|Bill Masters gives some good advice in "Masters of Sex"|
Are we our worst part? It’s kind of a fundamental question. In film and television (even great movies and shows) characters are often distilled to only their barest essences. We can’t, after all, know everything about a person only seeing them for a few hours of their lives. So it’s natural for a series to begin with only the fundamental characteristics of a person and to then show how they live up (or down) to those instincts or subvert them to become something different.
Take, for example, Dr. Austin Langham. The man is a pig. He’s been a philandering pig for the entire history of the show. In fact it’s his only really defining trait. Yet a good series will take that kernel – that simple idea – and expand upon it. Langham seems to have hit his low point; his wife is divorcing him and the entire hospital explicitly knows about his extracurricular activities. And yet, while he’s steering into the skid (or putting it into the ditch from Virginia’s perspective), he is the one man in the Masters of Sex universe who is capable of keeping it in his pants whenever Virginia is around. For as terrible a husband as he was and as much of a rake as he still is, Langham is the one man, seemingly, able to see Johnson for the strong, independent, “lone wolf” woman that she is. How is it that the man with the poorest view of women understands them the best? Langham’s promiscuity is his “worst part,” but there’s still a chance he can find a way to channel it into something useful.
“Kyrie Eleison” (Latin for “Lord, have mercy) is filled with people trying either to deny their worst part or turn into its skid. The most heartbreaking, obviously, being young Rose, whose demons manifest in a form so obvious and so frowned-upon. I love that neither Bill nor the show are interested in whether Rose’s actions are caused by an actual addiction or merely by more traditional teenage rebellion or hormones. It doesn’t really matter. As Masters says, Rose is not her worst part. That the world and the medical community have not progressed far enough to deal with her problem is not her fault. But denying or demonizing her urges isn’t going to solve anything. While it was Bill’s statement of support that stands out (and provides the theme for this piece), it’s Rose’s conversation with Betty that has the greater impact. Betty’s been there. She’s been called a whore, ostracized by her family. She also knows what it’s like to give in to that reputation and to surmount it. It’s a wonderful little scene that makes me glad they found a place for Annaleigh Ashford this season.
Also trying to deny her worst part is Dr. DePaul. In retrospect, her black eye from last week was clearly the result of a cancer-induced stumble or fainting spell and her aphasia is the most obvious sign yet that her cancer has metastasized. I can’t imagine what it would be like to know that you’ll likely never see the fruits of your life’s work come to pass. She’s understandably frustrated at having to be the public face of pap smears but, given that she’s the only doctor working in the field, she doesn’t really have much of a choice.
While some of the women were denying their worst parts, Masters joined Langham in turning into the skid. His obsession with work and utter distaste for pretty much everybody but Virginia and his patients were on full display. With as much time as he’s sunk into the sex study it’s easy to forget that Bill is still a world-class obstetrician. It’s nice to see Bill caring about the well-being of another person (other than Virginia or Barton at least), since we haven’t seen much other love in his home life. It’s unclear what Bill’s future holds at the hospital since he’s already had one spat with his boss, who also seems to care about the sex study in a way much different from what Bill intended. I like to see him finally getting a taste of the prurience that Virginia’s been seeing everyday from the study.
It’s nice to think that we don’t have to be our worst parts or, at the very least, that we can turn our worst parts into something positive. I doubt we’ll see Rose again, but I’m looking forward to seeing how these characters continue either to embrace or deny their demons.
Tyler Williams is a professional librarian and an amateur television critic. You can reach him at TyTalksTV AT gmail DOT com or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.