Given everything that has happened in the last few episodes of Masters of Sex—death, a baby, divorce, time jumps, admissions of love and the resumption of the show’s central affair—we were due for a buffer episode, one to take things down a notch while setting us up for the final third of the season. So we can’t really fault “Mirror, Mirror” for being dull in a few spots when relatively uneventful was what we needed at this point in the story.
And it should be noted that when we say “dull,” we mean by Masters of Sex standards. Even a slow week for Masters and Johnson still includes incest, a hate crime and the emergence of an estranged family member. Most of these stories were compelling enough to push the story forward, but one in particular—the reveal that Bill’s friend Frances who has come to St. Louis to seek fertility treatments from him is actually his long-lost brother—felt too low-stakes.
We meet Frances at the beginning of the episode and slowly but surely receive details about him, this mysterious visitor from Bill’s past. He’s a plastic surgeon. He and Bill went to the same medical school (though several years apart). He’s a recovering alcoholic with a low sperm count, and for some reason Bill seems hellbent on sending him to a doctor in Kansas City. It’s not until the show’s final scene that we learn Frances Mason is actually Frances Masters, Bill’s brother, but the big reveal seems a little too Adam-Whitman-in-Mad Men and a little too pointless—Bill’s already let his mother back into his life, and presumably she was far more complicit in his abuse than his brother, so surely he’s got room for Frances in his life too?—to be effective. But Frances’ visit proves useful, if only because he got to deliver the line that hammered home this week’s theme. After telling Bill about a patient whose face was reconstructed after she crashed her car, he reveals that the crash was no accident and a few weeks later she OD’d on sleeping pills. “You think it’s enough to fix the outside,” he sighs.
Of course, fixing the outside has been what Bill insisted they focus on this week in the study as they delve into analyzing sexual dysfunction. He casually suggests they start with male impotence (because he still is having problems of his own in that department), and Lester reveals he has had a similar problem ever since being left by Jane. Betty confirms (based on her expertise as a prostitute) that more often than not, it’s a psychological issue. But that’s not what Bill wants to hear. He’s a man of science, and he wants physical solutions he can use to cure his problem. Later, Virginia catches up with Betsy Brandt’s Barbara, who suffers from vaginismus, an involuntary closing of the vagina. She asks Barbara to recall the name of the first boy she slept with, but she can’t. She’s obviously repressing some sort of awful memory, and when she shows up at Virginia’s house hysterical later, we learn just how awful it is: Her first sexual encounter was with her brother Paul. She’s convinced God is punishing her by closing her up, but more likely it’s a physical manifestation of her guilt. Virginia tells Bill about this and drops the bombshell that she wants to go to school to become a psychiatrist to help their patients grapple with the mental aspects of their sexual dysfunction.
Bill reminds her that that requires years of schooling and will do no good to Barbara in the short-term, but because Virginia always wants what she wants when she wants it, she goes behind his back and visits a psychiatrist on her own, repeating Barbara’s tale of incest to the doctor as if it were her own so that she can find out what to say to Barbara to help her deal with the psychological trauma of her past. Because it’s not enough to just fix the outside.
Surprisingly, the one person who does seem to be taking baby steps towards fixing her inside is Libby. She leaves Bill’s building after looking for donations for a charity event that will convince the chief of police to become a member of the study’s board of trustees, and on her way out she witnesses a wounded African-American man dumped out of a truck. She keeps driving, but the story haunts her the next day when it’s reported in the papers as a drug deal gone wrong. Robert turns up at the house and asks her to speak up if she saw anything, because she was one of the only white witnesses. Given her history with Robert and her fear of any sort of revolution, she says she didn’t see anything. But she can’t shake her guilt, and later she tells Bill about it. Years ago, Bill most likely would have done the right thing and told her to come forward, but he’s got tunnel-vision now; he’s hyper-focused on the study and on himself—his sexual problems and his relationship with Virginia. So he tells Libby “This is not our issue.” This doesn’t sit well with her, and by episode’s end, she’s standing on Robert’s doorstep telling him what she saw.
It’s one teensy bit of progress in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still progress. Most of the characters on Masters of Sex still have a long way to go before they can fix what’s inside them, but at least now they know they can’t just fix the outside.
—The decision to have Dr. Langham become the new spokesman for Flo’s diet pill business is just further proof that the show has no idea what to do with his character. Hopefully this is their way of writing him off, not an attempt to bring him closer to the action by moving him into the same building as Bill and Virginia.
— “What could be better than giving someone a second chance?”
—So the chief of police is in as the first board member for the study, but under false pretense: Bill tells him it only involves married couples.
—Very nice job by the costume department on Libby and Virginia’s contrasting outfits at the ball. Libby was wearing some sort of gaudy floral print dress and a crown of green leaves that made her look like a walking vegetable garden, while Virginia sported a slinky, sparkly black dress. It’s not understated, but it’s certainly a good way of illustrated who Bill finds most attractive these days.
— “Nature doesn’t always have to be the last word.”
— “I’m leaking cash like an old bladder.”