Masters of Sex Recap: Jesus, Masters, and Johnson

By
Annaleigh Ashford (left) as Betty and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson. Photo: Warren Feldman/Showtime
Masters of Sex
Episode Title
The Excitement of Release
Season
3
Episode
3
Editor’s Rating
4/5

On Masters of Sex, the critical reception to Human Sexual Response has become so overwhelmingly positive that Gini wonders, "Why doesn't someone just compare us to Jesus himself?" (She'll have to content herself with Copernicus and Galileo, who Bill and Gini are likened to despite the fact that neither astronomer ever developed or utilized a massive vibrator named Ulysses.) Not everyone is as enthused — Bill is confronted later by a man from the Committee for Decency, who tells him hell is a real place. "No worse," Bill counters, "than St. Louis in August."

Still, the afterglow of the critical reviews is so intoxicating that Bill and Gini finally kiss, and while we saw plenty of intimate moments between the two of them in the first two episodes — from Gini's delivery room to their old-married-folk squabbling at the lake house — this is the first real sexual contact between Bill and Gini all season. Bill claims he didn't touch Gini because he felt uncomfortable doing so while she was pregnant with another man's baby, which is a very odd line for a man who's been conducting an eons-long affair to draw.

But there's an undeniable awkwardness in their encounter (it's odd that I've been writing about this show for over a year and still debate between using the words"encounter" and "attempt at lovemaking" rather than "sex"). They disagree about whether the lights should be on or off. Gini tries to explain that her body doesn't feel quite back to normal after childbirth, and Bill responds that she's eight weeks postpartum and should be ready by now. But then the baby cries, and Gini's catapulted back into her reality. (Incidentally, the episode winds up closing on a scene of both of them in bed together WITH the baby that's so deeply weird I don't even know what to make of it.)

After Bill gets home, there's a magnificent little scene in which Bill and Libby talk at each other, without ever managing to converse. I love that already this season, we're seeing more of the distance between Libby and Bill, rather than watching Libby act it out in separate psychodramas with others. It's equally fascinating, though, to watch Libby project her feelings onto the possible divorce of the couple next door, proof Caitlin FitzGerald nails whatever she's given. Libby's projection leads her to urge Bill to talk to the man next door to clue him in about his wife's upcoming departure. But when Bill learns Paul is a former football star, he lapses into the only state of nonsexual excitement we've seen him in throughout the entire series, rummaging around in a closet to find and show off his collection of football cards. The card collection doesn't rouse much interest in Paul, and it's properly painful to see Bill so unable to connect.

Meanwhile, Bill thinks that marketing Human Sexual Response as a medical school textbook is the next step in spreading the gospel of the study and financing the clinic's continued research. Betty (whose role so far this season makes me fear she'll be even more underused than she was in season two) has a different idea: investors. Hugh Hefner is already pursuing Masters and Johnson aggressively — although I suppose Hef doesn't pursue things any other way — sending Champagne to the office and trying to schedule a meeting with Bill and Gini before he has to be back in Chicago for a playmate pajama party. "I'm not interested in pajamas," Bill sniffs.

Although the real-life Masters and Johnson went on to have positive personal and professional relationships with Hef, the meeting doesn't really lead anywhere. He offers her and Bill both money and company in the lonely work of educating a close-minded public about sex. Pro tip: Don't put Virginia Johnson in a room full of grown women in bunny tails and ears and expect her to like you. She comes around, but Bill takes Hefner out of consideration, saying they'll lose legitimacy in the medical community if they're in bed with Hef.

Discouraged by the response from medical schools, Bill goes to visit Barton, who has a new girlfriend (wife?) and is apparently living as a heterosexual still/again. Bill hopes Barton can leverage his position at Wash U to get them to take on the study as a textbook. Barton suits up and brings Bill to a faculty cocktail party, where the chancellor treats Barton like a servant and calls Barton a queer behind his back. And all of a sudden, it's like seasons one and two again, with Bill storming out and Barton following behind trying to figure out where everything went wrong. I'm not sure what Beau Bridges's availability is this season, but I'm frustrated by these scenes in which he turns up, acts as the Wise and Kindly Old Mentor, and then disappears. I want to know so much more about what and how Barton is doing, and although I'm not surprised that he turns Bill down when Bill offers him a place in his practice, I'm disappointed.

Gini agrees to start taking the rest of the investor meetings herself, since Bill's not interested, leading to three of the most exciting words about Masters of Sex I've ever typed: ENTER JOSH CHARLES. Charles plays Dan Logan, an executive in the flavors and fragrances industry, who's in search of answers to two questions: (1) What is the smell of sex? and (2) how do we get it in a bottle? Betty's sold; Gini, as ever, arranges her face so it's impossible to see what she really thinks. But Bill prefers Logan to any of the other options, even though there's a sexual chemistry between Logan and Gini that's so clearly going to stir up trouble. I can't wait.

Throughout all of this, there's yet another storyline dedicated to Gini's daughter Tessa, who's become a pariah at her high school after the publication of the study. But wouldn't secret information about sex make Tessa a teenage hero rather than an outcast? Also, I know I've been hard on Tessa so far, but she did win me over a bit by playing Name the State Capital in a car with her boyfriend as a drinking game. Things sour when that same boyfriend asks her to teach him about sex. Tessa can't admit that for all her bluster, she's not experienced either, which leads to him forcing her to give him a blow job, and her vomiting all over her brand-new dress. It's so strange to think of that sexual assault in context with Gini saying so confidently at the start of the season, "We are the sexual revolution." She's right in many ways, but boys' newfound knowledge of the fact that women had sexual appetites, too, did more to hurt Tess than it did to help her — her boyfriend used his "revolutionized" knowledge of the female sex drive as a weapon against her. When it comes to girls assaulted in parked cars in the name of blue balls, Masters and Johnson didn't revolutionize anything at all.