While there’s still a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach after last week’s episode, this week MASTERS OF SEX gave me some moments I genuinely enjoyed and distracted me somewhat, although it wasn’t all good. My roommate commented when last night’s episode finished that there was a lot in it and she was right. It was a stuffed episode, in both good and bad ways. The show is exploring several interesting storylines, which set up for potentially rewarding moments and arcs as we continue through to the end of the season, but with so many things going on at once, some of the smaller, more intimate character moments this show does so well have been sacrificed.
Take, for example, Betty. After last week, she only received a couple of brief scenes, when it would have been more satisfying and poignant to really explore her grief. Given Annaleigh Ashford can sell pretty much anything, her scenes were good, they simply didn’t feel like enough. When Bill comes over with pizza to make sure Betty is taking care of herself, Betty gives a small speech about how she and Helen had gotten each other “right,” in a world full of mistakes. It’s beautifully delivered, but the reminder of last week is sour. Later on in the episode, Helen’s mother comes by to threaten Betty about trying to get custody of her and Helen’s daughter, setting up for Betty’s big arc, which, as I suspected, involves bringing back the wonderful Teddy Sears as Doctor Austin Langham.
Betty’s plan, in a nutshell, is convoluted, but admittedly makes sense. If all goes well, she’ll marry Austin, they’ll get custody of her daughter and Betty will legally adopt her, and then Betty and Austin will divorce and she’ll get custody as Austin is unfit to be a parent. After everything this show is putting Betty through, this better work out.
At the clinic, Bill decides to pursue a brand new study regarding queer people — homosexuals, bisexuals (or as the time period referred to them, ambisexuals), etc. It provides some great scenes in the episode, but also comes across a little like trying to pull the covers over our eyes right after Helen’s death. Here’s what happens: For a variety of reasons (well, only one in reality — Virginia wanting to get back together with Bill, as the start of the episode reveals when she writes and re-writes a letter to him that she never actually delivers), Virginia appeals to Bill to have her and him re-team while Nancy and Art partner up. Through pretty flawless logic, Bill instead convinces Virginia to team up with Nancy while he teams up with Art (which makes sense, pairing each of the doctors — Bill and Nancy — with one of the psychologists — Virginia and Art).
Art and Bill resume study on the Little Brown case, where Art suggests the publisher (who is revealed to have had more than one sexual experience with someone of the same sex in his life) might be a 3 on the Kinsey Scale, which is basically a way of explaining that sexuality is fluid and not strictly binary. Bill is fascinated by this and lets Art take the lead. Art then explains the Kinsey Scale to the publisher in a touching and understanding tone and it hit me all over again that I really do love when this show lets the characters be the doctors they are and truly care about their patients.
Then things get interesting. Guy, the new receptionist at the clinic (and a great new addition to the cast), sees this happening behind closed doors and assumes the worst — that Bill and Art are trying conversion therapy on the publisher. He takes his concerns to Barton, who has since resumed a position at the clinic. Barton, despite knowing Bill and where his friend stands on homosexuality, is concerned. While we as the audience know Bill and Art are doing nothing of the sort, Guy and Barton’s concern is understandable as they are both men that have struggled in various ways with their sexuality and acceptance. It’s grating, especially in 2016, when Barton refuses to believe someone can be bisexual, and rather that they are strictly hetero or homosexual, but it is understandable for the time period and the show clearly places its sympathy more with Art and the notion that sexuality is fluid.
Bill, as Bill is wont to do, gives an impassioned speech that the clinic should start seeing more gay and queer couples and study them exactly as they do heterosexual couples. It’s similar to what we’ve heard from Bill before — his acceptance of sexuality in all its forms (or deviances, as he explained a few episodes ago) — and doesn’t always land perfectly, but is written and acted in complete actors by the writers and Michael Sheen, who sell it remarkably well. I hope this means we’ll be getting more LGBT characters in general on the show, even if it doesn’t make up for Helen.
However, this isn’t the only new case on Bill’s hands. Louise, the AA chairperson who runs the meetings Bill attends, unexpectedly shows up at the clinic. She explains to Bill that her husband is paralyzed from the waist down and it has created challenges in their sex life. Bill agrees to see them and what results is an upsetting, and very human, sequences of events. Louise and her husband have sex in the observation room and while Louise climaxes, her husband still cannot feel anything or derive any sort of pleasure from watching his wife get off while he can’t. He tells her it’s cruel and it’s a heartbreaking scene, that ultimately leads Louise back to the bottle. It’s unclear where the show is going with this, or how far they’ll pursue it, but the scenes were effecting in and of themselves, showing that no one situation is the same and ultimately the clinic is dealing with very human and complicated subjects. Neither Louise nor her husband are shamed by the show for their desires and reactions, which is something I appreciate about the series in their total acceptance and open-minded approach.
Elsewhere, Nancy and Virginia predictably clash as partners. They see a new couple, who Virginia uncovers as a pair of therapists looking to become sex experts and when undercover to learn from Bill and Virginia’s clinic, and they realize this is not a one-off problem. The two doctors go to a retreat for single and discovers there are multiple programs using the same protocol as the clinic, but without proper licensing, training, or anything of the like. Virginia also sees her dad at the retreat and he explains that her book with Bill ignited something in him and allowed these types of program to rise up and flourish.
Virginia is understandably disturbed by this. She goes to Bill with her concerns and he sympathizes. He expresses they can look into the programs and lead a new wave of legitimizing practices like these, given they are some of the foremost leaders in the field. There are several nearby programs Virginia wants to investigate — and one of them just so happens to be in Topeka, Kansas, where Bill’s love from his younger years, Dody, resides.
Earlier in the episode, Bill reached out to Dody and when he goes to meet her for lunch, her husband shows up instead of her. Bill’s surprised to learn from her husband that her husband is under the impression Bill broke her heart, when Bill told a very different story to Betty earlier about his heart being the broken one. When Virginia offers him a chance to go to Topeka for work, it’s not hard to guess what Bill chooses to do.
It’s a set-up for a culmination of several things in next week’s episode, most notably Bill and Virginia’s relationship. Also the preview of Bill and Virginia is various disguises to investigate the new practices is hilarious, so hopefully next week’s episode will have more payoffs than this week’s overly stuffed episode.
Season 4, Episode 7 (S04E07)
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