“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.

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“The Hindenburg had a happier outcome.” – Masters Of Sex Recap

how they tickhow they tick 2

Masters of Sex Season 3, Episode 7
‚ÄúMonkey Business”

Posted by Sage

About 30 seconds after this week’s episode of¬†Masters of Sex¬†came to a close, I was already furiously googling “masters johnson gorilla impotence,” hoping against hope that I’d find some real life precedent for an otherwise inexplicable storyline. Unfortunately, my search did not¬†unearth any instance where the flesh and blood Bill and Virginia treated a flesh and blood ape’s sexual dysfunction, and this blunder is entirely on the writers.

Let me lay out an important statistic of this season so far:

Times we’ve seen Bill touch Gini’s breasts: 0

Times we’ve seen Gil the gorilla touch Gini’s breasts: 1

What is wrong with this picture? I don’t want to allege that¬†Masters¬†has lost the plot at this point, because it hasn’t. But the show sure has made some bizarre choices as far as the plot vehicles it’s been using lately are concerned, and the case of the frigid ape is by far the worst. And then they¬†actually had the nerve to call the episode “Monkey Business.” Am I being trolled?

I’m getting heated. Let’s shift our attentions to storylines that make Sage less rage-y.

Betty’s partner Helen (Sarah Silverman) is back in this episode, and she’s consumed with baby fever. While Betty huffs in bed next to her, Helen interprets all her dreams as signs of her fated motherhood and cooks up wild schemes to get herself impregnated. (Unfortunately, Rufus the toaster guy is “saving himself for marriage.”) There weren’t many avenues by which same-sex couples could expand their families back in the ’60s. As Betty succinctly puts it: “No one’s gonna hand over a baby to a couple of middle-aged dykes.” You’d think that Betty would have a leg up on her fellow child-seeking lesbians (and every woman without a man in general) since she works in the country’s most famous sex clinic and for the state’s premiere expert on fertility. But you’d think wrong, because that expert on fertility has decided to be a raging asshole about it. When Betty plies him with vague questions about inseminating single women, Bill lectures his secretary about the hardships of single motherhood. HEY BILL: did you forget that your own father was a withholding monster and that your brilliant partner is raising three children almost entirely on her own? Betty counters Bill’s condescending arguments by reminding him that men can also¬†leave. Or die. Or be shit parents. But the fact of the matter is that Bill is never concerned with what goes on with his patients after his role in their cases is over. He changes the subject to side-step her rationality, before he can remember the existence of women who are¬†gay.¬†

betty helen

Anyway, the selective misogyny of Bill Masters means nothing to Betty. She sneaks into the clinic with Helen after-hours (and this is a dangerous office to sneak into if one prefers to maintain one’s virgin eyes) to peruse sperm donor files. Helen is more sentimental than her partner, and is crestfallen when faced with the cold and lifeless lists of facts. (“Helen, it’s sperm. WE add the character.”) It’s back to the idea of selecting someone they know, and Betty’s got the perfect candidate. (Sorry, Rufus.) He’s tall, handsome, brilliant, and could not give less of a shit what sexual taboos he’s breaking. In fact, he couldn’t look more flattered. Nice to see you, Austin.

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“Changing the world can be a lonely business.” – Masters Of Sex Recap

bill virginia babybill virginia baby

Masters of Sex Season 3, Episode 3
‚ÄúThe Excitement of Release‚ÄĚ
Posted by Sage

It’s back to grown-up stuff (for the most part) on¬†Masters¬†in the season’s third episode, and it’s about time.

bill virginia masters of sex

Get. It.

Human Sexual Response¬†has hit the shelves and entered the zeitgeist. Not everyone is pleased, but Bill couldn’t care less about the opinions of the nation’s repressed prudes and invasive “decency” cops. So long as he’s getting the response he seeks from the minds and publications that matter to¬†him, he’s in hog heaven. Bill’s pursuit of validation is very specific; no one can convince him to appreciate well-intended praise from meaningless sources (“My nephew wrote a book!”) or to stop scrapping for endorsements that aren’t coming. Success looks a certain way to Bill, and he can’t find it in himself to alter that picture.

When the episode opens, we find that the medical community is falling over itself to praise the work, and that good reviews are a potent aphrodisiac. Kim pointed out in her last recap that the¬†sex¬†has been missing from Masters¬†season three so far, but this celebratory rendezvous promised to end the drought both for Bill and Virginia (“You haven’t tried to touch me in almost a year.” “8 months.”) and for the audience. “We killed Freud,” Gini purrs, and Bill is ready to ravish her. But even though most traces of George can be slid off Gini’s finger and placed on a nightstand (“That was easy.”), Lisa can’t be so easily forgotten. She cries for her mother, and Bill is left alone to again consider his place in Virginia’s life.

missed masters of sexmissed masters of sex

We know that he doesn’t like what he sees, and – as he often does when he’s feeling weak and impotent – takes it out on someone else. Meanwhile, it seems like it might be too little and too late for Gini to get a foothold with Tessa. The teen is acting out in school; there’s an emergency parent/nun walk-and-talk conference that Virginia has to attend. When Bill gives her grief for “letting” her family responsibilities affect her work, she knows exactly how to handle it. She placates him with a beatific smile, pats his head with a false apology, and goes about her business. She’s made her peace with Bill’s moods. But with Tessa, she’s bouncing and banking erratically around their arguments. She’s too involved in her daughter’s life or not involved enough. And Tessa plays her, claiming that it’s the very fact of having Virginia Johnson the renowned sex researcher for a mother that’s ruining her existence. Meanwhile, she’s giving dramatic readings to some Letterman’s Jacket on the bleachers and banging on about female orgasms.

We can assume that Virginia still hasn’t had a productive sex talk with her daughter. Tessa may be The Worst‚ĄĘ, but she’s also confused. Without any wider context to the written words of Masters and Johnson, she’s interpreted the book’s thesis into a directive to get out there and be a sexual being herself. But in addition to being¬†The Worst‚ĄĘ, she’s also Not Ready‚ĄĘ; she and Letterman’s Jacket have a disturbing encounter in his car, which leaves her visibly numbed.

I’m a little baffled as to what we’re supposed to take away from this sexual assault storyline. Isabelle Fuhrman acted the crap out of it, particularly that wretched hallway scene. (“I’d love to.”) Human Sexual Response is¬†not¬†for kids (as Bill would say), and teen-oriented subplots still feel so distant from the main action. And while the incident was very truthful and moving, it did put the blame for the violation of Tessa on the book, and on Virginia. (“It’s in your mom’s book. Jesus, don’t be a prick tease.”) Is that really what you meant to do, show?

Back at the office, Bill is projecting his wild fantasies about full college courses being developed around the book. This, he decrees, is the next step. Betty, who is now our swinging ’60s Donnatella Moss, has a different (and better) idea: many powerful men with powerful dollars have been calling to inquire about¬†sponsoring¬†continued research. Now is the time to take them up on it. Masters and Johnson will never be hotter than they are now. (Hear that, baby Lisa? Put yourself back to sleep next time.) The women ignore Bill’s protests and meet with the high rollers themselves. Bill is busying chasing another waterfall; a textbook order from Washington University would (in his mind) negate the shame that his firing engendered. (“Your book is a success Bill. You don’t need to tilt at windmills anymore.”) In fact, the whole nationwide college push might be the Trojan horse he needs to get the Wash U endorsement he really wants. There are plenty of bites on other lines, but “not a peep” from the former home of the study. Oh, Bill. Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.

masters of sex curiousitymasters of sex curiosity

While Bill sweats and strains for the right kind of recognition, Betty and Virginia are hobnobbing with the rich and generally being fabulous. The candidates angling to be the patrons of the sexual revolution are the peddler of a popular hand massager (“It also helps, or so I’m told, to release certain pelvis pressures.”); Hef himself; and a perfume magnate played with class and barely restrained lechery by Josh Charles. (“There are two questions that have puzzled me my entire career: What is the smell of sex? And how do we get it in the bottle?”) In my opinion, Dan Logan should automatically win the bid.¬†Josh is the most familiar of the three with¬†Human Sexual Response, having been one of the main causes of mine since Knox Overstreet and¬†Dead Poets Society¬†in 1989.



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“The dark side of the moon.” – Masters of Sex Recap

mos the lake

Masters of Sex Season 3, Episode 1
‚ÄúParliament of Owls‚ÄĚ
Posted by Sage

It’s 1965 and the “sexual revolution” has never felt more claustrophobic and awkward. Welcome to¬†Masters of Sex¬†season 3, and our very first episode recap.

Time jumps are trending right now, and¬†Masters¬†went a little time jump-happy in “Parliament of Owls.” Not only does the show leap over several years between the season two finale and this premiere; the premiere itself hops back and forth between two pivotal events spaced three months apart: a “family weekend” at the lake, and Bill and Virginia presenting¬†Human Sexual Response¬†to a panting press.

I’m still processing my feelings about this episode, frankly. I find¬†Masters¬†to be dazzling in its finest moments. Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan, and Caitlin Fitzgerald especially are giving weekly master classes in acting (and I’m not very patiently awaiting the return of Emmy nominees Beau Bridges and Allison “Human Sunshine” Janney); the show’s female characters are complex without being forced into inscrutability; the period styling is a wardrobe buff’s dream; and the subject matter is ripe for dramatic interpretation. But, along with every other¬†Masters¬†fan, I need to accept that the series is entering into a new era. It’s 1965. Masters and Johnson’s study has been going on for 12 years. While the book is newly published, the researchers’ names have been out there for a while. Betty has a sensible haircut. And the tense triangle of Bill, Gini, and Libby has settled into a calm-on-the-surface blended family arrangement. The premiere’s first scene, with Bill and Gini at the Boston Ritz, attempting to work through their nerves¬†before their career-making press conference was a valiant effort to convince me that¬†Masters¬†hasn’t morphed into a family drama. (“You should stop talking so I can fuck you properly before we try to sleep.”) I’m skeptical.

We knew from casting announcements that Bill and Virginia’s children would be aged up this season, and so they were. When we last left Henry and Tessa, Virginia had too. Bill manipulated her into relinquishing them to George’s care, which broke her, for a time. There are no room for children in Bill’s life; even the ones already there he endeavors to ignore. (Also, since when the hell is there a Howie Masters?) So he kept Virginia for himself (“Is there not one square inch of my life that you haven’t insinuated yourself into?”), and probably hoped that Libby would leave him entirely. But Libby is resolute in her commitment to hold onto her family and – through Virginia – keeps Bill tethered and floating along next to them. Most of the time, he can lose himself in his work. But he dreads the Masters/Johnsons lake house vacations because they force him to face the mess he created. He’s practically jumping out of his skin from the moment he and Virginia step out of their (slick as fuck) car and head in to a house lousy with hormones and complicated histories.

masters of sex suitcase

Here’s the problem with populating a world with teenage characters: they take up all the space. In an effort to show a disconnect between the researchers’ domination of the broadening public conversation about human sexuality and their inability to transfer their professional expertise to their own families, Tessa and Henry are post-pubescent messes. (“My work is not for children, you know that.”) Henry is a adrift, sleeping with a much older woman and trying to enlist. And Tessa is your standard underage vixen caricature. Both of them are the way the are, we’re meant to accept, because they feel abandoned by their mother. This feels like a punishment for Gini for choosing to pursue her career, even though she’s still degree-less after more than a decade. Huge props to Lizzy Caplan for playing Virginia’s frustration with this state of limbo with such realism. She chastises Bill for holding her back in front of Libby, but still allows him to get away with it. What are you waiting for, Gini?

I did appreciate the scene where Virginia went to visit George to, essentially, use him as her punching bag. Her ex-husband has his failings, but her pride will only allow her to blame her kids’ unhappiness on him instead of, you know, thanking him for raising her children. Twice divorced, George has evened out, and honestly, his plan for dealing with Henry’s restlessness sounds the most viable. And instead of fighting back against Gini, he accepts her fearful lashing out for what it is. Team George, basically. (“I¬†am worried. And I’m sorry…for, you know, the hash I’ve made of it as a parent a lot of the time, but not always. And in this one, I am with you, Virginia. Lockstep.”)

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