Masters of Sex
I can understand, after more consideration of the season premiere, why Masters of Sex’s showrunners feel tempted to add characters like Gini’s daughter Tessa into the mix and to feature them so prominently — imagined characters are more dynamic than Bill and Gini, whose characters are a bit boxed in by our knowledge of Masters and Johnson and their work. But despite our foreknowledge, Masters of Sex is at its most compelling when it’s illuminating the work of and relationship between Bill and Gini, not when speculating about their respective home lives … and that’s why I’m not exactly treating Gini and George’s new baby like a bundle of joy. But we’ll get to that.
Libby’s already contradicting what she said last week about Bill not needing to be “all things” to her and her children by asking him to have dinner with the new couple next door and to maybe clean out the rain gutters with the husband, who’s an ex-NFL player. It’s not that Libby’s asking too much, but expecting Bill to cheerfully do this is about as realistic as expecting him to be home from work by 5 p.m. every day. Bill claims to not like “socializing,” which seems like an unreasonably broad stance to take, but then again, 1) I can’t think of a single time outside of a sexual encounter that we’ve ever seen Bill enjoy himself, and 2) I’ve said more than once, without irony, that I don’t like “activities,” so I probably don’t really have a leg to stand on here.
But what really unglues Libby is news of Gini’s pregnancy, which isn’t just a hollow cliffhanger or a false alarm. She’s actually pregnant, and Bill isn’t the father — her ex-husband George is. Bill’s response to that news is more measured than one might expect; meanwhile, Libby’s response is to say that everyone’s going to think the baby is Bill’s, which is a reasonable fear. As always, Bill’s primary concern is how this will affect the work and the study, especially once Gini decides to keep the baby, a decision that baffled me, especially because we didn’t see much of the thought process that took her from a calmly made abortion appointment to a carefully concealed baby bump under her lab coat.
The baby bump makes Gini an unsuitable partner for Bill — after all, his image depends on him having a wholesome, intelligent woman next to him (not, as Gini darkly calls herself, a “wayward woman”) so that he doesn’t look like a pervert. He brings on a young, smart gynecologist who he immediately disdains on the grounds that she’s not Gini. And after Bill bumbles his way through an interview with the Times, failing to illuminate simple concepts in layman’s terms and providing an illustrative example about a woman who “gives as good as she gets,” he sits down with George and Gini. It’s a difficult conversation but ultimately, Bill bribes George to marry Gini as an on-paper arrangement, even though George is oddly set on getting Gini to fall in love with him again.
Libby’s equally set on George and Gini falling back in love, for obvious reasons. She even asks Gini point-blank, “Wouldn’t that just solve everything?” She goes so far as to gleefully spy on Gini and George in the Masters’ backyard after their sham wedding, and in that moment, we see the first real flash of jealousy on Bill’s face. But both Libby and Bill are misreading the moment, which is George once again trying to convince Gini that there’s something between them. “You can’t have sex like that without feeling something deeper,” George argues, but Gini coolly insists, “Actually, you can. Sometimes the body just takes over.”
Meanwhile, throughout the episode, Bill treats a pair of royals for infertility. After testing, he discovers the infertility is caused by damage to the wife’s fallopian tubes, and nothing can be done to give her a chance at conceiving a child. It all leads to her saying her husband will have to have a child with another woman to keep the line of succession moving, which turns into a monologue about how a marriage between three people can never work. It feels a little like the show hitting us over the head with what we already know: Bill and Gini’s current situation (and, by extension, Libby and George’s) is completely untenable.
Ultimately, it’s the moment in Gini’s hospital room, just before the baby’s born, that’s the strongest of the episode. (Amy Lippman, who’s written several Masters of Sex episodes, consistently nails these intimate, small moments between Gini and Bill.) Bill tries his hardest to soothe Gini’s labor pains, first, hilariously and adorably, by singing “Danny Boy” to her, and then by trying to talk her into being fully sedated for the delivery. He goes on to try to soothe her fear that she’s the worst mother ever, a worry she’s probably been struggling with long before Tessa called her that during a fight over Bob Dylan tickets. Gini says that this time she needs to leave work at a reasonable hour and stick close to home to give this baby what she didn’t give her older children. Bill wipes her tears and strokes her hair and tries to convince her she’s mistaken to assume a stay-at-home mother would be best for her child.
We’ve seen Bill treat Gini with such tenderness so rarely in the past that it feels far more intimate than all the sex we’ve seen them have; at the same time, Bill’s tenderness feels less like loving concern and more like a ploy to ensure that she comes back to work as soon as possible. He patiently asks her whether she doesn’t think that someday in the future, we’ll look back on stay-at-home moms with pity, sad that they had nothing better to do than smother their children with attention. “What if,” he asks, “you show this baby that you were willing to pursue your passion? That you chose it, not over him, but for him? So that every night you could bring him a piece of the world?” And he goes on to ask whether it could be true that — in the same way their study argues there are infinite ways of having satisfying sex — there might just be infinite ways to be a caring, competent mother. He’s right, of course. But at the end of the episode, as we see Gini staring longingly into the nursery window (as Bill, in a parallel shot, looks lovingly at a bookstore display of Human Sexual Response), it’s clear she’s not convinced yet.