Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters.
Photo: Warren Feldman/Showtime
In a way, Masters of Sex is always about Bill and Virginia lying to one other — about their feelings, about their needs, about the nature of their work together and their relationship. But we’ve never seen Gini lie to Bill quite as seamlessly as she does from a Las Vegas hotel bed with Dan Logan, faking the flu and letting Bill “talk her into” staying home from work for a few days. “It’s important,” she explains to Dan, “for Bill to think that it was his idea.” She’s really quite good at it.
But Gini’s perfectly healthy, and Dan’s arranged a Pretty Woman–style menu of morning activities for her: a Swedish massage, personal shopping appointment, and trip to the hotel’s hair salon. She immediately cancels all three, settles in at a slot machine instead, and is immediately intrigued by the way people’s actions when they win a jackpot mirror orgasmic behavior. “So in other words,” Dan asks, “you spent your day off doing field work?” The whole affair does seem a bit obvious (of course people yell in ecstasy when they unexpectedly receive hundreds of dollars), but I’m prepared to let it ride because I love it when we get to see glimpses of this Gini away from Bill — forward-thinking, creative, engaged.
Dan’s in Las Vegas to take meetings about the idea of pumping smells into casinos, and while I’ve no idea how accurate or advanced the science Gini lays out for the client they take a dinner meeting with is, it’s nice to at least hear a quasi-explanation for why every casino in the world smells so deeply of despair. The client declines their proposal but gives them a stack of chips, and for a while it’s all lounge music and laughter and sexual tension until Dan and Gini go tumbling back into their hotel suite and there’s a robber inside their room, a scenario that my raging anxiety disorder has surprisingly never managed to entertain until now. Dan’s able to punch him in the face rather than handing over his wallet (after using the Oprah-approved assuagement technique of asking the robber for his name), and asks Gini to call the police.
But after Gini hears that he was just discharged from the Army, she can’t call the police because her son is also in the Army, which is a reason that’s a little too tenuous to validate an entire scene of her feeding the young robber dinner while making small talk (with Dan glowering nearby). And rather than being grateful to Gini for not calling the police, all the robber does is tell Gini her son won’t be the same after he comes back — this war is too brutal — and that Vietnam turned him into an addict who stole his mother’s jewelry. “Any mother would want to hear from her son, no matter what he’s done,” Gini promises, and she and Dan agree to try to arrange for him to get some sort of treatment. Despite the fact that she and Dan have been “working together” for most of the season so far, this Vegas trip — from the weird robber to the client dinner — has been the first time Gini and Dan have made sense together for reasons other than raging chemistry. So when Dan decides to turn down the Las Vegas contract to go back to St. Louis with Gini, it’s both a terrible decision and the only one he could possibly make.
Back at the clinic, Bill’s used Gini’s absence to push forward the surrogacy program (which would partner sex surrogates with unmarried people to treat their sexual dysfunction), a program Gini still objects to. Betty’s managed to cull together a list of sex surrogates based on phone calls to past study participants. I would’ve killed to hear Betty make just one of those telephone pitches, for the record. There aren’t a lot of strong candidates for the surrogacy roles, especially since Bill can’t quite figure out whether paying the surrogates would qualify as prostitution, so he’s offering the positions unpaid. But Nora, a young woman who used to be a neighbor kid of Bill’s, shows up and announces that she’s interested. She’s already been a sex surrogate of sorts for horses, helping stallions stay calm before they breed, and thanks to last week’s absolute train wreck of an episode, that’s not the strangest sentence about Masters of Sex I’ve ever typed.
Libby is, of course, furious that Bill’s allowing a “lovely young girl” like Nora to do work like that, but then she’s sleeping with Paul regularly and in a secret apartment at this point, so she doesn’t necessarily have an outraged leg to stand on. Her affair continues to not make much sense, but we do finally hear what happened to Robert — he made it through his summer of registering voters in Mississippi alive, but he was killed by a driver asleep at the wheel, which retroactively shows why she was so horribly shaken up by Gini’s son getting hit by the car, although that’s traumatic enough on its own, I guess. “I can’t give you anymore of myself because I have already given it all,” she explains to Paul.
Libby’s right, though. Nora is lovely and extraordinarily well-prepared. Even though we’ve not really seen Bill show much interest in a woman other than Gini (including Libby), there’s an immediate creeper vibe between him and Nora that sets me on edge, especially after he agrees to let her live in the clinic’s offices (?!), and most especially after one of their interactions is underscored by Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman.” It does not help that she looks like an actual child.
Meanwhile, Betty and Helen have talked Austin Langham into being their sperm donor, and come to the clinic so that Helen can be artificially inseminated. Real talk: Austin always, always looks to me like less of an adult and more like two kids sitting on each other’s shoulders wearing a trench coat, which fortunately doesn’t temper my enjoyment of his recap of everything he’s been up to in the (eight?) years since we’ve seen him last. It’s mostly all bad real estate and diet pills and burlesque bars. (In a flashback, Helen hilariously asks, “A lot of your dancers have surgical scars — is that on purpose?”) The ruse works at first, but Bill finds out that Helen’s hymen is intact and that she’s Betty’s partner, which leads to Austin and Helen deciding to do things the old-fashioned way. It also leads to the supremely ironic moment of Bill yelling at Betty, “We keep our personal affairs out of this office!” Seriously, Bill? Since when?