Masters of Sex Season 4, Episode 7
“In to Me You See”
Posted by Sage
“Amazing,” I thought to myself a little over three weeks ago. “Masters of Sex hasn’t fucked me over once this season.” And then it happened. The show killed off Helen and destroyed Betty’s happiness, all so Austin could come back with an admittedly splendid mustache and Bill could be inspired to give his med school girlfriend a ring. So far, there’s been nothing original or worthwhile enough in the aftermath of Helen’s death to justify the murder of another queer female character, and yes, I’m still steaming mad about this choice.
But the show goes on and so must the recaps. I wish I could move on from losing Helen as quickly as Masters has. Even Betty’s mourning period is skipped. She’s back to being the lovable and unexpected source of wisdom for much less emotionally capable characters. Even if she has to about it in her bathrobe.
Barton is there in the grief weeds with Betty – they’ve always been kindred spirits – and it means very little to him that the hospital oversight committee found that Barton had acted appropriately and expertly in the delivery room. Official absolution doesn’t change the fact that his friend’s partner is dead, and that Betty is therefore doomed to lose the child that Helen died for. Bill reminds Barton of the time that Barton refused to accept his resignation after Bill tried to quit out of shame. They are men who deal with life and thus leave themselves open to seeing the other side of that coin. It’s part of the gig, no matter who is on their table. “I don’t know how to forgive myself,” Barton says. Really, he never has.
Annaleigh Ashford stuns again in this episode in her few, brief scenes. When Bill brings Betty a pizza (they travel now), she moves in the sluggish manner of someone who doesn’t have anywhere she needs to be anymore. Betty talks about her happiness with Helen like it was some cosmic error that the universe came to correct. “Helen was the one thing I got right,” she tells her boss. “We got each other right.” She doesn’t say as much, but everything about Betty in this moment conveys her belief that true happiness now lives in her past, not her future.
Her only directive now is to outsmart homophobic infrastructure yet again. Austin Langham, doctor and strip club proprietor, is her ticket to getting her daughter back. But Austin can’t simply petition to take the child from Helen’s parents and then hand her over to Betty. No: the plan is for Betty to marry Austin, adopt the baby, and then divorce him and sue for full custody. (Bet there are a couple of strippers over at the club who would be eager for an explanation for Austin’s reverse-shotgun nuptials.) Even as Betty is saying it, she knows that the hoops are too many, She appeals to Helen’s mother one more time in the hopes of walking around those hoops instead of having to jump through them. Betty pleads with the woman to understand that the daughter who loved and committed to Betty is the same daughter who loved and cared for her parents for her entire life. The rationalization that allows Edith to keep her deceased daughter in her good graces is the same one that will prevent Betty from ever getting through to her. Edith again casts Betty as the degenerate transgressor who seduced and ruined her innocent child. Ashford’s work is beautiful, and I don’t doubt that this is how the scenario would have played out in this era. But the cruelty in this storyline is bordering on sadistic. I don’t know what we’re gaining by holding Betty’s face in the dirt.
Despite those alleged casseroles, Virginia doesn’t seem to have noticed that Helen is dead. Not even an event like that can distract Gini from her goals: namely, to keep interlopers Nancy and Art in check and to force Bill to fall back in love with her. She tries to express herself to Bill in writing, but isn’t satisfied by the result. Next, she turns to manipulation; her talent for it has generated a bit of a “reputation,” according to Bill. It’s the nicest possible way to say that Gini has let life make her petty and small. Her brilliance and capability are now dimmed by her need to control people. Faced with the accusations both voiced and implied, Gini agrees to Bill’s adapted version of her proposed office shake-up. It’s cute that she actually thought – after all they’ve been through – that Bill would really believe that Virginia is concerned about Art and Nancy’s marriage and that re-pairing with Bill would be taking one for the team. Bill calls her bluff and suggests that they form a boys versus girls structure instead. Tensions between Nancy and Gini were at a fever pitch last week, so I’m suspicious that Bill is looking forward to seeing how that all plays out. The agreement is another reminder of how much Bill Masters has changed. He used to be a man who couldn’t deal with the very concept, at least personally. And even though Art calls Nancy Bill’s “shadow,” Bill is evidently not as attached to her as he was to Gini back in the day.
Nancy and Virginia’s first intake is predictably terrible, but not just because they can’t stand each other. Gini grows suspicious of the Flemings and their note-taking. She smokes them out by suggesting shock therapy treatment for their dysfunction, followed by divorce. The couple confess that they are aspiring therapists themselves, there to see how the very best do it. (The mystery shoppers of the sexual health industry.) Gini is disgusted by their deception, but even more upset that they called what they were doing “research.” The Vegas act she saw in the season premiere was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of opportunists going to school on Masters and Johnson’s throw. Some of the seminars and clinics Virginia learns about even sell their programs by using the Masters and Johnson name. Mad Men isn’t the only show capable of underlining the capitalist drive behind the touchy-feely late ’60s self-help boom.
Virginia and Nancy drive out to a lodge somewhere to do their own research. It’s a seminar about partnership led by Jade, a new character played by Emmy award winner Camryn Manheim. (If you’re still not over the head in the bag on The Practice, come sit by me.) The meat of the program is pretty generic; really, the partnership theme is just another opportunity for Nancy and Gini to throw barbs at each other. The cattiness is beneath both of them, frankly. When Nancy accuses Gini of being a shitty mentor, Gini responds to that criticism by outing Art’s unhappiness with their swinging lifestyle. Like most of Virginia’s actions this season, it’s appalling. Nancy seems genuinely shocked. It’s not possible that Art’s behavior never betrayed his discomfort. So either Nancy willfully ignored the evidence of his misgivings or she just wasn’t paying attention. That’s not partnership either.
What may also have thrown Nancy is that – like her – Art is enlightened and open about sexuality. He carries no judgment at work and deals with patients fairly. But being accepting of all choices doesn’t make one personally up for experimentation. His experience with the Kinsey scale does make Art the perfect choice to head up the treatment of Bob Drag and his wife. He’s the sole voice in the clinic standing up for the existence of bisexuality. (Sorry, ambisexuality.) Treating a married man for impotency issues related to his sexual experience with other men is a sticky ethical area, and Guy and Barton are on high alert for any signs of psychological stamping out of homosexuality. It’s Guy who says the words “conversion therapy” first; Barton, who tried so hard and for so long to change himself, is horrified that Bill would allow it. Bob’s case and Art’s analysis of sexuality as a spectrum inspire Bill to open up a new study – one that Art will oversee. They should be observing homosexuals in the exact same way that they do the straights.”As for conversion therapy, that will never happen in this office,” Bill declares.
— Masters of Sex (@SHO_Masters) October 26, 2016
There’s just one problem with that. Conversion therapy did happen at that office. A lot of it. Here’s a preview of Masters and Johnson’s 1979 publication, Homosexuality in Perspective, that appeared in a vintage Time article:
Between 1968 and 1977 the researchers treated, for various sexual problems, 151 homosexuals, including 54 men and 13 women who wanted to convert or revert to heterosexuality. M & J do not list a success rate for such conversions, only a known failure rate. That failure rate is now at 35%, and is not expected to exceed 45% when all the five-year follow-ups are completed. For professional therapists, many of whom believe that such conversions are rare or impossible, this is likely to be the book’s most surprising statistic. It would mean that a permanent, or at least longterm, switch to heterosexuality is possible more than half the time among gays who are highly motivated to change.
Thomas Maier, the pair’s biographer, has expressed his doubts that the clinic achieved any success in that area. Many of their own employees couldn’t remember meeting the allegedly converted individuals in the clinic, let alone working with them.
This is all a big yikes and it’s not a surprise that the writers didn’t want to poison their fictionalized Bill and Virginia with such a destructive and bigoted course of work. But it HAPPENED. Documented conversion therapy was enacted and publicized by the most famous sex researchers in the world. The ripples are still being felt. There are still people (parents, in the worst cases) who believe that it works. Someone needs to answer for Mike Pence, okay. After the whole Helen and Betty debacle, it’s indecent for Masters of Sex to sweep this nasty bit of history under the rug.
Instead of having to explain his position on the curability of the gays, Bill gets to look all wistful and tell us a tale of lost love. We first heard about Dody from Libby. She was Bill’s first great love and drove him back to sensible Libby when she broke his heart. Betty asks Bill to tell her about a time when everything was good for him; he reminisces about Dody. “Suddenly I had this feeling like I could breathe or like I was myself, finally,” Bill tells Betty of the first time he saw Dody. Not only did he love her, he actually PROPOSED. He couldn’t even wait until after her appendectomy to do it. He made his request in a note; when he picked her up, she acted as if nothing had happened and they never saw each other again.
AA has turned Bill into a person who wants to know how things fell apart, even if he can’t fix them. Now that he’s allowing himself to finally be curious about her again, he can’t wait to get the truth from Dody. He writes to her – a friendly, affectionate letter with no demands. She calls him to respond (HI, KELLI O’HARA), watching out of her window while they chat. She cuts off the call when she hears a door opening, then calls Bill back later from her bathroom. The implication is clear: Dody is married and doesn’t want her husband to know that she’s speaking to Bill. She arranges to meet him halfway between St. Louis and her home in Topeka. She seems just as confused as Bill about their breakup; want to bet she never saw that note? Bill waits in a well-lit, homey restaurant – Dody chose the place, and it’s not the venue you’d pick out to start an affair. Regardless, her husband doesn’t want her there. He meets Bill instead and warns him to stay away from her. It’s not jealousy, it’s anger. Dody was bereft after she and Bill ended. Her husband had to pull her out of that darkness and he doesn’t want to see her back there. He blames Bill. Bill blames Dody. The wires crossed somehow, and it’s going to dredge up a lot of what ifs and shoulda beens.
— Masters of Sex (@SHO_Masters) October 24, 2016
Bill might get that answer yet. Virginia is so upset about what she saw at the partnership seminar that she shows up at his apartment again. What she saw included her own father searching for ways to improve his marriage. Suddenly it dawns on Virginia not just to be upset by her own exploitation but by how these money grabs are affecting real people seeking help with minds and hearts open. This time she’s wielding more brochures. Bill very rationally suggests that they organize some kind of sanctioning body. Virginia suggests that they infiltrate the enemy and take them down from the inside. (I’m Virginia.) To emphasize that this isn’t another scheme to get him alone, Gini also suggests that they divide and conquer. She gives Bill first choice of where he’d like to travel, and wouldn’t you know, he chooses the clinic in Topeka. Earlier in the episode, Bill asks Barton, who’s life was upended by truth – if it’s really worth it to seek out a fact that might change the way you see yourself. “In my experience, the truth can come at a very high price,” Barton says. “In the end it’s worth it, to know where you really stand.”
- Speaking of misery: poor Louise. Now the doom and gloom is coming for Bill’s authoritative AA meeting leader. Her husband is paralyzed from the waist down due to an accident that occurred when a drunk Louise was behind the wheel. She seeks Bill out at the office in desperation. The paralysis has basically killed their sex life. Bill offers the help he can – he teaches Louise how to stimulate the areas on James’s chest that might cause arousal. It works, and Louis is able to “be with [James] in that way] again. It’s a nightmare for her husband though. Having his wife on top of him while he’s unable to feel it reminds him of his condition and of what he can never experience again. It drives Louise straight to cheap convenience store wine. This will not end well. Why sadness. Why.
- “I thought it would be a nice idea for us to take some cases together.” “Something’s happened. What’s happened?”
- “I turn to her 100 times a day.”
- So important:
- “Ass officially covered.”
- “Do what I do when I’m sad: snap out of it.”
That was certainly…an episode. Give us your hot takes on “In To Me You See” in the comments!