“Someone always ends up crying.” – Masters of Sex Recap – Family Only

Masters of Sex Season 4, Episode 6
“Family Only”
Posted by Kim

STOP KILLING LESBIAN CHARACTERS FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT 2K16.

In the moments after the final credits rolled on “Family Only,” my initial thought was the good old chestnut, “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” But you know what? Fuck that. I AM mad and I AM disappointed. Because Betty and Helen deserved more than this. And I expected more of Masters of Sex than cheap ass storytelling.

Why was it cheap storytelling? Because it was telegraphed, down to the fucking episode title. As soon as Barton and Bill assured Betty that she shouldn’t worry that Helen’s water breaking was extra bloody and that c-sections are so routine that you could do two before lunch, you KNEW that Helen was doomed. If your audience knows how this story is going to end 21 minutes into the episode, it’s cheap and lazy storytelling.

I get that Masters of Sex is a period piece and that this is exactly how Betty’s story would have unfolded in real life. Same-sex partners had no rights in the eyes of the law in the 70s and the baby WOULD have gone to the grandparents and not Helen’s partner, who was going to raise the baby as her own flesh and blood. I get that. What I don’t get is how the creative team of Masters of Sex decided that this was the most interesting story to tell. It’s not. You know what would have been interesting? Seeing Betty and Helen trying to navigate raising a family together in the face of overwhelming bigotry. What would have been interesting is seeing them struggle but stand firm in their love for each other and for the baby they wanted to raise together. What would have been interesting is seeing the people who believed in them, like Bill and Virginia and Barton, surround them with love and understanding. Seeing Betty lose not only her partner but the child she so desperately longed for in one fell swoop? THAT’S NOT INTERESTING. And the fact that it was all crammed into the last five minutes of what was otherwise a cracking good episode of television? That, my friends, is what we call a sucker punch. And what are sucker punches? CHEAP SHOTS.

What pisses me off the most about this whole debacle is that it makes it harder for me to appreciate how GOOD the actors were in it. Annaleigh Ashford has long been the MVP of Masters of Sex and she DELIVERED in this episode. She expressed Betty’s joy and fear and grief so perfectly and she did it all with her face wiped clean of Betty’s usual mod make-up. She was a pillar of support as Helen dealt with the pain of her parents’ disownment. She was a fierce Mama Bear as she fought for Helen’s medical treatment and expressed her fears about her condition. She was incredibly selfless in calling Helen’s parents at great personal risk to herself because she knew that was what her partner wanted. She was incredibly gentle as it became clear that Helen was circling the drain and she didn’t want her to panic or be afraid. And she was beautifully numb when Helen’s parents shut her out of the nursery declaring it was for family only. (God, at LEAST have the nerve to say it to her face.) Ashford was EVERYTHING in this episode. She deserves a meaty storyline because she is capable of delivering but again I go back to “WHY THIS STORY?”. It all around sucks and I’m angry and disappointed. We all deserve better than this.

WHY

WHY

I guess other things happened in this episode too. Like I said, I’m having a hard time caring, but I’ll try.

Let me start by saying that I LOVE what they’ve been doing with Libby this season. I love that she’s found her spine and I love that Caitlin Fitzgerald appears completely revitalized by Libby’s liberation. What I find mildly troubling is that they are using Libby’s character as like a one-stop shop for all the sexual fads of the decade. One week they have her at a feminist bra-burning meeting (CAN WE GO BACK TO THAT?), the next she’s exploring the wonders of oral sex and 69 with her ex-husband. This week, it’s off to a nudist colony with Bram, who I am still not fully on board with. Look, I get that there is an obvious spark between them but between his actions at the coat party and the way he relished telling Libby that his clients were nudists, I still feel like he is always trying to poke and prod at what he views as her “delicate sensibilities” and see her freak out. Something about that doesn’t ring true to me. For all his poking and prodding at her, Libby never breaks or runs screaming though. While she is initially shocked upon arriving at the colony (and who wouldn’t be with all the limp dicks and era-appropriate bush?), she quickly composes herself and more importantly, she never judges them or acts uncomfortable around them. Furthermore, she uses her own legal knowledge to help solve their zoning issues. A delicate flower the new Libby Masters is not.

I think they’ve been putting Libby in all these new situations because she’s the only character truly willing to evolve right now. It’s baby steps for her, but it’s steps nonetheless. She tells Bram she has no patience for taking things slow (“I’m sorry, was that supposed to be romantic?”) and she embraces the “self-respect” the nudists believe in bathed in the safety of the middle of the night when no one else can see her. “You consistently surprise me,” Bram tells Libby as she stands unflinchingly naked in front of him. (See, it’s comments like THAT that bug the hell out of me. It’s like he’s surprised that she’s sexually open? SHE IS A CARNAL WOMAN BRAM, MOST WOMEN ARE.) “I don’t know exactly what it is that I’m looking for,” Libby tells him. “But I do know that I want it to be passionate. I want to find a man where there’s real sexual chemistry.” In the words of Meredith Grey, she wants heat, she wants romance, dammit, she wants to feel like a freaking lady. She basically demands that Bram stop treating her like a China Doll and fuck her already. Bless. I am all about Libby taking what should be hers. I just hope that she doesn’t find herself settling for less than what she deserves.


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And then there is Bill and Virginia and the UTTER mess they have made of their relationship. After achieving her moment of clarity during her night with Art, Virginia has been giving Bill the full court press while he’s desperately trying to keep her at arm’s length. She’s pulling out all of the stops, showing up at his apartment with bubbly to celebrate the book being back on track and pushing her way into cases and booking their old hotel room so they can “get things back on track” and she’s completely ignoring everything Bill is telling her. I am sure she’s telling herself that Bill is just denying his feelings and if she pushes hard enough he’ll give into her but the whole time I am like “JUST BE HONEST WITH HIM ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT.”


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That’s all you can do in this sort of situation: say that you fucked up and then it’s in the other person’s hands. That’s what finally DOES happen in the aftermath of the smackdown with Art and Nancy and the coat party: Virginia finally tells Bill that she wants him and wants to be with him. Bill predictably shuts down. “You just want me today. I don’t know, maybe because I’ve stopped pursuing you. Or because Dan is gone, I’m the only option left. Or because it’s just easier with me because I’m always there. But what happens tomorrow, when you wake up and, uh, oh, you want someone else?” Bill’s feelings of betrayal are totally valid but at the same time I’m fed up with how easy it is for Bill to forget how HE has treated Virginia for the past decade. He’s been as manipulative as she has, using her feelings for the work to get her to stay with him rather than voicing his love for her. I have to keep reminding myself of that because it’s real easy to forget in the face of an emotionally open Bill Masters that he is not the victim in this situation. There IS no victim here, just two emotionally damaged people hurting each other over and over because they are too inept to process their own feelings. I GET that the push and pull between Bill and Virginia is the very crux of the series but at this point I can’t help but be exhausted by it. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some angst and Gini and Bill’s relationship is way too complex to be resolved in a quick and perfect ending. Where I get concerned is wondering if we’re supposed to think is all this agony and longing is romantic? That the pain Gini and Bill have cause each other just means that they are soulmates destined to be together once they muddle through all the shit? I’m not sure any more. To borrow Bill’s words from earlier this season, that’s not love, it’s torture.

Case Studies

  • Haven’t we done the whole “self loathing because of your homosexual feelings” story with Barton? Why are we re-hashing it with Bob? Wake me up when this is over.
  • It’s amusing to me that the prospect of Art NOT sleeping with Virginia is more offensive to Nancy than the other way around. The fact that Art is maintaining the lie that he and Virginia slept together is disturbing. That whole scene where Art said that Virginia was lying to save face in front of Bill while Nancy begged for exact details of their night together was fucked up. GET OUT OF THAT RELATIONSHIP, ART.
  • That said, Jeremy Strong’s performance continues to impress the hell out of me. There’s SO MUCH going on beneath the surface with Art and you constantly see the gears turning in his brain as he tries not to betray his true emotions. Well done, sir.
  • I also hate that this whole conflict between Nancy and Virginia is now being built on the assumption that Gini is harboring feelings/issues over the night with Art. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good cat fight, but I prefer that it come out of clashing over professional issues rather than stemming from an apparent conflict over a man. NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT THAT, NANCY.

  • “Regardless of what actually happened in that room, you put your reputation and the reputation of the clinic at risk. But I suspect you already know that.” That’s SUPER rich coming from a man who just got off a criminal case where he was accused of paying people for sex.
  • “It’s not an object of desire. It’s a fixation. Maybe even obsession. You know, the word “desire” suggests that the object in question brings him any satisfaction at all, which it does not, which it never has. It has only ever brought him suffering.” I mean there’s on the nose and then there’s ON THE NOSE.
  • Are they going somewhere with the whole surveillance tape thing?
  • Okay but did they blow their budget on merkins or did they put out a casting call for 70s appropriate bushes? These are the things that keep me up at night.
  • I have to stress that my issues with story have no bearing on how magnificently acted this season has been. I could watch Michael and Lizzy go toe to toe for hours, I’m just tired of them being stuck in this cycle of pain.
  • I feel like we’re building up to a Series Finale rather than a season one.
  • HOW ARE BARTON AND JONATHAN? I need to know at least one gay couple is okay.

What were your thoughts on “Family Only”? Let us know in the comments.

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