himself struggling to have sex with Virginia, and more frustrated than ever that he can’t return to what he had. We see his body almost taunting him as he wakes up to an erection when he doesn’t need it, and has no use for it. I don’t think anyone was expecting Bill to be “cured” within a week, but the material this time doesn’t feel like it’s offering up much new. It’s familiar ground at this point.
Another character who is rushing around and wanting to be welcomed in is the new one played by Marc Evan Jackson (who has really been all over television lately, and just generally killing it), who turns up as a maker of keys, who works in the building, and knows how to appreciate irony. His character or story hasn’t really gone anywhere yet, but he’ll surely be a bigger element in next week’s finale, otherwise I just don’t understand the point of him at all.
And speaking of things not really going anywhere, Langham and Flo’s affair continues to go on, much to Langham’s reticence, escalating into her making him act out Gone With the Wind-esque roleplay scenes (and largely done for comic relief, almost right down to the score playing through the scene) as he just tries to politely get out. I haven’t been the biggest fan of this storyline (even if it’s been nice to see It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Artemis doing legitimate work), especially since this show feels bloated enough as it is. It served a thematic purpose last week, but to draw it out through the finale may be a misstep. We’ll see if it’s building to anything more, but currently it just feels extraneous to fill in the absence felt by Barton and Margaret Scully (remember them!?). Having more of Virginia at her therapist, discussing everything that’s going on with George and their kids feels like it would have been a better use of time.
On the topic of such though, the material with George is pretty great stuff, and he makes more than a few good points on taking the kids to Europe for six weeks. While it’s an easy position to just have George appear to be better than when we last saw him, and having his life together, it doesn’t reduce the impact of these scenes. It’s frustrating to see Virginia pushing against this so hard initially, as I’d like to think that she can be big enough here to understand.
Showing Virginia’s lawyer telling her like it is, and saying she really should let George do this, lest things get worse for her is a welcome reality check for her, and this is maybe one of my preferred stories to see pushing into the end of things. Virginia’s kids are growing up and becoming less dependent on her, and seeing her work through this and no longer have the role she once did is engaging stuff.
The real star of this episode is without a doubt Libby, who has largely been the punching bag this year. She’s once again the savior and fixer of everything when it comes to Bill, with the fate of his tie in her hands. As she’s relegated to waiting rooms and having her ability questioned with Bill. Libby even finds herself wearing the same color as Virginia, and it’s joked that this is the uniform of Bill Masters’ women, as she’s pushed down even further. Frankly, this might be a little too much, as we’ve gotten more and more of this sort of thing every week. Even having Libby later be confused for the wife of George is pushing things pretty far, in spite of these different pairings being interesting to watch. Libby naturally finds herself torn more and more between her work at CORE, where she actually feels valued.
This, and essentially, what the whole season has been boiling down to, right from the treatment of Coral so long ago, culminates in a scene with Libby and Robert in his car as he takes her home from work. The two are interrupted and interrogated by the police, and it’s all pretty appalling, just like the other scenes of this nature that have happened this season. A lot of this does feel like wheels spinning until everything explodes in next week’s finale. It’s not that none of this material is engaging, it just feels familiar, and on the penultimate episode, that can be a bit of a problem.
At least seeing all of this get pushed into Libby having an affair of her own is good stuff (not to mention a parallel to Flo, and the rest of the women in America’s Gone With the Wind fixation, at least justifying the Langham/Flo content a little more for thematic purposes), and a fascinating dynamic to explore as this show moves into another year. This season has featured a lot of Libby being invisible and not having a voice in spite of how much she’s been helpful and instrumental, as we’ve been getting the same thing going on with the race war in the background too. To pair these together to lead into an affair is the perfect storm of it all, and hopefully it changes the dynamic of this show in a big way.
There’s a lot to come together next week for the finale, and while next-to-last episodes are usually the action, plot-heavy extravaganzas that cap off a year before the calm that follows, this one is pretty mediocre by all means. I’d like to think that next week can tie all of this together in a way that doesn’t feel deeply frantic and rushed, otherwise we might just be stuck with something that’s putting makeup on a bruise; trying to obscure the truth and present us with something different than what we’re really getting.
I don’t want to have to be asking at the end of things, “Is that concealer?”