Masters of Sex
I did a little poking around in the Masters of Sex archives after I watched “In to Me You See,” mostly because this season’s episodes have seemed long. To my surprise, they’re not substantially longer than past episodes, which means they’ve just felt longer. They’re overstuffed, and while it’s legitimately admirable that the show is committed to showcasing the full range of its cast (a nice course correction from last season), trying to cram so much story into plus-sized episodes feels like quantity over quality.
In the wake of Helen’s death, Barton is into a conference about her case, but he’s exonerated of any wrongdoing. Still, he’s angry at himself for “not seeing the warning signs,” and given how clearly those signs were foreshadowed throughout last week’s episode, I can’t say I blame him. Betty’s doing about as well as you’d expect, and she’s determined to fight for her baby. She drags Austin (who I would’ve been just as happy to never see again) into a lawyer’s office and tells him the plan: He’ll ask for custody of the baby, he and Betty will get married, she’ll adopt the baby, and then they’ll get a divorce. “It’s too much, what I’m asking, but I am asking anyway,” she says.
Later, Helen’s mother shows up at Betty’s apartment, asking why “someone who owns a strip club but is apparently also a doctor” is coming after their granddaughter. She calls Betty abhorrent and slings a bunch of other insults her way, and it’s clear that she’s going to ignore Betty’s pleas to come together, as Helen would’ve wanted. I’m glad the show is at least continuing to explore this story, rather than having Betty show up at the office a few weeks from now as though nothing had happened, but I still find Helen’s death to be gratuitous. We’ll see how things unfold.
Out of a desire to make things right between her and Bill, Gini suggests that they be partnered again with a cheery, “Let’s start over!” I’m still not sure what sparked Gini’s complete change of heart in terms of getting back together (both personally and professionally). Is this how she truly feels? Is Bill right that she only wants him because she wants someone? Is she lonely? Does the show want us to not understand her motives here, or am I just missing something? Somehow, Bill twists Gini’s request around and decides that he and Art should work together, and Gini should partner with Nancy. Bill warns Gini that she’s getting “a bit of a reputation” for being combative and paranoid, which is sort of hilarious, as Nancy is the only person that accusation could have possibly come from.
The dynamic between Art and Bill is fascinating to watch as they begin working with Bob, the gay (or at least questioning) man who is undergoing sensate therapy with his fiancée. Art brings up the Kinsey scale and the idea that sexuality is fluid and non-binary, which sounds downright revolutionary in the 1960s, since that’s something with which our current culture still hasn’t come to terms. Bill admits that he hasn’t used that approach much in his own work, and so Art does a do-over intake interview with Bob using the scale. In doing so, Bob owns up to more homosexual sex acts than he did in Bill and Gini’s, “Well, you’re gay or you’re not!” intake. Bob asks Art to guide him and his fiancée through their sensate therapy because his presence is so “reassuring,” which reads very clearly as, “I am into you and perhaps a male voice will help me.”
As all this unfolds, Guy is upset that the clinic is “treating” homosexuals, and goes to Barton to angrily alert him that Bob is undergoing conversion therapy. (Is Barton out enough that Guy would know to approach him?) Barton observes the sensate therapy session and then goes screaming into Bill’s office, which leads to a heated but ultimately productive debate between them and Art, including one of the show’s very first mentions of ambisexuality. Bill decides they need to be studying homosexuals in the same way they studied heterosexual couples, and asks Art to head up that work. He goes on to say, “There will never be conversions to heterosexuality at this clinic.” It’s interesting to me that while Masters of Sex has vilified Bill in so many other ways, they’ve somehow put him on the right side of history when it comes to conversion therapy, at least for now. The non-fictitious Masters ran a conversion program for more than eight years, which boasted a suspiciously high “success” rate, which Masters might have completely fabricated.
Meanwhile, spies infiltrate the clinic! No, seriously. Nancy and Gini do an intake on a couple who sound suspiciously knowledgeable about sexual dysfunction, and Gini gets them to admit they’re aspiring sex therapists who’ve come to steal the clinic’s technique. This clues Gini into a whole host of programs claiming to be based on or endorsed by Bill and Gini’s work. She’s furious — and oddly surprised. But is it really such a shock that others would try to duplicate their success?
Bill sends Nancy and Gini to investigate a nearby workshop that’s utilizing their work, and Nancy uses the instructor’s opening question (“What makes a good partner?”) to throw some sly jabs at what she perceives as Gini’s collegial shortcomings. Gini sarcastically awards her points for subtlety; Nancy pouts and says she’s sad about the situation. In my favorite line of the episode, Gini replies, “Well, then, do what I do when I’m sad. Snap out of it.” She also tells Nancy that the swinging lifestyle makes Art miserable, which comes across as a pretty low blow. Fortunately for Nancy, Gini gets distracted by the fact that her father is attending the workshop as a participant. In my second-favorite line of the episode, Gini waits until she’s several feet away from him, then says, “DADDY?!” at the top of her lungs. Point of order: Don’t Gini’s parents live far away?
Gini’s father tells her that the work she and Bill did together “lit a spark in him,” which is a horrifying statement, and he goes on to explain that he’s learned about the science of swinging and its uses as therapy. He’s convinced that it will help him and Gini’s mother reconnect. Exasperated, Gini replies, “Nowhere in our book do Bill and I mention swinging as a form of therapy. What we advocate, what we’ve always advocated, are protocols that keep people together.”
Anonymity be damned, Denise from AA shows up at the office with her husband’s X-rays. A few years back, she drove drunk with him in the car and he wound up paralyzed; she’s hoping to help him achieve an erection so they can have sex again. The kinder, gentler Bill suggests a pretty ambitious protocol to Denise, using neuro-rewiring and dermatomes. (We’re only a few months out from Bill acting like a quasi-sociopath toward those around him, so this continues to seem like an awfully hasty ascension into Good Guy status.) They come into the office, and there’s a gorgeous shot of Bill marking his body into sections for Denise to try to stimulate. But when they try to have sex later at home, he pushes Denise off of him and says, “Good for you for getting off on this, but I’ve got nothing.” It’s hard to watch, and it (presumably) sends Denise into a relapse.
Increased gentleness seeps into Bill’s personal life, too, when Betty encourages him to write to an old girlfriend of his. (I’m not wild about Betty’s pain pivoting into a plot device for Bill to conveniently talk about his feelings, but here we are.) Dody was Bill’s first love, and she never responded when he proposed marriage. This might have to do with the fact that Bill’s utter lack of social skills led him to PROPOSE WITH A NOTE WHEN SHE WAS HAVING HER APPENDIX REMOVED. He writes Dody a letter, and she calls him, but hangs up abruptly in the middle of a sweet conversation. She calls again later and asks to meet, suggesting a diner partway between her home of Topeka and St. Louis. But when Bill shows up, Dody’s husband comes instead, saying he doesn’t want Bill to break her heart again. He says it took ten years for Dody to get over him the first time, which apparently means she never got the note with his proposal. Bill asks Barton for a little solace without actually divulging details; he asks if it’s better not to know things sometimes. Barton whispers at him like the Ghost of Christmas Past that the truth comes at a high price, but it’s always worth knowing. And so it’s no surprise that when Gini announces they’ll need to shake down the clinics copying their work, Bill knows right where he’ll go. “Topeka’s close,” he says. “I’ll take Topeka.” What could possibly go wrong?