Masters of Sex Season 4, Episode 4
“Coats or Keys”
Posted by Kim
With Masters of Sex moving into the late 60s/early 70s, we all knew this one was coming. The Swingers Party. One only need to look at the contents of the fan fiction on my iPad (threesomes in the first 20 pages, y’all. That’s some good shit.) to know that I’m not prudish but I have to say that the concept of a party where everyone goes to switch up their sexual partners REALLY pushes the boundaries of my squeamishness. Maybe it’s because, like our buddy Art, I am a romantic and believe in monogamy. Maybe it’s because I have a terrible ex-boyfriend who had multiple girlfriends in addition to me, making me an unwitting and unwilling participant in a polyamorous relationship. Maybe it’s just because I’m a jealous person who doesn’t like to share. (KIMMIE DOESN’T SHARE SEX PARTNERS.) Whatever it is, I know that I wouldn’t be caught dead at a swingers party because the very concept goes against everything in my nature. I’m not making a judgement at people who participate in polyamory, if it works for them. Everyone has their own sexual boundaries and should be free to explore them, as long as you are open with your partner. To borrow a lesson from my life coach Amy Poehler: great for you, not for me.
All of that said, “Coats or Keys” was the most purely enjoyable episode of Masters of Sex in a long time. In our live tweet of the episode, Sage compared it to the fantastic Dawson’s Creek episode “Sex, She Wrote,” in which the gang has to deduce just who had sex the previous night based on a mysterious letter. “Coats or Keys” opens in a similar manner, showing us the aftermath of the party, leaving us in the dark as to how all of our characters got there. We see Lester passed out in his car, with the windows fogged up and a phone number scrawled in the condensation. We see Virginia calling for a cab and a mysterious hand sporting a wedding band dangling her keys. She later wanders through the wrecked living room and picks up an abandoned black and white coat. We see Bill in his boxers with his shirt half unbuttoned issuing an ultimatum to an unseen person. WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED LAST NIGHT?
Flashback to 24 hours before where we see Art and Nancy making final preparations for the party that night. Nancy is making a final number count and stressing about whether or not Bill is coming that night (he’s not) and whether or not Virginia knows she’s supposed to bring a date (she does). WHICH BEGS THE QUESTION: why the hell did they invite Virginia, THEIR BOSS, to a swingers party? And why the paranoia about Bill being there? That’s some shady shit, my friends. I don’t trust these two at all, even if the episode really endeared me to Art by the end.
At the office, we see HOW everyone ends up at the party. Bill has the kids that night. Gini and Libby have a movie date, only planning on making a drive-by appearance at the party. Gini invites Lester, who in turn (I assume) invites Betty. They all think it’s just going to be a normal party (because why wouldn’t you?) and it’s adorable. Libby storms into the office (wearing a familiar black and white plaid coat) to yell at Bill about the divorce guilt-gift dog that he got the kids that SHE now has to take care of. Just a typical day at the Masters and Johnson clinic, really.
At the party, no one seems to take notice of Nancy’s sudden panic that Gini’s plus one is Libby, therefore throwing off her precise numbers (nor do they notice her relief when she learns that one man came alone because he and his wife broke up). Libby goes on the prowl for single guys, chatting up said divorced guy and indulging in many cocktails and some casual pot. She’s then cockblocked by Graham, who I once had such high hopes for, but is proving to just be a sleazy douchebag. He’s incredibly smug when he realized that Libby has no idea what kind of party she’s attending and makes lewd comments about his own date’s Beaver (coat). GROSS. Lester bemoans the fact that Jane is cheating on him to every single woman he comes in contact with. And Gini’s carefully constructed lie about her marriage to Dan comes perilously close to collapsing when she encounters a couple that KNOWS him and is supposed to be having drinks with him and his wife the next week. WHOOPS. I love that, unlike in episode 2, when Betty confronts Gini about this, she doesn’t show any rage or judgement. She’s simply like “Gurl, you can’t keep this up, you have to tell people.” She warns Gini (who went straight for the whiskey after telling Betty the full truth) that it will be better that Bill finds out about it directly from her as opposed to hearing it through the grapevine. (Of course, she has no idea that Bill actually KNOWS.) Gini tells her that she’s working up to it and Betty replies that there is no time like the present, as Bill has just arrived at the party.
Do you guys think Libby intentionally shuffled the kids off on the night Bill was supposed to have them so Bill could get to the house and see the havoc the dog has wreaked? Because I sure as hell do and passive-aggressively WELL PLAYED, Libby. I live for this shit. “It must have slipped my mind, Bill,” she says, not so innocently. “I’m sorry, Bill. Did I selfishly inconvenience you? Did I thoughtlessly capitulate to the children without any concern for how it affected you?” Between Graham and Bill, Libby’s buzz is sufficiently killed, so she storms out of the party, leaving her coat behind (AHA!). Bill follows and they continue to argue as Libby drunkenly searches for her car. Bill insists that he drive her home while Libby argues that Bill doesn’t even have a license to do so. “I think the options are I risk going to jail or you risk ending up in a ditch.” “How long do you think they’d put you away for?” Me, I’m just like “GO HOME AND HAVE ANGRY AND HOT EX-SEX PLEASE.”
Back inside, the party is FINALLY getting started, as Nancy and Art bring out the pile of all the ladies’ coats for the men to choose from. Gini, Betty, and Lester’s reactions are PRICELESS. (“It’s a fucking key party with coats.” “Holy shit.” “What does that mean?” “It means, Lester, dear, your night is about to get much better.”) Art, being the host, opts to choose first. He pulls a white coat from the pile with a flourish…and it’s Virginia’s. Aw, shit. She tries to hang back, basically praying that someone else steps forward, but after a long moment comes forward and claims her coat, giving the eye roll of the century. “Enjoy him,” Nancy purrs. EW. Lester takes his turn but the woman whose coat he pulls begs off for a pass. POOR LESTER YOU GUYS. Meanwhile, Betty has somehow managed to get her coat out of the pile and she thrusts it into the hands of the obviously gay piano player. “I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but I’m not trying to get into your pants. Look, if it were up to me, I’d be out the door, but my ride has apparently up and disappeared right at the moment that everyone has lost their mind and decided to start playing sexual roulette.” Straight people, amirite?
Naturally, Virginia is furious and plans on leaving as soon as she finds her keys. (Would she have been had someone other than Art taken her coat? Discuss.) Art tries to throw the whole bar run-in in her face but she snaps that it is her PRIVATE life. She also brings up the fact that she is among co-workers, himself included, and it’s not appropriate. “You know, I think the damage is done whether we mess around or not. If you leave in two minutes or two hours, it’s not gonna change what people think.” And this, my friends, is why you never party with casual work acquaintances without doing though research first.
Gini’s ranting is interrupted by Nancy’s orgasmic moaning in the next room (seriously, she got there RIGHT AWAY with the sex moans, damn, slow your roll.) and Art flinches ever so slightly and something clicks in Virginia. She sees that Art is clearly trying to be okay with what’s going on in the next room, so she apologizes that he has to hear it. “That’s not my wife,” he says. “She’s someone else with him. She’s pretending.” Sounds like someone is trying to rationalize away the pain, yes? “It’s just gears and pistons. She doesn’t care about him. It’s a game.” OH, ART. It sounds like he’s given himself this kind of pep talk before and it’s heartbreaking. Gini gently asks if he pretends too and he replies that he’s pretending to enjoy it. UGH. “Is it impossible to believe that she’s into it and I’m not?” Gini wonders why he DOES it then and honestly, same. That’s why I can’t wrap my head around swinging. It’s one thing to explore kinks with your partner (and it should be done) but it’s an entirely different thing when the kinks involve other people because people and feelings can’t be boxed, no matter how much you tell yourself that it’s “just sex”.
Art tells Gini that he knew this about Nancy going in. He knew that she didn’t believe in monogamy and he knew that she wanted him to sleep with other women so she would feel less guilty about wanting other men. Sure, if he knew that from the start and thought he could handle it, that’s fine. But surely at some point he has the right to say that this isn’t working for him, right? Clearly the arrangement is hurting him and no matter how much he loves Nancy, he should take care of himself, even if that means ending the relationship. RIGHT? (I also have to take a moment to praise Jeremy Strong’s performance this entire episode. There is SO MUCH going on beneath the surface here and he expertly shows the cracks beneath Art’s confident facade. He’s so vulnerable with Gini, it physically pains me.)
Art ponders that perhaps separating sex and love is too modern of a concept, which causes Gini to scoff. That’s how Gini LIVES, after all, or at least it’s how she claims to live. (Personally, I think it’s all a defense mechanism and a way for her to feel like she’s in control of her life.) “I’m taking care of myself, partaking in pleasure when I choose to, without romantic encumbrances.” She claims that there are infinite ways to engage in sex without love and Art asks her to tell him and he’s being entirely serious. (THIS POOR GUY.) Gini’s answer is SO her too. It’s such an accurate picture of how she sees herself. “You want to test your wattage, see if you can turn a guy’s head enough so all other women recede into the background. And in bed, you want to be the best he’s ever had so no other woman can compare. Can you leave a mark that’s indelible? That’s the challenge. You dazzle them, and then you leave them ruined. Or you just want to get laid because it feels good or there’s nothing on TV.” Nancy continues to wail in the background and every moan is like a punch in Art’s gut and you see his resolve rapidly crumbling. “Just talk to me about…fuck…anything,” he begs Virginia. “Art, you’re a romantic,” she replies. “That’s…I’m so sorry.”
Meanwhile, Bill and Libby arrive home, where Bill left the mess that guilt-gift puppy Baxter made untouched. Naturally, this sets Libby off because she sees it as just another mess that Bill has left her to clean up. “You don’t get to blame me for everything. You know, not everything I do deserves to be seen as a slap in the face to you. I’m not making decisions to deliberately hurt you,” Bill fires back at her accusations. While Libby DOES have a point in regards to the dog, I love that Bill stands up for himself here. They are both doing their best here and they are getting nowhere by being angry at each other. Bill doesn’t want to live in this constant state of anger and despite her decapitation fantasies, I think Libby doesn’t want to keep this up either. So Bill offers her three wishes that he will abide by in order to make things better. The first two are easy. One, she doesn’t want to always be the bad guy with the kids AKA don’t give any more guilt gifts. Two, she doesn’t want to be treated like a piece of business. I think it’s so telling of Libby’s character that she’s perfectly willing to postpone the divorce to help Bill’s legal troubles. She just wants to be treated like a person and she wants Bill to come directly to her instead of speaking through Graham. And the third thing? “I want you to go down on me.” I LITERALLY SCREAMED. “I want to know what it feels like and I want you to do something for the sole purpose of giving me pleasure.” YAS GIRL OH MY GOD.
God Bless everything good in the world because Bill actually DOES it. And her response when he’s done? “Thanks.” I LIVE. She basically pat him on the head and told him he did a good job and then left him with blue balls. (“Is that uncomfortable?” “Just, you know, a tad.” “Good.” MY QUEEN.) Aside from the blue balls, Bill gets a little pissy at her reaction because he just gave her an orgasm and she’s still mad at him. Why? “Why? Because that was great. That was great, okay? We could’ve been doing that for the past 20 years, and we never did it once.” Bill babbles that it seemed like Libby never wanted to try things which is infuriating because it’s clear he never wanted to SHOW her things. She was a virgin when they got married, she didn’t KNOW any better. But the point is that he DID and he kept sex polite and sterile between them. (Madonna/Whore complex much?) She didn’t know what she was missing, so she didn’t know what she was missing out on until she found it with someone other than her husband. “I am actually a carnal woman, Bill. I want a man to tear my clothes off, and I want to have sex in the shower, and if I am gonna go to a five-hour charity dinner, at some point, I want to be felt up under the goddamn table.” How endearing and infuriating was it when Bill replied that he WOULD have felt her up under the table? Bill and Libby are just a sad case of a woman not knowing she had the right to demand passion and a man too emotionally stunted to give it to her. They are both at fault for what went wrong with them and it’s so refreshing to see them realize that. “We did our best,” Bill says, kissing her hand. “We made three children. And I loved you, Libby. Maybe not in the right way, maybe not enough. But know that I loved you.” Then finally finally FINALLY these two have some hot and passionate sex. Better late than never?
Back at the House of the Sexual Revolution, Nancy’s moans have stopped but Art and Gini continue to dissect their respective situations over whiskey. “Doesn’t a part of you think that if she truly loved you that you’d be enough for her?” It’s important to note that Gini’s question lacks any trace of malice. She just genuinely wants to know and all the barriers between them are down, so why not ask the important questions. Art tells her that he knows what he signed up for. Gini points out that deals can and should be renegotiated when they are not equally beneficial. “You tell me, Virginia, when is it ever absolutely equal between partners anyway? Huh? Where you both feel exactly the same thing for each other at the same time, in the same amount?” WELP. Gini confesses that she’s ALWAYS been the one who has been loved more and for the first time in her life I think she realizes how sad that is. In the name of dazzling all the men in her life, she’s kept them from seeing her flaws. She’s enjoyed being on the pedestal and is just now realizing what a lonely place that is. So Gini turns to Art and while she’s asking about Nancy, she’s also asking about herself. ” You think you know her, but you don’t. Not really. If you really did know her, her true self, then maybe she wouldn’t be so dazzling?”
Virginia and Art sprawl on the bed, over the covers, and Gini tries to joke that Art has gotten her into bed at last and this whole reluctant swinger thing is an act. Then Art drops the truth that we knew all along: he picked Virginia’s coat on purpose, knowing that there was no risk of them having sex. “You’re my boss, and bosses shouldn’t sleep with their employees. Not ever. Isn’t that right?” Okay that raises a SLIGHT red flag because it feels like he’s fishing for info? I want to believe that his motives are pure, after how they’ve laid their souls bare but I DON’T KNOW. Virginia clearly thinks it’s a safe space because she admits that it DOES happen. She doesn’t name names obviously, but who else would she be talking about if not Bill? Art asks her to indulge him a little roleplay so she can tell him how it happens. And that’s how we get an entire recap of Bill and Virginia’s relationship through HER eyes and it’s fucking beautiful.
- We got a follow-up with last week’s Dom/Sub gone wrong couple. In individual sessions with Virginia and Bill, Franny and Gary delve into the reasons why things went down the way they did. It turns out Franny had a very domineering mother who emasculated her father on a regular basis. (There’s a whole conversation about people ordering for their partners in restaurants and it’s all gross. Honestly, who finds that appealing? I can order my own damn Lo Mein, thank you very much.) In her desperation to NOT be like her mother, she wanted Gary to “act like a real man” by just taking what he wanted from her so SHE could be the weak one. Conversely, Gary wants a respectful “Honey I’m home” kind of marriage where the husband always asks for sex first because his father was abusive and he doesn’t want to become that kind of man. Yeesh. “They couldn’t be more wrong for each other,” Bill ponders in a post-mortem with Virginia. “Each one wanting something the other is constitutionally incapable of giving them.”
- ” Well, I’m not sure that a woman who’s truly demure would insist on being dominated.” Excuse you, Virginia.
- Virginia blatantly seeking praise in her post-session discussion with Bill made me a little sad. Even in their strained relationship, she is still seeking affirmation from him.
- I really hope we explore more of how Betty is dealing with Helen being closeted to her family.
- I love that Betty and Lester are so work married they finish each other’s sob stories.
- “You’d think prim and proper, wouldn’t you, Ike, just based on outward appearances? But I am telling you, this one, inside, is a roiling cauldron of rage.” I may hate Graham, but I love this.
- Twins Kyle and Lyle WERE GROSS. (Also how did they factor into Nancy’s numbers, considering they are a twofer?)
- “May I be frank, Bill? I fantasize about you getting decapitated.”
- “But first, put the dog in the bathtub.”
- Fashion moment of the episode: Libby’s floral bra and slip ensemble.
- Lester ended up getting some after all and it’s glorious. He sits on the curb outside the party, dejected and smoking when he’s joined by the cocktail waitress from the party. He tries to play everything off as the appetizers not sitting well with him, but she knows better. “You need to stop wallowing in it and just go punch the guy. Be better than those people and their protest against boredom.” She can stay.
- THIS LINE THOUGH. And look at Lester’s sweet face.
- But seriously, I love how she basically tells Lester that this is middle-aged bored upper middle class white people nonsense and he should pay no mind to it. These people aren’t radicals. They aren’t doing anything important or standing up for what’s right. They are simply fucking each other’s partners because they’re bored with their lives and who wants a part of that? AND THEN THEY DO IT IN THE BACK OF HIS CAR and I guarantee it was hotter than any of those assholes at the party. My favorite thing was when she asked him to say something sexy and he said “Civil disobedience” and she came. BLESS.
- I love how Betty spent the rest of the party singing with Guy the Pianist. More opportunities for Tony Winner Annaleigh Ashford to sing please.
- We also learn that Betty sleeps at the office whenever Helen’s family is in town and that she bills those hours as overtime. Guy crashes at the clinic with her and then Betty observes him answering the phone in the morning. OH MY GOD CAN SHE HIRE HIM. That woman needs an assistant like she needs air.
What did YOU think of “Coats or Keys”? Let us know in the comments!