Masters of Sex Recap: Nonmetaphorical Gorilla

Annaleigh Ashford as Betty and Sarah Silverman as Helen. Photo: Warren Feldman/SHOWTIME
Masters of Sex
Episode Title
Monkey Business
Editor’s Rating

I've been thinking a lot these past few weeks about what this season of Masters of Sex really needs, and at no point did "Sarah Silverman performing a monologue about plums and bunnies climbing into her vagina" enter into it. But here she is, and you know what? Her arrival gave me a great deal of hope that this week's episode would rise above some of the less-than-stellar episodes Masters of Sex has offered us this season. But Silverman doesn't stick around long — just long enough for her character to tell Betty that she really, really wants a baby, one that Bill assures Betty he'll never inseminate for her, prattling on about the plight of the single mother. And so Betty takes matters into her own hands or, more accurately, into Helen's own cervix, stealing donor sperm to inseminate her with, until finally they decide to go the slightly more personalized route of bringing Austin Langham's seed into the equation.

To be clear: I happily watched those parts of the episode. I would have happily watched an entire episode devoted to that story line.

Instead, I spent a lot of time watching a story about a nonmetaphorical gorilla. His name is Gill, and he is wholly uninterested in the female gorilla they've brought into the zoo for him from San Diego. Gill's been uninterested in sex ever since his former (female) zookeeper left the zoo years ago, but he shows some signs of vitality when Gini's around. Bill tries to insist that they should be more concerned with the impotence of single men, which is so textbook for Bill that it's almost annoying at this point, but Gini pushes back.

And so they go to meet Gill's former handler Loretta, played by the absolutely inimitable Alex Borstein, who says she and Gill "grew up together," and who is just the slightest bit off. She tells them Gill shares a birthday with Elvis and must have a female handler at all costs. Best of all, she tells them all about how she'd fluff Gill for all of his sexual encounters. Even after all of this, Bill still isn't onboard, which is absolutely ridiculous, because the driving mechanism of this television program and Bill Masters's life is scientific curiosity. I'm not saying Bill would've or should've been immediately onboard, but it's a bit silly that he takes so long to come around.

Bill finally agrees to get serious about Gill's case because he's still out to get Dan Logan, who stops by the office to invite Bill, Gini, and the office staff to a screening of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken at which his company's butterlike flavoring for popcorn will be served. Once Dan's trying to get Gini out of the office it's no longer "This gorilla is a waste of time!" Instead, Bill says he and Gini are "reaching back through time to understand the nature of evolutionary attraction." The trouble here is that even though both Dan and Bill are pursuing Gini because of her intelligence, her quick wit, her caring nature, and her scores of other positive attributes, we're at a point where their constant efforts to win Gini over feel pretty reductive. I love watching Gini advocate for the exploration of a new area of research or the implementation of a new experimental protocol. I do not love watching Gini being treated as though she's a prize to be won. I am also unclear as to why this scene felt 15 minutes long.

Still, I want to note that up to the very moment where Gini and Bill go to the zoo to treat Gill, I was optimistic that the gorilla story line would somehow work out. (Don't ask me why — this season of Masters of Sex has not rewarded optimism.) But it does not. Gini starts trying to buck Gill up for a sexual encounter. She utters every encouraging platitude she can think of (shouldn't both she and Bill have realized that speaking English was perhaps not the best means of communicating?), but it falls flat with Gill. Gini moves a little closer to the cage, and Gill steps right up, reaches his arm out through the bars, and points at her breasts. (This was the point at which I started to realize how low-budget the zoo setup and the gorilla itself were.) Bill then talks Gini into taking off her blouse and bra in a public zoo habitat to let Gill see and maybe slightly touch her breast.

It's not clear whether Bill's trying to humiliate or belittle Gini, or simply enjoying keeping Gini away from Dan while making her feel small at the same time. And he certainly doesn't apologize for it, which means he's truly forgotten every sentence of that Dale Carnegie book he skimmed earlier in the season. It's sad behavior, even for Bill, and if I could I'd join Johnny in silently, gleefully burning his football cards under the gas stove, one by one.

Oh, and over on Libby's spinoff-within-a-series, Paul's still furious with her for blurting out that Joy was planning to leave him, and even more angry that she was using the apartment Joy had secured in advance of that. My issue with these story lines for Libby — first Robert in season two, and now Paul — is that it takes the problem "What can we give Libby to do aside from being Bill's neglected wife?" and solves it with "Uh, affairs?"

Meanwhile, Bill and Virginia have been name-checked in Newsweek by Isabella Ricci, the movie star from last week's episode, who praises their sensate therapy, a therapy Isabella and her husband never actually used. Betty explains that Isabella had to lie because the paparazzi got a picture of her and her husband leaving the clinic, and the immediate follow-up question is, why in the world would there be a paparazzo outside a medical building in the middle of Missouri in the 1960s? Nowadays, anyone with a camera phone is a budding member of the paparazzi, but was it really so widespread in Bill and Gini's time?

Regardless, it means Newsweek wants to do a feature story about the clinic. Bill tells Gini that the story of Gill is perfect for the interview — it will show the world that Masters and Johnson can fix anything. Gini all but begs him not to. He fakes her out, making her think he's bringing up the ape with the reporter, but changes gears at the last second. He does it to toy with her, or to punish her, or something. And he wraps it all up in one of his speeches about love and brokenness and reparation, speaking both to the reporter and to Gini. But it doesn't work on her.

And, then, just when you literally thought it could not get any more ridiculous back at the office, Dan's waiting for Gini at her desk, wearing a gorilla suit (having presumably learned who the mysterious patient was), which forces Gini to relive the trauma of that time a gorilla touched her breasts. She explains a bit to Dan, who says, with mock seriousness, "But did you kiss him?" and the fact that Josh Charles carries off any of that in an even remotely charming way is a goddamn miracle. The cast pulls through on this show, time and time again, even when the writing simply refuses to. It is enough to — forgive me — make a woman go bananas.