Masters of Sex Recap: Man Walks Into a Bookstore

Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnsonin Masters of Sex (season 3, episode 4) - Photo: Warren Feldman/SHOWTIME Photo ID: MastersofSex_304_1026 Photo: Warren Feldman/SHOWTIME
Masters of Sex
Episode Title
Undue Influence
Editor’s Rating

So there Bill is, just casually standing behind a column in a bookstore trying to see whether people are buying his book, as all first-time authors do, when the store's proprietor calls him out and shoos him away, but not before recommending Bill purchase a copy of the book he'd been "pretending" to read while he spied — Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. Even though the lessons of Carnegie's book don't cut much deeper than "Other people have feelings, too!" or "Responding with compassion is usually the best course!" Bill finds them earth-shattering. Given how emotionally stunted he tends to be, it's understandable.

It's Dale Carnegie, then, who's at least partially to blame for the fur Bill buys Gini, after being revolutionized by the idea that the core principle of human interactions is "this, always make the other person feel important." Bill's desperate to talk Gini into doing a tour of the Midwest to promote Human Sexual Response, after sales of its initial printing are solid but not strong enough to guarantee a second printing. Gini has a newborn (and, according to Betty, an alcoholic babysitter) and a quasi-husband and a deeply troubled daughter and a son away at war, so spending days and days thousands of miles from home isn't an appealing proposition. In the past, Bill's only recourse to Gini's objections would be threats and brow-beating, so really, the fur is a step in a slightly better direction. But it's no surprise that the fur doesn't immediately spark anything in Gini other than bewilderment. And it's interesting that Bill's wooing took the form here not of the promise of an additional responsibility or a name on a study or an academic opportunity — it was a fur coat, boxed up at a department store. I may be overthinking it, but this seems to mark a shift in why and how Bill's wooing Gini.

Gini does have a lot on her plate, especially when Daniel Logan comes back to town with three pretty, young research assistants and a whole host of new scents to start working with, some of which aren't even available on the commercial market yet. Real talk: Josh Charles is even more charming than normal in this role, but not so charming that I'm willing to overlook all the serious questions I have about what he, Gini, and Bill are actually studying. What scents are they testing? On whom? And how? Aside from "bottling the smell of sex," what's the end goal of Logan's work with the clinic? So far this season, Masters of Sex has really shied away from being a television show about science; that's unfortunate, because the show is at its most compelling when it's exploring and illuminating the human side of scientific research. I'm happy to listen to Logan's monologues about love and sex at wartime — seriously, Charles is nailing it here, as ever — both Caplan/Charles and Gini and Logan have incredibly compelling chemistry, and I think it's clear Logan will be sticking around for awhile. I hope we'll see more of what's going on in the lab as well.

Surprise of surprises, Margaret returns to see Bill and Gini this week, with a new "he's my boyfriend but we're not, like, into labels" beau named Graham, whom she met at a Reality Therapy seminar. She's looser and more secure now, a few years after Barton's suicide attempt and their subsequent divorce, but the trauma of that marriage is still present, making Graham's trouble with premature ejaculation seem deeply problematic. Margaret explains that she needs the reality of mutual orgasm, of coming at the same time as her partner, staring into his eyes, and not just because she's read too many romance novels. Barton's secrets and his inability to connect with her sexually really did a number on Margaret — she needs that gaze-into-each-other's-eyes sex to feel loved and secure. She simply doesn't otherwise. It should be said that the intake interview at the clinic is far less taxing on Graham, who spends his interview saying things like "Is this what you do? You, like, rehash the past? Because I don't particularly like to look … back." Jeez, sorry you're too cool for a standard medical history.

Barton turns up in the middle of their appointment — apparently, he took Bill up on the job offer from last week's episode — and it's awkward and upsetting, especially for Margaret, who thinks Barton looks far too thin. "Why has he stopped wearing hats?!" she asks Bill, later. Margaret brings a stew over to his place and, in an almost perfectly wrought scene, asks if he wouldn't just consider finally coming out. We learn then that she's been taking the blame for their divorce from everyone, including their daughter, and that when she's asked she says their marriage ended over her multiple affairs. Wouldn't it be nicer, she asks Barton, if I could tell my boyfriend the truth? If you could be honest with that lovely woman from upstairs about why you never want her to stay over? But Barton tells her she's asking for too much — and frankly, when Margaret gets home, sees her boyfriend in bed with another girl, and says with a cheerful giggle that she forgot and thought it was her night, you'd think her boyfriend might understand the situation? (Also is Margaret in a crazy '60s sex cult, y/n?)

At some point in the midst of this, Bill goes back to the bookstore from the top of the episode, this time equipped with a brown roll of paper and a guerrilla marketing strategy. He asks the bookstore proprietor to wrap all the remaining copies of Human Sexual Response in plain brown paper, obscuring everything but the title. "Curiosity will get the better of the people!" Bill says, almost gleefully, and the bookstore owner is confused, because Bill is a famous scientist and doctor who almost definitely has something better to be doing. But it works, and just like that, Bill has his second printing. Friends, won! People, influenced!

But Bill finally throws out his copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People after a line from it causes their next-door neighbor to break down. Bill goes to speak to Paul, whose wife, Joy, suffered an embolism that left her in a vegetative state; at the advice of Dale Carnegie, Bill says to Paul, "I understand how you feel," and Paul tells him that of course he doesn't. Paul breaks down in his driveway, hands to knees, as Bill pats his back uncomfortably. It's hilarious and not even a little surprising that the precise second Bill gets what most would perceive as positive results from the book — human connection, the ability to be a real friend to someone — he throws it away under the sink. But it's sad, too. I spent the bulk of the episode both entertained by Bill's less-than-stellar efforts to do good and appalled by the realization that even when he's trying his hardest, this is the best Bill can do.