Masters of Sex Season 4, Episode 1
Posted by Sage
Yes, Playmate of the Month for January 1971, break-ups ARE the worst.
One of Hef’s consorts says this to Virginia, who seems to be dealing with two at once. When last we left Mrs. Johnson, she was running away from Bill to become Mrs. Logan. Did she? Masters is holding that answer back from us for now, but Josh Charles is decidedly not present in this episode and is not due back at all. Instead, Virginia is taking on Vegas on her own, day-drinking and night-drinking in the same bar, telling her young and handsome hook-ups that her husband is due back any minute, and plotting her next career move. Did Dan leave her or did she give him his walking papers? (I lean toward the latter; I believe Dan really did want to start a new life with her.) I’ve never thought of Virginia as a character who cares much about saving face; her constant references to her disappeared spouse have nothing to do with shame. They are another way for Virginia to keep her distance from things that scare her. Including – as we see at the end – her former partner. “Do you know what my husband really is, Rick?” she asks the nice boy in her bed. “He’s protection.” Rick doesn’t get it. “From?” “You, for starters,” she answers.
At any given time, there isn’t one soul in Vegas without any regrets. Virginia carries hers around, but tries to drown them in Bloody Marys, room service, and Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.” To a stranger, she probably looks like she’s living her best single girl life. But she sits in her hotel bed and watches through last night’s mascara as women burn their bras and live in their power on the news. She looks down at her own, thoughtful. Their revolution wouldn’t be possible without the one that she and Bill started. But she still feels separate from this second wave. And she likes her lingerie, sue her. She looks good in it.
Does Gini regret leaving Bill? If she does, it’s not high up on her list. She regrets protecting Bill’s feelings for so long. She regrets allowing their personal relationship to spiral out of control and annihilate their professional one. She regrets letting it get to the point where she HAD to leave him, for the good of both of them. (“It all became hopelessly tangled.”) Though it’s hilarious and vindicating to watch Gini completely roast a faux sex-pert in front of his potential book-buyers (“If you want to be technical about it…” “I do.”), it’s also sad that she has no other place to put her life’s work into practice but a ballroom in Nevada.
At least Gini can sleep soundly knowing she finally got through to Bill. In Season Three, Bill “You Poor Bastard” Masters could feel Gini slipping away, and it made him a) crazy and b) more of a pain in the ass than usual. Season Three Bill was reckless and petty. He was a kid asserting his dominance on the playground, and, as Kim beautifully said in her finale recap, “the ESSENCE of the ‘This pigeon isn’t giving up’ meme.” (Quite right too.) Bill finally took the loss at the conclusion of that episode. He let
Ilsa Virginia fly out of his life on a private plane, knowing that the honesty and passion that he finally had the balls to show her came far too late. Don’t mourn the old Bill yet though; if experiencing that loss matured him, it was an insignificant gain. Season Four Bill Masters came here to wallow. And as the son of a miserable drunk, wallowing in his blood.
Masters and Johnson encourage honesty in their patients, and the science backs them up. People like Dale Connolly have to choose between keeping their secrets and having a healthy, satisfying sex life. When Bill finally takes that consultation, he recommends that Dale stop trying to predict how his wife will take the news that he has a pretty demanding foot fetish (“It’s weird to wanna fuck shoes.”), and just leave that part up to her. Dismantle the idea that you are somehow responsible for someone else’s reaction to you, and you dismantle repression. Maybe Mrs. Connolly will freak out and leave. Maybe she won’t. Maybe deep down, she already has some idea about his needs. “It might come as a relief,” Bill says. “Either way it’s how you feel. You don’t really have a choice, Dale.”
Yet, in this premiere, Bill and Virginia both lie their asses off to strangers in bars. As is the way of the deep drunk, “bra salesman” Bill Masters eventually dives face-first into the truth. I mean, he doesn’t have anyone else to talk to.
Donald: Sex what? *laughs* There’s no such thing as that.
Bill: Oh, yes, there is. In fact, sex therapy is the way of the future. We explored it all, experimented, made significant breakthroughs, learned every inch of each other’s bodies.
Donald: Okay, buddy, I am now cutting you off.
Bill: But, you know, being sex experts, it’s not enough. Because when you’ve tried and tried and she still leaves you anyway, then you must look at yourself in the mirror and say the words that you’ve been too afraid to say…”
Bill is still a small man. He’s accepted the truth of Virginia – a truth he protected himself from for years, in the interest of self preservation – but that’s about as far as he’s gotten. If she doesn’t love me, Bill says to himself, might as well flame the fuck out. He endangers himself and others, damages public property, leaves poor Betty to fend for herself at the clinic, and becomes far too familiar with the inside of the courthouse. So Bill finds himself mandated by the court to spend 30 of his evenings in the kind of 12-step meeting he walked out of when it was his brother seeking some support. His meeting leader Louise is used to dealing with men who think that they are only the sum total of their mistakes. And she’s not letting Bill off that easy.
Bill: I ca-I can’t take steps. Why can’t you understand this? Not even a single step. There is no direction I can turn because-
Louise: Because you don’t know how. So show up where you’re needed, Dr. Masters. That’s it. Show up and see what happens.
His wife definitely doesn’t need him, and Virginia is still making up her mind about that. But there is a woman who could very much use Dr. Masters back in her life. When Bill returns to the clinic, Betty is there, as ever, with tough love and a DiMello pep talk. Bill has been in hiding because he’s licking his wounds about Virginia. But he wasn’t bullshitting Gini either; he’s not at all sure that he can do this work without her. Betty reads him like a book and tells Bill to stop psyching himself out about these consultations. Yes, Virginia had the bedside manner. But in the end, what these patients are looking for is a solution to their problem. They’re not going to be picky about the guise in which it arrives. Bill is the best person to talk to them not because he’s a comfort, but because he knows what the hell he’s taking about.
Bill and Virginia try to make moves on their own – Bill by reviving the practice and Gini by pitching a sex column that will rival the syndicated fame of Ann Landers – but they’re pulled back together by an unlikely matchmaker. Hugh Hefner isn’t interested in Virginia Johnson on her own. And it’s Hef, so yeah, sexism has something to do with it. “A woman always has to audition,” Hef’s personal (and female) secretary tells Gini. As far as the researcher thinks she’s come, Maude informs Gini that her very existence confuses men who like to categorize their women. “You’re half-Bunny, half-scholar,” says Maude. And if they don’t know where to put Virginia they will ignore her.
But Hef’s also not interested in Bill Masters on his own. (Half a Bunny is better than none, apparently.) He’ll fund the research and publish the column only if they are both Masters and Johnson products. If anyone knows branding, it’s this smoking-jacket-wearing maniac. “See, this thing is bigger than the two of you,” Hef tells them. “Masters and Johnson has a life of its own.” The curse of the mad scientist: a result they cannot control.
Sans that sexy hiatus beard, Bill shows up. He shows up to the mansion to save his business, not anticipating that Hef is doing the ol’ “lock them in a closet until they work it out” thing. Bill fishes a bit about Dan and his feelings about Virginia moving back to St. Louis. “My husband is remarkably understanding,” Gini says. (Girl, no one is buying it.) They discuss hiring other partners who probably won’t be informed that they’re there mainly as buffers. And to his credit, Bill impresses upon Virginia that he is done pursuing her. Not only that he’s done, but that he knows it’s HIS FAULT that he failed. She’s somewhat shocked by his self-awareness. After 12 years, it’s not something she expects from him.
Because for 12 years, I’ve tried every wrong and misguided way to win your heart, only to realize, in these last very dark weeks, you wanted something else. So you picked someone else. Which means that part of us together is over for good.
“I’ve seen people have huge breakthroughs their first week,” Louise says to Bill when he picks him up from his community service. And really, so far so good. The toxicity of Bill and Virginia’s relationship is neutralizing. And it’s neutralizing because she is the one person that Bill wants so much to be good for. He wants to show up. For her. It took over a decade for Gini to give up on trying to save him. But it seems, without her knowledge, that she’s just getting started.
- I love how Masters continues to show social movements through the eyes of Libby, a woman who married a doctor and had babies and dressed nicely and did everything else she was told to do before getting burned by all of it. And I love Caitlin Fitzgerald’s work in that women’s lib meeting scene. Libby is uncomfortable, but also a little bit thrilled. If she accepts feminism, she has to accept that her life has never really been hers. (“Last names are usually husband’s names, connoting a sense of ownership. First names are just fine here.”) And that requires a strong sense of self. Libby has certainly cultivated that. She’s growing and changing as Bill and Virginia keep getting stuck in each other. And maybe she can put her rage to more use than dreaming up violent deaths for her ex. P.S. That IS Gloria Steinem, right?
- “I hear your concern because you’re yelling it to me.”
- Pro sex tip: If you call her your “old lady,” that orgasm will continue to evade you.
- “I have been here while you’ve been on your Rumspringa or whatever….”
- “The truth is I have no interest in being reasonable or generous.”
- “When’s the last time you noticed a ‘fun Fendi bag’?”
- “Don’t tell me Bob Dylan is not in a box.”
- Fashion Moment of the Episode: Gini’s navy jumpsuit and patterned headscarf. Honorable mention to Bill’s luxurious beard, RIP.
Thoughts on the premiere? Let’s hear it in the comments.