“Doing it behind the glass” – Masters of Sex Recap – Topeka

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Masters of Sex Season 4, Episode 8
Posted by Kim

Okay, I have a serious question for the Bill and Virginia shippers. Are you satisfied with how Bill and Virginia ended up back in bed together? If you are, PLEASE, I beg you, tell me why you are because I feel like I’m watching a completely different show and the show I am watching makes me feel gross.

I realize I’m jumping to the end of the episode at the top of this recap but I can’t NOT talk about this. I know Masters of Sex isn’t a show where grand romantic gestures happen and Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson are certainly not the type of couple to have a fairy tale ending. Lest we forget, in actuality, their marriage ended in divorce. (Let me go back to the grand gesture thing for a moment because I surely can’t be the only one who remembers a rain-soaked Bill showing up on Virginia’s doorstep declaring that he can’t be without her, can I?) Because this show is based on real people, we have always known that Bill and Virginia would fall back together eventually. We just didn’t know HOW. I am not sure what I expected in regards to how the first post-Dan, post-Libby, Jesus they are both single now and it’s not illicit sexual encounter between Bill and Virginia to play out but it certainly wasn’t a “roleplaying in a rival clinic” scenario that tiptoed RIGHT up to the line of being a consent issue. Yep. I said it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At the end of the last episode, Bill and Gini picked out a few clinics that were stealing their methods that they would investigate separately. Road block/easy plot device alert: Guy discovers that these clinics will only admit married couples, forcing Bill and Gini to either send Art and Nancy to do it or they have to pretend they are a married couple and do it themselves. (Ordinarily, this would be the beginning of my FAVORITE fan fic trope but alas this just caused me to roll my eyes.) Bill, knowing that Dody is there, oh so casually says they should just go to Topeka together and leave Art and Nancy in charge while they are gone. Bill and Gini tell their partners to take care of the Clavermore case (and Gini makes a way too late apology to Nancy regarding spilling the beans about Art’s unhappiness) and it’s off to Topeka they go. As soon as they are out the door, Nancy turns to Art and Guy with a look of triumph on her face. “Put on some music. Let’s dance.” While the cat’s away…

In the car, Gini and Bill banter about their assumed identities (“I’ve always liked the name Earl. Earls are good guys.”) and what their fake sexual crisis should be (“I think you should be frigid.” BILL.) Eventually, they decide to just follow the Clavermore case file because who cares about Doctor/Patient confidentiality when there are phony clinics to catch?

The Topeka clinic is just as I expected it to be: a real pseudo-homey joint run by Harvey and Marcia, who come off as your cool hippie aunt and uncle who teach you about sex when you are too afraid to ask your parents about it. They have Bill and Virginia Earl and Ingrid sit low to the ground on cushiony stools and they all do the intake session around a coffee table. To the surprise of no one, the intake session is a near word-perfect replica of the Masters and Johnson technique. Also to the surprise of no one, the intake session starts to hit a little too close to home as Harvey and Marcia prove they are not exactly the quacks they appeared to be and the lines between Earl and Ingrid and Bill and Virginia begin to blur. Harvey links Earl’s sexual issues with shame, saying “Shame’s a powerful inhibitor not just to sexual health, but to true intimacy.” At first, Earl/Bill scoffs at ever having felt shame in the marriage before but Marcia pushes, asking if he’s ever felt shame in being unable to please Ingrid, if he’s ever come too fast or had trouble getting hard. WELP. Suddenly season 2’s struggle with impotence comes roaring back and things get VERY awkward because the shame and anger Bill felt back then was very real.

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Gini/Ingrid breaks into say that their sex life has always been satisfying and that they’ve always been open with each other, which surprises Harvey and Marcia, especially when they rattle off various kinks that they’ve suggested couples try. “How lucky you are to have found each other,” they marvel. Me, I’m like “LOOK HOW PREDICTABLE THEIR OWN INTAKE METHOD IS WORKING ON THEM.” I mean, let’s be real, Bill and Virginia were due for couples counseling about 5 years ago. But I’m annoyed because it’s them but it’s NOT them at the same time. This is not Bill and Virginia asking for help and because it’s not, it feels so cheap to me. Then Harvey and Marcia drop the hammer, saying that a sexual connection of this kind often springs out of something like an affair. BLAMMO. At least Bill and Virginia know their method works? “Maybe on some subconscious level, you’ve decided that you’re undeserving of pleasure, of a satisfactory resolution, of a happily ever after. Literally undeserving of finishing what you started.” OH REALLY IS THIS WHERE WE ARE GOING? That Bill’s been afraid of being happy with Virginia because he’s punishing himself? Gross. It’s gross because it’s such an over simplification of the relationship. It’s gross because it completely negates the work Bill has done as a person this season and HONESTLY it takes any of the onus off Virginia and her choices WHICH IS WRONG. WHY ARE THEY DOING THIS.

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Back at the clinic, Nancy’s true colors are finally showing. After doing the intake, Nancy gives Mr. Clavermore a tour or the clinic, answering his very specific questions about the space.  It’s clear that he’s interested in more than fixing his sex life and Nancy is picking up EXACTLY what he’s laying down. Clavermore says that if they are doing this kind of business in St. Louis, then IMAGINE what they could do in a city like New York. Nancy’s eyes LITERALLY gleam as she tells him that Bill and Virginia are investigating clinics stealing their methods. “I just I keep saying to Art, “Shouldn’t it be us opening one?” After all, we’ve been properly trained and endorsed by Masters and Johnson themselves.” Yep. Nancy is a snake and Art looks like he wants to vomit. They make dinner plans with the Clavermores where Nancy continues to sell the idea of her and Art opening a clinic in New York, much to Art’s consternation. “You have to admit that we have been treated terribly at this clinic. Our talents have been overlooked and undermined by a lounge singer with a degree in typing.” I mean…she’s not lying. Bill has made best efforts to make Art and Nancy feel welcome but Gini has been fighting and undermining Nancy from the get go. It’s no surprise that Art wants to stay…he hasn’t had the same experience as her at the clinic. He’s been included and taken seriously. Nancy has EVERY RIGHT to be unhappy professionally, so why are the writers making the undercurrent of this whole thing be reflective of Art and Nancy being at odds over their sexual relationship? Because you can’t tell me that Art’s “We’re not liars or thieves. I’m not anyway” comment didn’t have any sort of pointed meaning. It VERY much did.

But of course after I go defending Nancy’s right to professional happiness, she turns around and uses her knowledge of Art’s discontent to get exactly what she wants. She tells him that she understands that he’s fulfilled at the clinic but she can’t pass up the opportunity that Clavermore is offering. She then plays Art like a fiddle saying she isn’t happy, not at the clinic and not with their “arrangement”. ” I know that before we got married, I was the one who insisted on this setup, but I didn’t know that when you wake up with someone every morning, pour each other coffee, split the-the newspaper, that you want to go to bed with that person every night too.” Art looks at her like he’s hearing the words come directly from God. Honestly, I’m surprised rainbows didn’t come shooting out of his eyes. Nancy’s all “I know you love swinging, I’m so sorry” and Art is SO quick to be like “NOPE” because it’s all he’s wanted for a very long time. “Then this offer from Mr. Clavermore is like Kismet. It could not be more perfectly timed. Don’t you see that? We have the chance to go someplace where nobody knows us, where we don’t have friends or colleagues who think of us as-as swingers. We can make a fresh start, the two of us together at our own clinic. In New York.” I would say WELL PLAYED if she wasn’t being such a vile and manipulative human being. That evening, Art stays late at the office and Nancy goes home and fucks the next door neighbor again. So yeah, the whole monogamy thing is gonna last a really long time. #FreeArt

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Back in Topeka, Bill blows of Gini’s suggestion of dinner at the fried chicken place across the street because he has plans with Dody. She shows up and Kelli O’Hara is RADIANT, channeling that lonely Midwestern Housewife beautiful sadness that she perfected during her run as Francesca in the musical of The Bridges of Madison County. She’s alone, saying that while her husband appreciated the invitation, he thought the whole evening would be too awkward. (Me: Yeah right, you totally didn’t tell him.) They have reservations at a nice restaurant in town, but as Bill doesn’t have a tie, she offers to go to the same fried chicken place instead. (NOW I WANT FRIED CHICKEN, DAMMIT.) So they end up just staying in Bill’s hotel room, which let’s face it, was probably the best option anyway because it’s time to lay everything out there. Bill asks what her husband meant by saying that HE had broken her heart when he had always viewed it as the other way around. Bill tells her about the roses and the note he had left for her and Dody gives the response that Sage predicted in her recap last week: “There was no note, no roses.” COLOR EVERYONE SURPRISED.

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I realize that they are trying to paint this as the great tragedy, the great “WHAT IF” of Bill’s life, but it’s really hard to care when we JUST found out about her. The whole situation calls for a big suspension of disbelief to think that two people who were so desperately in love with each other fell apart completely over a missing note. Why did Dody never question Bill about pulling away? Why did Bill never think to question if Dody got the note, especially when he left the roses in care of a complete stranger? The explanation Bill gives is a little weak and Masters of Sex once again hits us over the head with the idea that all of his actions are rooted in the belief that he doesn’t deserve happiness. “I guess I must have had a hard time believing that believing that a girl like you would ever see something worthwhile in me.” Dody asks Bill what the note said and Bill replies that it doesn’t matter now. But to her, it does. “I want to know if I might have had an entirely different life with a different man.” Bill admits that his note was a proposal which moves Dody to tears. “I would have said yes.” Like ships in the niiiiiight, you keep passing me byyyyyyyyyyy.

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In the hotel parking lot, Gini encounters Dody’s husband, who followed her on suspicion that she wasn’t exactly going to go organize a book drive. Unknowingly, Nathan causes Virginia’s world to implode when he reveals that his wife is visiting an old boyfriend (“the love of her life”) in Room 211. Listen, I may be frustrated with the writing of this show, but the reason I am still here is because of the magnificent acting. Lizzy Caplan’s FACE in this scene though. She goes through so many emotions (hurt, betrayal, panic, rage) as she listens to Nathan talk about how he thought he and Dody were happy and how he knows he could have done more. Her outburst about how he needs to kick the door in says SO MUCH about her mental state regarding Bill and the future she wants apparently slipping through her fingers. And I can’t help but wonder if that’s how she felt as she stood on that tarmac with Dan, looking behind her, waiting for Bill to kick that door down. She was WAITING for him to do that (EVEN THOUGH SHE TOLD HIM TO LET HER GO) and he never did and LOOK where it left them.

Meanwhile, Dody speaks in an incredibly similar manner regarding her marriage, telling Bill that her husband just doesn’t see her anymore. Then she asks Bill if he’s had a happy life and we go right back to the same story. “I’m not sure I know how to be happy. I’m trying. Trying to learn. One thing’s clear: I need to stop falling in love with women who don’t love me.” EYEROLL. That wasn’t true with Dody (as she reminds him) and it’s not true with Virginia. I seem to remember a time when Virginia made it VERY clear that she loved Bill…he was just too fucked up to see it or do anything about it. YOU CAN’T REWRITE HISTORY AND CLAIM SHE’S NEVER LOVED YOU. She may have been horrible to him recently, but that claim isn’t fair. Bill does know that on some level as he goes on to explain to Dody. “Well, I thought she didn’t love me.
Maybe the problem was I was thinking, ‘How could she possibly love me?'” Dody, POOR LAMB, thinks that Bill’s self-worth issues are rooted in their failed relationship (HA) and offers to try to make it up to him by offering herself to him. Bill immediately shuts that down (as kindly as possible). He came here to get closure and answers, not to start a torrid affair. Dody is understandably embarrassed and with good reason. I mean…what else would you think when the former love of your life calls you up out of the blue and wants to meet? Dody manages to leave with SOME dignity though, even if she’s humiliated. “I’m just a silly woman who’s read too many romance novels. Good luck to you, Bill. Maybe the next woman who wants to love you you’ll be brave enough to let her.” (As much as I loved that line, I’m a little like are we pretending the past season and a half never happened? This is a line that I would have CHEERED over mid-season 2.)

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The next morning, an undone Virginia confronts Bill about Dody, as if she had a right to. (Her desperation here REALLY mirrored Bill’s desperation in their coatroom confrontation last season.) While I’m annoyed that Virginia thinks she has any say in Bill’s personal life, I can also recognize the sheer irrationality that comes with being in love with someone who is not giving you what you need. (See also: Rebecca Bunch on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.) Virginia is feeling SO MUCH right now and they are feelings that she is not used to feeling. She is not used to being out of control and I LOVED the moment of clarity that came in the middle of her rant. “Is this what it’s like? Is this how it feels? I’m not I’ve never been this person before, Bill. I don’t…I can’t sleep, and I stay up all night wondering imagining what’s going on on the other side of the wall. It’s fucking awful.” She asks how often she’s made him feel this way and when he’s basically like “ALL THE TIME”, her apology is genuine. I mean, I remember the time when Bill made Virginia feel like a whore when he tried to pay her for her “work” in the study, so WHY are we forgetting that Virginia hasn’t always been the terrible one in this relationship? It doesn’t make Virginia’s apology here any less meaningful, I’m just pointing it out so people can think about it.

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Back in therapy, Ingrid and Earl report on the “exercises” they did last night and how well they went. (He came twice!) In fact, they’ve done so well that Harvey and Marcia want them to “use their momentum” to go right to the next step: sex while being observed and coached through it. Bill/Earl balks immediately. He says they aren’t ready for that and he counters Harvey and Marcia every time they DO say they are ready. Finally, Virginia/Ingrid asks to speak to Bill/Earl alone. Even THEN Bill is like NOPE. Besides, this clinic shouldn’t be rushing the process anyway. Virginia presses that they have a VERY specific protocol for this exercise and they NEED to know if it’s been stolen. The thing that bugged me SO MUCH about this scene and how the episode ended was the amount of times Bill said NO. He didn’t want to do it and Virginia didn’t let up on him until he agreed. Think about how you would have reacted if the genders had been reversed. Would we be cheering and celebrating if Bill was the one badgering Virginia into having sex with him? I think not. Consent is applicable to both genders and YES, Bill eventually consented, so it didn’t cross a line. But it tiptoed RIGHT UP THERE and danced on it. Because honestly, Virginia should have let the matter slide as soon as he said that he wasn’t comfortable. HE WAS SAYING NO and no means no. But instead, she kept pressing. “We’ve done this countless times before, Bill, and for a higher purpose than our pleasure. There’s nothing different now. Why why did we come here if not to amass enough evidence to protect our legacy? What are you afraid is going to happen? It’s just sex, Bill.” EW EW EW EW EW EW THAT IS GROSS. I’m sorry, it is and it made me REALLY uncomfortable.

And the thing is, as they prove in the exam room, it’s NOT just sex, no matter how much Virginia claimed it would be. It’s not just sex when it’s with someone you claim to love. It’s not. Sorry. When you factor in love, you factor in feelings and connections and it will NEVER be just sex.

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I’m sorry, is this supposed to be romantic? He can’t even LOOK at her at first. He’s clearly uncomfortable and he’s highly aware he’s being watched and he doesn’t want to be there. (And before you say it, I don’t believe he’s putting on the Earl character here.) YES, his body starts responding because that’s what they DO when they are being stimulated. I completely get that they were trying to parallel the first time Bill and Virginia had sex in THEIR lab here. But that time was fueled by a mutual desire for each other and not someone being coerced into doing it. And what exactly are they trying to say here when Bill gives in and they start passionately having sex? Is this Bill finally allowing himself to feel pleasure? Is this him being brave enough to let someone love him? THEY AREN’T EVEN TRULY THEMSELVES HERE. It’s so upsetting to me. Like I said in the beginning, I didn’t expect rose petals and declarations of eternal love. What I DID expect from Bill and Virginia’s reunion was a mutual longing for each other and them taking something just for themselves, removed from any outside pressure or false circumstance. Sorry…even with Gini’s breathless pre-orgasmic “I love you,” this was NOT it. And I am incredibly concerned that we are supposed to think it IS, given the previews for the next episode. Ugh.

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Case Studies

  • Betty Gilpin’s Lizzy Caplan impression = A+
  • Gini may THINK she’s being subtle about her intentions with Bill but LITERALLY EVERYONE KNOWS. “She’s too busy plotting to make Bill hers,” Art observes.
  • “It’s unbelievable the contortions some women will go through to bend a man to their will.”
    “She’s a world-class gymnast.” I mean really, Nancy, after your actions in this episode, you’re one to talk.
  • What exactly of the point of Libby’s storyline? It felt completely shoe-horned in. This week on Masters of Sex…Libby wants to go to school and be a lawyer! Next week on Masters of Sex…Libby goes to Woodstock! (I’m not joking that is ACTUALLY the preview.) This season started so promising for Libby and now it just feels like they are spinning the wheels. Figure out what you’re doing with this character or write her off the show, Caitlin Fitzgerald deserves better than this.
  • Michael Sheen’s hillbilly accent though.
  • “It’s like how everyone thinks they have good taste. That can’t be true. How would that explain lava lamps?”
  • Bless your light, Guy.

  • Austin DID marry Betty and they have filed for custody of the baby. That’s all very good but I have a lot of fear over the way this is progressing. Me: I realize that Annaleigh Ashford needed some time off so she could film Rocky Horror and that’s why she’s not in this episode. Me, an intellectual: BETTY’S WHOLE STORY BEST NOT BE PLAYING OUT OFF SCREEN YOU BITCHES.
  • Austin shows up at the clinic to peddle his latest get rich quick scheme: The Virility Vacuum aka a regular ole penis pump. Lester is understandably enraged by this because if there is one thing he believes in, it’s the science behind the work they do. A penis pump isn’t going to fix anyone’s problems. Austin leaves behind a bunch of pamphlets which Lester promptly throws away. GOOD FOR YOU BOO.
  • Guy is thinking about applying for the homosexual study, which Austin encourages. He waxes poetic about being the first volunteer for the original study, declaring that it was the best sex of his life, taking no notice of Lester fuming in the background. THEN Austin starts in about Jane, calling her a bombshell and talking about how “ready to go” she was and that’s it for Lester. He punches Austin in the jaw (“THAT’S MY WIFE.”), packing in a decade’s worth of rage and resentment for what Jane’s participation in the study has done to their relationship.
  • Later, Lester discourages Guy from applying to the study, warning that he’ll never be the same if he does. Then Lester delivers one of the most profound statements in the history of the show and I wanted to reach into my television and HUG HIM because he gets it SO MUCH.

Lester: Ever since Jane was in the study, she treats sex like it’s a performance. The curtain goes up, and she’s on stage in a starring role. Why else would she marry the man on the other side of the glass?
Guy: Because she loves you.
Lester: No. Because I’m her audience. I have front row seats, a lifetime booking to her drama: crushes, affairs, breakups.
Guy: I’m sorry. But you’ve been doing this work for years. You’re telling me you don’t believe in the work?
Lester: I do. I believe in the science. Just like I’m glad there’s a polio vaccine. But I wouldn’t want to be the rat that tried it first. Listen to me. Throw that away. You don’t know what’s real and what’s a performance when there’s someone watching. Doing it behind the glass it changes you.

What are your thoughts on “Topeka”? Were you left wanting more for Bill and Virginia’s reunion or did you appreciate the parallel to their first time? Let us know in the comments.

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