Masters of Sex
One of my resolutions for this season of Masters of Sex was to avoid indulging any questions like “Wait, did this part really happen?” Last season, when I tried comparing the show to the book on which it’s based — and, by extension, to Masters’s and Johnson’s real lives — only frustrated me, especially because the deviations from the show’s source material often seemed to unnecessarily malign Gini’s character. But curiosity finally got the better of me, so I pulled down my copy of Masters of Sex this week and flipped through it to see whether Bill, Gini, and the clinic ever went through legal battles similar to the ones their TV counterparts faced.
The answer is a resounding … not really. Neither Bill nor Gini were ever arrested or faced criminal trial, as far as I can tell, and the St. Louis chief of police was aware of the clinic’s dealings with prostitutes and deliberately chose to look the other way. The clinic did face a lawsuit from George Calvert, after he learned of his wife’s participation in the surrogacy program, but the case was settled out of court and the record was sealed, leading to little to no press coverage. The angle of a lawsuit from a single irate patient versus a criminal prosecutor out to take Bill down is more interesting to me from a storytelling standpoint, and I wonder why the show chose to diverge from its canon in this particular way. (The obvious answer, I guess, is that getting arrested and going through jury selection and being bombarded by post-courtroom press is extra dramatic.)
This week, Bill meets his requirement of 90 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in 90 days, and Denise informs him that it’s traditional for someone at their “last meeting” to share what they’ve learned. (It isn’t, but whatever.) Instead, Bill stands up and says, “Good luck to you all.” Denise was disappointed, but I was too busy fixating on the fact that Bill suddenly has Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine hair to notice.
Back at the courthouse, jury selection for the trial is under way, although I’m confused about whether Bill and Gini are up against a lawsuit or a criminal case. (Gini, at least, seems to be using the two concepts interchangeably.) Braham tries to convince Bill and Gini that it’s not necessarily essential for them to win at this particular stage of the legal battle. Why not take the case to a national stage, and defend the rights of scientists to pursue clinical knowledge however they need to?
In delightful news, Sarah Silverman is back this week, and Helen’s so pregnant she’s about to pop or tip over. But she’s still unwilling to tell her parents about the nature of her relationship with Betty, and she wants them to stay until the baby comes. But Betty’s adamantly opposed to that — she thinks that if she’s not at the birth, she won’t ever truly be the baby’s mother. It’s a good point and a very sad one, made sadder by Helen’s parents’ rejection of her when she finally comes out. Helen and Betty have been their own little universe for much of their time on Masters of Sex, so watching them here is equally wrenching (because of their grief) and lovely (because of their commitment to forming a family of three).
Back at the office, Betty does hire Guy, the key-party pianist, as the receptionist at the clinic, although it’s not clear what role she now has. Office manager? Operations coordinator? When Bill catches Guy sleeping at the office, he tries to fire him, but Guy asks him to reconsider since it’s hard for a guy like him to find a job. Bill’s confused, and Guy explains that he was dishonorably discharged from the military for giving a blow job to another soldier. He’s allowed to keep his job.
Meanwhile, Gini decides that getting Little Brown to reconsider publishing Human Sexual Inadequacy is essential for the future of the clinic, but Bill disagrees. He’d rather focus on winning the trial and on the clinic’s “fresh start.” And so Gini goes to New York, where her editor isn’t exactly happy to see her. He says that she and Bill have been “nothing but trouble,” which is confusing — since when does a scandal make a book less marketable? Nevertheless, he brings her to a party, where he gropes her in front of his boss. Gini is justifiably affronted, but her editor explains that his boss has gotten it into his head that he’s “light in the loafers.” She negotiates a quid pro quo in which her editor agrees to take on the book again in exchange for Gini pulling his boss aside to brag on his sexual prowess. Gini tells a tall tale about including him in the research, then having to excuse him from the study because his penis was too big. Or something. And so the publication of Human Sexual Inadequacy is back on track, but (and here I go, playing the “real life” card again) we already knew that, didn’t we?
Gini also calls bullshit on Bill’s desire for a fresh start, since she saw him post-sex with Libby in last week’s episode. Bill tells her they’re considering reconciliation, which is … at least 50 percent true, but that’s not enough for a majority decision. He asks Libby, “Can I fix us?” and offers to add to the “list of wishes” he helped her make last week. And goddamn it all if Libby doesn’t look straight at him and say, “What we did the other night, I gather there’s a way we can do it to each other at the same time?” I’ve asked Masters of Sex to give Libby more agency for years now, and seeing that come into fruition is immensely satisfying.
Post-69, Bill tries to turn the topic to relationship repair, but Libby’s only halfheartedly interested. She says they should have had more friends; Bill responds, “I’m always afraid that people won’t like me, because people don’t like me.” They discuss how they should’ve taken the kids to Disneyland, which leads to the wonderful line/mental image “Bill Masters on the spinning teacups!” Ultimately, though, Libby doesn’t want to get back together because it’s so profoundly liberating to no longer be worrying about if or when Bill will leave her. She urges Bill to figure out a way to be with Gini, essentially asking, “If you don’t, what was all this for?”
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Nancy and Art discover the bugging equipment set up at the office, and Nancy fumes over being spied on “by a woman who isn’t even a doctor.” Calm down.
Back at the courthouse, Braham breaks the bad news that the prosecution has added the bellhop from the Park-Chancery to the witness list, and Bill and Gini’s affair will come out in court. (Adultery was still illegal in Missouri in the ‘60s, although Bill notes it hasn’t been prosecuted for 100 years.) Realizing that this will ruin Gini’s reputation — and would “be forever what people think of when they hear Masters and Johnson” — Bill decides to plead guilty. He plans a stirring speech to give in court, about how we are all sexual deviants, because deviancy is the norm, not an exception, but the judge won’t allow him to deliver it. This is, oddly, treated like a terrible tragedy, even though Bill has a room full of reporters to speak to immediately after the verdict. Gini says something about how they’re back together now, the way they belong, and she and Bill walk into the press conference hand-in-hand. I’m not sure when she stopped being completely repulsed by Bill, but I’m interested to see where this goes. (Meanwhile, Libby asks Braham on a date, after first ascertaining that he likes pot and oral.)
So that’s our happy ending for Bill and Gini, right? Nope. The episode closes with Bill at AA once more, announcing that he’s not an alcoholic, but that he’s “an addict of sorts.” Bill explains that he’s addicted to “a passing glance, fingers brushing against my shoulders, linger of perfume when she’s already left the room.” He goes on to say, “I’m Bill, and I’m here to ask for your help.” I’ll insert my traditional caveat that this is not how AA works, and I’ll add one last observation: Of all the ways Bill might have tried to talk himself out of being with Gini, I certainly didn’t expect this one.