“Three’s a Crowd”
Posted by Kim
It’s been an interesting start for season three of Masters of Sex as the show has focused less on the groundbreaking work of Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson (and their affair) and more on their home lives and the ramifications their work (and affair) has had on their relationships with their spouses and children. The exquisite subtlety of the show has given way to heavy-handed melodrama, from Libby popping pills to Tessa Johnson being a mother hating terror to Virginia’s unexpected pregnancy. Most importantly Masters of Sex has been missing the SEX (be it in the clinical or sexy sense) in these first two episodes.
Have we lost the show we fell in love with forever? All signs point to NO thanks to this interview with showrunner Michelle Ashford, who confesses that some legal hurdles threw a wrench in the story-telling. Obviously, she can’t disclose what the issues were exactly, but given the disclaimer at the end of episode 1 and the abrupt appearance of Howie Masters and birth of Lisa Johnson (ACTUAL names of their children), one has to believe that it had to do with how the kids were being portrayed. The rampant theory on Tumblr (there’s always a theory) is that they had to establish that the existing kids on the show were NOT meant to represent the factual children. Long story short? It’s hard making a TV show where some of the parties involved in the fictionalization are still alive.
This is what I love about Masters of Sex: it doesn’t decide to make this a “very special episode” where Virginia debates whether or not to terminate the pregnancy and it doesn’t throw a ticker-tape parade for her when she decides to keep the baby. Virginia knows in her head that getting rid of the baby is the logical choice. She’s not married, she’s in the public eye, and there will be questions that will affect the public taking her work seriously. But her heart? Her heart wants the baby, consequences be damned. Is her choice to keep the baby driven by Tessa attacking her on the day of the appointment? Are her daughter’s angry words (“I just want you to be aware of all the things you ruin for me”) ringing in her ear as she is sitting on the exam table holding back tears? Probably. (Is Tessa the WORST? Most definitely.) I have to give all the credit to Lizzy Caplan in this scene because she showed the gamut of emotions that Virginia was experiencing (fear, shame, pain, indecisiveness, panic) through her eyes and one choked sentence: “I feel nothing.” Damn, girl.
Bill’s solution to the “problem” of the pregnancy is to have Virginia take a leave of absence from the practice. He brings in a new female partner (HEY MAGGIE GRACE) without consulting Virginia, which naturally infuriates her. Not because she doesn’t see that this is a realistic solution but because Bill did it without telling her, showing zero respect for the partnership. “I certainly wasn’t consulted in all the decisions you make that affect me,” Bill spits, showing that he considers her pregnancy a personal affront to him. The angrier Bill gets, the more Virginia is certain she made the right choice. She views this baby as her chance to get things right, to have a bit of a do-over from her first go-around as a mother. “Conceiving the baby was a mistake. Keeping it was a deliberate decision,” Virginia asserts. She gives Bill SUCH a pointed look when she brings up losing custody of Henry and Tessa that I wondered that if she knows that Bill had everything to do with it. Bill’s reaction to her bringing that up seems to indicate that she does know. How did she find out? If she DOES know, then why the hell is she still with him? DAMMIT TIME JUMP.
Naturally, Libby takes out her anger on Virginia, since she is the easier target. Once again, the main topic of conversation is how Virginia could do this to HER, how could she carry a child that everyone will undoubtedly think is Bill’s (“Without a husband in sight…except mine that is.”), how could she upset the fragile balance their lives have been maintaining? Not once do Bill or Libby stop to question how all this is affecting Virginia. Virginia, who has given up everything for her work, only to find herself having to go in hiding right when the fruits of her sacrifices are coming to be. Virginia, who DOES know that she is in this alone and who is determined to do it right this time. Every time Bill and Libby rage at her, she becomes more content in her choice because this baby is the one thing she will not allow this parasitic relationship to touch. “This is not something I did to YOU. This has nothing to do with you OR Bill,” Virginia says, storming upstairs with her laundry, effectively ending the argument with Libby. Four for you for FINALLY making a selfish choice, Virginia. FOUR FOR YOU.
Libby also views this marriage as the potential answer to all her problems. She also presses Virginia to find the love she once had with George and she even (gleefully?) plans the wedding, refusing to see that everyone around her is miserable. After the wedding, Libby makes SURE that Bill sees Gini and George toasting their (sham) marriage out on the patio. Yes, she does it to rub salt in Bill’s wounds, but she also does it because she has tunnel vision when it comes to her picture perfect life. And for the moment…she is the victor here.
What Libby DOESN’T see is how George is pleading with Gini to love him again. Poor George, who is so convinced that the night at the lake meant more than it did. “You can’t have sex like that and NOT feel something deeper,” he implores. “Actually, you can,” Virginia says simply. It surprised me that George was surprised by Gini’s detached attitude. From the beginning of the series, it has always been established that Gini can separate the act and pleasure of sex from the deeper meaning and connection that comes with it. (George should call Ethan and they should form a support group.) She views this disconnect as a great personal strength, while George sees it as a fatal flaw. “Do you ever wonder if this work has ruined you? The girl I married was a romantic,” George spits, refusing to see what’s been in front of him. George clings to a version of Virginia that no longer exists. Perhaps it never truly existed except in his mind. He later wonders what Virginia even believes in, if she doesn’t believe in love and therein lie the “potholes” of this relationship. Virginia believes in a LOT. She believes in her work and she believes in her right to exist outside of the conventional definitions of womanhood. She believes in her right to be a career-woman (ugh I hate that term) and in her right to be a mother. She believes in her right to have EVERYTHING and to not be satisfied until she gets it. She believes in so much more than just “love” and George can’t see that. Bill CAN, when he’s not being asinine, which is why she’s so drawn to him.
Thus Masters and Johnson has their charade and it makes them even more viable in the press. Their work MUST be credible if they both have spouses who support them in it, right? The foursome plays their parts perfectly for now…but how long can they keep up the charade? Time will tell.
Another thing I love about Masters of Sex? They went through Virginia’s entire pregnancy in the span of a single episode. The scene in the delivery room is what Masters does best; it put Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen in a room together and just let them act the crap out of a scene. It also served to remind us why Virginia (and we the audience) sticks with Bill through all the times when he is an insensitive and cowardly asshole: when Gini needed him the most, he came through for her. As Sage just pointed out, this was a situation where Gini was the patient and Bill’s always been good with patients. It’s the arena where he is most at home and the most confident. But let’s not that take away from the weight of what he gave her in that room. With all pretense stripped away by her labor pains, Gini finally voices why she chose to have the baby and her fears about wasting her chance to get things right this time. She’s worried she’s going to screw it up again because she cares about her work. “You’re a failure because you care about other things?” he asks. “No because I care about other things MORE.”
And here’s where Bill separates himself from George and proves why he understands Virginia to her very core. He doesn’t view her devotion to her work as a flaw, he views it as a strength. It’s WHY she is the amazing woman that she is and it can be the strength she gives to her new daughter. Virginia is a trailblazer in his eyes and he gives her the gift she needed by telling her she’s not broken. “Maybe years from now, we’ll look back on the ones who gave up everything for their children, and we will say “Oh, you poor things, look! Look at how much more you could have been!” You… you are leading the way in so much, Virginia. Why not this?”
In the waiting room, George arrives and Bill slips out unseen. He knows his place in this new hierarchy and today is not the day to challenge it. As Virginia delivers her daughter, Bill drives to the nearest bookstore to see HIS baby with Virginia in the window: Their book. Born out of ten years of labor. Half her, half him.
Odds and Ends
- The “case of the week” this week revolved around the Shah of Iran and his wife and their struggles with fertility. When Bill’s capping method fails to work, it is discovered that her fallopian tubes are irreparably damaged, leaving her unable to bear children. The scene between Bill and the Queen (is she a queen?) is devastating because she KNOWS she has to be cast aside so her husband can produce an heir. Her speech about triangles was a LITTLE too on the nose, but I forgive it because it was exquisitely acted and that woman’s eyebrow game was FIERCE.
- NEVER CHANGE, LESTER.
- Fashion Envy Moments: Betty’s minidress with a TIE. All of Gini’s robes. Libby’s fabulous white cable-knit sweater.
- Also I need more Betty, please and thank you.
- HOW PRECIOUS IS THIS?