Masters of Sex Season 3, Episode 3
“The Excitement of Release”
Posted by Sage
It’s back to grown-up stuff (for the most part) on Masters in the season’s third episode, and it’s about time.
Human Sexual Response has hit the shelves and entered the zeitgeist. Not everyone is pleased, but Bill couldn’t care less about the opinions of the nation’s repressed prudes and invasive “decency” cops. So long as he’s getting the response he seeks from the minds and publications that matter to him, he’s in hog heaven. Bill’s pursuit of validation is very specific; no one can convince him to appreciate well-intended praise from meaningless sources (“My nephew wrote a book!”) or to stop scrapping for endorsements that aren’t coming. Success looks a certain way to Bill, and he can’t find it in himself to alter that picture.
When the episode opens, we find that the medical community is falling over itself to praise the work, and that good reviews are a potent aphrodisiac. Kim pointed out in her last recap that the sex has been missing from Masters season three so far, but this celebratory rendezvous promised to end the drought both for Bill and Virginia (“You haven’t tried to touch me in almost a year.” “8 months.”) and for the audience. “We killed Freud,” Gini purrs, and Bill is ready to ravish her. But even though most traces of George can be slid off Gini’s finger and placed on a nightstand (“That was easy.”), Lisa can’t be so easily forgotten. She cries for her mother, and Bill is left alone to again consider his place in Virginia’s life.
We know that he doesn’t like what he sees, and – as he often does when he’s feeling weak and impotent – takes it out on someone else. Meanwhile, it seems like it might be too little and too late for Gini to get a foothold with Tessa. The teen is acting out in school; there’s an emergency parent/nun walk-and-talk conference that Virginia has to attend. When Bill gives her grief for “letting” her family responsibilities affect her work, she knows exactly how to handle it. She placates him with a beatific smile, pats his head with a false apology, and goes about her business. She’s made her peace with Bill’s moods. But with Tessa, she’s bouncing and banking erratically around their arguments. She’s too involved in her daughter’s life or not involved enough. And Tessa plays her, claiming that it’s the very fact of having Virginia Johnson the renowned sex researcher for a mother that’s ruining her existence. Meanwhile, she’s giving dramatic readings to some Letterman’s Jacket on the bleachers and banging on about female orgasms.
We can assume that Virginia still hasn’t had a productive sex talk with her daughter. Tessa may be The Worst™, but she’s also confused. Without any wider context to the written words of Masters and Johnson, she’s interpreted the book’s thesis into a directive to get out there and be a sexual being herself. But in addition to being The Worst™, she’s also Not Ready™; she and Letterman’s Jacket have a disturbing encounter in his car, which leaves her visibly numbed.
I’m a little baffled as to what we’re supposed to take away from this sexual assault storyline. Isabelle Fuhrman acted the crap out of it, particularly that wretched hallway scene. (“I’d love to.”) Human Sexual Response is not for kids (as Bill would say), and teen-oriented subplots still feel so distant from the main action. And while the incident was very truthful and moving, it did put the blame for the violation of Tessa on the book, and on Virginia. (“It’s in your mom’s book. Jesus, don’t be a prick tease.”) Is that really what you meant to do, show?
Back at the office, Bill is projecting his wild fantasies about full college courses being developed around the book. This, he decrees, is the next step. Betty, who is now our swinging ’60s Donnatella Moss, has a different (and better) idea: many powerful men with powerful dollars have been calling to inquire about sponsoring continued research. Now is the time to take them up on it. Masters and Johnson will never be hotter than they are now. (Hear that, baby Lisa? Put yourself back to sleep next time.) The women ignore Bill’s protests and meet with the high rollers themselves. Bill is busying chasing another waterfall; a textbook order from Washington University would (in his mind) negate the shame that his firing engendered. (“Your book is a success Bill. You don’t need to tilt at windmills anymore.”) In fact, the whole nationwide college push might be the Trojan horse he needs to get the Wash U endorsement he really wants. There are plenty of bites on other lines, but “not a peep” from the former home of the study. Oh, Bill. Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.
While Bill sweats and strains for the right kind of recognition, Betty and Virginia are hobnobbing with the rich and generally being fabulous. The candidates angling to be the patrons of the sexual revolution are the peddler of a popular hand massager (“It also helps, or so I’m told, to release certain pelvis pressures.”); Hef himself; and a perfume magnate played with class and barely restrained lechery by Josh Charles. (“There are two questions that have puzzled me my entire career: What is the smell of sex? And how do we get it in the bottle?”) In my opinion, Dan Logan should automatically win the bid. Josh is the most familiar of the three with Human Sexual Response, having been one of the main causes of mine since Knox Overstreet and Dead Poets Society in 1989.