I’m not sure how I thought Masters of Sex’s season finale was going to end, but this wasn’t it. From the beginning, the show has aimed high, and at times it has buckled a bit under the weight of its ambition, but to finish things on a pathetic fallacy-tinged romantic (sort of) cliffhanger? I didn’t see that coming.
The episode was a bit uneven, but the acting, per usual, was stellar, and in between heavy-handed weather metaphors, Masters of Sex continued to explore the incomprehensible weirdness that is the human psyche and to offer up casually brutal depictions of sexism and homophobia. It also included one of the season’s funniest scenes — Masters telling Lester he can spot a statistically average masturbator a mile away exemplified the show’s understated humor.
Masters certainly needn’t have worried about keeping the presentation audience interested. From his first words, the doctors and nurses listen with rapt attention, martinis in hand. When Masters explains small penises are generally not any less pleasurable to women than large penises, one man even proposes a toast “for the little guys!” But as soon as Masters moves on “to the girls,” the tone of the room changes. Ostensibly the audience is offended by the videos he shows, but Jane’s vaginal canal and Virginia’s body aren’t really what freak everyone out.
“Women have capabilities vastly superior to men,” Masters announces, and that is about all he is allowed to say before the chancellor shuts the talk down. “There are women in the room!” says Brenda and Brandon’s dad from 90210 (ahem, I mean a doctor played by James Eckhouse). The event is such a bust that Masters and Libby are left eating dinner for twenty alone.
Barton takes Masters’s side, telling him that he’s had a lifetime dealing with the “oppressive choke hold of establishment thinking, so fuck ’em.” I thought this might mean Barton was beginning to have a new attitude toward his own sexuality, but a few scenes later, he tells Masters that against Margaret’s wishes he still plans to get electroshock therapy. He is so desperate for a “cure” that while castration is off the table, everything else is fair game.
Weather was such a central part of the plot in “Manhigh” it was practically a character in its own right. While Barton tells Masters that the two of them are about to be fired, rain lashes the windows, thunder crashes, and lightning lights up Masters’s face. Meanwhile, Ethan is in California beneath clear skies. He calls Virginia, far removed from the weather system that is Bill Masters, and proposes, offering her whatever kind of life she wants. We’ll have to wait until next season to see specifically how it goes down, but presumably Virginia decides what she wants is integrally tied up with Masters, or at least the research they’ve done together. “There’s got to be a better way,” she says after that smarmy doctor tells her he knows she was in the video. She wants to be part of finding it.
Everyone must contend with the weather in some way or another. The chancellor tells Lillian that sixteen patients is not “rainmaking” and advises her to come up with something to “rearrange the weather” in her favor. And in a news clip about Project Manhigh, the expedition that so fascinates Virginia’s son, the explorer tells the world that man can go anywhere, he just has to take his own atmosphere with him.
Throughout the episode, lots of things begin to emerge from the shadows. Margaret goes to Barton’s doctor because she doesn’t want to spend another moment in the dark and Masters begins his presentation by saying that the days of secrecy are over. The study’s biggest secret — that Masters and Virginia were having sex — also becomes a little less hidden, though for the time being the two of them maintain plausible deniability. Libby asks Masters about the woman in the video, but seems persuaded by his argument that picking Virginia would be illogical. Left unsaid is that when it comes to love and chemistry, or whatever it is that connects Virginia and Masters, humans often don’t make sense.
All of this is forgotten once Libby gives birth, and she’s so enraptured with her newborn she even puts off calling Masters to share the news. She has the baby at the African-American hospital, but I wasn’t sure what the show was getting at with this. Is it meant to echo the events that transpired early in the season, when Masters helped an African-American woman get pregnant? Or is it supposed to refer back to Libby’s brief friendship with Walter, her dancing instructor and/or handyman, who took her to the hospital after she fainted? Was the show even trying to say something here? If so, I wasn’t sure what it might be.
Virginia assumes Masters has effectively erased her from the work they did together, but eventually she learns Masters put her name on the cover of the study. Then, in the last scene, he comes to her house. Standing in the rain, he tells her that he has nothing to offer her but the truth, which is that there’s only one thing he can’t live without: her. And then the credits roll.
The conclusion has more overtones of The Notebook than I would have expected (maybe it was just the rain?) and at first I thought it was out of character for a show that generally offers such nuanced presentations of sexuality, psychology, and love. But Masters and Virginia’s relationship is far from a straightforward romance, and besides, perhaps Masters approached Virginia not out of love, exactly, but because she is the one thing that remains of their research (so he thinks). After all, neither of them has ever really been able to separate their relationship from their work.
Until next season.