Masters of Sex Recap: Strike While the Iron Is Hot

By
Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters, Allison Janney as Margaret Scully, and Tate Donovan as Graham. Photo: Michael Desmond/Showtiem
Masters of Sex
Episode Title
III-A
Season
3
Episode
5
Editor’s Rating
4/5

Good news for Bill's "I've achieved great success but I want a different kind of success and also probably some money!" quest — Chancellor Fitzhugh, from Washington University, comes to Bill and tells him he's reconsidered allowing Bill to come back to the school. But there are strings attached: Fitzhugh's son and daughter-in-law, who've struggled to get pregnant, need to conceive a baby immediately to defer his son's draft status. In exchange, Bill's invited to speak at a faculty consortium, with all of the doctors who so roundly rejected him in the audience.

What I don't understand is why Bill is bent on mending fences with Washington University now. The “Previously on ...” segment at the top of the episode included a sound bite of him pointing out that WashU was where the study began, but that suggests he's being motivated by some sort of sentimentality, and (this may be a shocking revelation for those of you who've been watching the show, so hang on to your hats) Bill does not strike me as a sentimental man. And in the past, his pride has motivated him to burn bridges rather than go back and seek any sort of redemption. But as Bill explains to Libby in what I hope is more than just a feeble attempt to tie his story line throughout the episode to his son's, he was bullied at WashU the same way his oldest son was bullied in the schoolyard. Bill deals with Dennis the Menace Childhood Bully by finding him on the street, grabbing him, and verbally abusing him so bad he wets his pants and runs away.

It is hard to reconcile the Bill who actually says to a child, "If a doctor threatens you, no one can protect you," with the one who takes the stage at Washington University. A questioner asks why their book isn't concerned with love (he actually says, "Where is the love?" which I'll never forgive the Black Eyed Peas for ruining for all of us), and Bill masterfully takes him down, eloquently claiming that love is both too essential and too ethereal to be confined to the columns and graphs of textbooks. But for all his insistence on returning, Bill says to Libby on the car ride home, "I don't know why I thought their affirmation would matter now."

Back at the clinic, Margaret and Graham have come for a follow-up appointment; it's one of the more in-depth consultations we've seen Masters and Johnson do, and a good indicator of their later work, which focused more extensively on directly counseling and couples with sexual dysfunction. There are figurines to represent Graham and Margaret and their sexual positions, there's a very frank, step-by-step conversation about how to desensitize Graham's penis during intercourse, and, finally, there's a dildo for Margaret to practice on. Later, we see Margaret on top of Graham with a mimeographed sheet of paper, painstakingly re-creating the exercises she learned.

But Graham and Margaret's newfound chemistry scares Jo, Graham's other live-in girlfriend. It's not a polyamorous relationship so much as it's a travel agent, a woman who's so shell-shocked over her marriage to a closeted gay man that she'll agree to anything, and a very, very lucky man. The intricacies of a not-quite-three-way relationship are strange territory for Masters of Sex — the nonsexual Graham/Margaret/Jo scenes seem almost like they're dropped in from another show — but they work so well in the hands of Allison Janney and Tate Donovan that it doesn't matter much.

After a fight with Jo, Margaret leaves Graham and goes to the clinic to tell Bill and Gini that she won't be continuing her sessions, which feels like an excuse to hopefully run into Barton. When she does, she claims she's always the problem in her relationships and nothing's changed since their marriage dissolved.

Barton tells her that's not true, that she's the one who walked out on Graham, and so she knows now that there's something better out there for her and, more important, that she's worth it. Still, Margaret says she has nothing and no home. Barton offers to help.

I should've anticipated what came next, since there was heavy foreshadowing around Margaret's damaged relationship with Vivian in the last episode, but still, it took me by absolute surprise when Barton's next step was to come out to his daughter. He calls Vivian, sitting side-by-side with Margaret in a darkened office, and Margaret takes his hand as he tells Vivian she deserves to know the truth — his relationship with Margaret didn't end because of Margaret's (imaginary) infidelity. We don't actually hear Barton say, "I'm gay," but regardless, it's deeply, properly moving, especially contrasted with last season, when Vivian found Barton hanging in the basement after a failed suicide attempt. Maybe Vivian will accept Barton and maybe she won't, but he's past the point where he'd rather die than tell the truth. Someone start engraving Beau Bridges' Emmy.

This week's installment of Rad Things Betty Does: pops Bill's slipped disc (from an injury jumping out of Gini's upstairs window) back into place; describes how her grandmother used to smell; peaces out of the scent study after Dan Logan announces he wants to measure the tightening of the areola as tied to smells; encourages Gini to flee to Canada to avoid her parents. Betty for President.

Meanwhile, in yet another instance of, "Hey, let's focus on Gini's home life even though she's a historical woman of science!" the episode spends an awful lot of time focused on a visit from Gini's parents, whom Tessa lured into town as a way to punish Gini for her crimes as a mother. (This does lead to a great scene of Bill being forced to hide in a bathroom until Gini's parents go to sleep, bored stiff and reading the instructions tucked inside a tampon box until he finally jumps out of a window.)

Tessa, Everyone's Favorite Teen Sociopath, tucks a bow tie of Bill's into the laundry basket, then asks her grandmother to wash the clothes, hoping she'll discover the bow tie and the affair. Gini's mother does discover the bow tie, and on a visit to the clinic, she links the tie to Bill. After the event at Washington University, she pulls Gini aside to tell her how proud of her she is. Gini reacts in absolute shock, thinking her mother is finally respecting her professional accomplishments, but her mother goes on to say, "All you've gotta do is get him to leave his wife and marry you. You're so close. Strike while the iron is hot, and don't give him a chance to get tired of you."

Gini's response to this is blind horror. Just after that, she turns to Dan Logan and basically commands him to ask her out to dinner someday, and so it's clear we won't be hearing Bill and Gini's wedding bells in the immediate future. But if I'm not mistaken, this is one of the first times anyone's said so explicitly that Bill should leave Libby and marry Gini. After all this time, it's finally on the table.