An important question before we dive into last night’s Masters of Sex: Who on the set of the show was responsible for the construction and rigging of Bill Masters’ fake morning erection? Is it a costume piece, or is it something the props department puts together? And what’s it made of, anyway? Feel free to leave ideas in the comments.
It’s odd. If you’d asked me a few months ago what I most wanted to see on this season of Masters of Sex, I would’ve said that I was anxious to see Bill and Virginia finally get together. The romance of Bill turning up to tell Virginia that he needed (loved?) her was so compelling, and because I knew that they’d eventually marry, I’d imagined a lovely little courtship between them. I thought their eventual coupling would be a happy thing. But by the end of last night’s episode, it didn’t feel like Bill and Virginia were together because they truly wanted to be. It seemed like they were all each other had left — like Virginia was in for an endless, plodding lifetime of assuring Bill that he’s attractive and worth being with.
Virginia spent a lot of the episode realizing just how little she has left outside the confines of the study and Bill. We haven’t seen her kids in awhile, and when we do, it’s clear that they’re closer to their father than to Virginia — a far cry from the man who didn’t even have a storybook in his home during “The Fight.” He asks Virginia for permission to take the children to Europe with him and his new wife, and when she says no, he asks whether she’d prefer the kids come home to a babysitter and the vague hope they’d stay awake until their mom came home. She backs down and allows it, but it leaves her alone for the holidays. “Who’s going to give you presents?” asks little Tessy. Jesus, way to rub it in.
Sidebar: “Hmm, that rhymed. Ha!” God bless Annaleigh Ashford for doing more comedically with two words and two nonsense syllables than anyone should reasonably be expected to.
Meanwhile, Bill and Virginia are getting ready for a CBS interview about the study; for Bill, this involves a pretty tortured application of Libby’s makeup to cover up the scars and bruises he’s still covered in after his fight with his brother. (The two of them haven’t patched things up, although Bill tells Virginia he “means to write to” Frank, which I’m sure will smooth everything over.) Unsurprisingly, it’s not going well — “Bill Masters doesn’t take direction well” is one of the top five themes of the season. He chafes at the PR man (Adam Arkin, back again, you silver fox, you) suggesting that Bill abandon his bow tie and smile occasionally. Bill’s complete inability to perform on-camera seems a little odd — he hasn’t had a problem with public speaking in the past, even if he’s seemed a little stiff — and while the show might be trying to imply that Bill’s impotence has caused an across-the-board crisis of confidence, well, that seems a little far-fetched, too. But it’s properly moving (yeah, I said it) once Bill figures out a way to talk about sexuality and shame and vocabulary on-camera — it’s one of the first times Bill, our Bill, from Masters of Sex, actually seems like the Bill Masters.
Perhaps the best moments of the episode come, once again, from Lester, who has some really strong feelings about how the CBS crew should be doing its job. When a gruff CBS crew member announces that, “CBS doesn’t like dildos,” Lester quickly responds, “Well, CBS doesn’t have to use a dildo.” It’s a great retort, but it’s even greater coming from a man who’s wearing a tucked-in knitted vest. He’s nice comic relief, as ever, but his insistence that he has a stake in how the study is presented to the world is really compelling — for every Bill and Virginia, there were plenty of assistants and unseen helpers, and I’m newly appreciative of Masters of Sex for giving them voice and perspective through Lester.
While Bill and Virginia are hard at work on the CBS interview, Libby’s off with Robert, listening to the radio for news about a Martin Luther King Jr. arrest. He drives her home, and after a brief altercation with a police officer, Libby invites Robert in to prove a point (both to him and the officer). There’s an excruciating few minutes of button sewing and allusions to past crimes, and finally, finally, finally, they’re doing it — in Bill’s home, while Bill’s kids sleep down the hall. The whole run is a lovely bit of acting from Caitilin FitzGerald, who’s had to shift between stoic and shrill and erratic without much reward all season. It’s all still out of place and random, but they’re having sex on a television program about sex, which is all I’ve been asking them to do all season, really. I do have to ask: Were we meant to believe that that was Libby’s first orgasm?
There’s also a complicated bit of Gone With the Wind/intruder/quasi-rape fantasy being enacted by Langham and Flo, and while the fact that their encounter raises questions of consent and fantasy makes it seem a tiny bit more in place with the rest of the show, it’s still random and bizarre. Frankly, I’m starting to think that we’re supposed to find the Flo/Langham interactions inherently funny just because Flo is larger than Langham, and that’s just sad. If you’re keeping score at home, this was the episode where I finally admitted to myself that Allison Janney and Beau Bridges’ assurances that they’d be happy to return at some point this season if scheduling allowed were just pleasantries.
By the end of the hour, we’re back to Virginia and Bill, just the two of them, only at the offices instead of the hotel. “I’m here,” Virginia promises Bill, again, as he cries in the last moments of the episode, cradling his head like he’s a baby. It’s not lovely or tender or intimate. It’s just sad.