“Most lives are like francium, the most unstable of all the elements.”
Here we are at the end of a very polarizing season of Masters of Sex, and whether you’ve been fully invested or ambivalent to the season’s events, there’s no denying that it’s exciting to finally see Masters and Johnson putting the finishing touches on their forever-running study. It’s especially exciting since the last time Masters shared his work in a big way, it cost him his job. Whether their work is accepted or not, this is a big moment in the scope of the series.
Bill’s even having moments of delusion once his impotency is solved and their study is ready, comparing himself to Kennedy as confetti rains down on him and people applaud like in A Clockwork Orange. Bill might feel like Kennedy now, but we all know what eventually happened to him. A fall is coming for Masters.
It’s smart to see this finale really just get down to the relationship of Virginia and Bill, which is what this show has always been about, and to re-establish that as the season closes is a strong, strong statement. Bill basically solves his impotency through a “Virginia and Bill are awesome montage” as they’re framed picturesquely, naked in a mirror. It does feel somewhat rushed considering how uneventful this approach was episodes ago, but with the amount of time that passes between episodes in this show (in this case, it’s at least six weeks according to George), it’s entirely plausible.
It’s refreshing to see Libby being much more free with her body, presenting herself naked in a rare moment, after she’s been reawakened by Robert and more asserted and proud of herself. It’s a wonderful visual metaphor for what she’s going through. It’s fascinating to have Bill and Libby’s sexual re-awakenings happening simultaneously but from entirely different people, and being expressed in wholly different ways. It’s a very smart way of showing how in sync to each other they are, but also growing increasingly independent of each other.
This brings out the very present idea that weighs heavy all over this episode: instability is everywhere, whether it’s in the results of the study, in Bill and Libby’s marriage more than ever, as she’s ready to leave her family for this new life, in the shaky foundation on which Flo and Langham’s “relationship” is built off of now that he knows her family is beyond rich, and in Virginia’s custody arrangement. And even if things seem stable, like Bill’s sexual performance, it can all be the calm before the storm. We’re all just francium waiting to combust.
To reflect on what might have grown to be the most unstable relationship on the show, the Scullys, finally they are back! Or at least, Barton is. It’s incredibly comforting to have Barton back as his presence has been missed all season since his beyond-sad performance in the premiere. But as nice as this reunion is, it’s also entirely possible that Barton is just in Bill’s head, as he drinks at a bar, lost in his thoughts, pining for a friend that used to give him guidance when he needed it. I think it’s beyond possible that Barton isn’t even there.
The episode is full of classic debates that made the show so exhilarating in the first place, as a wonderful discussion goes on between Bill and Lester as they debate over whether a relationship can exist and survive without sex. “Sex is as basic as breathing,” says Bill, as Lester speaks of romance but Masters just crashes down on him and says it’s impossible. Meanwhile though, he continues to have a relationship with his wife, who he says he loves, and hasn’t had sex with in years. This is more of Bill trying to be in control and validate what’s going on with himself. Because he is “healed,” sex is suddenly the lynchpin to everything. He can do it, so he can have a relationship.
It’s truly terrible to see Virginia giving into George (even if he is kind of right) and more or less forfeiting her children in order to preserve the study and keep it sacred. Her mindlessly chirping that it’s only temporary it’s only temporary, as Bill stares at her in horrored disbelief after he realizes just what sort of damage has been done. Just how deep this study courses and is entrenched in Virginia, as she brings on the most instability to her life of all. She’s moving more and more into a position of only having the study, which is heartbreaking, since it was always her family first, with the study creeping more and more into dominance. To see her almost more committed to the study than Bill now, literally choosing her work over her kids, is devastating.
Perception, which has been such a big theme for the season ties a bow on everything quite nicely by the hack-job editing that’s done to Bill and Virginia by CBS. This is the public’s first intake of them, and it’s a doctored, compromised kernel of what it should be. It gets even worse when it’s revealed that the film isn’t going to air at all, with perception being ripped away from them. They have no voice at all, what Virginia was afraid of the most, as Kaufman pulls ahead; it being doubly mortifying when it effectively strips Virginia of her family, too, with Bill being responsible for it all.
Again we get Masters the Monster doing something far more damaging than the lies he told to Libby so long ago about infertility, but he acts as the agent that ends up securing Virginia’s children away from her. Perhaps not directly, but he has blood on his hands, and he’s taken a piece away from her that is never going to be filled, and she’s going to fundamentally harden accordingly. Virginia has a dangerous road ahead of her, one of the most unstable of all.
“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is lacking the huge “oomph” that the first season concluded with, but it’s still a very satisfying episode in a very satisfying season that goes out on the right note. The season has definitely had its ups and down.
While this season may have lost some of the magic that the first season had when it was shiny and new, some amazing things have gone on here. It’s been a tremendous season for Bill himself, as we’ve gone deeper into him than I expected we would as quickly as we did. The season also more than anything has reinforced the Bill and Virginia bond, as this season closes on their “cure” going public, but with less of their families. This unity is more important than ever.
But with an episode that is trading so much in for instability, there’s something optimistic and beautiful in the culmination of Lester and Barbara’s adorable, respectful courtship. It’s a nice counterpart to all of the aggressiveness and infidelity going on elsewhere. Where people are using sex as leverage or unjust validation, these two truly just want to heal each other and accept each other. Lester says that they are messy and complicated and like an Antonioni film, but they’re perhaps the most functional relationship on the show, dysfunction or not.
It makes sense for the episode to close with Lester and Barbara being contrasted against Bill and Virginia, as these people that are broken in one way try to heal these other people that are broken in another. These two constant sources of instability can actually stabilize each other. As everything else is chipping away, they’re reinforcing themselves. So perhaps something good can still come of this. Kennedy may get assassinated soon enough, but there is brightness still ahead.
Stick with the bowtie. Things will be okay.