A review of tonight's "Masters of Sex" coming up just as soon as I try a special tonic straight from India...

"You think it's enough to fix the outside. That's the easy part." -Frank

Last week's episode squeezed the passage of three years into a single hour. "Mirror, Mirror" takes place over only a week or so, yet in some ways feels like it's taking just as big a leap forward — if not always gracefully.

Over the course of the episode, Virginia not only convinces Bill to start examining sexual dysfunction, but to find ways to treat it. And when Barbara proves beyond Virginia's ability to treat — and when Bill points out that her dream of becoming a trained psychologist will take her years to fulfill — Ginny comes up with the unorthodox (and guaranteed to blow up in her face) plan to impersonate Barbara while meeting with a local shrink so she can pass on his advice to Barbara as her own.

This is, as Bill notes to Lester, an enormous shift in the priorities of the sex study, and one that needed more than this one episode — plus a couple of brief scenes involving Barbara late in last week's otherwise very busy installment — to properly set up and then implement. "Asterion" for the most part moved nimbly through the big transitions the characters and the study underwent in those years, but the shifts here feel abrupt, and also fall victim to the show's occasional tendency to hit all of its key themes and parallels with a sledgehammer out of fear the audience won't get them otherwise.

So we were hit over the head with the notion of emotional trauma leading to sexual dysfunction, including the show once again editing two different conversations (Ginny with Barbara, Bill with Lester) to seem like one(*). We got two different startling discoveries about brothers, first with Barbara realizing she used to experiment sexually with hers, then with the closing revelation that Frank is Bill's long-estranged brother(**).

(*) The device hasn't suited the show very well, but at least this time it wasn't as sniggering as the similar sequence in episode 2 involving Bill with a horny Doug Greathouse and Virginia demonstrating Ulysses to the perverted doctor.

(**) For a while, it seemed like the episode was setting up Bill and Frank to be ex-lovers, but that doesn't fit a whole host of things about both the real and fictionalized stories of William Masters. On the other hand, the show has made abundantly clear that the thing about which he is most secretive is his upbringing, and going to such lengths to keep Virginia, Betty, et al from meeting Frank and his wife fits that pattern.  


As individual pieces, many of these ideas show promise. (Well, maybe not Virginia impersonating Barbara, which is a plan doomed to embarrass all involved in it.) But almost all of them needed more time to be properly developed — and, in some cases, needed to be presented separately from the other pieces. It makes me think again about the allocation of time in the early part of this season, and again wonder whether we would have been better off if the 1958 action had been condensed into only 3 or 4 episodes, rather than 6. With the return of Robert, we're starting to get some payoff to some of the weaker plots of the season's first half, but I'd much rather a lot of that time had gone to letting the events of "Mirror, Mirror" play out over multiple episodes so they wouldn't feel so rushed and clumsy.

Some other thoughts:

* Robert's return to Libby's life — now as a member of CORE, whose offices remain in the building lobby — doesn't retroactively make the earlier Libby/Coral stories function better. But the notion of Libby seeking some kind of fulfillment — definitely emotional, and possibly more than that — outside of her marriage and her very tertiary role in the study feels very true to what we know about Libby so far, and not just like material created to give her something to do.

* Also, the Veiled Prophet Ball is a very real thing, and the Prophet's costume does, indeed, resemble Ku Klux Klan robes as much as it does priestly garb.

* Also, if "Asterion" hinted that Libby had figured out about the true nature of Ginny and Bill's relationship, there are no signs of that here. She and Virginia banter about how they're each married to Bill in a way, but if there's any awkwardness beneath the jokes, it comes entirely from the woman who is not Mrs. Masters. Libby's discovery is one of those life events so big that the show almost certainly has to let it happen on camera, doesn't it?

* Speaking of stories designed to give characters things to do, here's Dr. Langham as the new Cal-O-Metric spokesman! I never would have anticipated Flo being such a major character this season, but it's at least interesting to see Langham feeling so contrite (for now, anyway) about his playboy ways. And though the "Don" nickname the other doctors gave him is in reference to Don Juan, it couldn't help remind me of those times in season 1 where he so strongly resembled Don Draper.

* Annaleigh Ashford's time in season 1 was so brief, and Virginia's working relationship with Bill at that time so tentative, that we didn't get an awful lot of Betty/Virginia interaction. Clearly, it's a dynamic the show has to give us more of, because it's fun to see these two women who understand the emotional side of sex so much more than Bill — and are so much more at ease about frankly discussing their own sexual histories — and because, unsurprisingly, Ashford and Lizzy Caplan have excellent chemistry together. More, please.

* When Bill insists he's too drunk to perform during his latest hotel session with a frustrated Virginia, my mind immediately flashed to the female "Friends" telling Joey that it's time to just "be there for her." Maybe she would have pressed the point if Elliot hadn't shown up with some business for Dr. Holden to attend to.

* Bunch of familiar guest star faces in this one beyond Christian Borle as Frank, including Peri Gilpin from "Frasier" as Chief Duncan's wife Florence, John Billingsley (most recently seen as the shady banker on "The Bridge") as Dr. Madden and Marin Ireland (star of WE's "The Divide," but familiar to Showtime audiences for playing Aileen on "Homeland") as Frank's wife Pauline.

* Also, the turn in Barbara's storyline at least explains why they wanted to get someone as good as Betsy Brandt to play that character, since she didn't have an awful lot to do during Bill's brief stint at Memorial.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com