Things have been moving very fast on Masters of Sex, but there’s very little sense of where they are headed (in the short term). Halfway through the season, there have already been many truths revealed, and their consequences already made clear. “Blackbird” was an intimate and emotionally difficult hour that mostly showed everything going wrong. The positive progress the show has been making in fits and starts has once again stalled out. “It feels like dying. Let’s see if you have the strength to be reborn.” Hit the jump to find out.
The most engrossing narrative in “Blackbird” was Lilian DePaul’s final arc. We didn’t know Lilian for long, but even in that time, we didn’t really know her at all. This doesn’t seem like much of a change or surprise for her, though. She calls out outrageous things to the tech during her chemo, but he doesn’t acknowledge her — she’s totally dehumanized (which is why, later, she asks him to give it to her straight regarding her prognosis). She confides in Ginny later over wine about her spotted love life; there were men, here and there, but no one ever stayed. Ginny tells Bill, “I look over at her desk sometimes and think, ‘she’s ferocious.’ But it’s because she has to be … she’s all alone.”
Usually in TV shows, when a character takes pills in order to die, they’re found in the nick of time and saved. Ginny’s first reaction was of course to call an ambulance for Lilian, but then she realized that saving Lilian means letting her go. It’s a dark and difficult thing to face, but it’s not without precedent here. Lilian has been forced to confront how quickly she is losing control of her mind and body, plus the realization that there is no one who will help her in those final days (Ginny, sure, but when has Lilian ever been comfortable allowing anyone to help her?) She decides to take her life, instead, while she is still in some control. Ginny, heartbreakingly, honors that, and lies beside her as she takes her final, labored breaths.
Everything else in “Blackbird” paled in comparison, but Ginny’s confession to Bill about her feelings of friendship with Lilian was an important moment for both of them. Ginny actually broke down in sadness for possibly the first time on the show, in a really genuine way. Bill was forced to comfort her, at first uncomfortably, and then in a way that led to romantic kiss — that which had been strictly forbidden by Ginny earlier, as the episode opened with their lovemaking and her pronouncement: “we don’t kiss.”
It is another tangle on Bill and Ginny’s twisted path, made all the more complicated by Bill going by her house and finding her latest beau, who we’ve seen nothing of until now. Seriously, does Ginny date these men just to get free babysitters? And when does she find the time? Her kids love them (and hate Bill, which I always find amusing), and then they disappear because Ginny won’t commit to marriage, and it being the 1950s, that was the expected thing to do. Lilian tells Ginny that Bill loves her, and that Ginny knows it — which is definitely true. But Bill is still married, and in denial.
On the other hand, his recent problems at Buell Green (which have been nonstop since his arrival) may change all of that. Frankly, this storyline has been exceptionally disappointing, and a sadly wasted opportunity. Bill at Buell ultimately meant nothing. Hendricks’ behavior made very little sense; why would he bring Bill in and house him, to the detriment of his staff and patients, only to tear down his fliers and forbid his staff to participate? His reasoning about being wary of whites doing medical experiments on blacks is completely valid. But why bring Bill in at all? Bill later says he actually had had black participants in the study — why didn’t we see any of them? What did Bill’s time at Buell do to serve a minority point of view in any way? In the end, Hendricks very casually and easily sends him on his way to strike out on his own, as if that had been his plan all along.
This, of course, will be a difficult thing for him to bring to Libby, especially since he will be giving up all of his prestige and money for a study she hates (and since this is all coming on the heels of his latest firing about a week earlier). Libby has also become increasingly unstable, starring at Coral and Robert through the window every night, and even going to their apartment to talk to Coral herself. Instead, she discovered Robert is Coral’s brother, and felt embarrassed and humiliated by the entire encounter dating back to her earliest conversations with Coral. She fires her on the spot, and is back to being on her own with Johnny.
Finally, there is never any peace in the Pretzel King’s house. Gene, thanks to Betty’s erratic behavior and some interesting news from Al about Betty and Helen’s lip lock, sleuths out that Betty is a lesbian. This is the final straw for him, after all of the other lies and obfuscation. It was difficult to watch Betty try and balance Gene and Helen, and keep everyone happy. In the end, no one was happy, and “Blackbird” continued its run as Masters of Sex‘s most depressing hour yet.
As mentioned before the cut, where all of this is leading is very uncertain. More heartbreak and more confusion, surely. But amidst this, there needs to be some light and some humor again. There needs to be some forward motion with the study, too. Right now, Masters is back to treading water, and that water is dark indeed.
Episode Rating: B-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— “If you are trying to imply I have some kind of God complex …” – Bill. Umm … yeah.
— “There’s nothing more dangerous than a desperate man” – Hendricks.
— “I was raised by vampires! I once had sex with a corpse!” – Lilian DePaul.
— “This is why we call you Priscilla the Hun, and it’s not even a secret” – the nurse on Ginny’s diet pills.
— The scene about Lilian’s freckle constellations … so sad, but such a lovely moment. Just like when Ginny gave her her own fairy tale.
— Betty: “It’s not every day that a man is syncopated.” Gene: “Syndicated.” Betty: “Yep.”
— Libby: “You are proposing the same thing, to stare at Negros!” Bill: “In a hospital. In a study.”
— Libby needs to leave Bill and go on a date with a nice doctor from Buell Green, I think. Hook her up, Hendricks.