I’ve slept on the season finale of MASTERS OF SEX and I’m no less baffled by the episode than I was when it first ended last night. I have been a staunch supporter of this show finding its stride again, and earlier in the season I thought it was going in that direction, but after last night’s season finale, I can safely say I think this show has run its course. The finale was incoherent, confusing, and frankly, it felt pointless and like a complete disregard to various character arcs and growths that have happened before.
In the Season 4 finale, Bill and Virginia finally get married (although I’m confused about the timeline of the show, given in reality Woodstock happened in 1969 and Bill and Virginia married in 1971 but in the show, they happened within a week of one another). However, their path to the courthouse (deciding to forego a proper ceremony given all the drama happening to and around them) is riddled, unsurprisingly, with speedbumps, the most glaring being the homosexuality study and Barton and Bill’s friendship. Intertwining these storylines together, placing a sweet scene of Bill and Virginia together next to a scene discussing conversion therapy (especially in an episode which, yet again, completely left Betty out and I know I said last week if the show got renewed I’d want to see Betty get some justice but at this point I don’t trust these writers to do that and so I think we’re better off not knowing how things might have progressed for her) made the episode extremely hard to swallow and added to its confusion.
Let me break it down for you: Art tells Bill and Virginia that Nancy is planning on opening her own clinic in New York, taking both Masters and Johnson techniques as well as some of their patients, and also publishing a book with Little Brown. This leads Bill and Virginia to their publisher, who recently had a successful sexual experience with his heterosexual fiancee, where Virginia “lies” to him that their study would include conversion therapy. She then tells Bill, who has consistently been against conversion therapy, that she said it only to get their book back. It’s all very murky, especially regarding character motivations, and it’s not clear what Virginia is or isn’t lying about in these scenes, which is troubling to say the least.
Historically, Masters and Johnson published Homosexuality in Perspective in 1979 and it advocated for a sort of conversion therapy, explaining that homosexuality is a “result of blocks that prevented the learning that facilitated heterosexual responsiveness” and Douglas Haldeman described their book as a “heterosexist bias.” Indeed, you can’t expect the show to ignore these facts, as unpleasant as they might be, but the clumsiness with which the show handled this topic last night, I’m not convinced I’d want to see them explore it any further (not something I would have said in Seasons 1 or 2).
Back to the show now. Art and the publisher talk at a bar, where the publisher kisses Art in the bathroom. After rebuffing him, Art calls Virginia to tell her that the publisher is an “active homosexual” and is not a success story of conversion at all, meaning they cannot use it for the study, and to tell Bill — but she doesn’t. Jump to a completely incongruous scene where Nancy gives Barton the tape of Virginia telling the publisher they’d be doing conversion therapy (though goodness knows how Nancy got the tape in the first place, since she has been kicked out of the clinic and is under investigation after Art revealed the truth about the new clinic — seriously, Virginia showed up at her house with a cop and a search warrant) and Barton rightly confronts Bill about it in a terrifically acted scene. Barton, in an impassioned speech, reminds Bill of everything he went through to accept his sexuality and Bill, not knowing about Art and the publisher as Virginia didn’t tell him, tries to explain to Barton that he will not partake in conversion therapy.
Things get much uglier when Barton brings Virginia into it, claiming how she has so much to prove (especially being uncredentialed) and that makes her put her career and the research first, even if it means falsifying things and not making the right decision. Bill makes a sharp about-face at this and leaps to Virginia’s defense, which in a second creates a rift between him and his struggling mentor (and ultimately leads Bill to take Guy, and not Barton, as their witness, which is probably for the best given the way Guy kept waxing poetical about being a wedding planner). But here’s the thing: Barton’s not wrong. This whole season has painted Virginia in a terrible, manipulative, ugly light the way Bill was painted in the earlier seasons and while it’s shown how Virginia and Bill are both complex characters, it hasn’t been done in any sort of graceful or meaningful way. Everything about these character decisions has been done with a sledgehammer and it has completely stripped away the sophistication and dexterity this show once possessed.
But despite these tribulations, Bill and Guy arrive at the courthouse where, in a surprisingly gorgeously shot scene, completely unlike how the rest of the show is shot, Bill and Virginia get married. When they leave, they’re bombarded by journalists and photographers (as if they were tipped off) and while Virginia is happy to pose for one photo with her new husband, Bill is clearly not as comfortable as he gazes at his new wife with uncertainty and — the season ends. Just like that. Clearly, the writers feel there’s more to explore here, but I’m not sure we really need to go there.
Other things happened in the finale — Art leaves Nancy, in a great scene where he more-or-less tells her he can’t keep drowning himself to please other people; Dody shows up to try and get back together with Bill, but he tells her he’s getting married; Libby decides to up and move to Berkeley to practice law in her new hippie van, kids in tow, still furthering the disservice this show has handed to her character; among other things that weren’t all that important — but all of it seemed like write-offs, as if, despite knowing there’s more story to tell, the writers are also aware the show might not be renewed. And hopefully, they know it’s for the best if it doesn’t.
Season 4, Episode 10 (S04E10)
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