Photo: Michael Desmond/Showtime
It’s odd that it took an episode in which every character is legitimately set adrift for the series to feel like it was going someplace again, but that’s what happened, and it’s definitely how it feels. The episode takes us on a (gradual) time leap (time stroll?), surrounding the events around Dr. Masters finally setting up his own clinic. By episode’s end, three years or so have passed, and some things have changed while others stay intractably the same.
I’d expected many things to come from Bill finally establishing a private practice for the work of the study, but a reconciliation with his mother wasn’t among those things. I thought we’d seen the last of Essie when Bill banished her from the family home in a fit of pique at the start of the season; even so, I wasn’t, like, astounded to hear that she’d been in cahoots with Libby and Betty to funnel money to Bill through his business. We’ve really only ever seen Bill and Essie as adversaries, and so to have her turn up again suddenly (or not so suddenly, if you’re Libby meeting her in Terra Haute to show off the kids every week) and truly be onboard with the work Bill’s doing feels special somehow.
Speaking of Libby, it would appear that the birth of her second child has … cured her of being the actual worst? She’s all but buzzy in this episode, not stalking anyone even a little bit, and once again in the thick of trying to make things with Bill actually work. She even seems to finally get that this is a bit of a fool’s errand, even as she tries to talk Virginia into joining them on a family vacation just because things are easier when Ginny’s around. Eesh. According to the “Next time on Masters of Sex …” montage we’ll be seeing more of Coral and her brother next week, but I’m hoping Libby doesn’t just, like, lose it on sight. Fingers crossed.
Also, remember last week, when I took a hard-line stance about Betty needing to get closer to the season’s main story lines? I’m not sure if her breaking up with Gene was exactly what I had in mind, but seeing her take over as Bill’s … secretary? Office manager? Gal Friday? Is oddly satisfying. At least for now.
While we’re on the subject of last week’s episode, I found it jarring that there wasn’t at least a brief mention of Lillian’s death. Of course, it was most important to Virginia, and it’s likely that it would have been even less important to her as the gap of the time-jump widened, but it felt awfully strange to dedicate so much of last week’s episode to Lillian only to have her completely forgotten. But, then again, that’s how death works, sooo … cheerful!
Virginia, meanwhile, is still trying to get back into Bill’s good graces, since he’s been … what’s the word? Fretting? Flouncing? Over her ever since he found out she was sleeping with other people at the same time the two of them were “doing the work” of the study. Sure, the action of the episode might come from the work of getting the practice up and running, but the true meat of it is where it always is: right between Virginia and Bill. Bill’s properly awful to her for a long time — he throws shade at her about her kids, largely ignores her while pretending nothing is wrong, and overall teaches a master class in how toy with someone both psychologically AND physically. It’s fun!
Still, somehow, we ended up at Bill and Virginia’s hotel together and, surprisingly, the encounter wasn’t treated as an opportunity for Virginia to make sexual amends. (That’s a gratifying choice, for the record, since Virginia didn’t do anything wrong in the first place.) While she took the first step of booking the room, it was Bill who showed up and announced his intention to relearn her body with his mouth. It raises an interesting question: Are we supposed to want Bill and Virginia to be together? Are they an underdog couple for us to root for, or are they just the hottest of hot messes? It’s something I think about a lot more since reading Masters of Sex the book (or most of it, anyway — that print is small), which has lots to be said on the subject of whether and to what extent Virginia is being used.
Also, Langham turns up again at some point, with a girlfriend who does burlesque and jumps out of (or, like, next to) cakes. I like the character fine, except finding things for him to do often seems like it must’ve been laborious, and every time there’s a guest performer on this series that isn’t Allison Janney, I get really bummed out.
Stray observation: “Asterion,” which is the title of this episode, refers either to a point in the cranium or to two sacred kings of Crete who ruled the stars, one of whom was the Minotaur. Or something. Applicable, I guess?
It’s an odd episode, really, that seems mostly to be serving as a stopping point and resetting before diving into the work of Masters finally having his own clinic to run (even though he had to mortgage his own house to run it). But it’s odd to have an episode like this at a point in the season where episodes were starting to feel decidedly wheel-spin-y. I’m not sure whether it was entirely necessary to have the time-jump happen as a slow burn throughout the episode — couldn’t a placard at the start of an episode kill some of the meandering and get us moving forward? Still, now that we’re here, in a time and a place that seem immutable, I’m anxious (like always) to find out where we’ll go.