Masters of Sex
This week’s Masters of Sex is packed with plot development, from Libby’s accidental trip to Woodstock to Nancy’s abortion to Gini’s father’s deeply misguided decision to seek sex therapy at the clinic where his daughter works. But before we get into any of that, we need to talk about Bill and Virginia’s wedding.
I’m fully aware that there were no guests or clergymen or candles or bouquets or even a marriage certificate involved. (That last one might be a bit of a sticking point eventually, but I trust Bill and Gini to figure it out.) But I’m still completely comfortable calling it a wedding. This wasn’t Bill choosing Gini because he wanted to sleep with her or Gini choosing Bill because he’s a soft place to land. This was the two of them choosing to build a life together. And since this season hasn’t exactly been fond of subtext, Bill and Gini make vows to one another, explicitly: “All in, both of us. For better or for worse. In good times or in bad. In sickness or health. For richer or poorer.” They hold hands after they’ve promised one another. And they’re even in a church! It is unquestionably a wedding, albeit one that isn’t legally binding.
That clear, tender moment of intimacy is lovely, but the rest of the episode … meanders a bit. Bill opens the episode, waking up from a sex dream about Gini, then stumbling late into a meeting with her, Art, and Nancy. Shortly after it wraps up, he’s drawing the curtains in his office to grab Gini and kiss her, and yet shortly after that, he’s in an AA meeting, talking about how he’s fallen off the wagon and is back with Gini. Louise is out because of her relapse, and it seems like we’re supposed to believe she allowed him to speak at meetings about whatever he wanted, as though AA were his own private TED Talk. The new meeting chair is having none of it, reminding Bill that everyone in that room is there to talk about alcoholism.
It was at that point that I was reminded that Bill Masters is kind of a terrible monster. He announces that the people in that meeting owe him their attention; after all, he’s listened to them share for weeks, even though most of them are just telling self-pitying stories. He then goes on to call out people by name and by issue. This is supposed to be a cathartic moment, a chance for Bill to realize he only knows who he is when he feels worthless, but AA is a therapeutic space, and therapeutic spaces should be safe, and Bill is a doctor and therefore knows that. He goes on his tirade, regardless. Good luck with him, Gini.
On the other hand, we’ve seen Bill’s capacity for kindness expand throughout this season, and that’s most evident as he tries to find and help Louise after her relapse. Bill goes to her house, and her husband basically blames Bill for giving Louise false hope about their situation. Who wouldn’t be tempted to drink after that? Eventually, Bill finds her drunk in a bar and tells her that he’s relapsed, too (i.e., he slept with Gini). They drink together, and she promises to go to a meeting the next day. The song she and her husband danced to at their weddings starts to play. She gets teary, and Bill asks her to dance with him. There’s some drunken whispering about love and choices and punishment, but ultimately Bill is there, and listens, and meets Louise where she’s at. You’ll need less luck with that side of him, Gini. (For the record, I am aware that Gini is no prize, either, largely because the show constantly reminds us of that while wanting us to forget Bill’s issues at times that are convenient to the story.) I believe I’ve said this, but in case I haven’t: Niecy Nash has done wonderful work as Louise.
Meanwhile, Gini’s parents are in town because ever since he ran into Gini at that singles sex seminar, Gini’s father is convinced that getting treatment at the clinic will save his marriage. Because men are fond of foisting their emotional labor onto nearby women, he tells Gini that she can be the one to talk her mother into it. And Gini, bless her, tries. What follows is an absolutely exquisite scene between Lizzy Caplan and Frances Fisher (who plays Gini’s mother, in her grand tradition of playing mothers to complicated daughters) in which it comes out that Gini’s father had an extensive affair. It’s strange to watch Gini take him to task for this later. Shouldn’t she, of all people, understand the complexity of marriage and the difficulty of staying committed to only one person? But it’s touching, in a way, that even Virginia Johnson isn’t immune to the universal desire, subconscious or otherwise, to have our parents be heroes, even if “heroism” in this case just boils down to “making a marriage work.”
I’ve joked before that this season is a one big, extensive episode of Libby in the ‘60s, the show-within-a-show in which Libby Masters has quintessential experiences of the Masters of Sex era, usually by accident. Libby ends up in the middle of the civil-rights movement! Libby ends up at a consciousness raising party! At a nudist colony! And, now, finally … AT WOODSTOCK. I’m a bit upset they didn’t find a way to work her into the moon landing, but I guess the second-most-iconic moment of the ‘60s will have to do. Libby’s on her way to a court case in Albany with Bram, who’s representing a flag burner. They get stuck in extensive traffic on the way, which turns out to be the highway full of parked cars leading to Woodstock. It is once again a testament to how gamely Caitlin FitzGerald will attack any material: She spends most of the episode coaching a strung-out hippie in the back of their rental car through the process of death and rebirth. It’s far too over the top, as is Libby’s decision to leave the car and Bram behind because her dreams are too small (or something), so why not just walk 35 miles to Woodstock? “What about your things?” Bram asks. “I have everything I need,” Libby replies, smiling, despite the fact that she doesn’t seem to have any money or a raincoat or the keys to her house.
There is still no sign of poor Betty.
Meanwhile, Art swings into pole position for the tragic figure of the season. Nancy’s pursuit of opening the new clinic has become even more intense. She lists items they’ll need to tidy up before they take the plunge, matter-of-factly rounding out that list with the announcement that she’s pregnant and needs to schedule an abortion. Art asks why they can’t just keep the baby, in spite of the fact that it could be fathered by one of Nancy’s other sexual partners. He says he doesn’t need to look at a baby and see his grandfather’s eyes; Nancy counters with the fact that he probably won’t be wild about looking down at another man’s dimples. She has a consultation with Barton, and then schedules the procedure.
After it’s over, Art goes through the audio recordings from the microphones hidden around the office, and finds the tape of Nancy speaking with Barton. In it, she reveals that she’s sure Art is the father.
The episode is a reminder of how far Nancy is willing to go to get their own clinic off the ground, from intellectual-property theft to a refusal to sign a nondisclosure agreement about the work of the current clinic to vaguely bullying Art into trying to get Little Brown to give them a book deal. But Nancy’s passion and desire to succeed — especially her desire to be a woman at the top of her professional field — aren’t crimes. They’re assets. The fact that she’s using dishonest methods to get to the next level isn’t okay, especially when she drags Art along under the pretext that she’s finally choosing a cheery, monogamous life for them. It’s not going to end well.
I said at the beginning of this season that Masters of Sex had declared a true trajectory — it was clear that we were finally on the way to Bill and Gini’s marriage. We’ve reached that milestone, so I’m unsure of where the series might go from here. It feels like a natural culmination of the storytelling, and it also feels like a good time for a series whose best days are behind it to call it quits. I don’t say that with any sort of malice or disdain. Four seasons of reasonably good and occasionally amazing television are something to be proud of. But knowing when to stop is something to be proud of, too.