After last week’s time skip, this week’s “Mirror, Mirror” is slower paced. This is both a good and bad thing: it allows for some strong character moments, but some of the storylines feel shoved in for the sake of convenience and some scenes felt too contrived for the sake of connecting them to other plots.
The episode begins Bill having breakfast with an old friend: Francis, played by Christian Borle, who is visiting from Kansas City. Francis rattles on about women who received rhinoplasty, face lifts, chin implants, you name it. Just because a person is born with one face doesn’t mean they’re stuck with it. The same applies to jobs, as Bill originally wanted to be an English professor. But Francis is here to talk about more than just surgery. He’s finally settled down with a wife and even converted his office into a nursery. He and his wife, Pauline, have been trying for a year to get pregnant, but no luck. So they’ve come to the leading fertility expert around.
At the office, according to Virginia, she and Bill have turned away 126 subjects due to their dysfunctions, but from there, they can build a patient base. No need to worry about organization, as Virginia has already assembled folders kept over from past records. When Virginia found the time to do all of this, I don’t know.
In what might be one of the highlights of his day, Austin gives a foot rub to Flo, who came to him at Virginia’s recommendation. And as Elise has used the Cal-o-Metric product, Flo has heard all about Austin’s shenanigans. Trying to stay focused, Austin advises Flo to get a cortisone shot and lose some weight since she’s putting pressure on her feet. Austin, I am by no means an expert with the women and all, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell a woman that she needs to lose weight. But hey, you’re the doctor. Flo counters that some men like a woman with curves. This is very true. However, Austin admits that he’s made foolish decisions and wants to keep it professionals. After all, he’s been passed over for promotions and is called Don Juan by his coworkers. He would like to start anew, but since that’s easier said than done, the best he can do is, well, be on his best behavior.
Back to Masters and Johnson, Betty delivers the delightful news to Bill that they’re being audited. The IRS wants $4,000 in taxes with interest. Yes, some organizations are exempt, but those groups apply and receive their 501(c) not for profit organization status under the Internal Revenue Code. To apply, said group must also have a Board of Trustees. Oh, and Betty said all of this two months ago. Ah well, Bill, listen better next time. He’s more focused on his upcoming dinner that he and Libby will be having with Sam Duncan, the chief of police. If he can be persuaded to join, others will follow. Betty saddles Virginia along for the ride since she doesn’t feel Bill would be able to do this himself. She might be right.
During a viewing of an unmarried and randomly assigned pair, Virginia suggests that there could be a male and female version of sexual dysfunctions. There is symmetry in sex, after all. Bill isn’t so sure since impotence has a higher rate of occurrence in men than vaginismus in women, and he’s got research to back up that claim. In the middle of this, Lester asks if he can take a few extra hours for lunch. His father’s funeral is coming up soon and he’d like to work on his eulogy since the current version isn’t exactly great. Virginia suggests that he go with something visual.
At the aforementioned dinner, we’re introduced to Sam Duncan, played by Brian Howe, and his wife, Florence, played by Peri Gilpin. Virginia reveals an inside fact to Sam: sexual dissatisfaction is one of the biggest reasons for divorce. And children of divorce are more likely to commit crimes. So it’s time to save potentially criminal children by getting involved with the study. When Sam asks about the marital status of those involved, Bill tells him that all involved are married couples. Though Sam needs to think it over, Libby suggests they all sit at the same table at the Veiled Prophet Ball this Friday. The group needs donations and Libby offers her services.
Early next morning, Bill brings in Francis and his wife, Pauline, played by Marin Ireland, to discuss their troubles. Francis asks if it could have anything to do with his former alcohol problem. He’s been sober for a year, but still no luck. Bill believes that drinking should have no impact.
Later, Bill and Virginia get to work on organizing the dysfunctions, beginning with impotence. Virginia suggests finding patterns, such as similarities in backgrounds, but Bill believes that the two should only focus on the data since the history is just anecdotal. They need practical methods to help treat these men. What they will need is a list of techniques that proved effective. And who knows better than both of them about how to get a man off?
Yep. They go straight to Betty who, from experience, found that the aggressive approach worked the best, whether hand or mouth. When that didn’t work, she tried a tonic from India that consisted of nothing more than rum and cayenne pepper. There were also penis pumps, but after awhile, that hurt her hands. So stroking it didn’t hurt her hands, but pumps did? All right, I guess. Virginia and Betty agree that this sort of problem isn’t just physical. Virginia’s high school beau, Gordon Garrett, used to never have performance problems until he found one of his mother’s handkerchiefs tucked between his cushions, smelling just like her perfume. After that, it all went downhill. It’s a sort of mental block, really. With all that in mind, Bill heads out while letting Betty know that, whatever the cost, he needs Francis and Pauline’s results rushed.
Flo plays a Cal-o-Metric radio spot, aided by the voice of Kent Underleigh, for Libby. Underleigh will be delivering the keynote address at the upcoming sales conference and Flo wants the Cal-o-Metric to be the number one diet product in America by 1965. Libby suggests that Flo make a modest donation to the Veiled Prophet Ball since that would also mean the product appears in the program. After all, it will be seen by rich women that probably have low self-esteem. Even though Flo is leaking cash already, she’s able to leak a bit more. That sounds wrong.
Bill finds Lester, still dressed from the service, setting up for the 4 pm shoot. He did present a slide show and only found himself in two out of 178 photos. Such was his lot in life: he was always behind the camera while others got in on the action. He feels a lot like those dysfunctional men. Lester then shares just what happened between him and Jane: she met a producer named Sid Pomerantz after spending a few months in Hollywood. Soon, she returned home later and later while Lester felt inadequate.
At the same time, Virginia meets with Barbara, who talks about her sexual experiences when she was younger. The first boy, Gil, had a father who was a fire and brimstone preacher, so if normal sex was strange enough, putting it somewhere besides the vagina just felt wrong. Virginia refers to something Freud said in that we never forget what we learn when we’re young. Barbara brings up a girl she knew named Mary Dougherty, who lived near here. Mary became pregnant at 14, but went into labor a month early and bled to death in her bedroom.
That memory haunted Barbara to the point that she figured if she waited until marriage to have sex, God would protect her. If not, she would be punished. However, as Barbara developed, men gave her more attention, but she couldn’t stop thinking about Mary. To avoid pregnancy, Barbara used her mouth instead. Virginia asks for the name of Barbara’s first lover, but all Barbara remembers is that he was a friend of her brother, Paul.
Libby leaves the office just as a pickup truck speeds past her. As she drives off, she sees a group of C.O.R.E. members rushing outside to the aid of a badly beaten Negro male. One of the C.O.RE. members looks a bit familiar…
That evening, Bill, who hasn’t been paying Baby John any attention, reads an article about the beaten man that Libby saw. Apparently police found an ounce of marijuana in his packet and figure it was a drug deal gone bad. That’s convenient. Anyway, Libby probably shouldn’t feel too bad about the man anymore, but she’s more upset that Bill chose to set up shop in that neighborhood. The board, Bill says, is still coming together. Also, he spoke with Glen Ellis, who, after talking with Libby, plans to write a $50 check for the Veiled Prophet. Libby is too transfixed on the article to notice that the casserole is burning.
Virginia and Betty discuss Francis and Bill’s time at the Rochester School of Medicine and how strange Bill has been acting as of recent.
Bill meets with Francis to discuss the results: everything looks fine except for his sperm count. Francis only has two million per milliliter, when the normal count is ten times that. It’s common, Bill says, and he sees it in most men with that condition. To solve the problem, Bill spoke with one Howard Graham at Kansas City Methodist. After all, Bill doesn’t want Francis and Pauline to upend their life. It’s not an issue for Francis, who is due for a sabbatical anyway. But Bill insists to the point that he already scheduled an appointment.
Robert pays Libby a visit to discuss the recent incident. Well, first off, he doesn’t understand the Veiled Prophet event. Sure, it’s tradition, but if people really were really so eager to see a man dress up in robes and a white hood, they could save their money, drive a few hours south and see that for free. Masters of Sex, that is neither funny nor clever. Maybe it’s not supposed to be, but that’s just a bad line. Anyway, the man’s name is Leonard Gilroy and he’s the treasure of the C.O.R.E. office. He also happens to be a history teacher and doesn’t deal with drugs. Some folks decided to rough him up as a warning to others. Robert asks if Libby saw anything since none of the White witnesses will say anything and police aren’t likely to take up a case on the word of a few Negroes. A White witness, particularly a White woman, however, may help the situation. But Libby says that she saw nothing.
At the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel, Virginia notes the correlation between Bill’s alias, Francis Holden, and Francis Mason that just appeared. Bill says it’s just a coincidence. The two have a complicated relationship: they used to write letters to one another, but that soon slowed down. Bill is not up for sex, as he’s had one drink too many and probably won’t do Virginia any good. No need for that, anyway. Elliot arrives to gather the good doctor for his on-call duties.
The case? A heavyset man surrounded by plates of food and who has been dead for hours, by Bill’s assessment. He either went into cardiac arrest or the lining of his stomach burst. Either way, his demons can’t harm him anymore.
Barbara drops by unannounced, in the middle of the night, at Virginia’s home, which she found by looking in the telephone. People did their research back then. Virginia isn’t a fan of the sudden intrusion, failing to see the irony in that, but Barbara has news. She looked through photo albums to find a picture of the boy so she could remember his name, and she finally got it: Paul. The same name as her…brother. There was a creek behind their house where they spent many afternoons. When they got tired of kiddy games, they made up new ones, like hugging, kissing with their mouths open and so on. One day, the two were late for supper, so Mom went looking for them. When she spotted them, she didn’t say anything, she just stared in absolute sickness at what she witnessed. She never needed to bring it up since God saw them. And Barbara feels this is why God closed her up.
The next day, Bill isn’t pleased that Virginia spoke with a client in her home since it crosses a personal boundary. It can’t be undone, but Virginia admits that she provoked Barbara’s memories, so now she’s not eating or sleeping. Bill suggests Barbara be brought in as a patient that the two of them can examine together in a controlled environment. She would require psychiatric treatment, but neither of them is qualified in that field.
But Virginia wants to be equipped. She could go back to school as a practicing psychologist. She has an uphill battle, given that she needs to complete her undergraduate degree, three years of graduate school and still much more before the accreditation process. Bill supports Virginia continuing her studies, but so much work won’t help Barbara in the short term, so Virginia asks for the name of the best psychiatrist in St. Louis. Bill gives her the name of one Lloyd Madden, who chairs the program at the University of Missouri. It’s easy to say they could get his opinion, but Bill tells Virginia that no reputable psychiatrist would consent to giving an opinion of a patient they’ve never met. Best bet is to stick to what they know. No reason to change course.
Betty slips in on the Cal-o-Metric sales conference and learns from Flo that the spokesman croaked. Found in a hotel in Alton. There’s probably a reason he only did radio, as he weighed 300 pounds. Huh. But no problem. Flo announces the death, but in death comes life, as Cal-o-Metric has a new spokesman. And just when I can figure out who it could be…
…yeah, it’s Austin.
Lester shoots an interview with Bill, who discusses the various causes of impotence. Bill wants to continue, but he wants Lester to sit beside him so he can discuss his role in the study. Bill asks Lester what his most important inspiration is and Lester quickly says it’s the sex study itself. In Hollywood, stories are repeated very often. What Bill and Virginia do is new each day, but it’s about more than just discovery and observation. The work is changing and it’s now also about intervention- working directly with patients.
At the gala, we briefly meet Jim Pearson, played by David Starzyk, and the Duncans toast to Libby, a true Christian saint who managed to bring in $300 in a single week. Sam thinks the sex study is political poison, but lucky for him, he’s not a politician. He’s in.
Libby tells Bill about her run-in with Robert and how the police’s version of the C.O.R.E. story may not be true. May not be true? Bill says that this isn’t their issue, but it’s mostly not Bill’s, as he’s been all about the study. None of the work includes Libby, however, so she just wants to fit in. But she does. She’s with Bill.
Back at the office, Betty delivers a message to Bill: Francis set up a meeting between the two of them at a coffee shop tonight at 9 pm.
Virginia, meanwhile, set up a 7 pm appointment between Barbara and Dr. Lloyd Madden, but Barbara isn’t about to tell her tale to a random male stranger.
So instead, Virginia meets with Dr. Lloyd Madden, played by John Billingsley, to talk about her sad tale, which is just Barbara’s tale.
Libby stops by Robert’s and admits that she did see something.
At the coffee shop, Francis tells Bill that he wants no one else doing treatments except for him. He and Pauline managed to find a hotel. He tells Bill about his first week as a resident on the emergency medicine rotation. At two in the morning, a girl was rushed in from a car accident with her face horribly disfigured to the point that doctors had to call a plastic surgeon from New York. The girl walked out with a new face and this incident prompted Francis to switch to plastic surgery to help give people a second chance. It didn’t help the girl, as she took a large dosage of sleeping pills six months later.
It’s easy to fix problems on the outside, but less so on the inside. For the longest time, Francis pretended that Bill didn’t exist, that their parents only wanted one kid. But no more of that. Francis wants his brother back.
Well! “Mirror, Mirror” isn’t as strong an episode as “Asterion,” but it does advance the season’s storyline since the time-skip. It takes a step backward with some too coincidental occurrences, though. The season has focused mostly on Bill and Virginia trying to do for themselves, but like last week’s episode, we see the consequences of what happens when they try to act alone.
The episode dealt with external and internal conflict- what we see on the surface doesn’t translate to how we’re really dealing with our inner demons. The episode shows how we choose to battle our troubles, whether by continuing to bury them, drown them out or confront them head on. This is very applicable to the placebo effect that Betty and Virginia talked about- sexual performance is about more than just the physical, but also what’s going on in our head. Issues stem deeper than what we can see and raw data, as Virginia notes, isn’t enough to notice patterns. That’s when we begin to look more at the individuals as people instead of just statistics.
While Masters of Sex has always stressed the importance of relationships, this episode put a lot of focus on family ties and our connection to loved ones. People want to feel wanted and appreciated, but some of us exist in the shadows of our more fortunate siblings and relatives. If there’s no level of involvement, we shrink within ourselves and struggle to fit in, as Libby and Lester did. We become too wrapped up in our own affairs that we neglect the people closest to us.
I was fine with the direction, but the whole conversation played against another one with Lester and Barbara didn’t work as well as Bill and Greathouse played against Virginia and Ditmer. These could have just been separate scenes taking place at different times, even if there were similarities between the two.
Oh, and I hesitate to say the writers are struggling to find Austin something to do as of this point. If Austin had no ties to Cal-o-Metric whatsoever, making him the new face of the product would seem out of left field, but it was established in the season premiere that Elise had used the product before, so he was at least familiar with it. But it does seem convenient that Flo happened to pick him. And how convenient that the spokesman died in Alton, the same place where Bill took an emergency call that very night?
So this episode did address one of my questions from last week: what happened with Lester and Jane? Now we know what led to their falling out and how it’s affected Lester’s performance. Yet it hasn’t affected his ability in the workplace. It’s clear from how he talks with Bill that Lester has immense respect for not just Bill and Virginia, but the study as a whole because he finds it a breath of fresh air. He talks about Hollywood recycling the same stories over and over, but with Bill and Virginia, you never know what to expect. His backstory is fleshed out a bit through the lack of involvement he had with his father, which gives him even greater reason to look up to Bill and Virginia, as he has a connection with them that he didn’t get with his own parents. Or at least his father.
All right, so Libby looks like she wants to redeem herself by doing the right thing, after choosing not to. She seems to feel guilty, but…I dunno, Masters of Sex hasn’t really been able to tackle race without it coming off as awkward. I don’t mean the situations, but just the writing. It’s possible that she lied to Robert out of fear since, as Bill tells her, it’s not her problem, but she knows what she saw. This is her chance to feel involved since she barely has any say about the sex study and feels no connection with that. It’s a little coincidental that she will need to provide a statement to the police, and the one person who just joined Bill’s board happens to be the chief of police, though. Plus, hey, we know she can be handy at raising money. Maybe she ought to be giving Betty a hand with finances. Not that Libby’s an expert on money, but she can at least lend a hand with that.
I’m glad that Bill opened up a bit more this episode, such as allowing Lester to share his story about what makes him passionate. We get some insight into how much research Bill’s done on the impotence issue since it’s affecting him as much as it is other men around him. Though I’m sure he hasn’t told anyone about his trysts with prostitutes. The study is becoming as much of a learning process for him as it is for Virginia, as they are shifting from purely analyzing to now helping and reforming. And we did get some follow up to Bill’s request about being an on-call doctor at the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel, so we do progress.
Bill has been so wrapped up in this study since doing things on his own terms that he’s not focusing on much of anything else, as seen when he pays the baby no attention at dinner and later tells Libby that helping Robert isn’t her problem. Like at Buell Green, Bill isn’t interested in fighting battles on multiple fronts.
And now we see that he’s been distancing himself from his own brother to the point that he used Francis’ name as his own cover. The reveal didn’t feel over the top, as it could have been. It felt like a natural progression of the conversation until Francis decided that he had enough. Now Francis is here for a chance to get his brother back, but it’s up in the air whether Bill will open up for that. Bill usually hides more than he lets on and this is no exception. I’m interested to see what led to these two drifting apart.
As we’ve seen before, Virginia has a more personable approach to patients than Bill, though her methods are still a bit unorthodox. She’s right to be upset at Barbara coming to her in the middle of the night, but that’s no different than her getting the jump on Barbara and opening old wounds. I don’t think Virginia did this just to get something out of Barbara- she truly believes that she can help, but she’s got to know that using Barbara’s story as her own just to get insight on how to help Barbara will come back to bite her.
And we know that she’s been itching to finish her studies since suddenly dropping them during the previous season. Regardless of the time commitment, Virginia wants to continue furthering herself so she can help others, not because she has something to prove or wants a fancy title.
Again, this episode answered some questions, but raised others. With only four episodes left, there are a lot of storylines strewn about that aren’t all connected. That’s not entirely a bad thing, but some characters, namely Libby and Austin, have little to do and their plots seem a bit shoehorned in for the sake of filling out time. The episode built on what the core of the sex study has been about while also adding a new incentive for Bill and Virginia to help those with dysfunctions. Time for the healing to begin.