Masters of Sex Season 4, Episode 5
Posted by Sage
It’s a brave new world since the last coat was left on the pile at Art and Nancy’s swingers party. The brief new normal includes Bill and Libby vacationing in a healthier relationship than they shared during their courtship or marriage and Virginia finally being honest with herself about what it is that she wants. The truth-bug hasn’t bitten Art yet. Despite reaching new levels of clarity about his own marriage in an all-night hot-goss-athon with Virginia, he hasn’t come clean to his wife that the benefits of their swinging are all one-sided. Virginia, straight outta fucks to give, confronts Art about this, even though she got her information from surveilling her own employees. Art assesses that Gini doesn’t care so much about his marriage; she’s concerned that Art’s posturing over his faux night of passion with Virginia will reach Bill’s ears. Of course Art is right – hence Gini’s fifth blackmail scheme in as many weeks – but he’s not right about what she fears. Since a domestic, sex-rumpled Bill opened his ex-wife’s door and politely blew her off, what scares the daylights out of Virginia is that Bill will hear from someone that Virginia had crazy swinger sex with Art and that he won’t care at all.
And really, all appearances indicate that Virginia’s spell on Bill has been broken. Kim wrote gorgeously last week about the Libby and Bill’s come-to-Jesus sleepover. And I’m with her in that I’m thrown by this generous, vulnerable Bill Masters. He and his ex-wife (well, if proceedings DO start up again after the trial) are free from the years and years of lies that mucked up the works of their connection. With all that gone, there’s still SOMETHING there. But I’d argue that it can only exist in the here and now, in this clarity, after their attempt at a perfect life blew up in both of their faces. It’s a moment in time and one that’s going a long way towards healing their rift and making them able to stay friends and raise their children together. But this isn’t a second chance at love. Libby has no illusions about that; but desperate, romantic Bill thinks he might have found his lifeline.
Which is one of the reasons that Bill is happy to get his 90th AA attendance certificate signed and walk out of that church basement, never to return. Louise obliges, with “you’ll be back” written all over her face. (Da da da DA da…) Besides, what will listening to dozens of drunks’ sob stories do to help him and Virginia beat this sexual deviancy rap. Bill has better things to do with his time, including triple-checking the work of his own lawyer. (Bill WOULD be the kind of defendant to weaken his own case by failing at not looking superior to his legal team.) Again, Masters and Johnson are at odds in how to proceed. Virginia wants to settle and spare everyone the ordeal of a court case. Bram Keller has a very clear vision of his future self arguing in front of the Supreme Court. If they win, they win. If they lose, they’ll exhaust the appeals process. He’ll be a legend and Masters and Johnson will be the scientific pioneers who defended their research process to the highest court in the land. Virginia is overruled, and to make matters worse, Keller drops it in her lap that Bill and Libby are considering reconciling. If looks could kill, no one but Virginia would be walking out of that courthouse alive.
In every setback, crafty-ass Virginia sees an opportunity. Betty hands Gini a package. Little Brown has passed on publishing the next Masters and Johnson tome, partially because they stood them up for that very important press conference last season. The prostitution scandal is also a factor. “THE WORK IS IN TROUBLE” flashes on a neon sign in Virginia’s brain and she quickly concocts an excuse to whisk Bill away from his formerly square, pot-smoking, feminist wife. She tells Betty to book two plane tickets to New York right away and then informs Bill of their plans. Guys…he barely looks up when she comes into the room. The more frantic Virginia gets, the more transparent her plans. Little Brown isn’t the only publisher in the world. They can worry about the book when the trial is over. Bill reminds Virginia that his reputation is on the line, and he has no intention of leaving Bram Keller to his own devices. Gini doesn’t like this reality where Bill won’t jump at the chance to be alone with her, even though she had a hand in shaping it. Hurt, she lashes out about what she deems to be the real obstacle keeping Bill from her: Libby, who’s looking very serene in the framed black-and-white portrait on Bill’s desk. Bill muses that a win in this case would be a “fresh start,” and Gini JUST stops sort of scoffing. “Seems to me that you’ve been backsliding, more than anything,” she says, and refers to the morning she dropped off Libby’s cape. BACKSLIDING. Bill doesn’t even satisfy Virginia by taking the bait. He impassively tells her that he and his ex are looking at all the options. He just says it, conversationally – it’s not a confession and it’s not a ploy to see how Virginia will react to hearing it. “You want a fresh start? Then come to New York,” she purrs. “We can both reinvest in what has always given us the most satisfaction…the work.” He remains unmoved. Gini thought she had Bill in her pocket for so long and now he’s barely affected by her. And a rejected Virginia is a dangerous Virginia. Old patterns, you know.
Gini decides to go to New York on her own. If she can’t tempt Bill with a night in a Manhattan hotel room, she can bring him back a publishing deal as an offering. I love when Virginia refuses to hear accusations that she’s inconveniencing people. She barges into Bob Drag’s tiny office, chirping about how wonderful it is to see him and pretending as if she hasn’t just been dropped like a hot potato. But sad sack Bob has no use for Virginia except the one. He realizes it’ll be a better look to show up to that evening’s fancy book launch with an attractive, accomplished date, and Virginia doesn’t mind being used so long as it’s mutual. They roll into the cocktail party where some guy is talking up some satirical novel called Slaughter-house Five. Bob drains a few glasses of wine before he finds the courage to wrap an arm around Virginia’s waist. He’s posturing for his boss, a virile-looking guy (sort of J. Peterman-esque) who looks down at Bob literally and figuratively. Tired of being pawed, Virginia yanks Bob into a corner and sets him straight: she will by no means sleep with him in exchange for a book deal. Bob is like, listen, you disgust me and I find you tremendously unlikable, DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT. His problem is that Virile Boss is the kind of guy who thinks a man’s sexual prowess has an effect on his ability to do his job. Drag was demoted after his fiance left him and hasn’t been able to present a macho enough front to get back into Little Brown’s inner circle. Virginia has a plan that will change Virile Boss’s mind about Drag AND keep her person un-molested. The pro quo of course, is Drag going to bat for the book. Satisfied with their terms, Virginia approaches Virile Boss and tells him that Drag killed the book in retaliation for his own participation in the study being cut from the text. “His sexual stamina is off the charts. Refractory period non-existent. Including him would’ve completely skewed our data,” Gini recounts, doing her best Elle Woods. “No wonder his fiance left him. Poor girl couldn’t keep up.” And maybe she takes the sales pitch a step too far for believability, but it’s worth it for this line: “Bob Drag is one long and large erection.” WHY DOES THIS MATTER, HE PUBLISHES BOOKS. Men are ridiculous.
Bill Masters is kind of ridiculously smitten with his ex wife. He’s back at the house and not even PLAYING good dad, just being one. He tucks the kids, leaving Libby to rolls her joint in peace. Bill looks around the house for chores to do, and there’s not a hint of guilt anywhere. He’s suddenly realized that being responsible in some way for the happiness and quality of life of his family isn’t the prison he always thought it was. Libby’s become quite handy herself though (“I’m not helpless.”), so the next task can take place in their old bedroom. Libby’s got a list and she’s down to check another box. “What we did the other night. I gather that there’s a way that we can do it to each other at the same time,” she explains. “I believe there’s even a number for it.” Time to chart some waters.
Did Bill and Libby ever indulge in post-coital pillow talk before? Or did they just roll over to face opposite sides of the room and drift off in silence? Now they’re loose and giggly. And they sustain that state even as they continue their inventory of What Went Wrong in their relationship. Bill wants to know how he fell short. He really, genuinely does. And I think it’s a side effect of his AA attendance. He’s seen these men and women stand up in front of a roomful of strangers and recount the very worst things they’ve ever done. But the program tells them that they are not just those things. A person is more than the sum of their parts. Bill can hear his faults and process them, and in fact, it’s making him lighter and lighter as he does. And Libby is right there with him, sharing the blame. “We should’ve had friends,” she says not, “You should’ve LET me have more friends.” He argues weakly that they did. “Real friends. Not just Virginia,” Libby specifies. “You know, other couples and and neighbors. We should’ve had dinner parties and played music, played charades.” And then the world imploded, because Bill Masters had FUN.
This man. For years, he’s been a miserable, self-sabotaging bastard. Why? Because he believes that he is his father and because he operated on the theory that distancing himself from the women in his life would protect them from him. Here he is learning that Libby never needed that protection. She’s self-sufficient – magnificent, even – and she’s known exactly who he is from the very, very beginning. And that’s why the divorce will be back on as soon as the trial is finished. It all started in the summer after Bill’s first season in med school, when he ditched Libby to spend it with another girl.
Libby: I knew that it was another girl. That was the only explanation for why I didn’t hear from you all summer.
And, uh, I’ve seen the photographs tucked away in the box in your closet you waterskiing with Dody on your shoulders. The two of you about to take off together in her brother’s plane. And then at the end of the summer, she broke your heart, and you came back to me.
Bill: Well, because I-I realized that you were better for me.
Libby: Because you realized that I wasn’t going to hurt you like that. Because I couldn’t. Because you didn’t love me.
Bill: I loved you very much.
Libby: Yes. Yes. But not in that way. Not in the way that makes you want to take off together in a plane.
As Helen’s due date creeps closer, Helen and Betty are running out of ways to play it safe. Helen’s parents are in town to help out and are making like they’re going to stick around until the baby comes. This essentially makes Betty homeless – Betty the neighbor, who waters Helen’s plants while she’s out of town. Betty wants to come home and live in her own apartment with her partner, but she’s also looking further down the road and not liking what she sees. Of course, Helen is scared and feels stronger with her parents taking care of her. But Betty is the person who lifts right out of this situation. The lie about the World Book salesman will only get deeper and more complicated. Betty will be banned from family events; her son will be taught to disavow her publicly. That’s not the family she imagined when Helen dreamed out loud of starting one with her. Sarah Silverman gives a lovely performance in this episode, especially in the scene where Betty finds her alone and staring at the wall. Helen did what Betty asked and came out to her parents. Those warm, loving people disappeared immediately. They packed their bags in silence and left. And I know it was a different time, but I have NO sympathy for parents who want their kids to procreate just so THEY can show off grandchildren and be the most popular fogies on the next gambling cruise. They turned their backs on their child, but Betty was right. Helen didn’t have a choice. (And once upon a time, Helen gave Betty a similar ultimatum. I think she remembers that.)
— Masters of Sex (@SHO_Masters) October 10, 2016
There comes a time for every adult when you have to put being your parents’ child second. Helen couldn’t destroy her own life just to protect her parents from the truth, as much as she loves them. Betty is her girl; this is the person who’s going to raise her child and take care of her when she’s old. Maybe her parents will come around, maybe not. But forcing Betty out of her son’s life? That’s the kind of betrayal that can’t ever be fixed.
Speaking of betrayals, can’t a bellhop be trusted anymore? Bill runs into Keller in the parking garage of the courthouse and Keller asks him about a witness the prosecution just called. It’s Eliot Laskin, that grinning staff member from the Park Chancery who took such good care of Bill and Virginia on their regular visits. The prosecution is trying to damage their credibility by proving that Masters and Johnson have been having a torrid affair. Keller (who, btw, doesn’t seem surprised) tries to put things in perspective for Bill. “Look, it’ll be worse for her than it is for you,” he says, and this is the OPPOSITE of consolation for Bill. “Adultery sticks to a woman more than a man. You’re a doctor who works long hours with a gorgeous woman. You study sex together. Of course you dabbled. No one will blame you.” He’s not wrong. Public perception goes like this: A man who has an affair = following his biological imperative. A woman who has an affair = slut who should have known better. Bill has a freak out. Their legacy will be crap. The scientific standing that they’ve fought for will become a footnote to the scandal. And, he doesn’t say this, but I know he was thinking it: he cannot allow this intimate, defining, all-consuming partnership to be minimized or made sordid.
Virginia comes into court late; Bill doesn’t have a chance to warn her that he’s about to take a plea in exchange for the charges against her being dropped. She’s furious, to some degree because she re-sold their book to Little Brown on the pitch that the court case would put their names back in the papers. She’s also stunned that Bill is willing to put a stamp of “sexual deviancy” on his personal and professional career to protect her from her own embarrassment. The judge warns him against this scarlet letter too. But he wasn’t expecting a Bill Masters speech about hypocrisy and acceptance.
Sexual deviant. I’m a scientist who’s spent decades of my life researching sex. Even I don’t know what that means.
How can something deviate when there is no norm? No two humans would paint the same painting or write the same poem or compose the same opera, so why would we expect two humans to express their sexuality in the same way? In fact, if there is one thing the years of research has taught us, it’s that no being’s sexual response is formed on an assembly line. There is no shape it must take. It’s as particular and individualistic as a kiss. And where there is such infinite variety, there’s no norm. There’s only deviation. Your honor, I am willing to plead guilty to sexual deviance, because I am a sexual deviant, because we are all sexual deviants.
I’m applauding in my room and Virginia’s heart eyes cannot be contained.
— Masters of Sex (@SHO_Masters) October 12, 2016
But their happy ending is still evading them. Later, Bill gives another speech, this time to the AA group he swore he’d never return to. He has an addiction of a different kind. “Some of you, all it takes is a flashing neon sign for cocktails.
For me, well, I can pass that same sign a thousand times and never even notice it. For me, it’s it’s something else,” he confesses. “It’s a passing glance. Fingers brushing against my shoulder. The linger of perfume when she’s already left the room. Her hand in mine. In an instant, I’m ready to give everything up.” Will the program work for him? Bill has never been able to go cold turkey when it comes to Virginia. What he needs to learn is how to love her and be loved without feeling like he’s completely and utterly lost. They’ve done this so wrong for so many years. The dysfunction is so ingrained that it seems impossible to overcome. I don’t know much about conquering addiction, but I do know that the very first step is admitting that you need help.
- Virginia is a terrible spy who needs to see more James Bond movies. But also Nancy is a snake in the damn grass and needs to go.
- MAXWELL SHEFFIELD, BROADWAY MISSES YOU. PS, I’m from the future, and you may want to get out of the asbestos industry.
- “You’re a regular Edward Murrow.”
- I was kind of hoping Helen’s parents died on the gambling cruise, anybody else?
- Guy is a wonderful young man who must be loved and protected and encouraged. The clinic gets so wrapped up in its own problems that they all forget that they’re a source of hope and inspiration for so many. My heart is warmed.
- “I’m very proud of my husband’s accomplishments and his contributions to science.”
- Fashion moment: Virginia’s cobalt blue dress from the Sak’s around the corner.
- If I were a drug dealer, I’d be the kind that accepts casseroles as payment.
- “How are you smoking that stuff and still managing to recite legal code?” BECAUSE SHE’S A BOSS, OKAY.
- I miss Barton but I’m glad he’s still offering kindly, gay-friendly advice from afar.
- “I promised Updike his gins.”
- “Legalize it. All of it.” – Bram Keller, probably.
What did you think of “Outliers”? Let us know in the comments!