We’ve reached the point in Masters of Sex the series where I’m starting to feel like it’s problematic that I haven’t read Masters of Sex the book. I’m planning to remedy that as soon as I can — Michael Sheen is staring balefully at me from my merchandized tie-in copy as I type this — even though I find comparing books to their filmed adaptations to be roughly as useful as comparing pterodactyls to espresso machines. Still, with Masters of Sex, I’m finding myself more and more curious about who Bill Masters really was in comparison with the show’s Bill Masters, a curiosity mostly piqued by the introduction of Buell Green as a setting. As far as I can tell (and in this instance, “as far as I can tell” means “having poked around the internet for an hour,” so please tell me if I’m mistaken), Masters never practiced at an African-American hospital. It’s the writers’ choice, then, and not a straight representation of a biographical detail, but if it gets us episodes like last night’s, it’s more than all right with me.
I’ve gotten frustrated this season because I’m so much more interested in Virginia, but I feel like I’m only ever writing about Bill, and this episode helped me clarify why: Bill just gets to do more. That’s not to say that Virginia isn’t active or smart or capable; she is. But so much of what she does is in reaction to a slew of things Bill’s already done. Think about it — by the time Virginia hears (secondhand, and from Libby, of all people) that Bill is transferring to Buell Green, Bill has already punched out a room full of leering doctors at Memorial, yelled, quit, panicked, and moved on. Of course she feels like she’s playing catch-up or being left behind or out. She is. Follow-up essay question: Is Libby naïve enough that she considers Virginia an ally, or shrewd enough to stop by Virginia’s place at night because Bill might be there? Also, remember last season, when Libby was sometimes nice?
In one of the lesser (!!) repugnant statements Bill makes to Virginia, he tells her that she doesn’t have as many “other options” as she might think, since Lillian knows they’re sleeping together. This leads to a properly epic screaming match between Virginia and Lillian — possibly the last they’ll have on the series, since by episode’s end, Lillian’s resigned. It’s a wonderfully scripted altercation, if only because it underscores so nicely how some of the things that were difficult about being in the workplace as a woman in the 1950s haven’t really changed a bit. And also because it includes the line, “Try not to perpetuate the sick belief that women need to open their legs to get a leg up!”
The worst thing Bill tells Virginia is that her participation in “their portion” of the study is a condition of her employment at Buell Green. He says no at first, but when Virginia starts to gently broach the fact that she thinks it might be best to stop, then, he quickly replies, “What I meant was yes. Yes, it is part of the job.” She nods, and the scene cuts away to their hotel room, where she’s dressed in black, holding a clipboard, and telling Bill to strip. Once he has, it’s three minutes of wall-to-wall emotional and sexual tension that culminate with Bill naked on his knees, orally pleasuring an almost fully clothed Virginia. (Note: The previous sentence required a full-on internal Do I Use the Slang Term I Normally Use or the One an Elderly Aunt Would pageant and, well, “orally pleasuring” won.)
Contrast that sex act with Libby and Bill, back at home a night or two later. Libby’s fresh off a visit from Coral’s boyfriend, who’s upset that Libby rage-shampooed her with lice shampoo. Fun sentence. When Libby confronts Coral and tells her to break up with him, Coral responds (in more, and more articulate, words) with, “Well, at least my partner fucks me.” Libby cobbles that envy or frustration into an extremely shoddy come-on, and Bill responds with missionary, mostly clothed, no-eye-contact sex, topped off with a non-orgasm. Eesh. Also, who in the world knew Keke Palmer had chops like these? More like True Jackson: PRESIDENT, am I right?
I love Sarah Silverman, but she suffers from what I’ve coined (post–Hunger Games) the Lenny Kravitz Effect. You see Lenny Kravitz onscreen and, no matter which character he’s playing, your brain instantly responds, “Oh, hey, there’s Lenny Kravitz.” So it goes with Sarah Silverman. Still, she’s great as Betty’s former lover, and their scenes together are a new kind of heartbreak for Masters of Sex; Betty’s “We both like dresses, so we’re both just going to have to buck up and do the right thing [by not being together]” line is particularly tragic. I still worry a bit about where Betty and Gene are going now that Betty’s not cropping up in Bill’s office once a week anymore. Their story is starting to feel very ancillary to what’s happening with Bill and Virginia and the study, but maybe that’s not so bad … and maybe I’m still just wishing we still had Beau Bridges and Allison Janney around to focus on as side characters.
As the episode winds down, Bill’s recovering from a punch to the eye, and when his new boss refers him to an ophthalmologist, Bill wryly replies, “Clearly, my vision is impaired if I didn’t see this coming.” “This” encompasses old, white patients who don’t want to park in Buell Green’s neighborhood, punches thrown, and, eventually, a segregated waiting room. It’s an arch statement, but it makes me wonder: Did Bill really think practicing at Buell Green would be a cakewalk? Bill’s new boss Charles gives a rousing speech toward the end of the episode, telling him they’re history makers. It’s a very good speech — like, Coach Taylor good — but the episode ends, seconds later, with him pulling down a flier about the sex study from a hallway bulletin board, all cartoon-villain-style. (Seriously, it’s a bit over the top.) If Charles thinks he hired a revolutionary when he hired Bill, and is trying to stymie the study to make Bill dedicate himself to the cause of integration, he’s going to be disappointed. Bill’s a scientist. The revolution was a side effect.