The Afterglow

Sex is complicated. First, you’re a kid and it’s hilarious. Then, you’re a pre-teen and it’s confusing. Then, if you are my kid sister, your precocious eleven-year old sibling and her friends corner you to offer all sorts of wrong information about sex with boys, and you realize that you like girls.

little girl

Finally, you have sex, and you’re like—that was fine? And then it gets better. And then it’s great—until an insane firestorm of feelings takes you over, and you never really recover. Sex is awesome. What comes next—often, a different story.

Supposedly, sex was all the rage in the sixties. The flower children think they invented sex. I can’t tell you firsthand because I was negative twentyish, but I do know that famed sex researchers Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson were having none of it. The third season of Showtime’s prestige drama Masters of Sex is set against a backdrop of sex, drugs, war, and protest. Masters and Johnson are poised to publish their seminal work, Human Sexual Response, and establish themselves as credible researchers. It took twelve years, two marriages, lots of tears and a ton of lube to get it done—but, as Ginny notes at a press conference to publicize the book, this is only the beginning. “We are the sexual revolution,” she says. For better or worse.

This season is about fallout. Season one was filled with nudity and hair-tearing passion masked by all-American, 1950’s-style manners. The show was sexy and new. But now—twelve years since Ginny and Bill launched their unconventional partnership, and a couple of years since the show premiered—we’re riding the afterglow. That moment when the adrenaline and pheromones recede, and you’re kind of alone. In bed. With someone you like (or don’t like), love (or don’t love). Someone you know all too well, or whose name you barely remember.

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The season three premiere bounces back and forth between a press conference and an excruciating lakeside family weekend. This is the kind of balancing act upon which the show has built its reputation—cutting (sometimes clumsily) between public moments and private heartache. While reporters dissect the work Ginny and Bill have worked so hard to bring into the world, we see glimpses of a shared private life that is messier, more complicated and emotionally intense than sex itself.

The show seems to be saying: this is what you get. Succumb to your passions, and great things may come—people might also get hurt. The writers are deviating just enough from historical record to keep us guessing, while staying true to the sentiment that drove the first and second seasons: the work is worth it.

To protect what the two of them have in the lab and in the bedroom, Ginny and Bill are forced to make space for lots of other people. Their lives are crowded and suffocating. Bill would rather sleep outside, under the stars, than look his Big Love-esque family in the face. Ginny has to beg her lover for one inch of space—a bathroom stall—to herself. Bill’s actual wife, Libby, is popping pills to deal, and saying things like: a brokenhearted existence can “make you stronger, but it can also make you sad.”

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This story could veer quickly into disaster, or become a wild success and —kind of like any newly sexual relationship. The characters are bonded by sex—family is, after all, a product of the act.

That kind of explosive potential is what makes this show special. Masters of Sex is grounded by relationships—relationships that are always evolving, and are true to the animal reality of human contact. And the pain that sometimes brings.

Masters of Sex airs at 10/9C on Showtime.

–Elise

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He Lives: True Detective Season Two, Episode Three

I had a sad realization this week. Covering True Detective has forced me to pay closer attention to it than anything I’m actually enjoying on TV right now. Like Elise, it’s rare that I watch TV without multitasking. I spend most of UnREAL browsing Hinge despite the fact that I’m truly invested in what’s happening onscreen. But because I have to take effing notes on this trainwreck, I can tell you more details about Colin Farrell’s mustache than names of contestants in So You Think You Can Dance’s Top Twenty. You’re all welcome.

Anyway. Let’s say what up to our buddies.

Detective Ray Velcoro

Yup, not dead. DOI EVERYONE. Of course he’s alive. If this season of True D has proved anything, it’s that the long shadow of season one has made it scary for the show to take risks.

Besides being alive, Velcoro is sort of boring this week. He has daddy issues, and he refers to weed as “grass,” which, no. If the character was black, Pizzolatto would probably have him call it a “jazz cigarette,” while playing the trumpet.

Sidenote: Has Farrell been wearing a bolo tie this whole time? (A quick image search says: “Yes.”)

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Frank Semyon

“It’s unnatural. Don’t feel right,” Semyon says upon failing to pop a boner in the IVF sample-collecting room. (Sorry, Red. You can take your v generous bj and scram.) Vaughn even sounds stilted dropping the subjects from his sentences. Please. For the love of McConaughey. Stop giving him these ridiculous lines. He cannot do them. He is doing a bad job.

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“I want to sex it up, but I’m so, so sad.”

One of Semyon’s toadies describes someone as “half anaconda, half great white” without irony. What?!? That sounds like exactly zero humans that exist.

Frank is impotent all over the map in this episode. He can’t get it up at the doctor’s, and he doesn’t have any pull with his old buddies from the underworld. Actually, the latter dynamic piqued my interest. He’s lost his cache from trying to go legit. When he needs his #squad, no one’s having it, and in his frustration, we see more of the Old Scary Frank. He certainly seems more at home threatening people, or pulling their teeth out, as it were. If his desperation leads to more of his inner thug shining through, then I’m all for it.

Detective Ani Bezzerides

Maybe it’s my unmitigated love of Rachel McAdams, but I’m coming around on her just a little. She’s a capable cop, perhaps the most capable of our motley crew. She and Velcoro are forming an unlikely bond, too. It’s unclear how genuine it is, but even a fake connection between the two is a relief.

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She has a touch of “Be Like a Man to Be an Interesting Woman” Syndrome, but that might be the best we can hope for in a female on this show. She dumps Motocrossed without ceremony, and he’s the one that has a stereotypically-feminine meltdown. “You started this!” he exclaims incredulously after she tells him it’s done. Oh, buddy. You’ll learn in time to play it cool. And instead to express such sentiments to your closest fourteen friends via text.

Officer Paul Woodrugh

I KNEW HE WAS GAY, I KNEW IT I KNEW IT. And the gay hustler at the end is my favorite character in the entire season so far. Oh, look! A smile! And the heavens parted, and God said, “it was good.”

In case you haven’t heard, Taylor Kitsch and Rachel McAdams are reportedly dating, combining two of the greatest Canadians exports into a hockey-playing, Drake-listening supercouple. When they’re driving together to the mayor’s gaudy mansion, all I can think is “THEY ARE FALLING IN LOVE RN, AND WE ARE WATCHING.” She backhandedly compliments his looks, and he smiles, and PROBABLY TAKES IT PERSONALLY AND CONTINUES ON THIS ROLLER COASTER JOURNEY OF HAPPINESS.

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[Insert heart-eyed cat emoji here.]

And if that’s the only good thing to come out of True Detective this season, I’ll take it.

—Alison

We Get the World We Deserve: True Detective Season Two, Episode Two

Episode three of True Detective‘s season two airs tonight, so let’s catch up with our characters, shall we?

Frank Semyon

Episode two opens on Semyon philosophizing in the middle of the night to his wife. (So many redheads this season!) “It’s like everything is papier mache,” he pontificates to two water stains on the ceiling. Turns out his father left him locked in the basement with rats, and he’s bad with money! Coolcoolcool. I ask again, how did this guy get so powerful?

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Pizzolatto is clearly trying to lay his metaphor-laden language on Vaughn this season, but the actor can’t quite carry it off like McConaughey did. It was a novel part of Rust Cohle’s characterization, but now in season two, it’s a tool we’ve seen employed before (and more effectively, at that).

Officer Paul Woodrugh

OMG IS HE GOING TO FUCK HIS MOM? (Cool cold sore, lady.) She is v into it. They’re like the Darmodys of the SoCal trailer park world. Hopefully, it will remain subtext, unlike Boardwalk Empire BLECH.

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Is he going to turn out to be gay? I hope so, if only to semi-justify his offhand story of a “fag” at the bank. (Cool homophobia, bro.) But between that and his moody gay-prostitute-spying at the end of the episode, it also feels a little…obvious.

Detective Ray Velcoro

Update: he’s still working for the bad side, which now includes the shamelessly hammered mayor.

We meet his ex-wife, whom we’ve seen before as “Big Hair on Legs” in Rectify and Burning Love. She meets him in front of Buffalo Wild Wings (gimme that Asian Zing!) and demands that his visits with their son now be supervised because of his violent and inappropriate behavior. He is, somehow, shocked. America, on the other hand, is not.

In the car, he tries to joke around with Bezzerides about feminism, but since it’s the first humor we’ve seen all season, it doesn’t quite play.

He ends up back at Sad Bar USA with the scar-faced waitress. We will almost certainly see her naked before the end of the season.

Then someone in a bird mask shoots him at close range in a sex safehouse. It looks like this is also the place where Caspere (season two’s resident dead guy) got his dick shot off. It’s all very David Lynch. But there’s no way Colin Farrell dead, right? Structurally, we’ll lose all direct connection with Semyon, and he’ll die an almost irredeemable character. I’m not buying it.

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Detective Ani Bezzerides

Despite her pretentious High Horsing with her sex worker sister in the first episode, she’s very absorbed by her internet porn research for the case.

I do appreciate that she calls Velcoro out for being crooked in the same episode she receives the information. His silence, deciding whether or not to be honest with her, is much more interesting than her sitting on that knowledge until midway through the season.

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Nice e-cig, gf.

Let’s see what they get up to tonight!

Alison

Text me.

I have a friend who tells the best First Contact stories. It’s remarkable—complete strangers are drawn to her (I mean, she’s beautiful) and then go out of their way (and possibly their minds) to track her down and text her in the craziest situations.

Here, the guy who hit her car:

Car guy

Here, the immensely unethical Verizon Wireless employee, taking advantage in a moment of post-phone recovery weakness:

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I’m so glad he specified “white dress shirt.” Otherwise she might have been confused.

I have great respect for the maker of The First Move. It’s incredibly hard to get right. This, from a girl whose thing is sending a Facebook friend request the morning after we meet, then being like, my work is done—it’s your turn.

Actually, I do okay. I get the number, send the text or email. Frankly—and this is a sentiment shared by most single friends of mine—I don’t meet that many interesting people. It’s a shame to let one slip by. So, creepy roadside dude: respect. Except maybe work on your text etiquette?

Aziz Ansari, as confused and exhausted by all this as any normal twenty-to-thirtysomething person alive, partnered with sociologist Eric Klinenberg to really examine (read: gaze in disbelief upon) dating rituals in his aptly titled book, Modern Romance. This American Life previewed their “social experiment”—a data-driven analysis of millennial attitudes toward love and relationships—last Sunday in a segment titled, “Romancing the Phone.”

I became a regular This American Life listener while living in the show’s hometown, Chicago. I heard my very first episode sitting on the curb at the Fullerton El stop, waiting for a boy who was always late, not very nice and never returned calls or texts. Needless to say, I crushed hard on him hard forever.

More than five years later, not much has changed.

Sunday’s episode of This American Life features Aziz and Eric at a comedy shop in New York City, soliciting real-life First Contact exchanges from their audience members—some truly appalling, others merely kind of sad in their sincerity and confusedness. My favorite goes like this:

[Text from boy stranger]: Hi.

Girl text: Hi…is this Connor?

Boy text: This is.

I imagine a confused and silent few minutes here, before the saintly Girl replies: Hi, what’s going on? 

Boy text: I’m actually just waking up. Picking my mix out for the morning. So far it’s consisting of Goodbye Horses and Big Pimpin.’

Girl text: Oh, nice! [NOT REALLY] What are you up to tonight?

Boy text: Not sure yet. I’m thinking I’ll eat some mushrooms.

This is what we’re working with.

Following a lively discussion of case studies like these, Aziz and Eric settle upon some best practices. Guys (and girls, because we can do it too!)–when you are in the very first tender and awkward stages of texting with someone you miiiight like, follow these simple rules:

Be personal. Hey, you mentioned that you like The National–have you heard this one? Check it out–it’s amazing.

Be specific. Want to get a drink at around 8pm tomorrow in Columbia Heights?

Be funny.

I take issue with this one—being funny is really hard. Also subjective. I think this actually means “be yourself.” Let your weirdo personality shine through. Don’t be aggressive about it, but know that if someone doesn’t get sarcasm and you’re a deeply cynical, observant and slightly judgmental person, it probably won’t work.

Ansari is hilarious. Klinenberg is interesting and smart. And it’s so very true: dating is hard. Today—via text, email Hinge, Tinder, OkCupid—being honest, knowing yourself and trusting people is really, epically hard. It’s so easy to unknowingly strike the wrong tone when you decide to put it all out there—or to ignore someone else when they do.

So, if you’re where I am right now—interested, freaked out, not sure about my life but certain that I’d like some company while I figure it out—take twelve minutes and listen to this excerpt of an always phenomenally sensitive and relevant show. What this audio clip demonstrates to me is: we’re all in this together. That people are basically kind, and calculated risks pay off, and if you’re a socially inept turd, that’s probably not going to change and stop it right now.

The courage to make the ask will set you apart. Or at least, it’s better than waking up the next morning and wishing you had…right?

–Elise