This week, MASTERS OF SEX decided to prioritize dramatic storytelling over practicality. In many ways, television shows do this a lot and often it is the better choice to make. While plenty of the courtroom drama didn’t exactly make sense or hold the amount of weight the writers clearly intended it to (nor did it happen in real life), there continued to be good character work this week that elevated the episode from a B to a B+. Even if the plotting in this show can sometimes seem odd, the return to a focus on characters and emotional beats is what is really returning this series to form.
Before getting to the major plot of the episode, there are several smaller plots that happened, including Art and Nancy discovering Bill and Virginia have bugged the entire clinic. Nancy fumes over this in a way that is terribly eye-rolling inducing given her own knack for deception and manipulation. The supporting character plot that works far better in the episode is Betty and Helen. It’s a delight to see Sarah Silverman again, but there is despair laced in this subplot. After Betty accidentally meets Helen’s parents and lies that she’s simply Helen’s neighbor, she implores to Helen to tell the truth because she can’t truly be their unborn baby’s mother if she’s not around. It’s heartbreaking to hear, especially as both characters are in sympathetic situations. Later, Betty comes home to find Helen crying — she told her parents the truth and they left and haven’t spoken to her since. Betty is instantly supportive, telling Helen that she is her family. It’s a poignant scene and emblematic of how good this show is when it lands.
There’s also a minor moment where Bill finds out the new secretary Guy is sleeping at the clinic (as he once did). Bill declares Guy can no longer work there but after Guy implores him, explaining how he was dishonorably discharged from the army after performing exemplary service in Vietnam for being gay and his father being ashamed of him, Bill changes his mind. It’s a small, but telling, scene. Throughout this entire series, Bill has been portrayed as complicated and extremely flawed but one place where the show has always allowed him to shine is his open-minded attitude towards people’s sexualities and private lives. It’s always nice to see.
Meanwhile, Virginia gets notification from Little Brown Publishing that they’re pulling their support of Masters and Johnson’s next work. After failing to convince Bill to join her, Virginia travels to New York City to convince the publisher to reconsider. Ultimately her plan works, but only after some unfortunate scenes of Virginia being hit on by the publisher at a black-tie event and lying to his boss about him being in possession of serious sexual prowess in order to get the book published. It reinforces the theme that’s been introduced this season of Virginia making questionable decisions, but done with much less subtlety and grace than before.
We also get more scene between Bill and Libby, which are frankly refreshing and fun to watch. After having an off-screen 69 session, the two delve into their marriage. Libby is hesitant at first, not wanting to ruin the peace they’ve managed to find, but eventually truths come out, like Libby wishing they had had friends while they married and hosted dinner parties and gone to Disneyland (shout-out to one of the best Disney rides of all time, Carousel of Progress), and it’s really a sweet scene. The writers are doing wonders with these two characters right now in developing a sort of odd friendship and closure for them and I look forward to seeing this further develop.
But it is clear that they won’t be getting back together, even as Bill broaches the idea because Libby asks Bram (the lawyer representing the clinic) to dinner near the end of the episode (after, of course, asking his opinions on both oral sex and marijuana).
Now to the major plot of the episode: the criminal case against the clinic. It proceeds fine enough at first — with Libby in the courtroom supporting Bill and insisting to Bram that she knows she cannot let it get out that she is in the process of divorcing Bill — until Bram reveals that the prosecution will be calling the bellhop from the Park-Chancery hotel. This will reveal Bill and Virginia’s affair and given adultery was still illegal in Missouri at this time, Bram makes the point that the charge would stick much worse to Virginia. This drives Bill to take a plea (a very Bill decision) — he’ll admit to being a sexual deviant if the charges against Virginia are dropped.
What follows is an impassioned speech from Bill about how everyone is a sexual deviant because there is no norm for sex and sexuality, therefore everyone deviates, and that he has no shame in this title. A lesser actor than Michael Sheen would have flubbed this speech and made audiences cringe. Instead, Sheen delivers it straight and emphatically, further driving home that this show truly believes in the lessons and ideas of sexual freedom as proclaimed by Masters and Johnson. Later, the judge cuts Bill off from delivering this speech again in front of the jury and ensuring he at least wins in the court of public opinion. The show plays this as a tragedy except that only moments later Bill is able to speak to the press about this (thus still allowing him to still remain a do-gooder at least in the eyes of the press and public), right after Virgina takes his hand and more or less admits her feelings for him in a clearer way than she ever has before.
The show is clearly on track for a Bill and Virginia reunion but the episode ends with Bill returning to the AA meeting (earlier in the episode, we saw him complete his 90 meetings) and talking about while he may not be addicted to alcohol, he is addicted to something else — the brush of her fingers, her perfume after she leaves a room — and that he needs help. It’s not quite going to be the romantic reunion a lesser show might deliver, then.
Season 4, Episode 5 (S04E05)
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