Masters of Sex Season 3, Episode 5
“Matters of Gravity”
Posted by Sage
There are forces that cannot be fought. There’s science in them, maybe, but not logic. And while some people are confused by the difference between them, Bill Masters knows that science and logic are not the same.
In “Matters of Gravity,” so many characters are pushing reasoning against what Bill and Virginia might call an emotional response. The other force wins every time. Let’s start with Margaret Scully, the forever luminous Allison Janney. We discovered last week that Maggie is in a poly-amorous situation with her lover Graham. Graham has another lover who is younger; her name is Jo. The three share the same roof, and Jo would like them to share the same sex therapists as well. This is a lot of sharing, and too much perhaps for even Maggie 2.0.
Maggie’s awakening in Season 2 was a beautiful, Pleasantville-style colorization of her life. She not only realized that she is deserving of being loved and desired, but she also came to understand that Barton’s inability to desire her was never her fault. She spent much of her life in a loving but near-platonic relationship, and then course-corrected by embarking on a new one built almost entirely on physical connection. What a difference we see in the way Margaret holds herself in the offices of Masters and Johnson now versus how broken and humiliated she looked in her early series consultations with Gini. She’s as nonplussed as the researchers as they offer exercises to aid Graham in his endurance issues. (“Just the tip.”) I would cheer for her if she didn’t still seem so unfulfilled.
Graham also seems like a real dick, no? (Or is this transference of my dark feelings about Jimmy Cooper?) He keeps reminding (read: gaslighting) Maggie that “we” agreed to invite Jo into their lives and that “we” should still be fine with it. The thing is, Jo was really only invited into his bed. And she seems just as unsatisfied as Maggie. She whines that the other woman’s efforts to manage Graham’s sexual dysfunction will put Maggie on a higher pedestal. (“If you can cure him, he’s going to love you more.”) And I’m no polyamory expert or anything, but I’m pretty sure that keeping score is death knell for that kind of relationship.
“I’m living in the truth,” Maggie tells Barton when he drops in on her at home and meets Jo. “At least I’m trying to.” But her life is still defined by the men she loves. Graham pontificates about the fallacy of “the logic of love as scarcity,” which translates roughly into “I prefer four breasts to two, thank you.” He insists that he’s done Maggie a favor by including Jo in their lives, because he “knew [he] would act on those feelings.” (Fuck you very much, Graham.) An alternative lifestyle can and does work for people who are honest with each other. But again, Maggie’s happiness is tied to a man who is living a lie. So she gets the hell out of there.
Maggie’s break-up with Graham absolutely does not mean that she is not as open-minded as she thought that she was. It means that she knows what she needs from a partner and that it’s okay to need a lot. Barton is so, so proud of her for it. “You know. That there’s something more. Something better. And you know that you deserve it.” He wants her to have everything she wants. He’s her best friend, after all. And they still get strength from each other. Who knows when and if Barton would have come clean if Maggie’s happiness didn’t count on it. But to give her back her home, he calls their daughter Vivian and tells her the real reason why their marriage ended. It’s a moment of pure selflessness. There are few of those on this show, so let’s appreciate this one.
“Selfless” is not a word that can be applied to Virginia’s mother Edna, who comes to visit with her husband at young Tessa’s bidding. (To echo Kim’s tweet: “Send Tessa To Boarding School 2K15.”) Their surprise entrance interrupts THE FIRST POST-SEX PILLOW TALK WE’VE HAD ALL SEASON WHY. Bill hides away in the bathroom reading up on Toxic Shock Syndrome while a freshly nailed Virginia tries to act like she isn’t. One wonders exactly what Tessa is aiming for here. She knows about the affair (thanks, Old Spice!), and enjoys torturing her mother with this knowledge. But I’m unsure what her endgame could possibly be. Her motivations are all over the place, and I wish desperately that someone somewhere knew how to write a realistic teenage girl. Edna, meanwhile, is a page straight out of Overbearing Mothers Monthly. She’s as bad as Virginia warned us that she is, wishing out loud that Virginia had a “real husband” to handle the possums (Bill) in the attic (master bathroom); harassing her daughter about her baby weight; and proudly claiming that little Lisa looks just like her. In Edna’s meager defense: Virginia is already a trailblazer in her own time; imagine what a women a generation older would think about a daughter with a personal life and a resume like hers. Also, Frances Fisher always has to play the mean mum. She’s so good at it.
The truth that Virginia won’t admit is that she doesn’t even want her mother’s approval. Their strained relationship is a part of her identity, so much so that she’s revised their history to suit her own narrative. She gripes to her father about Edna’s interest in thrusting her daughter into baby beauty pageants until he debunks her story. Gini entered herself and begged her mother to take her. “She didn’t want you to be disappointed,” he says, and she still doesn’t. But Gini and her mother’s versions of a proper adult, female life don’t look the same. Edna is not at all impressed that her daughter supports herself and is on her way to becoming a world-renowned researcher. Husband and security are the goal, and all’s fair in terms of getting those things. Even ruthlessly screwing over Bill’s “lovely wife.” COLD, Enda. Adopt me, please. I have no morals. I will make you proud.
It has been a rough season for my beautiful cinnamon roll Virginia so far, hasn’t it? But Bill is on top of the world. Chancellor Fitzhugh, last seen calling Barton the other “f” word, comes crawling back to Bill to trade a Washington University honor with a pregnancy deferment for his drafted son. Bill has no problem cashing in his dignity for a chance to rub his accomplishments in the faces of his former colleagues. And besides, he is the leading authority on fertility in the state and surely doesn’t mind saving one young man from the war. Gini has…reservations (“They put dildos on my desk!”), especially when Bill invites her parents to the dinner without consulting her. But the dubious circumstances of the honor wash away when Bill steps on stage to speak on behalf of the study.
Some critics of the book accuse Bill’s research of being too clinical and of him and Virginia being too detached. But Bill Masters could not be more ruled by his emotions. Libby informs him Johnny is being bullied at school, and Bill does what any loving, lunatic father would do: he physically threatens the child with all the fury he’d direct at his own father and anyone else who’s ever made him feel small. (“If a doctor threatens you, nobody can protect you.”) Every personal accolade that Bill racks up – every new printing of the book, every degree and every positive review – are efforts to fortify himself against emasculation. It’s not working. A 13-year-old rattles him as much as middle-aged, power-wielding academic. (“You’re awfully quiet…for a man who very publicly vanquished your enemies.”) Virginia is the only person in his life who has successfully forced him to face these challenges, and she’s still got a great deal of work to do.
Still, people who only know Bill’s work and personal reputation want to catch him out as a stony and disconnected man of science. A man stands up after Bill’s speech and gives a long-winded critique of Masters and Johnsons’ attempt to fully explain and define our sexual selves, leading up to the kicker: “My question, Dr. Masters is: where is the love?”
To paraphrase you, Dr. Farber: where is the gravity? It’s not something you can see, or touch. It’s not something you can put under microscopes or examine under a telescope. Well, 230 years after Newton, a German patent clerk in Switzerland finally realized that scientists had been asking the wrong question all along. They would never find an object in all the immensity of space called ‘gravity’ because, in point of fact, gravity is nothing but the shape of space itself. That clerk, Einstein, posited that the apple does not fall to the ground because the earth exerts some mysterious kind of force upon it. The apple falls to the ground because it is following the lines and grooves that gravity has carved into space. And when we talk about sex, we do not talk about love, Dr. Farber, because love cannot be rendered into columns and graphs, as if it were the same as blood pressure or heart rate.
This is why Gini is proud to work with him. It’s the brilliance, yes, and the fact that he recognizes hers. But it’s the insight and depth of feeling that only she really knows about. It’s the difference between logic and science. Dan wants to define attraction and love so that he can pour it into a glass bottle and sell it at department stores. Bill already knows that they’ll never crack this code. And why, in fact, would he want to? Why would anyone want to dismantle that mystery? Look at that gif on the left. Virginia’s beaming face is all Edna needs to fill in any blanks left by the aftershave and the bow tie. That’s when she “insinuates” herself further into Gini’s life (I love how Virginia used that word twice this season – the other time in reference to Bill) and instructs her to lock it down.
Edna’s meddling drives Virginia straight into the arms (or at least the personal space) of perfume hottie Dan Logan. I don’t think that Gini fears her affair being exposed for personal reasons. She knows that Libby knows, and that’s surely the worst of that. She’s terrified of her contributions to the study being written off, of her work being associated with something tawdry. Their relationship and their work are inextricably linked, of course. But everything they’ve accomplished really is 50% Virginia. It’s her life’s work. Any scandal would cast her in the role as Bill’s whore, who made it with him to get her name on a book jacket. And there’d be no hope of explaining it. Because the only task more difficult than plotting love in charts and graphs is to make someone else understand what exists between two people. Even Virginia Johnson isn’t up for that task.
Odds And Ends:
- Jo thinks she’s smart ’cause she read In Cold Blood. You and everybody else, TRAVEL AGENT. #TeamMaggie
“Helen’s got sciatica. And she’s too vain to give up high heels.” This scene.
- Speaking of Sarah Silverman, Helen is back next week! Betty’s been killing it on the comic relief tip, but I’m ready for an update on her personal life.
- YAY FOR BARTON WORKING AT THE CLINIC.
- “You’ve always wanted to see Canada.”
- Fashion moments: Maggie’s printed dress and matching turquoise earrings; Betty’s red sheath with button detail.
A beautiful episode, overall. Kim will be back next week for the return of Helen and (fingers crossed) Dan and Gini’s first date. How much of a fit will Bill pitch when he hears out this? We’ll find out.