Masters of Sex, Season 2, Episode 11, “One for the Money, Two for the Show
September 21, 2014, 10:00 p.m. (EST), Showtime
There are so many versions of season two of Masters of Sex in my head. In one, we follow Bill and Virginia trying to make it work at Buell Green and dealing with the constant political tensions and ambiguities that entailed. In another, we take a longer look at what I can only assume will be their abortive foray into television (after all, next week’s finale is helpfully titled “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”), examining the various calculations and complications that arise as the two try to adjust to the idea of being television presences. In still a third (and admittedly, the least likely), the entire season plays out a la “Fight,” as just a series of evening where Bill and Virginia meet in that hotel room over years, and the tiny details of their accumulated lives in the interim slowly seep out over the course of the nights they spend together there. I don’t have any of these seasons of television, though. Instead, what I have is some sort of hodge-podge of all of them. Even when “One for the Money, Two for the Show” was working for me, and it did work for long stretches, I couldn’t help but think one thing: God, this season is a mess. And there are so many ways it didn’t have to be.
As is standard for a penultimate episode, “One for the Money, Two for the Show” brings all of the season’s still simmering plotlines to a boiling point, as Bill and Virginia get ready to be TV stars, Libby finally takes the plunge with Robert (I guess this is what that storyline has been being built up to? It’s all sort of confusing, like interracial coupling in the segregated South, but probably a little less oppressive), and Flo and Austin…reenact the rape scene from Gone with the Wind. The episode is peppered with wonderful little moments between characters, some great writing, and the best work Caitlin Fitzgerald has done all season, but even so, read the last few sentences and tell me we are watching a season of television that is even remotely approximating greatness.
The Flo and Austin storyline is one of the weirdest things I have seen on a quality dramatic program in quite some time (probably since around when Kalinda’s ex husband showed up on The Good Wife to eat ice cream and be vaguely menacing), and even the show seems at a loss for what its doing here. Sometimes it seems like Cal-o-Metric is a metaphor for the lies we tell ourselves to hide from difficult truths, sometimes it seems like the show finds the idea of gender-flipped workplace sexual harassment yuk-worthy (it really, really isn’t), and sometimes it feels like the show knew it wouldn’t have Beau Bridges and Allison Janney and couldn’t make the Moretti marriage subplot stretch to season length so just decided to throw some side characters at the problem and roll the dice. The moment when Flo tries to get Austin retroactively invested in their roleplaying and he points out “I think maybe that’s your story” is absolutely stellar in and of itself, as is Flo’s nonchalant “Huh…maybe it is” in response. But if her observation “When has self-awareness ever changed a person’s behavior, huh?” does actually function as a pretty good statement of one of this season’s major themes, it still comes almost completely out of left field, from a storyline that has never come close to having a purpose other than filling some air time until we can get back to the things that matter.
Then there’s Libby, still off learning some lessons about how racism is bad, but maybe racially transgressive loving is good, even if the taboo is part of what is getting both people off, I guess? This storyline has always verged between the weirdly pointless and the deeply uncomfortable, as if the show isn’t sure how much it buys into Libby’s backwards views of the world or how much it is trying to use Robert as a mouth piece for the writers, who are writing in 2014 and therefore of course are not racist. This plotline hasn’t worked for me all season, but again, a moment near the end of the episode lands so spectacularly, I momentarily forgot the mess from which it was emerging. The scene where Libby tries to draw a connection between her sheltered, repressed life as a housewife and Robert’s openly oppressed struggles as a minority in a deeply segregated culture is the kind of complex, murky, confusing and fascinating interaction this storyline has needed all season. It isn’t clear how much Libby is exhibiting the stereotypes Robert points out or how much she has finally just found something she wants. Honestly, it’s probably a little bit of both, and the two bleed together so much that they become inextricable. This is the sort of emotional complexity that used to be Masters of Sex’s bread and butter, and the chemistry between the actors in these moments is palpable. But again, right up until Libby and Robert entered the Masters’ house, this storyline was pretty much just “Look how bad racism is!”
What does work in “One for the Money, Two for the Show” is all of the material about Bill and Virginia’s efforts to become the televised spokespeople for sexual research. The way Bill’s buttoned-down nature bats up against the goal at hand, the way the crew member’s “Beauty and the Beast” comment subtly eats away at him until he explodes in a rage of impotence and insecurity, and the general comedy of the various television professionals and sex researchers trying to dance around censorship problems and their oft-opposed agendas is all very good, frequently funny stuff. This season has been adrift at providing any story about the study—it exists during a fallow time for the two, and so has sort of coasted by claiming financials were tight and competitors were close to their discoveries—but where it has never faltered is in its efforts to build up the interpersonal relations of Bill and Virginia, whose connection and deep need for each other feels increasingly authentic.
In moments like Flo’s observations, Libby’s monologue, or Bill and Virginia’s conversation alone in their offices late at night, “One for the Money, Two for the Show” is one of the strongest episodes of the season. Yet two of its three storylines are total failures until their final moments, and the third is more a frustrating success (in that this could easily have been five or six episodes worth of great storyline) than an outright one. Next week, we’ll close the book on season two of Masters of Sex. Whether the show will be able to pull any of this together appears increasingly unlikely, but if it can end strong enough, it may allow us to overlook some of the bonkers decisions its been making the past several weeks in hindsight. Ultimately, what the show has too often lost sight of this year is that it works best when it is about Bill and Virginia, alone together, coming to terms with themselves in ways they’ve never been able to before, and trying to fight off the darkness by clinging to each other and hoping to attract the light.
- “CBS doesn’t like dildos.”
- “Sorry to stop you again, Doctor, but orgasm is a problem.” “For some people, yes.” “No, I mean for the censors.”
- “As Henry David Thoreau said, ‘Beware all enterprises that require new clothes.’”
- “Censorship perpetuates shame, which in turn fosters ignorance.”
- “And what of the common misconception that you two are a couple?” “Well, we tell people we’re married to the work.” “Just not each other.”
- “Its easy to be idealistic when your life’s work isn’t at stake.” “Isn’t that the exact time to be idealistic?”
- “I am not a salesman, Shep.” “Well, then you’re the only one, Bill. Because we are all selling something.”
- “I don’t think you’re stupid. I think you’re uninformed.”
- “Who’s gonna give you presents?”
- “Your wanting to be good makes you quiet. So quiet you forget the sound of your own voice.”
In moments like Flo’s observations, Libby’s monologue, or Bill and Virginia’s conversation alone in their offices late at night, “One for the Money, Two for the Show” is one of the strongest episodes of the season.