A Look at “Frank”

Frank is, by far, one of the strangest films I have ever seen, if not the strangest I’ve seen this year. Some of it will seem familiar: it looks at the music industry, but also whether mental illnesses can or cannot be the inspiration for what some would call creative genius. It’s a movie about the struggles of finding your creative spark. In essence, the movie plays out like an odd episode of “Behind the Music.” The band in question, though, has no real interest in fame or success- just creating the music for the love of the craft. This is seen through the eyes of the outsider who has a drive for fame, but lacks any sort of creativity. Should be a fun mix.

Frank- Jon

The film begins on the beach. We follow Jon Burroughs, played by Domhnall Gleeson, as he sings about what he sees, whether it’s children building sandcastles or women who walk past him. He’s been struggling with his lack of a musical career, but at home, inspiration strikes as he comes up with the name of a new song: Suburbia. How original. Oh, and by the by, Jon is an avid Twitter user, as he tells anyone who will listen that he’s working hard and eating panini.  Living the dream!

Later he spots a man in the water. Also watching this is Don, played by Scoot McNairy. According to Don, the man in the water trying to kill himself is the keyboardist of a band Don manages. Jon mentions that he plays, and since he can play C, F and G, Don allows him to come by and practice later that night.

That evening, Don arrives for practice and we’re introduced to the other members of the band called Soronprfbs (don’t try to pronounce that): Baraque, played by Francois Civil, Nana, played by Carla Azar, both of whom speak French, and theremin player Clara, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Frank- Band practice

However, your focus will immediately go to the man in the giant, papier-mâché head. This is Frank, and although you can’t see his face, that is indeed Michael Fassbender underneath that huge head. The band’s flavor of music is…different, to say the least. However, the practice session doesn’t go well when the equipment decides to short-circuit. Don’t you hate when that happens?

The next day, Jon gets a call at work from Don, who tells them that the band needs a new keyboard player for a major upcoming gig in Warrington. Jon, eager to jumpstart a music career, is happy to commit for what he sees as nothing more than a weekend commitment.

When Jon meets up with Don before the group takes off, we learn a bit more about Frank. He never takes the head off. Ever. Even to eat or drink, the head is always on. Odd as it sounds, Frank is still a good singer regardless, so Jon needs to just go along with this. What is Don’s personality quirk? Well, he was labeled severely mentally ill because he used to fuck mannequins. And this is the band manager.

Frank- Recording sound effects

We arrive at a remote cabin in the middle of nowhere and Jon learns that he’s in for a very long musical journey. He’s not pleased since he told his job he would be back on Monday, but the band will remain there until the album is recorded. Frank has them taking part in tasks like recording sound effects for field work. Jon tries to mingle with the band, but Baraque, Nana and especially Clara, don’t like him at all.

Unbeknownst to the rest of the group, Jon decides to blog his experiences to the world. He finds Frank to be a friendly person and would like to know what goes on inside that giant head of his. At times, work can be overwhelming, but Frank pushes everyone in the band to their farthest corner so they can excel.

When Clara urges Jon to play something after he says one day that he writes his own music, he freezes on the spot and can’t come up with anything creative. He just hasn’t found his core yet when it comes to song-writing. Clara, not willing to wait that long, wants Jon gone. Oh, and she’d like to punch him in the face. Never get on Maggie Gyllenhaal’s bad side.

Frank- Goodbye to family

As practice continues, a family arrives at the cabin one day…the family that actually lives in the cabin. Frank speaks with the family in private while the others try to work out a way to remain there to finish their work. Frank somehow manages to convince the family to head off, with the wife having found new truth in her soul. Jon, meanwhile, decides to keep the operation going by funding it with his nest egg. How very kind of him. And very stupid.

Eleven months pass and Frank still needs perfection in order to begin the actual recording. Jon’s nest egg has been depleted and he’s still not closer to finding out what Frank looks like under that damn head. However, Jon has managed to compose something that Frank finds amazing. After some tweaking, in that the band ends up not using Jon’s compositions at all, Frank decides that it’s finally time to begin recording.

How delightful.

Frank- Jon hugs Frank

Like 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis, Frank focuses on a musician whose creativity may not be accepted by society yet or is seen as outside of the mainstream music world. The quirky tone remains constant throughout most of the film as we follow this odd bunch of musicians, though it shifts by the time we reach South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. The film goes to some dark places as we dig deeper into Frank’s head and find out what makes him the way he is. From the beginning, the film could just be mistaken for another story about an up and coming musician trying to attain fame, but once Frank appears on-screen, we’re in for an interesting trip.

Frank- Recording again

And that’s true when it comes to the recording process. Sure, Frank’s methods may seem odd, but that’s putting things in our normalized perspective. What we call strange seems absolutely normal to the band. They aren’t traditional, but this is how Frank believes they find their spark, as he finds inspiration in everything to the point that he gives the band members nicknames. Consider, it took over 11 months just to prepare to record the album. This may seem extravagant, but Frank strives for perfection.

Frank- Performing at SXSW

And similar to Begin Again, Frank pits fame against creativity in music. Jon represents the idealistic music agent who sees inspiration in someone’s work and wants to capitalize on that. He hones in on the group’s potential while pulling strings behind the scene to give the group a social media following. While Frank himself may be excited by the idea of so many YouTube viewers watching the group’s videos, the film points out, as we already know, that YouTube views aren’t that monumental. Jon wants quick fame, but I see the group as more tortured artists that strive to create great work. They aren’t interested in becoming world famous- they’d rather work on their craft for as long as it takes. The movie asks whether we would prefer to maintain that happiness or abandon it just for a few seconds of fame.

Frank- Clara with Frank

Let’s get into Frank himself. We never get too much into his head from his perspective, as most of what we’re told comes from other characters. We know he wants to help people reach the farthest corners of their potential. However, it’s said a few times that Frank spent some time in a hospital. Yet, those deep, psychological issues don’t affect his passion for music.

Michael Fassbender as Frank

It’s amazing how good of a job Fassbender does with the role despite his face being covered for most of the movie. There’s a lot of physical work that comes with his performance and the subtle shifts in his tone of voice make for a well-acted role. He can be jolly and happy when performing, but at times, he’ll enter a deep depression from which no amount of stardom can rescue him. Sure, Frank likes the idea of a following, but fame can be overwhelming at times. When you get the fortune and popularity you so want, sometimes you realize you were better off without it. I think that’s who Frank would prefer to be.

Frank- Jon blogging

Jon himself is not a bad guy, but he’s in over his head. Gleeson does a good job playing Jon as an aspiring artist with his head in the clouds. He’s not that good of a musician, if he can even be called that. His lyrics are uninspired and he latches onto the band like it’s his calling in life. He meddles with a dynamic that did not need changing and, as a result, he causes change way faster than necessary. But then, he also acts as if his lack of musical talent hinders him, despite the fact that he has a steady job already. He assumes he’s entitled to fame since he gave up some of his time to join the band, like he’s owed a favor. He’s not a tortured artist, just a struggling one. That doesn’t make him special.

Frank- Band watches

I don’t have much to say about the rest of the band since we don’t get to learn much about them. Baraque and Nana speak French and Clara can be violent. I wish we got to learn more about Clara’s close friendship with Frank, but that’s not the main focus of the movie. Gyllenhaal herself is quite fierce in her performance. I can understand why she wasn’t trusting of Jon since he tried to change Frank, but she came off as antagonistic from the start, so I’m guessing she just has anger issues. I mean, she did talk about how she’d like to stab Jon.

Frank- Dumping ashes

As I said, Frank is quite the oddball of a movie. It gives us a look at a musicians’ focus on their craft, no matter how strange or different it may seem to us. It shows the value of maintaining devotion to music, regardless of fame. We’re asked whether we would rather maintain our own identity and self-expression or sacrifice that in exchange for fame and fortune. Is fame even worth it if you’re not happy? Frank is not for everyone because of how odd some will find it. However, beneath the strangeness that is this film is an enjoyable watch about a man who loves to perfect his craft. Despite not seeing his face for most of the film, Michael Fassbender is expressive from start to finish. But once that head comes off, we see how fragile and vulnerable he truly is.

A Look at “Masters of Sex” Season 2, Episode 9: “Story of My Life”

If “Story of My Life” is any indication, it’s that if you want something done, do it yourself and own up to what’s yours instead of trying to ignore the problem right in front of you. Bill and Virginia see their problems put on display, but mostly through other people around them. By episode’s end, characters confront their own insecurities that they long thought had been buried or neglected. Their arcs progressed in a well done, character driven episode.

Story of My Life- Virginia talks with Dr. Madden about how she should progress

The episode begins with Virginia finishing her sad tale to Dr. Madden. She’s unsure how to progress, so what should she do? She doesn’t want to dwell on it. Dr. Madden finds it interesting that “Barbara” didn’t show any sort of rage or sadness when sharing something very hard to speak about. Were there tears when it happened? Virginia tells the doctor that she told a friend, prompting Madden to say that maybe she’s reliving the experience because she wants a different outcome. What’s the best way to rewrite it? Telling her brother to stop by finding her voice.

Story of My Life- Masters family dinner

In the next scene, the Masters clan enjoys dinner. While the ladies clear the table, Francis turns down any offers of alcohol while also remarking on Bill’s impressive home. He thinks their mother is a bit tight right now, but Bill says that she’s just happy. When it’s time for dessert, Bill can’t stick around because he left some files in his office over the weekend and he needs to prepare for an early patient tomorrow morning. Francis offers to come with Bill, but no dice.

Story of My Life- Virginia undresses Bill

Next up, at the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel, Virginia arrives at the room and comments on the many women in tiaras and sashes downstairs. Turns out it’s the Miss Buoy of St. Louey Pageant! Virginia was once a runner-up only because the winner looked like Veronica Lake. Maybe that was part of the criteria. Besides, Virginia only did it because her mother forced her to sign up. She should have said ‘no’ louder. Both Bill and Virginia are eager to go down on each other, but Bill would prefer he take the lead for obvious reasons. He just enjoys seeing her enjoy herself. Well, Virginia is in the mood for a change of pace and tells Bill to lie on the bed. Ultimately, Bill stops Virginia under the guise that he just came from Libby, prompting Virginia to ask if she always plays second fiddle to Libby. Either way, rain check.

Story of My Life- Betty introduces Bill to her prostitute friend, Kitty, played by Erin Cummings

The next day, Betty introduces Bill to her prostitute friend, Kitty, played by Erin Cummings, who is here to help Lester get his rocks off. Kitty, as we learn, is imaginative and flexible. Whether blowjob or handjob, she can do whatever it takes to get the job done. Impotence, as Betty says, is a working girl’s bread and butter.

Story of My Life- Bill suggests that Lester will be a pioneer

When Bill brings the opportunity up to Lester, the cameraman is hesitant. He’s always been on the other side of the action and maintained professional objectivity. However, as Bill tells him, this will give him a chance to participate in the work as a subject. They’re only going with a prostitute because that will eliminate the question of a partner’s sexual competence. In a controlled experiment, there can only be one variable and a woman like Kitty has seen guys like Lester before. Bill tells Lester that this is his chance to be a pioneer, just like Wilbur Wright. Given Lester’s background in film, I thought Bill would go with a pioneering director like D.W. Griffith, but fine.

Story of My Life- Marcus, played by Sterling Brown, asks Libby about the incident

At the C.O.R.E. office, Libby answers questions from Marcus, played by Sterling Brown, about her recollection of the incident she witnessed. What made her look up? Had she seen anything like that before? And before Libby gets on board, Marcus wants her to be sure that she knows what’s at stake. After all, stories can change, but they can change for the better if Libby suddenly remembered that the first three numbers of the truck’s license plate are 2-8-9. Police have a better time believing someone with her eyes. Well, they have a better time believing someone with her skin, too.

As Lester prepares the camera for the upcoming session, Virginia tells him to not record anything because the patient in question suffers from vaginismus. It’s too soon to have the work documented.

Story of My Life- Bill and Virginia prep Barbara for the procedure

So Bill and Virginia get Barbara prepped for the procedure. Right now, she has a loss of control over the muscles of the perineum and outer third of the vagina. She contracts spastically in response to entry or even the mere suggestion of it. When asked if she’s been penetrated before and if she had any difficulty, Barbara responds that she has before, and there was a little blood with it. After the first time, the pain lessened, but the intercourse stopped. She tried picking it up later with her fiancé, Gil, but it was if she was closed for risky business. Bill sets out to help her understand how her body responds. Her muscles constrict to stop penetration. Therefore, he will insert a dilator into her vagina, but he’ll do it slowly and with lube. Once inside, Barbara should clench around it, but without the back and forth that comes with normal intercourse. Soon, the muscles will relax. Good thing they aren’t doing this with Ulysses. But it’s no good. Barbara’s emotions get the better of her and she needs a few minutes to mentally prepare.

Story of My Life- Virginia and Bill's sidebar conversation

This gives Virginia and Bill a chance to have a sidebar conversation. Bill acknowledges that they’re only solving half of the issue, but all patients with dysfunctions would naturally show distress that brought them there in the first place. It’s hard, but they can’t turn away when they have the means to treat the physical symptoms. But Virginia says that Barbara isn’t psychologically prepared for intercourse. This prompts Bill to question why Virginia is behind the belief that an emotional breakthrough will relieve the patient of their physical problems. What they offer now is practical treatment. Anything else is out of their depth.

Story of My Life- Robert tells Libby that her services aren't necessary

Back at the C.O.R.E. office, Libby admits to Robert that she can’t think of the last time something she said mattered so much. Robert’s a bit more pessimistic and doesn’t think the perpetrators will get jail time. Libby doesn’t understand. She’s an upstanding citizen of society…and so humble, too. Robert does some role play and acts as if Libby is on the witness stand. He takes every opportunity to punch holes in her story: if she saw it happen, why didn’t she go to the authorities immediately? Libby is not a good liar, she admits, but at least she doesn’t have a criminal record! Libby, that dickish side of you is showing again. When Robert was young, he threw a brick through a plate glass window of a service station just to get a set of tiers just because he wanted to get them by taking something that didn’t belong to him. But when it comes to rights he should be entitled to that others say he can’t have, then he’ll find a way to get them, by any means. In short: thanks, but no thanks. She’s not needed.

Story of My Life- Barbara speaks with Virginia after procedure

As Barbara gets dressed, she thanks Virginia for being so patient, but also wonders if it’s right for her to try and fix herself. Virginia just figures that Barbara has trouble trusting people, particularly because the people close to her have let her down. So Virginia adapts Dr. Madden’s method and suggests that Barbara say now what she wanted to say back then. Luckily, Barbara still sees Paul, who now lives in Chesterfield.

Story of My Life- Pauline tells Libby that Bill probably talk with Francis' friends

At House Masters, Pauline has just put John to sleep. Wasn’t there a second kid? You know what? Never mind. Pauline asks Libby if Bill ever wanted a boy. He didn’t care as long as the baby was healthy. You can always tell if a man wants kids based on how he reacts around his friend’s kids. When it comes to Francis’ friends, however, Bill’s not expected to talk. And why is that?

Story of My Life- Francis brings Bill to an A.A. meeting

Because Francis has brought Bill to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s Francis’ sober date, so he’s going to receive his chip and tell his story.

Story of My Life- Kitty bares her breasts to Lester

Meanwhile, Lester meets up with Kitty and likens her to Kitty at the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City on Gunsmoke. Lester, stop talking. Oh, and Kitty also has the same hair color as his sister. Lester, seriously! Kitty suggests they have a normal conversation. For starters, what does Lester like? The French New Wave. Lester, talk about her! He at least likes her blouse. He can tell its silk without touching it. Lester’s heart is racing, which could be paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, which is what killed his father. He could drop dead, too! Lester, the way you’re striking out, that would probably be preferable. Luckily, Kitty is good at everything. She’ll diagnose Lester with her magic touch, even though, as Lester says, that would make medical school superfluous. He still wants to know where she studied. Lester!

Story of My Life- Francis tells his story

Back at the A.A. meeting, Francis makes his chip disappear. Disappearing has always been his specialty. He used to do it as a child whenever trouble approached, mostly with his father. However, it got harder, so he found assistants in the form of drinks. Sobriety gave him some clarity. He realized that he had a great teacher when it came to learning the disappearing act: his father. His mother’s smile? Any semblance of fun? All gone when dad had his way. In the back, Bill leaves the meeting.

Story of My Life- Dr. Madden suggests 'Barbara' is withholding truth

Virginia speaks with Dr. Madden for more insight on how to proceed after confronting her past. The doctor notes that “Barbara” is moving quite fast with the healing process. Is she feeling misunderstood? Or is she withholding truth due to fearing someone else’s judgment? There was one person, Virginia admits: her boss. Lillian always saw things in black and white, but the affair was a grey area. Madden suggests maybe she felt she’d been judged more harshly than deserved. However, she anticipated the judgment because she knew what Lillian’s objections would be. At the same time, Virginia admits that she never saw herself as a threat to Libby because she never wanted to marry Bill.

Story of My Life- Pauline tells Libby that Bill probably talk with Francis' friends

Pauline and Libby talk about their husbands, with Libby admitting that she met Bill when she worked as a medical secretary, but didn’t want to marry right away. Pauline, however, felt blinded by Francis’ charm, but that also kept her from seeing signs of his alcoholism, such as the mood swings, his impulsiveness and how he’d come home late at night. After Francis wound up in the emergency room, Pauline gave him an ultimatum: the bottle or her. No one ever expected Pauline to draw a line in the sand because she was always the go-along gal that didn’t want to make waves, but it felt good to do something that no one thought she was capable of. That’s awfully convenient for Libby to hear, if I’m honest.

Story of My Life- Barbara tells Virginia that she met up with Paul

At the office, Virginia lets Barbara know that Bill has no intention of going up in size today. However, Barbara has made her own progress: she talked to Paul in person. Sure, Virginia only meant to imagine the conversation, but Barbara and Paul regularly meet for dinner anyway, so why not? Paul didn’t deny that it happened, but he remembers one detail differently: this whole game was Barbara’s idea. It makes sense. If Paul had violated her, why would the two still be so close? Then it dawned on Barbara. Some triplets moved in across from them that summer. Paul would often go off to see them, but Barbara wanted him to stay, so she invented the game to keep him around. Now Barbara realizes that she may have been trying to absolve herself of responsibility for how her life turned out: unstable, alone and unable to love someone in a way that’s not shameful or dirty. What if she did this to herself?

Story of My Life- Lester tellls Bill about his awful night

Bill asks Lester about his night. It didn’t go well. In fact, Lester likens it to William Holden being found dead in a pool and telling a story at the same time, like in Sunset Boulevard. Lester felt disassociated from his body. Meanwhile, he doesn’t get why Bill is taking notes. Bill is able to rule out what didn’t work and what could be implemented next time, but Lester doesn’t want a next time. In fact, he doesn’t see this working by pairing a novice with an expert. You just need two equally matched people who know each other’s bodies. This would work better if the two are already a couple.

Story of My Life- Libby admires Virginia's courage

Downstairs, Libby spots Virginia at the same café. She tells her that she has trouble getting her courage. What she’d like is Virginia’s nerve, considering how she came into Maternity with no experience, but worked her way up. If she wants something, she just goes for it. Virginia, however, denies any of this as courage and does not want to be held up as an example.

Story of My Life- Francis and Bill talk about their crappy childhood

Francis checks in with Betty on Pauline’s upcoming tubing, but Bill hurries him into his office before Betty realizes that Francis doesn’t go by Mason: the last name she’d been provided. Bill isn’t at all pleased about being brought to an A.A. meeting, but Francis thought it would be a good opportunity to reintroduce himself to Bill. He found the courage to tell his story. Bill is a bit too familiar with the story because he believes it’s what he went through, not Francis, who Bill believed to be the favorite. Bill admits that he never would have left if he thought Francis suffered the same abuse he went through. But now, they’ve both escaped. The truth allowed Francis to heal. Bill still believes the meeting was just a way for Francis to share insight. At the end of the day, Bill still left, but Francis doesn’t blame him anymore. He forgives him.

Story of My Life- Libby is ready to volunteer at the C.O.R.E. office

At the C.O.R.E. office, the Coloreds give the camera strange looks, so we know someone unexpected has arrived, and it is, indeed, Libby. She wants to volunteer her services, and the first thing Robert does is send her on a sandwich run. Gotta start somewhere, I guess.

Story of My Life- Virginia and Bill argue

Back at the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel, Bill isn’t drinking. Virginia is fuming. Does drinking relieve his conscience about what they’re doing to Libby? Bill isn’t in the mood to talk, but Virginia can’t believe it’s taken this long to talk about how the affair can and will hurt the people they love. Virginia still considers Libby a great friend and can’t think of a single bad thing to point out. But how does someone like Bill make this seem okay? Again, Bill isn’t in the mood for any self-examination. It just makes people miserable. The past is the past, so you grow up, move on and do the best you can. He never did this with the intent of hurting anyone. If that’s the case, Virginia counters, then Bill is a fool. She doesn’t stop there- she calls out the affair for what it is. After all, neither of them has noted their sessions in a long time. They can’t keep pretending that there’s a point to this beyond pleasure. Bill, echoing Lester’s comment, tells Virginia that dysfunction can’t be cured in an exam room. It requires individual conditions and pairing subjects that know each other’s bodies. It requires practical work, along with much trial and error. Virginia finally asks whose dysfunction they are treating. And Bill, after heavy prompting, tells her that they’re to help treat his own problem.

What a spot on episode title that really gets to the root of Bill and Virginia’s conflicts: the revelations and problems they face, but don’t confront are brought to the forefront through the lenses of other characters, mainly Lester and Barbara. It’s a nice way to juxtapose their problems against those who aren’t fully ready to come to terms with what’s wrong with them. In addition, they also realize that they must progress at their own speed instead of letting someone else dictate how they advance.

The episode had characters confronting their demons in different ways, similar to how the Cal-o-Metric spokesman who overate until he died. Bill and Virginia want to help and have good intentions, but neither is completely right: you can’t just solve everything with science and theories, but trying to cause an emotional breakthrough, especially when dealing with someone like Barbara, doesn’t help because that’s not their specialty. We own up to our pasts, as Bill said, by acknowledging it, but not by letting it always weigh us down, as Bill always does. Like Libby told him, clinging to the past won’t accomplish anything.

Story of My Life- A.A. meeting

I think the best representation of confronting the past was the use of the A.A. meeting. Consider the first step: admitting you’re powerless over alcohol, that your life had become unmanageable. Among the various others, make a moral inventory of ourselves, admitting when we are wrong, making amends to people we harmed and, in the end, practicing all of these principles in all of our affairs. Pretty much all of these come into play this week.

And the moral inventory allowed for some great self-examination, with characters making choices or accepting decisions they otherwise wouldn’t because they’re not ready. We want to grow, but that’s harder when the world and people in it are watching and judging us. The final realization we arrive at may be awkward and uncomfortable, as Barbara learns, but it comes with recognizing our flaws instead of denying or burying. This led to some very confrontational scenes, but they were necessary for characters to confront what they’d brushed aside. All the science in the world can’t replace talking about your problems. This also helps us acknowledge our faults and where we stumbled instead of trying to absolve ourselves of responsibility. At times, we can be the architects of our own destruction, even if this means rewriting the past or disappearing to dull the pain.

Story of My Life- Lester's therapy

Additionally, the characters tackled seemingly impossible tasks because they always felt they weren’t ready. It feels empowering to accomplish what we thought we were incapable of. Again, this can lead to uncomfortable situations and we won’t always be successful or rewarded, but it can be rewarding to do what we previously believed we could not.

Story of My Life- Libby wants to help

Take Libby, for example. So more than having a shot at redemption, Libby has an opportunity to be a part of something where her voice is heard and she feels wanted. Again, I found it a bit convenient for Pauline to have a situation almost similar to Libby’s just around the time Libby needed some encouragement. She has an opportunity to make a small, but necessary difference to prove she’s not expendable. True, her word trumps that of a Negro’s, but she’ll still e questioned for being sympathetic to their plight. The scene with Robert confirmed what she already knew: she’s not a good liar. If anything, Libby often comes off as too timid and needs the occasional push so she’ll be more assertive.

I appreciate that she still looks up to Virginia as a model example of the confident woman, even if Virginia doesn’t believe it herself. Libby is rarely proactive. Most of the time, things happen around her and she will just react. In essence, she’s a bystander until she’s dragged into something. Now she’s forcing her way into this situation to show she can contribute to a cause where she will be of great use.

Story of My Life- Lester doesn't like his therapy

Oh, Lester. I really hope all of his sexual encounters didn’t play out the way his night with Kitty did. This isn’t out of character for him and I’d be expecting too much for him to become a smooth operator in one night through a prostitute he never wanted to bone. Still, though, I wish he was a bit more charming instead of awkward. I lost track of how many times I screamed “Lester” during the scene with Kitty. He is right, though: a novice paired with an expert won’t solve his issue. One must be more delicate. His suggestion of pairing two people who know each other’s bodies comes out of nowhere since I doubt he knows the ins and outs of the study as well as Bill and Virginia do. It felt more like a way to get Bill to understand his own issue.

To be fair, Lester has made progress. Last week, he opened up on the issue. Now, through force, he sees that a quick fix isn’t his solution. He’s thrust into a situation without being consulted, but knows what doesn’t work. And I like that he ultimately refused to film Barbara after seeing her in such a vulnerable state.

Story of My Life- Barbara

Which brings me to Barbara, since I suck at transitions. Here’s a tragic figure for you. So Barbara realizes that the pain and guilt she’s endured over the years may have been her own doing. Given how she originally didn’t remember all of the details the incestuous encounters, it’s not implausible that she’d try to rearrange the story. However, what she learns from Paul just damages her psyche even more. The scenes with Barbara and Virginia were awkward to watch, the way Barbara slowly realizes that the game may have been her idea, and this really shines in Brandt’s performance.

It’s clear that Barbara isn’t ready to come to terms with her past and she’s psychologically not ready for sex. She was, at the very least, proactive by seeking out Paul, even if that was a result of her misunderstanding Virginia’s advice. Honesty may be necessary when confronting our demons, but also awkward. Her self-examination takes her forward, but damages her even further than she already is.

Story of My Life- Virginia with Barbara

Let’s move onto Virginia, who is finding it harder to help out than it already was. She’s more approachable than Bill and has good intentions to help Barbara’s traumatic past, but she’s stepping out of her own rage. Since she’s not versed in this treatment, she’s just cutting corners. This allowed her to confront her on insecurities and guilt that she’d been harboring not just over the affair, but by keeping it as a secret from Lillian. Side-note, I did appreciate Lillian being referenced after her death, even if it’s brief. Virginia’s story blending with Barbara’s help her recognize her feelings on the affair that she’d neglected, which allowed her to confront Bill about the damage the two were doing to Libby.

Story of My Life- Virginia doesn't want Libby's praise

Before, Virginia was more prone to talking about her accomplishments, but now she’s more accepting of her flaws, such as not accepting Libby’s praise. She’s not taking part in the affair for the good of the study- it’s an affair. Like Barbara, Virginia has been trying to tell herself one thing while denying the truth in front of her.

Story of My Life- Bill listens to Francis' story

Bill, however, is still in denial: on his past, the affair, on his attempts to Lester, the list goes on. Like Virginia, he means well. I’ve said it before- Bill and Virginia have what the other lacks: Bill has the scientific touch, but not the emotional. But at least he’s not holding the past over Francis’ head, as he did with Libby. He admits that he would have helped out, had he known that Francis also suffered the same awful childhood that he endured. The difference is that Bill still clings to the past, while Francis has been able to move on with his life.

Story of My Life- Bill tells Virginia that they're helping cure his dysfunction

And at least he puts Lester’s convenient words to good use by acknowledging that it takes a connection to cure a dysfunction. Admitting to Virginia that he had a dysfunction shows he’s accepting his own problem, but this wasn’t done on his own accord since it came as a result of an argument. Otherwise, I doubt he would have brought it up. And now, both realize that they can’t keep performing their sessions under the guise of doing it for the good of science.

The strength of “Story of My Life” came through the powerful performances by the actors as they battle their demons and realize that while they may be able to fix some problems, some are too complex and in some cases, the damage may be too deep to undo. Instead of imagining “What if,” all we can do is move forward. It may help to confront the past, but it won’t always be comfortable.

A Look at “Masters of Sex” Season 2, Episode 8: “Mirror, Mirror”

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Bill talks with Francis, played by Christian Borle

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Virginia tells Bill about the subjects with dysfunctions that they turned away

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Austin massages Flo's feet

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Betty talks about taxes

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Watching pair have sex

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Bill and Virginia talk with Sam Duncan, played by Brian Howe

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Bill with Francis and Pauline, played by Marin Ireland

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Virginia and Bill go through files on impotence

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?

Mirror, Mirror- Betty talks about dicks

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Libby tries to convince Flo to donate

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Lester tells Bill about what happened between him and Jane

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Virginia talks to Barbara

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Libby witnesses aftermath of attack outside C.O.R.E. office

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…

Mirror, Mirror- Libby and Bill discuss the incident

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Bill discuss Francis' results

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Robert pays Libby a visit

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Virginia notes the coincidence between Francis Holden and Francis Mason

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Dead man

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Barbara tells Virginia more about her past

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Virginia tells Bill that she wants to become a practicing psychologist

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Flo tells Betty that her spokesman died

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…

Mirror, Mirror- Austin, the face of Cal-o-Metric

…yeah, it’s Austin.

Mirror, Mirror- Lester tells Bill that the study is his inspiration

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Meeting Jim Pearson, played by David Starzyk

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Betty delivers message to 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.

Mirror, Mirror- Barbara doesn't want to share her story to a stranger

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Coffee Shop meeting

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Virginia and Betty talk about impotence

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Libby and Bill talk about the study

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Austin with Flo

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?

Mirror, Mirror- Lester sits in on recording with Bill

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Libby reads news article on incident

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Bill with Lester

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Francis wants his brother back

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Barbara tells Virginia about Mary Dougherty

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.

Mirror, Mirror- Virginia wants to go back to school

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.

A Look at “The Walking Dead” #130: “There Were Whispers and I Was Afraid”

The Walking Dead #130- Cover

Much like the previous issues that we’ve seen since the time-skip, issue #130, “There Were Whispers and I Was Afraid,” re-establishes us to the world, sets up new dilemmas for the characters and has a cliffhanger at the end.

Again, things are slower than before the time-skip, but they need to be in order to re-introduce us to these characters. Now that Negan’s reign has ended, people can slowly settle into their lives, both in Alexandria and, as we see here, the Hilltop.

The Walking Dead #130- Magna doesn't buy Negan's story

I didn’t expect the follow-up between Negan and Magna’s crew to pop up right at the beginning of the issue, but it was a welcome surprise and well written. And not too surprising that Negan would revert to his old ways after Magna didn’t buy his story. I’m very curious as to what Kirkman will do with Negan. Having Rick keep him alive, to me at least, makes it seem like there’s still plenty for him to do, despite being imprisoned. He’s too interesting of a villain and proved a formidable foe for the people of Alexandria, so I’m glad he’s at least still interacting with the people, however brief.

The Walking Dead #130- Carl learns that he won't be the first apprentice

And poor Carl. He had such high hopes for wanting to become an apprentice, and in no time at all, the opportunity is taken away from him. Maybe this is from not seizing the opportunity sooner or maybe the job market is still competitive during the zombie apocalypse, but this definitely puts a halt to his plans.

The Walking Dead #130- Maggie meets up with Rick

I was very pleased to see how well Maggie has developed into a leader ever since she arrived at the Hilltop. Maggie has been very proactive as a character even before the group arrived at Alexandria, but here, she’s assumed a leadership role and helped turn the Hilltop from a community that lived in fear to one that thrives in rebuilding itself. And unlike the other people at the Hilltop, she’s grateful to Rick for what he’s done, but she feels no need to leap continuous praise on him. She knows him well enough to not do that.

The Walking Dead #130- Rick as a hero

I’m not sure how or why Rick has this sudden hero status in the eyes of the Hilltop citizens. Sure, he helped take down Negan, but it wasn’t just him, so I don’t get why he’s seen as some sort of overnight celebrity. He gave people hope, rallied them together and helped them take down one of their greatest threats yet. But Rick doesn’t do these things because he wants praise or fame- he does it because it’s right and there are few people who had the backbone to face Negan, even when they hadn’t seen him yet.

The Walking Dead #130- Rick and Maggie talk about babies sleeping

His conversation with Maggie while watching her child sleep spoke to the normalcy that the characters find odd. What we see as ordinary and normal: watching children sleep or talking about packing for long trips that don’t deal with roamers, these are the simple things that have eluded the characters for so long. It’s eerie for them to slowly settle back into some semblance of a normal life, but it just shows how far removed from their normal world they are and the difficulty in reclaiming that habitual way of life.

The Walking Dead #130- The Dead Speak

Then we have the end reveal that the dead speak: I’m unsure of where to go with this right now. Is this something that developed over time? Are the roamers evolving? Or do they still have some of their humanity just buried underneath all of the death? It’s an interesting thing to think about and while it’s not some huge, mind-blowing game-changer, it is one that has me wondering how this came about.

A Look at the 2014 Phi Sigma Pi National Convention

Full disclosure, for those who normally read my blog, assuming I have what you call ‘readers.’ I’m a member of the Phi Sigma Pi National Honors Fraternity and we recently held our annual National Convention. This post is about that.  Probably not that big of a deal, but I just wanted to clear that up in the event you happened to scroll through posts about films, television shows or comics and randomly came across this.

What do you get when you take an honors fraternity, put them under the same roof as a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and stick them on one of the world’s most convoluted hotel elevators? You get the 2014 Phi Sigma Pi National Convention, based this year in Atlanta, Georgia.

Roundtables

Once again, Brothers from across the country convene in one location to meet or reunite with friends, swap ideas, contacts, explore the city and take part in the fellowship that unites us. However, this year proved to be a larger one than most- not just because of another round of proposed amendments to our National Constitution or electing a new National Council, but the debates over other issues we tackled.  Also, this picture? Not taken by me- taken by Kyle Williams.

To start, below is the new National Council for the next two years:

President: Matt Nicoletta

Senior Vice President: Erik (Duff) Walschburger

Secretary: Natalie Mikkelson

Vice President of Finance: Sarah Cantwell

Vice President of Membership Development: Chris McCoy

Vice President of Chapter Development: Brian Bunton

Vice President of Alumni Development: Ryan Alexander

Vice President of Philanthropy: Patrick Herron

Council

This photo? Also not taken by me…actually, I don’t know who took this photo.  Just needed something that had a photo of the new Council and this was the only one I could find.

With this election marks the departure of outgoing National President Jonah Goodman, Vice President of Philanthropy Development Kyle Williams, and Vice President of Chapter Development David Serafini, all who have served the fraternity well. While I can’t speak for every individual member of the fraternity and won’t attempt to, I think I speak for at least some when saying that these three have served the fraternity well and I hope that this is not the last we see or hear of them in regards to Phi Sigma Pi.

In regards to the updates to the National Constitution, some clarified language, such as Mr. Walschburger’s amendment to Section 5 of Article IV: Membership. Others, such as Mr. Goodman’s proposed amendment to Section 5 of Article XXII: Prohibitions, removed outdated language. If we are to stay current, it does help, after all, to get rid of any unnecessary words that are no longer needed.

Not just limited to Collegiate Chapters, however, there were a number of amendments that also impact Alumni and Alumni Chapters, such as Eastern North Carolina Alumni Chapter’s (ENCAC) proposed amendment to Section 2 of Article X: Alumni Organizations. For those unaware of some of the workings of an Alumni Chapter, unlike a Collegiate Chapter, Alumni Chapters are only required to meet twice a year as opposed to at least once every two weeks. With the passage of the amendment in regards to vacancies on an Alumni Executive Board, they can now filled by the Alumni Chapter or by a temporary appointment within the eligible Membership of the Alumni Chapter until the next election.

Additionally, ENCAC’s proposed amendment to Section 3 of Article XVI: National Finances, eliminated the portion in regard to Alumni Chapter Dues, as Alumni Chapters do not pay dues the same way a Collegiate Chapter would. In particular, there is no set due date and they aren’t collected in person. Like Mr. Goodman’s proposed amendment to Section 5, this eliminates the need of language that isn’t entirely applicable based on the current state of the fraternity.

As has been the case with previous National Conventions, some amendments were passed onto the Sanction Appeals Board, which eventually did pass. These included Mr. Goodman’s proposed amendment to Section 6 of Article XIX: Disciplinary Actions of the National Council, which expanded the number of Brothers on the ‘jury’ that would hear appeal cases. It keeps the ratio of members the same, but just increases the overall number.

Also passed through the Sanction Appeals Board was Mr. Goodman’s amendment to Section 6 of Article XIX, intended to reduce challenges with the current selection process of the Sanction Appeal Board pools and eliminates the need for long selections at Grand Chapter. This way, each Chapter in good standing has equal representation in the SAB pool.

Outside of amendments, we as a fraternity had a lengthy discussion regarding our choice of words and language that, some felt, was not inclusive enough to support gender identity, since some do not associate themselves as male or female, which fall within the purview of co-educational. As such, a committee and outside national experts worked with Council to draft a resolution that wound up on the floor of the Grand Chapter. This resolution would define us “gender inclusive” as opposed to “co-educational.” After a lengthy discussion on how to define some terms, the resolution did eventually pass. While this resolution itself is not binding to individual Chapters and is more just updated language, it does reinforce that we are and always have been a fraternity composed of people of many types, views, backgrounds and interests.

What also proved to be a lengthy debate surrounded our relationship with Teach for America as the fraternity’s national philanthropy. Over time, people have expressed concerns with TFA because of their relationship. In addition, Brothers expressed frustration at communication issues when it came to supporting TFA.

After the creation of a philanthropy focus group, it was decided that Phi Sigma Pi will no longer partner with Teach for America as the national philanthropy after the 2014-2015 school near. For the next year, both National Council and Staff will wind down the partnership with TFA, but local Chapters can expand support for education by supporting Brothers who become teachers or work in local schools or classrooms in any capacity. Followed by this, with the help of a committee, the Vice President of Philanthropy Development will report to the 2015 Grand Chapter with options for a new philanthropy. These options include having a fully realized plan of expanding educational support, a different education based philanthropy to partner with, or another non-education based philanthropy. After this is presented, the Grand Chapter will then vote on the fraternity’s direction for its next national philanthropy.

New Website

National Staff also debuted the new design for the Phi Sigma Pi website, which looks a lot more streamlined and easier to navigate than the previous one.

Gamma Pi Surprise

And Saturday night’s banquet provided another evening of enjoyment as Brothers received awards, some giving us great reaction shots that we’ll always remember for years to come.

Alumni Lunch

From a personal perspective, this National Convention as a whole was just as enjoyable as the previous ones. Though debates can be lengthy and, at times, repetitive, they show that Brothers have spent time considering and thinking about the future of our fraternity instead of just going along with change without a thought. These sessions represent the culmination of the work we all put in throughout the year and bring it all together in the name of Brotherhood. If there’s a good thing I can say about debate, it’s that we have it at all. Sometimes it helps to hear more than one perspective on an issue, and I think many Brothers realize that. Sure, we may spend hours at a time discussing few issues, but I enjoy hearing how passionate Brothers are about their organization to really let that bother me.

Team Eta

We welcomed Team Eta to the table in their first appearances at Grand Chapter and added to our hopefully never-ending collection of Collegiate Chapters.  Also, not my photo, either. Courtesy of Joshua Tippett.

And, as with previous years, Brothers had the opportunities to swap stories, ideas, items at the Chapter Bazaar, recommendations, and overall just have a great time through idea labs, roundtables, Leadership in Action modules, and ice breakers- events that we take back to our home Chapters to better strengthen them. You wish you had more time or could attend as many as possible, but there’s only so much we can make, and even then, you thirst for more once a session ends.

Brothers during lunch

Would it be great if as many Brothers as possible could attend National Convention? Absolutely. I still think there’s always plenty to learn, share and a ton of potential to unlock for not just Collegiate Brothers, but Alumni and higher up on the Purple and Gold Phi Sigma Pi food chain. I think these National Conventions really do bring out the best of our Brotherhood and I always look forward to the next one.

Capital Alumni

It’s sad when we part ways and have to head back to the world of reality, but until then, that’s why we have regional conferences, inter-chapter events, Chapter Talk, contacts and many ways that keep us connected, even when we’re so spread apart. At the end of the day, after the debates, celebrations, early morning runs, Starbucks’ surges, candy blitzes, photo opportunities, ups, downs, and all-arounds of National Convention, we are still an honors fraternity of scholars, leaders and fellows. And when we’ve gone our separate ways, we still have our Brotherhood, and that’s the tie that bounds us as Brothers for Life.

A Look at “Masters of Sex” Season 2, Episode 7: “Asterion”

In a surprise change of pace, Masters of Sex jumps forward with “Asterion” as we see how Bill and Virginia try to make it on their own, not under the thumb of hospital rules. However, things prove difficult not just for them but, as always, for the people around them.

Asterion- Virginia and Lester talk about Jane

The episode begins five months after “Blackbird” and we revisit Lester Linden as he enters a building in search of the Masters and Johnson clinic. The date is October 15, 1958. He sets up patient Clyde, played by David Lengel, before having some not so nice words to say to Virginia regarding Jane. After the preliminary work is done, Lester prepares the shoot on ejaculation trajectory.

Asterion- Virginia and Bill discuss finances

Bill and Virginia realize that they’re going to need more space for the results, at least 12 more bulletin boards. Though the two may be more than halfway complete with their results, Bill won’t publish the work without at least 100 observations of each individual phenomena, 10,000 observed sex acts in total to ensure the data is ironclad. That could be an issue since Bill and Virginia aren’t in the best shape financially. Only 23 of Bill’s hundreds of fertility cases followed him from Maternity.

Asterion- Betty is late for work

Luckily, Betty’s only half an hour late to fill the position of secretary- something Bill decided upon without telling Virginia, along with the move or lease. Betty’s here to help with the books since she managed her own at her brothel.

Asterion- Bill and Elliot discuss relationships

At the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel, while Bill watches news reports about racial tension in Little Rock, Arkansas, Elliot asks Mr. Holden why his wife is not with him. Holden tells Elliot that he and Mrs. Holden just weren’t compatible anymore. What’s worse is that he should have seen it coming. After taking a vow with a wife, you enter a covenant with her and stand exposed, showing her what no one else ever sees. She isn’t repulsed by what she sees, but one day, Mrs. Holden just up and left. Such a sin cannot be forgiven. Once Bill’s done spewing his venom, he goes home to celebrate Baby John’s birthday.

Asterion- Austin's new lady friend, Holly, played by Nicole Steinwedell

Austin and Virginia watch their significant others dance, though Austin grills Virginia about Shelley and how Bill took the reveal. Virginia responds that Bill has nothing to do with her personal life. Huh. We then meet Austin’s new lady friend, Holly, played by Nicole Steinwedell, who has great assets and wants to go into lingerie modeling. She’d be a perfect fit for Shelley, who sells girders. Also, a modeling agency is going in the building where Virginia works, so she has options.

Asterion- Libby tells Bill that she wants another baby

At House Masters, Libby talks of wanting a garden and how envious she is of Bill having his own clinic. Libby’s goal is to have a family even though, as Bill says, they already have “the boy.” But Libby wants more than one. Bill isn’t enthused about the idea since it could mean more fertility treatments, disappointment and maybe even more heartbreak. However, this is what she needs.

The next day, Betty once again catches up to Bill when he arrives, but she tells him that he won’t regret hiring her. He could, given their history, but Bill acknowledges that Betty has helped him twice before, so a Masters must repay his debt.

Asterion- Bill speaks with Simon about getting a loan

Bill then meets with Simon of Walcohl Bank regarding a loan. Simon tells Bill that he has no credit history, but because of that, he’s a credit risk since he used to draw regular paychecks. That’s changed since Bill became his own man. Simon can approve the loan, but the bank will use all of Bill’s assets- including his house, cars, savings- so that if he does, the bank will eventually get its money back.

Asterion- Virginia and Bill about to argue

After watching a man orgasm in five seconds, Virginia proposes to Bill that the questionnaire be expanded in order to weed out people who would not be suitable. Bill concurs, but focuses on his work. Virginia tells him that she recently drove past the Park Plaza and almost went in, but still, Bill gives her little to no response. That’s it. Virginia tells Bill that this sort of punishment is unreasonable. Bill goes home to Libby every night. Virginia shouldn’t have to keep going home alone. Despite Virginia’s many apologies, Bill has refused to listen to her. Even though Bill is upset about what he saw, he’s more upset about seeing Tessa wrapped around a stranger’s leg- just one of men that she met while he made his way in and out of Virginia’s bed. Bill won’t allow himself to become just another man that parades through her life. The two are work colleagues. Nothing more.

I would think Bill was more upset that Tessa forgot who he was, but whatever.

Asterion- Bill with prostitute Yvette, played by Jo Galloway

Sometime later, Bill has a prostitute named Yvette, played by Jo Galloway, try to suck him off, but nothing happens. Regardless, Bill gives her the money and leaves.

Asterion- Betty shows Libby around

The next day, Betty gives Libby and Baby John a tour of the building. The neighborhood is in transition.

Asterion- Betty shows Libby around again

And through a sort of, but not so clever transition, we cut to a later period as Betty, Libby, Baby John and another child head upstairs. The date is September 2, 1959. Betty has been telling Bill to just rent the space since it would look better for their end of the year report. When did Betty become so much more knowledgeable on the subject? Well, she recently finished her real estate tax class and is close to receiving her accounting degree.

Asterion- Lester tells Virginia about his recent inspiration

At the same time, Lester conducts a background interview with Virginia, who talks about the questionnaire and sexual dysfunctions. She asks why Lester needs to film this, and he tells us: his current inspiration is Windjammer, a real life documentary about a 17,000 nautical mile journey of a Norwegian Sailing Ship. The movie changed his life because it was about risk and danger, similar to the work Bill and Virginia take part in.

Asterion- Libby confronts Bill about Simon reassessing their property

Libby confronts Bill about spotting Simon in their yard, reassessing the property. Yup. Bill never told Libby about the loan that still isn’t paid back yet. He tells Libby that he’s not going to sell the house or uproot the family just to subsidize his work. When Libby heads back home, she gets a phone call.

Asterion- Essie returns and talks with Bill

That evening, Bill receives a surprise visit from Mama Masters. Yes, Ann Dowd has returned and it turns out that Essie has been speaking to Libby for over a year. She’s seen the kids regularly and even though she was told to stay away, she couldn’t. She would have told Libby everything, but after one look, she couldn’t hurt them. So Bill’s secrets are safe. She won’t judge Bill, she just wants another chance. And she wants to help.

Asterion- Libby and Bill argue about Essie

Later on, at House Masters, Libby and Bill argue about a sum of money that Essie wants to give them- all tied to her husband’s estate. Bill’s just incensed that Libby deceived him about seeing his mother in Indiana, but Libby responds that she needed Essie and won’t deprive the kids from seeing their grandmother. Also, deceived is laying it on a bit too thick, isn’t it, Bill? Bill refuses to take the money since Essie can’t be counted on for anything and he already puts a roof over the family’s head, anyway. The matter is closed.

But Libby’s not taking that. She calls Bill out for nursing a wound when everyone in the world suffers at some point. He’s just the only one that she knows of that spreads his torment around to make others suffer.

Asterion- Holly pops out of a birthday cake for Austin

At a birthday celebration for Austin, Holly pops out of a birthday cake, which is just beautiful. She doesn’t sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him, though. He thanks everyone for showing up to celebrate while Bill eyes Virginia and a new man with obvious loathing in his eyes.

Asterion- Virginia introduces Bill to Kenny Hitchens, played by Jeff Schine

By the bar, Virginia introduces Bill to Kenny Hitchens, played by Jeff Schine. Kenny has heard quite a bit about Bill from Virginia, but maybe not everything. Bill is quite blunt in telling Kenny about the work he and Virginia do: you know, watching people have sex, occasionally in a hotel. And even when he offers a demonstration, Bill still promises to pair Kenny with Virginia. Well, that should scare him off.

Asterion- Libby and Virginia talk about Bill

In the powder room, Virginia smokes as Libby enters. None for Libby, though. She quit. Both agree that Bill’s lost his ever-loving mind. However, Bill wouldn’t apologize for his actions because it would make him look weak. What’s worse, Bill and Libby haven’t had sex in over a year. He says that he’s too wiped by work. Virginia concurs that he is under pressure. Libby talks about a time when, in California, she was thrown from her bed due to moving plates that pushed against each other until they broke away with a jolt.

Asterion- Bill toys with Virginia

Virginia later spots Bill and will wait for an apology, but he tells her to look down at the partygoers. They exist in their world while the two of them exist in their own. Bill toys around with Virginia’s lady parts for a bit before she leaves in a huff.

Asterion- Bill with prostitute Sandra, played by Autumn Withers

Bill tries his luck with another prostitute, this one named Sandra, played by Autumn Withers. Again, nothing’s happening, but Sandra refuses to take Bill’s money because he’s not getting anything out of it. How nice of her. I mean that, really.

Asterion- Betty collects from Flo

And now we get a series of introductions. Betty first enters the building with Don, played by Nick Smoke, and shows him around the various offices, including the new C.O.R.E. office. We then jump forward to the next person: foot doctor Stan, and finally, Flo. Oh, and Betty aced her CPA exams. You go, Ms. DiMello!

Asterion- Lester records Betty and Bill while they talk about money

The date is October 11, 1960. Lester is recording B-roll footage while Betty and Bill discuss how Flo must start paying with a check. Well, Lester stops recording, anyway, as Bill doesn’t want him getting footage when they’re talking about money. There’s good news from Betty, though: the fertility patient numbers are up. She raised the fees by 20 percent, which led to an increase in revenue from last month.

Downstairs, Virginia runs into Shelley, who is still a girdle salesman and none too happy that he didn’t land Ms. Johnson.

Asterion- Virginia tells Bill about their connection

After a brief look at some of the footage Lester cataloged from Maternity, Virginia gives Bill a key for Room 412 at the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel. She will wait for him. Outside of Henry and Tessa, much of what Virginia has is tied to the work and, by extension, Bill. She sometimes felt sick at the unfairness of Bill going home to his wife, while she went home alone. True, she can’t remember any of their names. Bill has more of Virginia than he realizes, but he focuses on the fact that she spent time with other men. At least Bill had Libby. But, Bill counters, just because you go home to someone doesn’t mean you’re not alone. Does this mean that the two are fellow sufferers? Maybe yes, maybe no, but the two cannot undo what has happened. What they have comes first, but Bill must allow Virginia to have someone else in her life. That’s not asking too much.

Asterion- Lester and Austin head to bachelor party

Lester’s not too keen on filming a bachelor party for Austin’s friend, Hank, played by Mark Parrish. Heck, Lester and Austin don’t even have that much in common…except for Jane, as Austin easily points out. Sort of a dick thing to say, Austin.

Asterion- Bill tells Virginia how he intends to pleasure

At the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel, Bill and Virginia discuss how to go about having sex. They won’t take their clothes off. Bill needs to get reacquainted with her body, so he’ll kiss her and basically use his mouth all over her until she climaxes.

Asterion- Bill and Virginia's work resumes

Once they’ve finished, it’s official that the work has resumed. According to Virginia, Betty believes that there’s a janitor who has been stealing from petty cash. Oh, and since the finances aren’t that good, Bill and Virginia will need to find a cheaper place, or even free.

Back at the bachelor party, the boys watch some smut and its all fun and games until Lester tells Austin that one of the women in the film is Holly. Whoops.

Asterion- Austin talks to Elise about getting back together

So Austin turns to someone who will hear him out: Elise. For a moment, he just wants her to hear him out. He wants the two to reunite. The bachelor life is hollow and now Austin is adrift without an anchor. It helps that Elise knows him so well, but he also still loves their kids. Elise isn’t convinced. She knows that if they get back together, it’s only a matter of time before he screws up again. They can’t go back to the way things were. She’s moved on. It’s time for him to do the same.

Asterion- Bill talks with Elliot about wanting to fill the on-call doctor position

Mr. Holden speaks with Elliot, who is now a night manager. He’s glad that the Holdens are back together, but Mr. Holden is in need of a favor. The hotel has an on-call doctor in case of medical emergencies and Elliot is responsible for scheduling them. Holden asks if he could do it in exchange for the room charge being waived. It sounds enticing, but Elliot has to inform the visitors of who is examining them, and they probably wouldn’t be comfortable being seen by a radiologist. What would be preferable is a general practitioner, a surgeon or obstetrician. For example, Elliot’s sister recently had her baby delivered by a Dr. Masters. If he met a man like that, he’d have a hard time saying no.

Asterion- Virginia interviews Barbara for the study

The next day, Betty informs Virginia that Barbara is in for a visit. She wants to participate in the study since she knows that Bill is a good doctor. She also wanted to learn about the body since hers doesn’t work too well. Nothing has been able to penetrate her vaginal opening since it’s closed. However, because the study requires normal sexual procedures, Barbara unfortunately does not qualify for the study.

Asterion- Virginia and Bill discuss turning away potential clients

At House Masters during a party, Virginia tells Bill about having to turn Barbara away. It’s a shame because that’s another sexual history gone, which is true of every rejection. It’s possible, however, that people look at the study less for the sex and more for Bill to help them.

Libby sends Bill out so she can talk to Virginia about a lake house she’s been offered. It’s enticing, but she’d also like to go to Paris one day. It’d be better if Virginia could come, too, since she feels Bill is more pleasant when she’s around.

Asterion- Essie arrives to the party

While Bill works on the grill, Libby is surprised to see Essie with gifts. He invited her because it meant a lot to Libby, but he brings up the supposed increase in revenue that Betty spoke of. He doesn’t know how Essie, Libby and Betty made that money land in his pocket without him knowing. He won’t make a fuss out of it because then they’d be back at square one. Plus, it just leaves him tired. That’s the first step. Essie admits that she had to help. She’s proud of all that Bill has managed to do on his own.

After last week’s episode filled with fractured bonds, we see characters trying to strengthen their relationships as the series jumps forward in time. “Asteroin” still had serious themes and messages, no doubt, but overall, this episode felt more light-hearted and cheerier than the previous one. Here, characters once again found themselves in troubling dilemmas when making decisions without consulting others. But they also realize that while some sins can be forgiven, others are too big to forget. You can let go of your grudge, hold it over someone until they break or just accept it and move on with your life. We see all three take place here.

Asterion- Bill talks to Elliot about trust

Trust was once again a prevalent message of the episode, particularly with one special person. Whether it’s a parent, friend, spouse, lover and so on, you have one unique bond with a person to the point where you can share anything with them since, obviously, we don’t go blabbing all of our personal secrets and information to everyone. The special bond doesn’t have to be emotional, but close enough to the point where they see all of your attributes and vulnerabilities without thinking less of you. When that covenant is broken, we feel hollow and incomplete because we bore our soul to someone who lost interest for any particular reason. In those instances, we can try and go back to the way things were or rise above it and keep forward.

It’s true what Libby said about suffering: we all do and grieve in our own ways. But we have the choice of keeping it to ourselves or dragging people down with our unhappiness. How much we suffer doesn’t make us special and we don’t get extra points for prolonged torment. Rather, we prove our worth by rising above our problems. Spreading torment just poisons others around you, unless you happen to find someone who is also suffering, as Bill and Virginia are when they aren’t together. They find solace in one another while slowly distancing themselves from their families.

And as Virginia once said that the only person you can depend on is yourself, we see what happens when people try to take matters in their own hands. Ultimately, we do need help from the people in our lives, but making choices on our own helps us shape our own destinies. We want people to grow, but this should not be done by pushing people away, especially if the decisions made will have a negative impact, like Bill’s financial decisions.

Asterion- Lester the transition

As far as the direction goes, I enjoyed Michael Dinner’s use of transitions from one period of time to another. While, at times, it seemed like things moved a bit too fast, particularly when we were with Betty and various clients, I enjoyed the switches. Similar to how the Bombeck baby was used as a transition between each round of Bill versus Virginia during “Fight,” Lester’s filming helped indicate where exactly where we were. Betty’s line about the neighborhood in transition applied to the world around them.

Asterion- Betty

Actually, sticking with Betty, I’m surprised by the giant turnaround that she’s done, given where we know she ended up. She’s been so dependent on Gene, but now she’s doing for herself and has come a long way. I can see Bill bringing her along as a secretary, but from a practical point of view, it makes sense given her work on numbers when she ran a brothel. In conjunction with working on her education, we know that Betty is able to manage money in ways that Bill and Virginia cannot. Betty is essentially taking on the role of Jane: she’s witty, smarter than men would give her credit for and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. However, I’d say that Betty has a bit more of a commanding presence than Betty, as she’s dealt with sleazy men in her life and knows how to work her way around them by any means. Here, she’s more essential to the study.

Asterion- Lester

The same can be said for Lester. I am glad he’s back and this also makes sense: he knows about the study and has worked with Bill and Virginia before. His talk about movies that inspire him build on his talk of the auteur theory from Season One, so it doesn’t seem like he’s just been given movie talk for the sake of making him a token nerd. In addition, Bill and Virginia would want to preserve their work now that they’re on their own, so I can understand why they would recruit Lester. That said, what in the hell happened with him and Jane? Bitch Town? Last I checked, they were doing pretty well, so I do hope this is explained.

Asterion- Austin shot down by Elise

Austin is almost going through a retread of his pep talk with Bill about the bachelor life. We already know that he’s sick of the bachelor life, even if he wants to pretend that he enjoys it. Even though he wants to go back to the way things were, Elise made it pretty clear that it’s time to move on. Langham may love his kids, but they shouldn’t be used as a crutch.

Asterion- Libby is pleasant

With Coral gone and two kids in her home, Libby seems to have softened back to her Season One persona. Her problems have shifted back to her relationship with Bill, however. She got what she wanted with a second child: the family she yearned for. Even though she has her home life back, her relationship is still fractured.

Asterion- Libby challenges Bill

If there’s one thing I like about Libby this season compared to the previous one, it’s how much more willing she is to challenge Bill. Fitzgerald showed real anger during the argument scene   Libby won’t just sit back and let Bill say that a matter is closed: she’s endured so much and won’t have Bill yell her down. And she’s right: everyone suffers. That doesn’t make Bill any more special just because he’s holding onto so much anger. After all Libby has endured, she still has to fight against her husband and they haven’t grown any closer. Plus, they still sleep in separate beds. Her line about plates pressing against one another and breaking apart is a great representation of her marriage, really.

Asterion- Bill arguing with Libby

Bill’s in no position to judge Libby for ‘deceiving’ her, given all he’s done. He acts as if nothing is ever his fault. He has to realize that other people have problems. Most, if not all, of the time, he acts self-centered, as if everything hinges on his decision and no one else’s. After starting his own business, maybe he feels everything does depend on him. After all, he’s been booted from three hospitals and concluded that he wanted to do everything on his own, but he’s realizing how hard that is without a steady cash flow.

And he’s still bitter over Virginia finding a man that isn’t him. And he didn’t want to have another child. Honestly, Bill just needs to suck it up sometimes. He knew what he was getting into. It’s not easy to just start your own business. Ultimately, he got what he wanted, but now must work to keep it, and he does, given by the fact that he must put up all of his assets as collateral.

Asterion- Bill is very clear how he'll please Virginia

Sheen was in top form this episode, with his two best performances coming during the argument with Libby and his description to Virginia on how he’ll make her climax. Much of Sheen’s performance on the show is very subdued, but when he turns on the rage, whether silent or apparent, he turns in a great performance. Bill also must learn that his word is not law. He can’t always be the breadwinner, even if he’d like to be. And I liked that he’s slowly softening to Essie, even if there’s still conflict between them.

Patti- The Leftovers

Oh, and I loved the absolutely ridiculous reason for Essie’s sudden return. It would be easy to accept that Essie chose to return at this exact moment if we didn’t know that Ann Dowd is no longer on The Leftovers, so she’s able to come back to Masters of Sex.

Asterion- Virginia not standing for Bill's crap

Then we have Virginia, who finds herself in a giant grudge match with Bill. Virginia wants to do for herself, but she acknowledges that he essentially completes her. She has every right to be with someone just as Bill does, but the problem is that none of those other men are as memorable as Bill, even if they turn out to be nicer. Like Libby, Virginia endures a lot of verbal abuse from Bill and I was surprised she didn’t have a stronger response to Bill’s patronizing comment about him taking the higher road and not being another man on Virginia’s list of lovers.

Asterion- Work has resumed between Bill and Virginia

Even if she doesn’t want to admit it, Virginia’s progress is linked to Bill because of what they have, which made it strange for her to say that Bill shouldn’t be a factor on her personal life. I am glad that, like Libby, she’s willing to fight against his crap. We’ve seen her take control of a situation before and no doubt she can do it again. It is unfortunate that she doesn’t have a lasting bond with any of the other men since they seemed to be genuinely interested in her. Luckily, she did seem to be excited at resuming her work with Bill.

“Asterion” took a chance by leaping forward in time, but I think it worked for the best. It advanced the character’s storylines in an ever-transforming world. The stakes feel bigger than before as Bill and Virginia set out to do the work without the boundaries of a hospital’s rules. With this episode came a lot of questions that I hope are addressed in future episodes: Will Barbara return for another shot at the study? What really happened with Jane and Lester? Is Coral completely out of the picture? Is Betty still pursuing Helen? When did Bill’s impotence issue start? How come Dr. DePaul’s death isn’t addressed at all? So there’s a lot to ponder, but overall, a great episode.

A Look at “True Blood” Series Finale: “Thank You”

And so it’s come to this, the ending of True Blood. After such an underwhelming season, the series finale, “Thank You,” wraps up the show in a nice little bow, while still leaving so much unanswered and unaccounted for in the pile that was True Blood’s seventh and final season.

Thank You- Bill talks with Sookie about his death wish

The episode begins with Sookie letting Bill into the room where he first summoned her. Sookie cuts Bill’s trip down memory lane short by letting him know that nostalgia and suicide don’t mix. I tend to agree. Sookie just wants to see Bill live, but Bill asks her to imagine a life without him. The two know they’ve been down this road before: Sookie will leave Bill for a moment, but find her way back to him. This virus has made Bill feel more human than when he was, but his grave is still a lie. He should be in the ground with his family.

Bill believes that, by existing, he’d be denying Sookie the best part of life. He’s seen the way Sookie acts around kids and hopes that she’ll, one day, have some of her own. Sookie says that it should be easy for Bill to just swear her off, but he can’t because he loves her too much. Isn’t that precious? And just a bit stupid? Bill wants Sookie to grant him the ultimate kindness by using her fairy light to kill him. If not, other vampires will come after her. By doing this, she’ll rid Bill from her life and be normal at the same time. Sookie needs to think this over.

Thank You- Eric about to release Sarah

At Fangtasia, Eric unchains Sarah, but glamours her into taking some of Pam’s blood so the two will always be able to track her. Eric reveals his ultimate plan to Pam: kill Mr. Gus, get rid of the Yakuza and steal New Blood for themselves. As Sarah leaves, she’s instructed to wait for Pam to find her.

When Mr. Gus and the Yakuza arrive, they’re dispatched of…fairly quickly, actually. Huh.

Eric deals with the remaining Yakuza before Sookie can spot them from her home.

Thank You- Pam finds Sarah at the carousel where Eric turned Willa

Sarah makes her way to a carousel and feasts on food from the garbage. Goodness, woman, you haven’t fallen that far yet. Pam finds her in no time. The carousel, as Sarah notes, is the same location where Eric turned Willa. She read about it in Bill’s book, which Pam only skimmed to find the parts that mentioned her. She would do that. Sarah admits that she’s a horrible person, but to solve that, she should be made into a kickass lesbian vampire! And Sarah’s dead serious. Pam, however, won’t turn her. She’s also not a fan of Sarah bringing up Tara. Instead, she feeds on her.

Thank You- Bill asks Hoyt if he'd ever marry Jessica

Jessica and Hoyt come by Bill’s, as Jessica has a few words for her maker: she doesn’t want him to die, but she’ll be fine regardless. She still doesn’t understand why he’s doing this, and frankly, I don’t think anyone else does, but she will eventually accept it. That’s all Bill needed to hear right now. He asks if Hoyt would ever ask Jessica to marry him, and after an awkward moment, Hoyt tells Bill that he would eventually ask.

Thank You- Jessica and Bill talk about marriage and Jessica's future

This prompts Jessica to talk with Bill in private. Having marriage thrust upon her isn’t what she wanted. After all, Hoyt’s memory of her only goes back by a day. Bill wants to make sure Jessica was spoken for after he dies, as he was turned before he had a chance to see his daughter, Sarah, wed. Well, Jessica asks, if Hoyt did want to marry her, could it be today? Somehow, I don’t think marriage works like that.

Thank You- Grandma talks to Sookie and Tara in flashback

Now it’s raining. Sookie has a flashback to when Grandma gave her and Tara hot chocolate. Young Sookie reads Young Tara’s thoughts and learns that she likes Jason. Sookie, however, doesn’t like anyone, particularly boys because they’re weird. Plus, she has no intentions of getting married. Grandma, however, tells Sookie that she can have any life that she wants to have because she’s entitled to it! Remember that, Sookie Stackhouse.

Thank You- Jason tells Sookie that he's no good for advice

All right. Sookie heads to Jason’s, but finds Brigette instead. Sookie wakes up Jason to tell him about Bill’s request to be put out of his misery. Jason, rightly so, tells his sister that he has no advice for her, but he’ll love her anyway. Moments later, Jason and Sookie receive calls from Hoyt and Jessica, respectively, about an upcoming wedding.

Thank You- Bill offers his home to Andy to give to Jessica and Hoyt

Andy, Holly and Arlene arrive for the big wedding. Inside, Bill speaks with Andy in private. He acknowledges the difficult history between them, but Andy is still ill’s eldest remaining heir. When he dies, the house will be passed to Andy, and he’d like to rent it to Hoyt and Jessica for the sum of a dollar a month! Sounds affordable.

Thank You- Jason helps Hoyt get ready

Upstairs, Jason helps Hoyt get ready. He tells Hoyt that Brigette will be heading back to Alaska tonight and that it’s probably a bad idea to call her. Hoyt apologizes for the punch, but Jason tells him that he deserved that and a lot more if it meant Hoyt returning into his life. Hoyt tells Jason that he feels like Harrison Ford did in Regarding Henry, where he had to relearn everything he ever acquired. Jason comforts him with a single question: if the world ended tomorrow, who would he want to be by his side? Jessica, clearly.

Thank You- Andy marries Jessica and Hoyt

The moment arrives with Andy officiating the ceremony with no Bible, no rings, and no official vows. They aren’t even in a bloody church! But this is True Blood. This would be considered normal for these people. During the ceremony, Sookie, surprisingly, reads Bill’s thoughts of how much he loves her and wishes that she could have this kind of happiness right now. He’s also in excruciating pain.

Thank You- Sookie approves of Jason sleeping with Brigette

After this mock wedding, Sookie tells Jason about how surprising it was that she could read Bill’s thoughts and thinks back to what Bill said about feeling more human than ever. Oh, and she sort of suggests that Jason sleep with Brigette since she isn’t Hoyt’s girlfriend anymore. I’ll get to this later.

Thank You- Sookie talks with Reverend Daniels

Sookie then pays Reverend Daniels a visit for some advice: was she a mistake if God supposedly made everyone in his image? The Reverend tells Sookie that people in Bon Temps are saying that they wouldn’t be around right now if it wasn’t for Sookie Stackhouse. Huh. Guess we missed those conversations. He then tells her that God doesn’t lead our lives- rather, we make our own decisions. So says Sookie Stackhouse, help is on the way. She calls Bill to tell him to meet her at sundown for the arrangements.

Thank You- Meeting at Bill's grave

That evening, Bill meets her at Bill’s grave. A coffin is already inside because some soldiers never returned home during the war. The coffin was meant to be palatable for the families. He looks inside the coffin and finds a photo of him and his daughter in a small case. Bill prepares himself and the two vow to never forget one another. Sookie prepares her magical fairy ball, but stops short of using it. This is who she is- it’s part of her. Bill will always be a part of her, too, but she can’t do this for him. She cuts off her energy and, instead, breaks the shovel in two.

Thank You- Sookie kills Bill

Taking the pointy end, Sookie kisses Bill Compton one final time before driving the wood into his body. Sookie cries as Compton’s blood covers her body, but she composes herself, begins covering the grave and leaves the cemetery.

Thank You- Eric and Pam behind New Blood

One year later, New Blood President and CEO Eric Northman and the ever lovely Pam De Beaufort discuss their new product and the origin of it. The two never did catch Sarah Newlin, but they found traces of her blood and managed to synthesize it.

Thank You- Pam and Eric at New York Stock Exchange

Three years after this, Eric and Pam are at the New York Stock Exchange.

Thank You- Happy Ending

And then we cut to Thanksgiving, as the remaining survivors in Bon Temps- plus Sam, Nicole and their daughter, for some reason- sit down and have themselves a merry little Thanksgiving dinner.

Thank You- Sarah Newlin isn't thankful for anything

Oh, and Sarah Newlin’s not dead. She’s chained in the bottom of Fangtasia while Pam has vampires feed on her. What’s she thankful for? Not a damn thing.

Well, that was a series.

From the premiere, this final season of True Blood has been lukewarm. Let me be clear: True Blood has never been what I’d call stellar or groundbreaking television. It can be entertaining even when it’s bad because of good humor, but this season didn’t have that. There were more misses than hits and it’s made worse because this is the final season. There’s no strict code or formula that television shows need to follow for their final episode, but you want it to at least be a satisfying ending. You don’t want something that feels underwhelming or incomplete. That’s why people still have gripes with the endings to such series as Seinfeld, The Sopranos, and, recently, Dexter.

Thank You- Sookie and Bill hug before it's time

If anything, the episode tried to focus on characters accepting who they are and making their own decisions for themselves, but even that didn’t entirely feel genuine. Sookie chose to kill Bill on her own terms, but only after not killing Bill the way that he wanted her to. Jessica had dreamt of weddings, and despite how sudden it was, she still chose to marry Hoyt in no time at all, despite how short their relationship has been.

The show seemed to know how worn out and tired the formula had become when Sookie and Bill talked about how often they’ve been down this break-up road before. Other shows would try to be clever with that sort of meta humor, but True Blood doesn’t have that sort of spark. At least, not this season. More than that, we got more flashbacks of Sookie basically receiving encouragement from other people. Encouragement that, at this point, she shouldn’t even need. Like the flashback to Tara’s childhood with Lettie Mae, we already know these things about the characters and shouldn’t have to be spoon fed this again just because it’s the final episode.

Even if True Blood wanted to take a nostalgia trip on its final episode, it’s done more than enough with so many flashbacks, and we never did get much of a payoff to Bill’s. We know Sookie would eventually make her own decision. We knew that Hoyt and Jessica would probably end up happily ever after, even if it did feel convoluted, and forced.

Thank You- Sarah with Pam

My point is that nothing in this episode or even this season felt particularly memorable. There were some interesting places to go with Sarah Newlin being the cure or the Hep-V vampires, but subplots were rushed over so quickly to get to the next one that the writers just seemed to lose interest in the show altogether.

Thank You- Sookie seriously considers killing Bill

Let’s just get the characters done and over with. Sookie decides to keep her ability and kill Bill her way. Fine. We did not need to drag this out for so long with Sookie acting like she needed so much time to make up her mind. She accepts who and what she is, even if she’s not a fan of being fae, but this should have made her final decision all the easier, especially given how insulted she was at Bill’s request for her to kill him. That said, the shot of her covered in blood was a nice image.

So who is the lucky guy that knocked Sookie up? Who knows? People divide themselves into the Sookie and Bill or Sookie and Eric camps often, from what I’ve read from fans of the series. Me personally? I couldn’t care either way because that doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the show.

Thank You- Jason doesn't want to sleep with Brigette

Jason. Oh, Jason. What happened? You were doing so well last episode by not bedding Brigette and you looked like you would stick to that. But flash forward a few years and he’s not only bedded Brigette, he’s got kids! He did say he wanted kids, yes, but he took one step forward and two steps back! If Jason was so committed to changing his act, let Brigette go and live her life. Don’t put the two together for the sake of convenience and to give them a happy ending. Wasn’t he supposed to be growing up? And it’s even worse that Sookie was the one tempting Jason to sleep with Brigette by giving her approval. Oh, by the way, now that Jason and Brigette are officially an item, this makes the scene where Jason gets her a flight to Alaska completely pointless!

Thank You- Hoyt and Jessica kiss

Again, I’m fine with Hoyt and Jessica getting married, but like getting them together or hooking Brigette up with Jason, I’m not a fan of the execution at all. It’s hard for me to feel anything when this decision feels so rushed. In fact, I’m surprised there wasn’t a double wedding. Hell, they already acknowledged that the marriage wouldn’t be recognized by the state, there were no rings, no vows or even a bouquet of flowers to throw. It was about as unconventional of a wedding as there could be. Why not go all out and have Jason and Brigette get married, too?

And what happened with Andy wanting to make an honest woman out of Holly? That never did get brought up again, did it?

Thank You- Eric and Pam plot to steal New Blood and kill Mr. Gus

I’m sounding like a broken record, but Eric and Pam commanded this season from start to finish. It helped that they had an actual arc that built upon the relationship they’ve forged for years. They had the best chemistry, dialogue, and motivation to go after Sarah Newlin. Like the Hep-V vampires, I think they dispatched of Mr. Gus and the Yakuza a bit too quickly, essentially proving them to be ineffective as adversaries. They made this season worth watching and it felt like their characters had the more interesting storyline than whatever everyone else did.

This season has felt uneven from start to finish. If it wasn’t rushing through one plot to get to the next, it slowed to a crawl and wanted us to reminisce about things we already knew. The season had no regard for slowing down and letting audiences absorb what they’d witnessed and characters had to practically spell out what we were meant to feel. For my money, any attempt at real tension or drama fell flat under poor writing, ill thought out character motivations and rushed storytelling.

Again, I’m not asking True Blood to be some revolutionary television show, because it isn’t. What I’m asking for is a satisfying conclusion to a show that’s almost six years old. What we got instead was a very forced, sappy ending from a show that felt obliged to tie up loose ends while still not offering a rewarding experience. And still so much remains unanswered. If the Hep-V vampires had a constant need to feed, why didn’t Bill ever have that urge? Who fights for vampires in Bon Temps now that Eric and Pam are living the rich life?

Thank You- Sookie cries

It has to be said, this is the most disappointing ending to a disappointing season. There was never any real sense of urgency or threat. Characters waited for things to happen instead of relying upon the instinct that’s gotten them this far. While Eric and Pam were entertaining, they alone can’t make up for what was a sad attempt to force a happy ending upon viewers that stuck around with the show for this long. I’m no professional at all and my word isn’t law, but I cannot recommend this final season of True Blood except to those who are very curious. It’s almost insulting that the show has been reduced to this after being so entertaining. Watching this season became a chore just to find any little moment that made an otherwise dull episode worthwhile. Are there good things within this mess of a season? Yes. But you’ll have to do a lot of waiting to get there as HBO’s vampire drama finally drags itself across the finish line to accept the True Death.