Masters of Sex
For much of last week’s Masters of Sex, Bill and Virginia’s hotel room felt like the only place in the entire world; their work, the Work, was the only work that mattered. There’s other work to be done this week, and Virginia’s subconscious sums it up succinctly: She dreams Bill continues to work on the study without her, leaving “mistress” as her sole job title. She bolts awake, only to find Bill calmly reading the paper as he asks her, “Did you know you sleep with your mouth open? Like a little baby bird?” Her panic is understandable, since while she waits to be restored as a member of Bill’s research team, Virgina’s forced to focus on the two jobs she actually has in the meantime: diet-pill saleswoman and secretary. I’d panic, too.
After catching a very tame glimpse of Bill and Virginia leaving their hotel room, Austin spends the rest of the episode on a peculiar sort of quest to get them to call it off. First he goes to Virginia, who lies seamlessly, telling him they meet to work on the study, and that’s all. (That might actually be less of a lie and more what she actually believes.) Undeterred, Austin later goes to Lillian, gets her tipsy on desk-drawer whiskey, and asks “how long she’s known.” It’s news to Lillian, but she plays along and later tells Virginia an anecdote about cheating on a calculus test in college — taking a shortcut — to try to goad her into confessing, but Virginia doesn’t bite. The trust Lillian loses in her in that moment leads her to pass their film strip and project on to Dr. Papanikolaou without consulting Virginia, coolly telling her, “I didn’t go into medicine to see my name on a study, Virginia.” Burn.
Finally, Austin turns up at the Masterses, bouncing the baby, describing himself as having “a sort of Hemingway air” and imploring Bill to weigh whatever it is he has with Virginia against his whole life with Libby. “Is it worth it?” he asks. It’s a question I’m dying to hear the answer to, but I’m not sure why Austin … cares. Is he this big of a busybody, or this bored without a wife and kids around?
Meanwhile, Betty’s tasked with finally telling Gene about her tubal ligation — while the actual revelation happens offscreen, we see the tense dinner that followed, culminating with Gene calling Betty “the expert on phony Bettys” (it’s a complicated Betty Crocker dig). He goes on to reveal that he’d always known Betty was once a prostitute. It’s lovely acting from both Annaleigh Ashford and Greg Grunberg, but it’s an awfully big coincidence to hang a scene on — Gene met Betty in a brothel and then just happened to bump into her at church? I’m not sure how many brothels there were in 1950s St. Louis, but there were plenty of churches, so it seems a bit far-fetched in a show typically hemmed in by reality. I’m also wondering how Betty’s story will continue on this season now that she won’t be popping by Bill’s office once a week for fake testing; where will she deliver her expert one-liners (“Not that kind of donation”) from now?
Back at the hospital, Bill becomes more and more aware of the reality of trying to carry out the study under Dr. Greathouse’s far too watchful eye. It was creepy enough to hear him profess an interest in what went on behind the closed doors of the study in the season premiere; watching him actually leer at test subjects is even worse. Bill tries to keep him away by telling his secretary the only tests scheduled are on old men masturbating, but Greathouse shows up anyway, first cheerfully declaring, “Thar she blows!” as an overweight woman climaxes, then bringing along friends and Chinese takeout. Bill’s just as angry that Greathouse won’t bring Virginia onboard, and it culminates in Bill — seriously — cramming egg rolls into one man’s face and throwing punches at Greathouse himself. He is, unsurprisingly, fired.
Greathouse swears that he’ll make sure Bill never works in the Midwest again, but by the next day, Bill’s secured a new job right there in St. Louis — at Buell Green, an African-American hospital (presumably on the brink of desegregation). Buell Green Hospital is fictional, I’m wondering if it might be partially based on Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, although as far as I know Masters never practiced there.
Meanwhile, at the Masters’ house, it’s still awful to be Libby, but it’s even more awful to be Baby John, with a case of Mystery Lice, and worst of all, to be Coral, who continues to bear the brunt of every frustration Libby can’t take out elsewhere. I’ve been fascinated with Libby and Coral’s story since the start — I could write a thousand words on all the fuckery required to believe you’re absolutely within your rights to force someone to let you wash their hair with poison — but I’ve been curious about where this story line fits into the overall arc of the season. But Libby and Coral’s relationship has perfectly, subtly teed up some of the issues Bill is surely about to face at Buell Green — race relations, superiority, control. It’s a pretty clever way to lay groundwork … although now that it’s been laid, I hope Coral quits. (I’m aware that Coral is imaginary. It’s fine.)
Not to belabor the lice point, but I’m apparently a massive lice truther and semi-disappointed that my theory where Baby John got lice from, like, a scarf of Bill’s that had been under Virginia’s coat, whose kids had lice last week. Or something. Feel free to leave your lice-related conspiracy theories in comments.
The tension between Libby and Bill reaches a (new) head when she finds out about his firing — as she rails at him about how she never hears anything from him first and asks whether or not he even cares about his responsibility to her and their baby, he starts to hyperventilate and doesn’t calm down until Libby puts her hand over his heart. I don’t think his panic is feigned, but what’s he most afraid of? Losing his wife and son? His reputation? His study? Or is the feeling of being out of control enough to terrify him? One of the things I like so much about Bill is that he’s so inscrutable in certain ways, and I’m a huge fan of the way Masters of Sex embraces ambiguity. Still, it’s odd to know so little about what Bill wants, really wants, so far into the series. As always: I can’t wait to find out.