Oh, MASTERS OF SEX, did you learn nothing from the controversy and debate over the Bury Your Gays trope from earlier in the year? As soon as Betty and Helen ended up in the hospital in last night’s episode, after it started out with them blissfully waking up in bed together before Helen’s water broke, it became clear things were not going to go off without a hitch. From Barton Scully (welcome back, Beau Bridges) waving off Helen’s blood loss as normal to Betty sitting distraught in the waiting room as Helen’s C-section proceeds hour after hour, convinced something is wrong, it’s clear there wasn’t going to be a happy ending. At first, I thought it was going to be the baby that didn’t make it, but then she did and we saw Betty grasping Helen’s hands, telling her it was going to be fine as both Barton and Bill (who had arrived earlier to comfort Betty) performed emergency surgery, complete with shots of bloody bandages and Barton washing the blood off his arms as he weeps.
What’s particularly painful about what happened is how unnecessary it was, especially when the episode began with the show’s only two queer female characters shown having what a lot of media seems to deny them — happiness (until it was ripped away from them). In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, creator Michelle Ashford talked about this development in the show as being to serve Betty’s arc as a single gay woman in the 1970s trying to salvage her family. Oh, yes, I forgot to mention. Betty’s heartbreak didn’t end with Helen’s death. At the end of the episode, Betty goes to see their child in the nursery, only to find Helen’s parents with the baby having given the mandate of “family only” to the nurses. As Betty was Helen’s non-legal partner, she has no rights to the child.
Arguing particular choices serve the narrative is entirely up to the creator. Except in an age where queer characters (especially female queer characters) are disproportionately represented against cis heterosexual characters, and often don’t end up with the same happy endings, this is a problem. The exploration of queer and gay people in 1970s Midwestern American raising a family is interesting and worthy in and of itself. Betty and Helen were going to face struggles regardless — why weren’t those worthy of being told? Why, in today’s media landscape, is moving through life towards your own happiness, a worthy storyline, especially for LGBT characters? If Sarah Silverman’s contract was up, or she was too busy, the show could have still told their story through Betty’s eyes with Helen offscreen. What this comes down to is another senseless death of a gay female character when gay and bisexual and queer female characters are sorely lacking, especially in surviving roles, in today’s media.
As for the future of Betty’s character, I have a theory. Obviously, the show isn’t going to just drop the storyline of Betty and her child, but it’s pretty clear she has no legal ground to stand on in a custody battle. But do you know who does? The father, good old Austin Langham. Ultimately what happened last night is not a narrative decision I respect or agree with, but at the very least, Betty better get her child back.
The rest of the episode had some good moments, but overall it was not one of the better episodes of the season and definitely soured by the end.
In the continuing saga of Bill and Virginia’s relationship, their role reversal became clearer than ever, when Virgina invited Bill back to their old room at the Park Chancery and he threw in her face his belief that she doesn’t love him, to which she was shocked. In a relationship that has often played with power dynamics, Virginia has always held the upper hand until now. When she is finally ready to give herself to Bill in a way that he has been ready for since nearly the end of the first season, he has decided to prioritize self-preservation. It’s a refreshing version of Bill, one that I want to root for, and I look forward to his continuing arc. Still, we as an audience know Bill and Virginia historically get married soon and so this is a case of journey over destination. Unfortunately, the journey is dragging somewhat by Virginia’s continued self-destruction and terrible decision-making skills and the fact that Bill is frustratingly taking the moral high road with her, despite all the piss-poor decisions he’s made in the past.
Such as when she unceremoniously takes Nancy off one of her (Nancy) and Bill’s cases involving their Little Brown publisher, Bob. What seems like a normal cast of impotence at first is revealed to be a more complicated case of Bob having had a homosexual encounter when he was a teenager and continuing to think about it. This is all used to remind us, once again, that Bill is fighting his feelings for Virginia. This series’ writing has improved this season but unfortunately so much of last night’s episode felt like the heavy-handed writing of Season 3.
Nancy is understandably upset about Virginia consistently getting in her way at the clinic. At the same time, Virginia is also understandably territorial. Barton (who’s back at the clinic as Bill’s request) reminds Nancy she has been working at the clinic for a month, while Virginia and Bill have worked together for over a decade. Things get more complicated when Nancy storms into a meeting Bill and Virginia are having about Bob and lets slip that Virginia and Art slept together at their party. Virginia has Art called in and makes him admit to the truth: that he and Virginia did not, in fact, sleep together. Which later turns into Art telling Nancy at their home that he was lying in the office and that he did sleep with Virginia (come on, man, I liked you!). Nancy has him tell her exactly what he and Virginia did as she reenacts it with him. I have no idea where I stand on these characters and I’m going to move on now.
Libby goes on her first date with Braham at a nudist colony where he’s meeting with the owners to talk about a potential lawsuit (Libby proves herself very useful here). The equal footage of male and female nudity in these scenes is exciting, especially in the very non-sexual way it’s all shot. After trying to sleep with Braham, who responded he wants to take things slow, Libby ends up strolling nude through the park in the middle of the night. When she returns to her and Braham’s cabin, she declares to him she wants passion, and they sleep together. Libby is so genuinely great this season and I hope she doesn’t become some sort of stereotype.
After being so excited about this season, this episode really gave me serious whiplash and forced me to slam on the brakes. I’ll finish the season (after all, I am writing these reviews), but it’s upsetting and frustrating that it’ll be with a dark cloud hanging over it.
Season 4, Episode 6 (S04E06)
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