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Masters of Sex Recap: Hiding in Plain Sight

Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters and Caitlin Fitzgerald as Libby Masters in Masters of Sex (season 1, episode 3). Michael Sheen and Caitlin Fitzgerald in Masters of Sex

Well, at least now we know Masters wasn’t always such a cold prig. At one point long ago, when he was a young doctor on the make with a general sense that he wanted to study human sexuality and only a few rapidly copulating bunnies to show for it, he was actually capable of amiably engaging with other humans. Young Bill had such unruly hair! And was so optimistic and enthusiastic, so semi-charming and somewhat deranged! It has been hard to find reasons to like the guy, but this early version of Masters offers, if nothing else, an entry point for sympathy.

Seriously, though, are we really to believe that everything Masters did during the years that turned him from curly cowlicked Bill into perpetually uptight and unpleasant Dr. Masters was in service of allowing him to eventually study human sexuality? All those babies delivered to St. Louis bigwigs, going into obstetrics in the first place, even marrying a patrician girl like Libby, it was just to enable him to one day hook prostitutes up to machines and watch them masturbate? This version of events makes Masters practically reptilian in his ability to put everything and everyone aside in pursuit of a solitary goal (that it’s driven by his hot-blooded desire to learn more about sex is a sly ironic touch). It’s not entirely unbelievable, but it does give Masters a slightly sociopathic tinge.

Maybe he just really did take to heart the provost’s suggestion that if he wanted an unconventional life he would have to learn to hide in plain sight. What he missed, at least until that male prostitute with the unbelievably shiny sweep of black hair clued him in, was that the provost (who is becoming important enough that I should probably start calling him by his name, Barton) knew much more about hiding in plain sight — and male prostitutes — than he was letting on. In other words, he is a closeted “hamasexual,” as Masters might put it. (What’s up with that, by the way? Are we to assume Masters is so uncomfortable with the word he can hardly say it? Or is this supposed to be a fifties accent?) With typically cold-blooded clarity, Masters responds to this information by using it to blackmail Barton and get his study reinstated at the hospital.

Virginia also finally clues Libby in to the fact that she doesn’t have a “uterus incompatible with conception.” Libby is angry, though she could have been angrier. She does at least leave Masters to fend for himself at dinner. Less predictably, when Ethan tells her she’s pregnant with his sperm, she’s so happy she jumps into his arms. I guess Ethan wants to pay Masters back for stealing the glory of delivering quadruplets out of that poor woman’s incredibly distended belly. If so, it’s a somewhat disproportionate act of spite, but Ethan is nothing if not petty. Libby’s extreme joy seems a bit odd — after all, she’s just found out a man has impregnated her without her permission or knowledge — but hey, it’s nice to see her happy.

Clearly Libby doesn’t plan to let Masters know who the real father is. And after Betty’s operation doesn’t go well, she learns she can’t have children but decides not to tell her pretzel prince either. (The balance of secrets in the Masters of Sex universe must apparently remain at equilibrium at all times — if two secrets are revealed, two more have to be hidden away.) As she’s leaving the hospital, Betty sees Virginia and tells her, basically, that while the circumstances are different, they’re dealing with some of the same difficulties. She’s just “another working girl doing the best she can,” Betty says, in an unusual moment of female solidarity, and then she’s off to hitch her wagon to a man and take her chance at happiness. Maybe she has a shot? Probably not, but as her pretzel prince pushed her out of the hospital, they appeared about as well matched as a couple that knows next to nothing about each other could be.

In general, though, the woman-on-woman action was pretty brutal. That new female OB/GYN, Dr. DePaul (Julianne Nicholson, looking oddly Joan Didion–like) is stuck in with the secretaries, yet even they think the idea of a female doctor is a joke. Dr. DePaul, in turn, greets Virginia’s comment about how it’s good to see a woman in a lab coat with a cold look and a request for coffee.

Virginia can’t ever seem to get a break. Masters keeps treating her like a colleague when it suits him and a secretary the rest of the time, and when she points this out, all he does is tell her in a nasty tone how hard he’s had to work to get where he is. There is one moment when he acts decently and kicks two joke-cracking doctors out of Betty’s operating room, but that night as he and Virginia drive over to the brothel in his sporty convertible, he says the whole endeavor was a waste of resources. (To her credit, Virginia intuits he’s actually just upset it didn’t go well.)

The brothel, by the way, is starting to seem more than anything like a house of horrors, stuffed with STDs, and pelvic inflammatory disease and all sorts of abuse. Not that Masters even flinches when one young woman says she was raped by her uncle — apparently he only sees such matters in relation to the way they might negatively affect his research. “This is a study about normal human behavior,” he tells the male prostitute by way of explaining he’s not interested in involving him. But obviously Masters still has no clue what constitutes “normal” when it comes to sex, in spite of the best efforts of Ginger, “who’s not made of glass.”

Photo: Peter Iovino/Showtime