Last night’s MASTERS OF SEX had the age old plot of characters waking up in peculiar places, forcing the audience to wonder how they ended up in such a situation before cutting back to 24 hours earlier in order to show us just that. At first I was hesitant — the start of the episode had weird tonal problems that gave me flashbacks to the weakest episodes of the previous season and after such a strong start to this new season, I didn’t want to see this show fall back into old problems. But as the episode continued to unfold, my concerns were allayed. This was the first episode of the season where it ended and I was distraught because I couldn’t immediately watch the next episode (talk about Big Problems) and really felt like I was falling in love with these characters again. It was also one of the genuinely funniest episodes of the series in recent memory, which came like a breath of fresh air.
Back to the plot at hand: the whole episode is (mostly) centered around a party at Nancy and Art’s house — specifically a swingers party. Art invites Virginia and explicitly tells her to invite someone (as there needs to be an even number of people at the party so everyone can pair up) and she takes this a bit generously and proceeds to invite everyone, including Lester, Betty, and Libby. It’s astonishing that none of these characters catch on to the nature of the party until the last minute but I get why it was written in such a way.
Betty and Lester manage fairly well for themselves at the party. Upon realizing what’s going on (male guests choosing from a pile of the female guests’ coats to pick their sexual partner for the evening), Betty virtually launches herself at the hired piano player and forces him to take her coat, with a great line delivery from Annaleigh Ashford: “I’m looking for some moral support from the only other homo at this party, NOW TAKE THE GODDAMN COAT.” They end up leaving the party together and having a platonic sleepover at the office since Helen’s parents are in town and she hasn’t told them about her and Betty yet (a plot for next week if the preview is anything to go by, which means we get Sarah Silverman back and more Betty scenes, which are never a bad thing). The next morning, Betty witnesses the piano player, Guy (pronounced “Gee” with a hard g, as indicated in a funny scene between him and Betty), answer the office phone the next morning and a strange, calculated look comes over her face. So we’ll have to see what that’s all about in a later episode.
The episode highlighted the series’ overall problem with Lester: he’s kind of terrible in a lot of ways, but the writing is so good sometimes that that little caveat becomes blurred. He ends up hooking up with the event’s waitress after the woman whose coat he draws rejects and humiliates him, but the chemistry he has with the waitress is great, especially when she lectures him about real revolution, stating: “Nothing radical was ever catered.” Unfortunately, she leaves her phone number written in the steam on the car window and it disappears in the morning before Lester can write it down. Cue future episodes of Lester trying to hunt her down. I’m conflicted because Lester really is a bit of a drag sometimes, but she’s great and I’m excited to see more of her.
The real meat of the episode lies, appropriately, with Bill, Libby, and Virginia.
Bill storms the party, which he wasn’t intending to attend because he was planning to spend the evening with his children, but they weren’t at home when he got there and he goes to the party to confront Libby about where they are. Turns out Libby let them spend the evening with their friends to punish (might be too strong a word, but still) Bill for buying them a dog without checking with her first. Both Libby and Bill end up retreating home and we’re rewarded with the best scenes of the season yet. In a bold move, Libby requests Bill to perform oral sex on her and he does. Afterwards, Bill being Bill, overthinks what just happened but as Libby rounds on him, lecturing him on how they could have been doing that for the 20 years of their marriage but didn’t because Bill never introduced Libby to such things, he’s left gaping at her, in some truly wonderful facial expressions from Michael Sheen.
They kiss, affectionately, and the rest of their night goes well. Libby continues to hold the power in their relationship, which is exhilarating to watch, and they talk with one another more amicably than they have in several seasons. I am thrilled at the idea of Bill and Libby finding closure with one another, and maybe even friendship, and heck, maybe even some final rolls in the hay in ways they never did when they were an actively married couple. It also poses interesting character dynamics and tension for the future, which is (usually) never a bad thing when it comes to hourlong scripted television drama.
Meanwhile, Art purposely picks Virginia’s coat because, plot-twist, he knew she wouldn’t sleep with him. As Virginia describes, Art is the “world’s only reluctant swinger.” It’s an eye-opening, vulnerable, and beautifully acted scene. Watching Jeremy Strong’s face crack as they listen to Nancy have sex in the room over is heartbreaking. There is something so earnest about his performance as Art that I even felt conflicted about him keeping Virginia’s keys and drawing out a real, honest confession about her relationship with Bill. I’m still uncertain about his and Nancy’s game plan here, but it seems likely that Art is now having second thoughts about whatever it is, while Nancy is the instigator behind whatever’s going on, and that is curious and exciting.
At the end of the episode, Virginia returns Libby coat to her, only to be greeted at the front door by Bill, in a hastily buttoned shirt and boxers. The shock on her face is evident, especially with the relaxed and comfortable attitude Bill presents. She finally confesses to him that she and Dan never married and he confesses that he already knew. Still, she apologizes and there are traces of so many emotions on her face — heartbreak, disappointment, confusion, curiosity, hesitation. Having just poured her heart out about Bill, their roles have been reversed and she is now on the outside watching and wanting him, but he seems to be finally getting to a place of comfort without her. Welcome back, Masters of Sex, you’ve certainly been missed.
Season 4, Episode 4 (S04E04)
Masters of Sex airs Sundays at 10PM on Showtime
Anya is a journalist with a passion for the following things, in no particular order: movies, history, dogs, musicals, and Disney parks. She lives her life attempting to embody Amy Poehler or Lauren Bacall on any given day.
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Anya Crittenton | Associate Editor