I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to say this, but: The finest moment of last night’s Masters of Sex came from Bill and Libby, in the same room, at the same time. Aside from the scene in the season premiere where Bill did everything he could not to sleep in the same bed as his wife, we haven’t seen much of them together at all this season, other than a few arguments over their son. And we’ve known for a while now that Libby’s objective has shifted from saving her marriage to sparing her children from the turmoil of divorce.
So it’s surprising to see them in a moment of actual agreement, even though they’re only agreeing about how treacherous other people can be. After Bill’s just gotten home from work, standing side by side and drinking warm liquor, almost enjoying one another, even though they’re both frustrated by separate problems, Libby asks, “Why don’t we do this more often? Drink together?” Bill, taking her literally, says it’s because he’s always standing by the liquor cabinet, and she’s always standing by the kitchen sink. Even though this might not be an intentional joke about this frequently used staging (I think we’ve seen it at least five times this season alone), it’s a good one.
Libby presses on, asking why they don’t ever really talk or have sex, and she’s unguarded in a way that we almost never see her (Caitlin FitzGerald is great here, in a way Masters of Sex so infrequently allows her to be). She asks Bill what he wants to be able to look back on their marriage and say when he’s on his deathbed, and he responds, “We did our best. Both of us. We gave our very best.” There’s a way to say those words that’s romantic, suggesting that there are “years” of best yet to come, and there’s a way to say it like an ending. It’s pretty clear Bill’s doing the latter. Masters of Sex has had flashier scenes, and more ambitious storytelling, but this scene is such a good example of the show’s ability to create crystalized, deeply human moments of and about intimacy.
It’s interesting, then, to wonder about where Libby and Bill go from here. In the true story of Bill Masters’s life, he left Libby to marry Gini. Here, Libby seems poised to leave Bill. If nothing else, her relationship with her current sidepiece seems far more stable than Bill’s. Maybe it’s her frank conversation with Bill that allows her to say “you” when Paul asks her what she really wants, but she’s said it now, and he’s right next door, so the only question that’s relevant is: How long is everyone willing to keep pretending? (Important related information: Paul’s wife is dead now.)
But because Bill isn’t at his best when he’s desperate with need, and Gini isn’t at her best when she’s sputter-y and indignant, and Dan Logan isn’t at his best because it turns out no one can say “the smell of sex” over and over again without it starting to sound hilarious, and Austin Langham has really never been at his best but is, improbably, still on this show — the rest of the episode is pretty wobbly. Bill’s half out of his mind because Dan Logan’s still around, and so half of the episode is, as Betty put it, “mommy and daddy fighting.” Gini points out that even if Dan does leave town, Bill can’t force her to work on “his” surrogacy program, which Gini still doesn’t support. I wish there were a way for Gini to fight with Bill over the fact that he can’t force her to sleep with him even after Dan Logan leaves town, which is a far more interesting argument.
Despite Gini’s objections, the surrogacy study is going forward, with Bill’s strange little former neighbor kid, Nora, as its first surrogate. She takes the (much older) man she’s assigned out to dinner, and then brings him back to the clinic to start the sensate therapy with him. Everything’s fine as she strokes his arms and chest, but he starts begging her to touch his penis, and even though it goes against the protocol of the surrogacy program, she agrees.
Bill, understandably, loses it, both because it’s a breach in the way the study should run and because it’s proof of what Betty says to him earlier in the episode — he can’t control other people, no matter how hard he tries. He loses it with Nora, but calms down after she apologies. She also reveals that due to an abusive past, she’s drawn to mean or angry men, and makes it explicitly clear to Bill that when he yells at her, she’s drawn to him, too. It is a deeply weird interaction, and a relationship I still don’t know what to make of — I just hope Nora isn’t going to be used as a simple pawn for the jealousies playing out between Bill and Gini.
Unrelated: “I heard you wrote a book about people’s private parts” is perhaps the best out-of-context line Masters of Sex has given us in a while.
And meanwhile, Dan and Gini’s storyline continues to not quite work the way it should, especially in the hands of Josh Charles and Lizzy Caplan, who, yes, as these reviews have made clear, I love so much I should probably just marry them at this point, thanks. I think the storyline itself is partially to blame — it’s difficult to talk about olfactory stimulation and pheromones and arousal without starting to sound like a cross between a soap opera and a really high-quality high-school skit. The uneven nature of the writing makes it difficult to be invested in what’s going on between Dan and Gini (although I’ll always be staunchly in favor of Gini being with anyone but Bill), and so Dan’s “I’m leaving!” “I’m staying!” “I’m leaving, but only kind of!” antics were difficult to invest in. In their relationship — and across the board on Masters of Sex, come to think of it — there’s only so much time you can spend listening to people talk about how they feel about each other. I’m ready for something to happen.