Masters of Sex Season 3, Episode 7
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.
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.
Over and over this season, we’re seeing how there is no blueprint for the average “Masters & Johnson” patient. The researchers have developed treatments that are designed for specific problems, specific circumstances; and specific types of couples. But as their profile rises, nontraditional patients can’t help but wonder what can be done for them. Jane, who already seems much more fulfilled than the day we saw her recruited into being the office correspondence girl, tries to Trojan horse in her single friend Keith. Keith is a pal from her theater group (you better believe that will come into play) and he’s been impotent for two years. Bill is all about shooting everyone down this week, so he sends Keith packing. The man isn’t at the clinic with the partner; their methods are designed for couples to practice together. HOWEVER. Bill runs into Keith again in the parking garage, unable to start his car. (“Hard to miss the metaphor isn’t it?” YES, MASTERS, IT IS.) And while Bill can’t muster up any empathy for an uncoupled woman who wants to have a kid, he’s nothing but warm compassion for a guy who just can’t get it up.
Okay, Keith seems lovely. And he has a psychological problem that deserves attention and sympathy. The circumstances of patients like him led to the development of a treatment that Masters and Johnson really did pioneer. Keith needs a Helen Hunt to his John Hawkes. But who will be his sex surrogate?
Is this Jane’s new career? She’s too bright and educated about the study to be shut up in a room answering hate mail. Despite Bill’s insistence that they “can’t do that to Lester,” Jane convinces her colleagues and her husband that she’s the only woman for the job – partially, in song. (Bill, I appreciate your protectiveness of Lester – it’s actually very sweet. But let the woman and her husband decide what’s best for them, mmkay?) The scene where Jane and Keith begin to work together must have been a tricky one to pull off. And kudos to Helene York and Joe Tapper for their pitch-perfect performances. They had to play intense connection without a hint of romance, and oh, by the way, they were completely naked with each other at the time. Masters has conquered the dynamic art of the love scene – especially the ones that happen under “professional” circumstances. There is subtext when there needs to be, and none where it would muddy the story and counter known character motivations.
Have I put this off for long enough? I’ve put this off for long enough.
God, this plot was frustrating. First of all: GUY IN A MONKEY SUIT. The Flash managed to make Grodd a scary and NOT RIDICULOUS threat on a CW budget, while Gil looked like an off-season Halloween store rental. I’ve said before that I like how direct Masters can be in its symbolism. Sometimes it feels fresh and the opposite of the try-hard pretension of a, say, True Detective. But that admiration doesn’t extend to “Monkey Business,” where man=ape. WE GET IT.
At first, it’s Gini who is enthusiastically in favor of taking on a non-human patient. “I understand men,” she tells Bill. “There was something in the way that Gil was speaking to me…” And it’s a little bit true. Gini is the Man Whisperer. But Gil isn’t a man. Bill is constantly trying to shape his own narrative; he loves fiddling with his personal history and ignoring truths that don’t suit his self-image. As he and Gini get more and more involved in the case, he starts to cast himself as the “suffering creature.” However deep his feelings were for Virginia before, they obviously compounded when she “cured” him of his impotency. She’s forever on a pedestal because of that. But unlike Gil, he is able to give her something back in the exchange. Bill will always assume that he feels more for Gini than she does for him, and especially now that she’s pulling away. (“No one gives of themselves like you, Virginia.”) But he stands there in that enclosure and watches Virginia humiliate herself in a situation that has a serious power imbalance. Yes, Gini WAS compassionate and giving to Bill when she worked him through his issues. But she also received pleasure from it – helping him made her feel desired and dominant. Also, SHE LOVES HIM. However twisted and confused those feelings are, they shape every interaction. Whatever the result, she’s not going to feel the same sense of satisfaction after letting a gorilla fondle her tits. And she certainly doesn’t want to give an exclusive to Newsweek about it.
Bill likes to be the “suffering creature” because it lets him off the hook. It also lets him think of someone like Dan Logan as a villain, because Dan (he assumes) doesn’t share his inadequacies. (“Guys like Bill? Well, they’re a lot of work.”) Dan surprises Gini in her office wearing the gorilla suit (SAME ONE AS THE ACTUAL GIL? Probably.), and it’s a joke, because he doesn’t believe that he and an animal have anything in common. Dan goes after what he wants without apology and without obfuscating his intentions. And what was off-putting to Virginia about his personality is now what’s keeping her in his bed. (Kim accurately observed last week that Gini didn’t look that into him, even when they were doin’ it. How the turn tables…) So many dudes on this show have looked at Virginia as their savior. I think she’s tired of those expectations. Dan puts no demands on her, and that’s incredibly sexy. (Also, The Beatles? Tell me more.) He desires her, but he doesn’t need her or try to convince himself that he does. Being set on a pedestal SOUNDS fun, but holding that pose is actually exhausting. Dan knows it, and that’s his way in. “Who takes care of you, Virginia?” Who, indeed.
Odds and Ends:
- Fashion moments: Betty’s tomato red dress with the pearl button on the collar. Gini’s mustard-yellow dress with the tie scarf.
- As if the discomfort of the gorilla storyline wasn’t enough, here comes Tessa being all weird and mysterious and outing Bill and Virginia to Dan. Send. Tessa. To. Boarding. School. 2K15.
- “We appreciate your offer…and your song.”
- Personally, I think it’s really cool that Mrs. Ungermeyer became a zookeeper.
- Unnecessary update: Johnny still hates Bill.
- I feel so much for Libby, but my god, how can Paul even speak to her after how cruel she was? Nobody ever said there were going to be any healthy relationships on this show, though, so they are certainly going to sleep together soon.
- “She once threw a stapler at a guy in a wheelchair.”
- “We’re lovers, Austin.” “Okay, whatever works, ladies.”