Masters of Sex
First of all, an appreciative tip of the hat to the fact that this was an episode titled “Party of Four,” written by Amy Lippman, the brains behind Party of Five. I am nothing if not a sucker for subtle callbacks to 1990s nighttime soaps. Later, the callback gets even less subtle as Bill refers to their dinner company as a party of “five. If you include the coat.” (The coat in question is Gini’s, which she clings to for dear life, so she’s prepared for a quick exit if at all possible.) Second of all, I’m glad Ms. Lippman is back. She’s responsible for most of the series’ most affecting episodes, including last season’s “The Boxer,” which was one of the best episodes of television of 2014, full stop. But perhaps more important, she understands that Masters of Sex is at its best when it’s exploring tiny moments of intimacy between characters.
“Party of Four” is exactly what its title suggests: a dinner attended by Dan and Alice Logan and Bill and Gini, fresh off a pitch meeting at Little, Brown, where Bill and Gini presented the research for their second book, Human Sexual Inadequacy. Bill’s full-bore psychopathy from last week’s episode seems to have simmered down to a low boil of manipulation, and he promises Gini that he informed her well in advance of his plan to invite the Logans to dinner. I call bullshit, but then, I’ve been calling bullshit on Bill all season.
It’s a profoundly awkward dinner before anyone’s even seated; in the washroom, Gini tells the attendant that she can’t use any of the offered perfume because the man she’s “seeing” has an aversion to her wearing scents of any kind. Logan’s wife, played by the inimitable Judy Greer, overhears her from behind a stall door. The awkwardness compounds when their party has to squeeze into a “cozy” table intended for two. Bill and Gini don’t help matters as they immediately launch into an old-married-couple-grade fight about the surrogacy program, which Bill included in the pitch meeting for the book.
The fight feels fresher here than it has in past episodes — at least Bill and Gini seem to be talking to each other rather than at each other, like they’ve been doing all season. “Do most people assume you’re married?” Alice asks, and while I thought in that moment she might have been asking innocently, that theory is instantly negated when she immediately begins listing Dan’s extramarital affairs. I’d say now would be a good time to point out that Judy Greer is an actual genius, but there’s not really a bad time for that.
It’s a precipitous downward slope from there, and soon Bill and Gini are screaming at each other in the coat-check closet. Bill is as pedantic as ever, telling Gini he needed to set up the dinner so she could see that she’s not Dan’s first affair, just his most recent. Gini finally says outright that she’s been concealing her relationship with Dan because the last time she was honest with Bill about a lover (two years of covering this show, and I still think that word is awkward as hell), he cut her out of the work for a full year. Back at the table, Alice and Dan get into it, too, as he calls her out for her alcoholism and she calls him out for his repeated affairs. Judy Greer brings it, but Josh Charles still seems stiff and a little soapy, but then, how do you deliver lines like, “You think your behavior leaves me a choice [aside from having affairs]?!” without getting a little over-the-top?
It’s refreshing, though, to see the ways that Dan and Bill are similar finally laid out plainly. Both are accustomed to getting what they want. Both think they know what’s best and right for everyone in their lives. And both are fond of “saving” women, whether or not those women want to be saved. Alice calling out that pattern in Dan’s relationships suddenly makes his past behavior make a lot more sense, from letting Gini try to help the young veteran who tried to rob them in Las Vegas to paternalistically wiping her tears in last week’s episode when she learned that Tessa knew of her affair. But man alive, I am sick to death of Masters of Sex painting Gini as weak or a woman in need of saving. What happened to her agency? How did time and professional success make her less of a force to be reckoned with? Why is she suddenly only ever spoken about and to, and rarely with? Why has her story been reduced to a choice between two men? Why are those two men so awful? Why has she given herself over to all of this for literally a decade? Why is she a prize to be won and not a human being? The show has never effectively shown its work when it comes to where her character is now, and I’ll argue that the writing began to betray her way back at the end of last season, when she literally gave her children away. And while the scene between Gini and Alice is beautifully done, it’s a reminder of how infrequently women on this show talk about anything other than men or sex (with the exception of Betty and Helen).
It is also incredibly satisfying to see Bill called a son of a bitch, even if Dan Logan saying that is something of a pot-kettle-black situation. It is less satisfying to see Dan on Gini’s doorstep, having left his wife, but what can you do?
Back in St. Louis, Libby and Paul and the kids are a party of five of their own. Paul and Johnny have a Full House–caliber conversation about fears, which feels a bit too contrived in the moment, but earns more pathos purely because in two minutes, it’s more affection than we’ve seen Johnny get from Bill the entire series. I think the intention here was to juxtapose Libby’s newfound happiness with the festival of tension that’s taking place at the restaurant back in New York City. But instead, Libby’s story continues to feel wedged into what’s happening on the rest of the show. We watch her rehearse the “it’s over” speech she’s planning to deliver to Bill, but because “Libby gives a speech” has become a trademark trope of the series, it lacks any real emotional punch. And then the police show up and things get weird. The officer who shows up is investigating an incident related to Dennis the Bully and the fact that Bill taught him about wet dreams and showed him a diagram of a penis a few weeks back. Again, it’s interesting enough, but it feels so out of place that it’s hard to really get invested in it.
Anyway. On to the season finale next week! At this point, I hope Gini flees St. Louis and these men for, like, a trip to Paris and a job at Ms. magazine and maybe a pony. But we already know that’s not how the story goes.