If memory serves, a lot of my earlier Masters of Sex recaps, from way back in season two, expressed grave concern over the show deviating from the actual events of Masters’ and Johnson’s lives. But over the course of that season, I loosened up about holding the show to the standard of Thomas Maier’s impeccably researched book, and came to believe that it was totally fine for the show to deviate from what really happened, so long as those deviations served the story.
But on the whole, this season’s deviations … haven’t. Gini’s stories this season are the most egregious example. Remember when Gini had a baby earlier this season and that baby was barely heard from again? Remember when she remarried her husband for show, only for him to completely disappear for the rest of the season? (That was particularly odd, since we were told the visibility of that marriage was essential to the continued work of the clinic.)
Then again, the deviations from Bill’s story are just as frustrating, especially when it comes to the accusations of impropriety with a minor, which seem less like a story that helps us learn more about Bill and more like a straight-up plot device. And, I don’t know, am I overestimating the compassion a police force would extend to an affluent white man who said, “Look, this kid had a wet dream and thought he was terribly ill and so I explained what was happening to him”? I can see this being a potential issue when we first met Bill a decade ago, before the book lent him and the clinic more credibility, but even then, according to Maier’s book, the chief of police looked the other way regarding the prostitutes who participated in the early work of study. So I have a hard time believing that this was the sort of thing that couldn’t be cleared up with a simple explanation — which just makes it seem like drama for the sake of drama.
This wouldn’t frustrate me so much had the Masters of Sex showrunners simply run out of real-life Bill and Gini stories to tell, but that’s simply not the case. They could explore Bill’s dicey viewpoint about homosexuality and homosexual conversion — especially as they relate to Barton. They could dive into the accusations around Bill possibly falsifying research to suit his own purposes. They could further explore the talking therapy that became an essential component of Masters and Johnson’s work — how cool would it be for the show to do so with a rotating cast of powerhouse guest stars? Ignoring potentially meaty — and real-life — stories like these in favor of quick and easy storytelling is heartbreaking, especially for a show with an eminently talented cast. (Heartbreaking might be an exaggeration, but this show has put me through a lot of disappointment over the past 12 weeks.)
Anyway, here’s how it all plays out: Bill has a super-telling nightmare about his abusive father and Johnny; Libby comes to Gini to alert her of the accusations against Bill; Gini insists that Bill pay off the family and make everything quietly go away. At the same time, the office is abuzz with preparations for the press conference for Bill and Gini’s second book. THEN BILL AND GINI GO TO JAIL FOR A LITTLE BIT WHICH AGAIN IS QUITE DRAMATIC BUT DOES NOT SEEM LEGAL? The “arrest” was spurred on not just by the accusations around Dennis, but by Nora the sex surrogate spy, and Mr. Sturgiss, the Bible thumper who’s been haunting the clinic lobby all season. Anyway, Dan bails out Gini and Libby shows up at the jail to see Bill, which leads to him finally admitting to his affair with Gini.
Libby, to her glorious credit, laughs in his face. She all but says, “Duh.” I’m a little baffled by Bill’s genuine surprise after she says she’s known for years but then again, Bill is fond of underestimating the women around him. Rather than feeling liberated by Bill’s admission, Libby is (understandably) frustrated that yet again, Bill gets to decide what they do and when and how they do it. Libby tells him that if he’s hoping to run away with Gini, he’s going to be disappointed, because she and Gini made a pact that Gini would never break up their marriage. I can’t recall their conversation from the season premiere in detail, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a pact, so I’m not sure whether Libby’s bluffing or what — although I guess they did kiss to seal whatever deal there was? Regardless, Libby refuses to bail Bill out, and I’m thrilled to see her finally get a bit of agency, even if Bill had to be incarcerated in order for her to get it.
Then Gini hits Nora in the head with a box, which is extremely satisfying.
Stray observation/plea: Could we get Kevin Christy and Annaleigh Ashford on television programs that make better use of them? Please?
Meanwhile, Dan Logan is back from his Mexican divorce. I’m to the point where I’ve realized that I’ve tried so hard to like this story line simply because I have so much respect/unabashed fangirling for both performers involved, but that doesn’t make the way it’s been framed any more compelling … or any less soapy. Seriously, it includes lines like “You think I’d let you rot in jail!?” which sound less like prestige television and more like Guys and Dolls. After the arrest drama, she and Dan decide to skip town together, although miraculously, neither one of them actually says “skip town.”
Random aside: Gini’s outfit throughout this episode is on point; related to that — when will Bill drop the bow tie already? I guess we’ll have to treat that as a cliffhanger for season four, which is actually happening.
Also, Barton holds another man’s hand in public, which is enough to make me burst into tears and hope he gets his own spinoff.
Back at Gini’s house, as she’s preparing to leave town with Dan, Dan asks her father for his blessing for them to get married (because God forbid Gini do anything without the approval of at least two men), then gives her an engagement ring, which she has to awkwardly take off her wedding ring in order to accept. No one says anything about what Gini’s ACTUAL HUSBAND thinks about all of this, but whatever. Then Bill professes his love to Gini, and what’s sad is I could remember a time watching this series where that would’ve been beautiful and happy news. But when I saw it go down, I actually yelled “STOP IT” at my television. Gini tells him she’s leaving him, and I’m glad that she is, although I’m not necessarily glad about why she is.
The episode ends with Dan and Gini getting on a plane and Bill abandoning his plan to try to stop them at the airport, complete with sad indie-folk backing music. We don’t know what Bill will do next. We don’t know whether Gini will go through with her marriage to Dan (although if Masters of Sex follows Gini’s real-life trajectory, she will). We don’t know what the consequences will be of Bill and Gini missing the press conference. It’s one thing not to know what’s coming next for a TV series — in many cases, that can be an exciting, positive way to end a season. But it is another thing altogether to barely be able to care.