MASTERS OF SEX Recap: “Below the Belt”

     September 14, 2014


At the end of “Story of My Life,” Masters of Sex’s study turned personal in a new way for Bill and Ginny.  Bill, finally admitting his impotence problem (and not just trying to deal with it using Lester as a substitute), found a way to incorporate Ginny’s desire to have them study sexual dysfunction, while also treating his own.  Though their methods differ (Ginny initially wanted to consider psychology, while Bill is adamant about the physiology of a “cure”), they are united on a personal level.  But Bill’s pride, as always, creates problems.  Hit the jump for why despair is the greatest sin.

masters-of-sex-season-2-posterThe success of “Below the Belt” hinged on it being an interesting study of the fragile male ego, and how that ties into the male libido.  The problem is, a taciturn and emotionally stunted white male protagonist (often for whom sex is a balm of some kind) has been done over, and over, and over again.  Even Master of Sex‘s lead-in, Ray Donovan, is largely based on this same premise.  And both are the spiritual children of series like The Sopranos and Mad Men.  Bill’s struggles and the demons he fights aren’t anything new, nor are the ways he fights them.  And, despite ignoring some other more interesting narratives, “Below the Belt” sinned again by somehow making Bill’s final arousal triumphant.

The penis was the star of “Below the Belt,” which featured a number of storylines that dealt with various approaches to dealing with it in terms of impotence. Besides Ginny’s “list” and a hope that making Bill beg would help him (and it did, for a moment), there was also Flo’s sexual harassment of Langham.  “My equipment is like Washington and the cherry tree.  It cannot tell a lie.”  And it didn’t — Langham is turned on by most everything.  Though he did have a moment of impotence in Season One (which Margaret Scully helped him overcome), Flo did what she needed to in order to get his equipment moving.  (But her use and control of him really isn’t something for laughs, just because the paradigm is reversed from the norm.)

masters-of-sex-below-the-belt-caplan-sheen-1Somewhere in between Bill’s need for control and Langham’s relinquishing of it are Lester and Barbara, who clashed over religion, but later bonded over their mutual sexual dysfunctions.  Neither of them has any power, and maybe that’s exactly what will end up solving their problems once the issues of guilt and rejection melt away.  Even Libby is putting herself in a subservient and menial role to earn the respect of Robert, and herself (not sexually — at least, not yet).  But for Bill the issue is, like everything, far more complicated.

Bill bonded with his mother and clashed with his brother over their shared history and Frank’s dependence on AA to make sense of his life.  Bill stepped in to stop Frank from berating Essie over her drinking and her subsequent car accident, but were either of them really wrong?  Bill tipped the balance though when he lashed out at Frank, and goaded him to punch him, all to prove a sick point about Frank being mistaken about alcohol being the enemy.  Bill has never been more of an asshole than in that moment, lashing out and destroying Frank in order to make himself feel validated.  His selfishness has never been more disgusting, and yet, the fact that he got an erection out of it was played as something positive.

For Ginny, validation is also an issue, which the psychiatrist pulls out of her after she went back to him to admit her falsehoods.  He wisely presses her on some of her own truths, and she becomes uncomfortable, as she did last week, with the layers of her self-delusion.  But, Bill’s problems trumped hers, and she quickly turned her focus on the problem of his impotence that she could get to fixing (or try to, anyway).

masters-of-sex-below-the-belt-michael-sheenBetty, per usual, put Bill’s special snowflake behavior into perspective.  Like Bill, she once had a client who suddenly dealt with impotence, who became someone she dreaded seeing.  She repeated the words he had said, which echoed Bill’s exact statement to Ginny: “I’m broken, and you’re the only one who can fix me.”  When he doesn’t get fixed, though, it becomes an accusation against the woman.

“Below the Belt” was really just all over the place, from the financial woes to Bill hiring the PR man Shep Tally (Adam Arkin, who directed the episode), and from Libby’s CORE work to Flo’s Cal-O-Metric after-hours scheduling.  Bill was also conflicted in his war against Joseph Kaufman, the author of the competing study.  He wanted to challenge him, but shied away from TV exposure.  In similar fashion, he spies on Libby at CORE, upset that she isn’t at home making his dinner, yet cheats on her and demands that Ginny be faithful to him even though he won’t get a divorce.  No wonder Bill’s penis is confused, it doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going.  And neither, at the moment, does Masters.

Episode Rating: B-

Musings and Miscellanea:

— There hasn’t been an unsexier scene than Bill putting his blood on Ginny and then wanting to have sex with her.  ymmv.

— “Despair is the greatest sin” – Lester.  His coming together with Barb was teased last week, and I’m glad to see it starting up (though not without some speed bumps).

— The psychiatrist not even being fazed by Ginny’s admission of her lying was great.

— I loved Betty’s rant about the finances, telling Bill he’ll have to perform exams with a miner’s hat on, and in the winter they should turn it into a skating rink.  What happened to Essie’s money?  Or did he really cut that off completely?

masters-of-sex-below-the-belt-caplan-sheen— “Our drunk dad beat you, and then, he beat me” – Frank.

— Poor Frank.  I’ve never hated Bill as much as when he was calling Frank weak and asking why he begged.

— “Everyone has their own version of everything that has ever happened” – Essie.

— Bill: “He was a monster.”  Frank: “Drunk are monsters.”  I do think that Frank sees alcoholism wherever he goes now, but Bill’s reaction was so far beyond the pale.  I don’t necessarily think Bill is an alcoholic, but Ginny did bring it up that he does use alcohol to get through certain things, to assuage his guilt, etc.  I think he’s really just a basic asshole.

— “This doesn’t have to end badly, Bill.  Please, summon your better nature.” – Libby.  I’m absolutely stealing this to use.

— “Besides, there’s rats in those towers, and lice.  And I think we both know how you feel about lice.” – Robert.  Hilarious!  I wonder if Coral knows that Libby is working for Robert now.

Masters of Sex recap