Monday, September 1, 2014

Masters of Sex #208 "Mirror, Mirror"

Masters of Sex Virginia and Libby
Virginia and Libby at the Veiled Prophet's Ball

by Catherine Giordano

Dysfunction in the lab, dysfunction in the bedroom, dysfunction in the family, and dysfunction in society—dysfunction is the theme for Showtime’s Masters of Sex, episode 208, titled “Mirror, Mirror” which aired on Sunday, August 31, 2014. Dysfunction is the theme of tis review and recap.

Virginia Johnson and Bill Masters continue to work on the sex research study. Bill wants to obtain legitimacy for his work as well as tax advantages, and he determines that he must have a board of directors comprised of community leaders. Despite their dysfunctional marriage, Masters’ wife, Libby, remains the dutiful helpmate. Bill and Libby have dinner with a man Bill wants on his board and the man’s wife.  When the wife mentions that she is involved with the Veiled Prophet charity gala dinner, Libby volunteers to help raise money. Virginia is invited to attend wit Libby and Bill to help persuade the prospective board member. (At the ball, Virginia is mistaken for Bill’s wife, a nice bit for viewers who know what Libby does not yet know.)
Jocko Sims
Jocko Sims plays Robert
The Veiled Prophet Ball is a real St. Louis that began in 1878 and continues to this day, albeit renamed the “Fair St. Louis” and no longer restricted to white male Christians. This event is dysfunctional and disturbing in so many ways.  A man dressed in robes with his face covered by a white veil escorts debutantes. His costume reminds us of the Ku Klux Klan.  At the dinner, the guests are served by black men in tuxedos wearing a white mask across their eyes. I found this get-up very unsettling. But the whole prophet and debutante thing was the most disturbing. It seemed like some icky perverted sexual ritual of droit de seigneur.  (P.S. Libby’s hard work for the Veiled Prophet pays off--the man agrees to be on Bill’s board.)
There are other references to race in the episode. CORE, The Congress for Racial Equality, has offices in the same building as Dr. Master’s office. Libby witnesses an act of violence in the street against one of the leaders of CORE at the hands of white men.  It turns out that Robert, the brother of Libby’s former nanny, is involved with CORE and he goes to Libby’s house to ask her if she saw anything. The only witnesses are blacks and the police will not consider the testimony of a black person. Libby, at first. claims that she did not see anything, but later. changes her mind. Perhaps the Veiled Prophet event was as disturbing to her as it was to me, because it is after that event that Libby goes to Robert’s apartment and says that she will testify.

Bill is still sexually dysfunctional, suffering from impotence--no sex for the wife or for Virginia. Bill is hiding his impotence from Virginia coming up with excuses to avoid sexual intercourse.

While Virginia may be unaware of Bill’s impotence, she is starting to take an interest in sexual dysfunction. She tells Bill that over a third of the volunteers for the research have to be turned away as NV-- non-viable—because of some sexual “abnormality.” Virginia thinks that should try to treat as well as study. 

Bill agrees and wants to start with impotence. He selects this malady because it is the most common. Even, Lester, the videographer, who works with Masters and Johnson on the sex research suffers from impotence dating from the time of Jane’s rejection of him. Does Bill have a more personal reason for wanting to treat impotence? What do you think?

Virginia tells Bill she thinks each sexual dysfunction manifests in both men and women. Men have impotence and women have vaginismus—involuntary muscle spasm that prevent sexual penetration. Barbara, Bill’s former secretary, suffers from this condition. Virginia takes it upon herself to visit Barbara to discuss her condition with her.
This conversation has some unfortunate consequences.  Barbara goes to Virginia’s house late at night, distraught, because the conversation has brought up some repressed memories of childhood sex games with her brother. Barbara believes that God has “closed her up” as punishment.  

Virginia tells Dr. Masters about her discussions with Barbara and he recommends a psychiatrist. Barbara says she could never talk about her issues with a stranger, especially not a man, and refuses to go. Virginia goes in her stead and tells Barbara’s story as if it were her own. Barbara is feeling a calling to become a clinical psychologist and this may be her start. (Bill is trying to discourage her telling her it will involve many years of schooling, especially since she would first have to graduate college before she could even begin to study to be a psychologist.) I’m afraid Virginia’s meddling is going to have some bad repercussions. 
christian Boyle
Christian Bole plays Bill's brother,
Dr. Francis Mason.
I think this may be related in a curious way to a new patient of Bill’s. Dr. Francis (Frank)  Mason has sought Bill’s help with infertility treatment even though he lives in another state. Bill does some tests and determines that Frank has a low sperm count. (The same problem that Bill has.)  He gives Bill a referral, but Frank reuses. He insists that Bill do the treatments.  At the very end of the episode, we learn why Frank is so insistent.  Frank is Bill’s younger brother! The two have been estranged for many years--we don’t yet know why—but now Frank “wants his brother back.” 

Frank is a plastic surgeon. He chose this line of work because of an incident during his residency.  A young woman had a terrible car accident and her face was horribly disfigured. The plastic surgeons at the hospital “gave her a new face.”  Frank was so impressed that he wanted to do this life-changing work.  

However, this young woman’s story did not have a happy ending.  It turned out that the car crash was not an accident, and six months later the woman finished what she had started with an overdose of sleeping pills. What are we to make of this story? Is it foreshadowing another suicide because medicine can fix the outside, but not the inside.  

One last bit of dysfunction in the episode involved not a sexual disorder, but an eating disorder. As the physician on call at the Alford Hotel, Dr. Masters is asked to treat a man at the hotel. The man is already dead—he died, perhaps a suicide, from a rupture of the stomach lining or a heart attack, caused by overeating—binge eating of epic proportions judging by the many plates of food scattered around the room.
It turned out that the dead man was a radio personality who was supposed to be the keynote speaker at the Cal-O-Metric conference.  Virginia was once a sales lady for the Cal-O-Metric diet pills, and the company now has its offices in the same building as the master practice. Ironically, Cal-O-Metric is owned by a short fat lady, Flo. She had been to see our friend, Dr. Austin Langston, who is a podiatrist.  His advice was to tell her to lose weight to relieve the pressure on her feet. Her response was to flirt with him. His response was that he has given up his Lothario ways She says he would accept her offer of sex if she were thin. 

Despite his rejection of her sexual favors, Flo apparently makes him an offer of a different kind. Towards the end of the episode Austin is seen bounding into the Cal-O-Metric conference as the replacement speaker.  
A member of the Veiled Prophet's court
 removes  the veil in this true story
Remember all of this is taking place in the early 60’s. History tells us that there will be major strides in curing sexual dysfunction and societal dysfunction.  But for now, just about all of the characters in Masters of Sex are mired in dysfunction.
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