Masters of Sex Review: “Topeka”


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At one point during last night’s episode of , I looked over at my roommate and we both wondered how Bill and Virginia were going to get back together as they’ve become so separated this season and then the end of the episode happened. This season has faltered as it’s progressed and it certainly isn’t as strong as it was at the start (though it’s still miles ahead of Season 3), but as someone who has been invested in this show since the beginning, and especially Bill and Virginia as my leads, I allowed myself that feeling of elation at the end of the episode.

But let’s back up first. Bill and Virginia to Topeka, Kansas together because all the clinics they want to investigate only see couples, not individual people. Pretending to be a married couple is great in Virginia’s eyes, but Bill has far different reasons for wanting to go. If you remember from last week, his love from childhood, Dody, resides in Topeka and he found out from her husband that they separated when they were younger for different reasons than either of them thought. So our doctors arrive at the clinic in full disguise and there are immediate signs the clinic has “borrowed” techniques and practices from Bill and Virginia’s clinic, causing understandable alarm. Bill, however, is more focused on his long-lost love and the thought these “charlatan” therapists have planted in his head that he believes he’s not deserving of love.

Dody arrives at Bill’s hotel room alone (although Bill invited both her and her husband to dinner). The old loves talk and learn what really happened when they were younger — the flowers and letter Bill sent to her in the hospital never reached her. As he opens up about the content of the letter, and his planned proposal, she replies softly that she would have said yes. This undoubtedly does not help Bill’s internal conflict but to his credit, when Dody tries to appeal to him to sleep together, he politely declines. In all genuine concern, he explains to her that was never his intention with reconnecting. I was proud of Bill and it made me realize how much I’ve enjoyed his growth this season. It doesn’t excuse any of his past behavior, but I’ve always had a fondness for him, especially the way Michael Sheen plays him, and his arc has been rewarding over the past handful of episodes.

Masters of Sex Topeka 2Showtime

As Dody leaves, clearly hurt, she tells Bill that she hopes one day he’ll be brave enough to let someone love him and that was when I realized the writers had skillfully figured out how they were going to get Bill and Virginia back together.

The next morning, Virginia confronts Bill about his visitor, as she had unknowingly met Dody’s husband in the parking lot of the motel and he inadvertently told her his wife was in Bill’s room. Bill, knowing he has nothing to be ashamed of, is relatively subdued as Virginia lashes out. In a wonderful, but quick moment, Virgina cuts herself off as she realizes her poor behavior, not just in this moment, but throughout the whole season. When she asks him if this is how she made him feel previously, jealous and tormented and harsh, he replies: “Once or twice. Or a thousand times.” Talk about a gut punch.

Bill and Virginia return to the clinic and the therapists suggest they start observing them, which understandably cause Bill and Virginia to take a step back as they would never observe their patients so quickly. Still, Virginia tells Bill it’s just sex and they’ve done it several times before, as if it’s that easy. Cut to Bill and Virginia in a room very much like the one in their own clinic, completely naked, and as they proceed to stiltedly touch each other, complicated emotions swirling between them, it eventually becomes more natural and eager, just as we’ve seen them before. Right before the episode ends, Virginia whispers “I love you”and it’s clear Bill is going to do that brave thing and open himself up again to her. Earlier in the season, when Bill refused Virginia as a means of self-preservation, it made sense. He needed to do it, to make a decision for him, before he could join her in making this new decision for them.

Masters of Sex TopekaShowtime

The other main storyline of the episode, revolving around Nancy and Art, stunned me into silence. And also made me firmly Team Art. With Bill and Virginia gone, Nancy takes full advantage of it. She and Art meet with a new couple as patients and they end up going to dinner with them. Art, dear, noble, doing-his-best Art, rounds on her after, telling her firmly that she crossed a line by agreeing to have dinner with their medical patients (which he’s totally right about). Instead of acknowledging this, Nancy stands her ground, telling Art she feels unappreciated at the clinic and now that they’ve learned from Bill and Virginia, they should open their own clinic. Which, what? Listen, I appreciate Nancy recognizing society’s limitations on her as a woman and that she has drive and ambition, but Bill and Virginia have worked over a decade to get to where they are now. She doesn’t get to expect all the fruits of their labor when she’s only just started working with them.

However, it’s the next scene that totally knocked me off my feet. Back at the clinic the next day, Nancy approaches Art and tearfully tells him she’s not happy, at work or in their relationship, and she’s going to see a place to possibly open a new clinic. Art is shocked and hurt and despite all Nancy has done, doesn’t want them to separate. And then — then — Nancy throws what Virginia told her about Art being unhappy about the swinging nature of their relationship in Art’s face. She convincingly tells him through a trembling voice that she isn’t happy when he’s with other women and Art is floored, falling for her manipulation hook, line, and sinker. He tells her that he also isn’t happy with their situation and Nancy uses this to convince him to join her in opening a new clinic together.

Then she goes and sleeps with their neighbor. Yes, readers, I was screaming too. Nancy is a brilliant character who effectively accomplishes what she’s supposed to and it’s precisely the way my roommate and I seethe about her that it’s clear her purpose in the show is working. But it doesn’t make me like it.

Masters of Sex NancyShowtime

Libby’s also back this episode, continuing her relationship with Mr. Lawyer Man. (He’s pretty and fun and I like them together but he’s not the compelling one in this storyline so forgive me for forgetting his name every week.) After he needs dental work due to the food and practices at a diner they eat at, Libby wants to take legal action against the diner. He explains to her she has no legal ground, but she is determined and proves she has  a good mind for law. When she asks cute Mr. Lawyer Man if it’s uncommon for a woman to go back to school and take law classes, he tells her it is, but that nothing about her is common. So now it looks like Libby might become a lawyer. I am still loving this newly independent Libby, and I want only good things for her, but it is starting to feel like the writers are just putting Libby in every stereotypical liberal situation of the time (next week, she goes to Woodstock!) rather than intimately exploring her arc from a fundamentally character-driven point of view.

Finally, Austin makes a return this week, revealing he has married Betty and is now trying to raise money for their impending custody battle — by selling penis pumps at the clinic. Lester is firmly against this and thwarts Austin as much as he can. Guy, who’s caught in the middle as the receptionist, learns Austin was a subject when Bill and Virginia first started their and as Austin waxes poetic about sleeping with Jane in those early days, the rage boils inside Lester as he listens to Austin speak about his wife in such ways, and he punches Austin. I don’t blame Lester, especially as he warns Guy about how getting involved with this can change you, but he’s still not the easiest character to root for. Also, where is the waitress he slept with at the swingers party? I want her back.

The exciting progress Bill and Virginia made, as well as the way I am now fully invested in Nancy and Art’s storyline (primarily from a Protect Art standpoint), lifted this episode up. Its sub-plots were weaker, but there was enough that fully drew me in. But continuing from the observations last week, there are still multiple storylines this show has introduced this season — the couple from the beginning where the husband nearly strangled his wife, Louise and her husband, the homosexual study (which was mentioned in this episode, so I presume it will be further explored, hopefully not only for the remainder of this season, but for future seasons as well), Betty’s custody battle (which, again, was brought up, but deserves more direct attention) — and I simply hope they writers don’t drop the ball on them.


Season 4, Episode 8 (S04E08)
Masters of Sex airs Sundays at 10PM on Showtime

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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.
Follow Anya on Twitter: @anyacrittenton
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