It only took the title of last night’s episode of Masters of Sex (“Family Only”) and a few moments of schlocky foreshadowing for it to become very clear that Helen wouldn’t survive the hour. Oh, things start happily enough: Helen and Betty lying in bed together, debating whether the baby is going to be a boy or a girl. Helen even describes a dream she had about her parents grudgingly accepting her sexuality by blowing her a kiss. Then, just like that, Helen’s water breaks! Off to the hospital.
Once Barton (welcome back, Beau Bridges, though you deserve far better material than this) shows up at the hospital and starts assuring both Betty and Helen that everything’s going to be fine, you know it isn’t going to be. Helen’s baby is breech and needs a C-section, and she’s had a terrible headache all day, and she bled a lot when her water broke, but Barton just smiles and says everything’s under control, even as he’s banishing Betty to the waiting room to sit and brood. Betty knows something’s wrong, but there’s nothing she can do about it. She can’t even be in the operating room during the procedure. (At least Barton takes pains to point out that a husband would be excluded from the OR, too.) Bravely, Helen whispers, “Sweet Pea and I have everything under control.”
Betty’s so frazzled she calls Bill for advice, which is saying something, since he’s not exactly a soothing presence. He tells her that C-sections are practically routine, and that he used to do two of them before lunch when he was still a practicing OB. He even offered to come down to the hospital to sit with her, and I was shocked that he actually made good on the offer. (Legitimate question: Is this the first nice thing Bill has ever done for someone else?) When he finds Betty in the waiting room, she’s just called Helen’s parents to ask them to come, but their only response was to accuse Betty of making her gay. And then there’s Barton and an impossibly adorable little baby girl, whose face he tilts down to Helen. Helen smiles, beatifically, and asks for Betty to come in and sit with her as Barton stitches her up.
And then she dies. It’s not quite so abrupt as all that; actually, it’s really milked for all its worth. Betty and Helen holding hands! Sweat forming on Helen’s brow! Helen, asking sleepily, “Am I sick?” Dozens of bloody surgical sponges! Barton weeping! Betty mourning next to Helen’s body! And then, finally, Betty going to see her baby in the nursery, only to have Helen’s parents send a nurse to her, telling her she’s not allowed in. “Family only.”
I understand that TV characters die. But this particular instance feels nonsensical and vaguely exploitative, especially when you consider the disproportionate rate at which lesbians are killed off on television. What does Helen’s death give us that the show didn’t already have? Perhaps this decision had something to do with Sarah Silverman’s availability (if it didn’t, it is even more egregious), but even if Helen needed to be written off the show, it would’ve been entirely possible for her to have the baby, and for Betty to mention her and their kid occasionally without them being shown onscreen. There are plenty of stories to tell about Betty that don’t involve her domestic or romantic life. Plus, every television show I watch that’s even tangentially related to medicine has done a “C-section gone wrong!” story featuring a maternal death — all Masters of Sex is doing here is retreading that already-worn territory. There was no reason for the show to do this, and I’m beyond disappointed that they did it anyway. You deserved better, Helen and Betty.
Meanwhile — because in even more depressing news, all of the above was treated as a subplot to the majority of the episode — Bill and Gini are still circling each other, trying to carve out whatever this new version of a relationship is. Gini shows up at Bill’s sublet (are we to believe he still hasn’t found a place of his own yet?) with Champagne to celebrate the fact that the publication of their book is back on. Bill hands her a teacup, tells her she can drink it on her own, and bolts out the door, saying he’s going to an AA meeting. He’s more diplomatic about it than that, of course, but it’s still horribly awkward to watch.
It gets more awkward as he and Gini end up treating Bob, their Little Brown editor, for what’s ostensibly impotence. Gini tells Bill that the rumors around New York City suggested that Bob’s gay, and so the two of them do this good-cop-bad-cop intake interview shuffle that’s both disturbing and impressive to watch, all in an effort to get him to admit that he’s had homosexual encounters. He owns up to having experimented with a boy as a teenager, and they ask if he ever uses the memory of the moment to achieve an erection. “I find [the memory] nauseating and … sometimes arousing … and I find it shameful. And abhorrent,” he explains. And then he asks Bill whether he’s ever wanted to just stop wanting something. We get it. Bill wants to not want Gini! It’s okay for the storytelling not to explicitly remind us of this every four minutes.
Speaking of awkward, Libby finally gets her first date with Braham, but it’s at a nudist colony (finally, a little male frontal nudity), at which he’s meeting with the owners to consult on a lawsuit. Libby solves their problem with a tactic she used in her civil-rights-organizing days, and they’re given a cabin to spend the night in as a show of gratitude. Braham comes out in oversize grandpa pajamas and tells Libby that he likes her and wants to wait to have sex. Libby basically laughs at him and then refuses to sleep with him when he tries to recalibrate. She wakes up in the night, takes off her slip, and walks through the (quiet, sleeping) nudist colony naked, and then back to the cabin where she and Braham finally have sex. It’s all underscored by the cheesiest music imaginable, which is unfortunate. I’m a little leery about Libby’s story line this season because it’s turning into a weird parade of her trying out fads of the 1960s — consciousness-raising groups! Key parties! Nudist colonies! It’s still interesting, so long as it doesn’t lapse into her getting obsessed with her magic eight ball or something.
And then there’s poor, enraged Nancy, who feels slighted by Gini and complains to Barton (who is, I guess, back in the clinic now), who basically tells her what I told her in last week’s recap: Calm down. Bill and Gini have been at this for ten years. You’ve been at it for a month. Nancy’s right that Gini’s being territorial, but she’s being territorial of her own territory. She and Gini snap at each other in the restroom for a few minutes (it’s disappointing that we’re getting an additional female clinician for the first time and this is where the storytelling takes us), and finally, exasperated, she says, “I just want to know where I stand.” Gini, exquisitely, replies, “Wherever we tell you to.”
This, predictably, doesn’t calm Nancy much, and so she brings up the fact that Art and Gini had sex in front of Bill. Of course, they didn’t have sex, and Art had promised Gini that he’d made that clear to Nancy already. Art confirms this in front of Bill and Gini, but later, he tells Nancy that he and Gini did have sex, and Nancy makes him describe it in great detail. Then she starts reenacting the entire thing. It’s deeply odd.
Bill acts horrified that Gini was even at the key party in the first place, as though he owns any sort of moral high ground. “You should’ve left that party as soon as you knew what it was. Instead, you spend the night with an employee […] You put your reputation and the reputation of the clinic at risk.” So, Bill can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants to, but Gini is the one putting their work at risk? Rather than getting angry about this, Gini tells Bill that she’s like a wayward game-show contestant, always picking the wrong doors. Later, she gets a key to their old hotel room at the Park Chancery, leaving it on his desk as an invitation to meet her there later that night. But Bill says she doesn’t love him, and that he doesn’t trust her not to wake up wanting something or someone else the next morning. It’s fair of Bill to have that concern. It’s not fair of him to act like he’s more trustworthy or capable of healthy connection than Gini is. And I’m eagerly waiting for her to call him out on that.