“Masters of Sex” recap (2.1): Strangers in the Dark


Hello and welcome to season two of Masters of Sex, a show so good we may forgive the use of a pun in its title. I’ve returned to recap because this season has promised to feature Betty DeMello, the lesbian ex-prostitute currently married to the Pretzel King of St. Louis. It also introduces Sarah Silverman as Betty’s lover, which I am interpreting as proof that god exists and I am her favored child. I’m also delighted to be recapping because MoS really grew on me last season, from a self-important prestige show with an extra helping of boobs, to a warm and nuanced ensemble drama, in which I was genuinely invested in the fates of almost all the characters. There is one glaring exception and we will explore that later but here’s a hint: it’s the pun in the title.

So, when last we left our intrepid sexcapaders, Bill was fired and his study scrapped because he told a roomful of men that women are having ULTRA-SEX, Ginny’s boyfriend proposed, I guess because everyone agreed to forget about that one time when he PUNCHED HER IN THE NOSE. Barton enrolled in aversion therapy to cure his gayness, while Margaret continued to get on just fine without him. Ginny tried to find meaning in her work with the tragically cancer-stricken and secretly smoking hot Dr. Lillian DePaul, and Bill finally told Ginny he couldn’t live without her, and to hell with his perfect android wife and new baby.

We pick back up with Bill, ignoring the cries of his infant so he can focus on replaying his recent sex with Ginny. The show, for some reason, spaces out this flashback throughout the episode, but I’m just going to tell you what happened in one go: Ginny let Bill in out of the rain, they had (what is supposed to read as passionate but looks thoroughly mediocre) sex, and she declined Ethan’s proposal of marriage.

At the hospital, Ginny is being constantly propositioned by her male coworkers, ever since word got out that she’ll spread her legs to any man who says it’s for science.


She’s also taken a considerable pay cut and is being shunned by her fellow women, who don’t want to risk the taint of her reputation. She tells her troubles to Austin Langham (philanderer, cad, and last season’s most improbably likeable character) who encourages her to start selling diet pills, because then she’ll have money and friends. He also says that the sex study was like disturbing King Tut’s tomb, so it’s no wonder she’s paying the price.

Speaking of King Tut, Bill next accompanies Barton to electroshock therapy, which is purported to cure his homosexuality. And man, this scene. I never gave Beau Bridges much credit as a dramatic actor until this role, but the desperate hope with which he allows his body to be jolted with electricity, his conviction that what he feels is a disease, and therefore curable, is utterly heartbreaking. He wakes up in a hospital bed, confused and scared, and it’s a painful glimpse of what he’s doing to himself. You’re supposed to give Bill the best friend award for being there and letting Barton vomit on his suit, but the way he winces the whole time makes it difficult to appreciate his altruism.

After going through the motions of basic humanity, Bill checks into a hotel under a fake name and blissfully bones Ginny all the night long. It makes for a perfect transition to Libby. Poor, poor Libby, the perfect automaton.


Too perfect, in fact, to be loved or valued or listened to by anyone, least of all her dreadful husband. She even defends his reputation against anyone who suggests that he is fucking Ginny, so basically the whole world. And as if that weren’t enough, she even finds it in her heart to be perfectly cordial to Ginny, even letting her hold her baby. No wonder Bill can’t stand her; she is a constant reminder of his inferiority. Back at home, Bill’s mom has erected a shrine to his son and is worshipping him as a living god. (For serious, she says “we should worship him.”) It makes Bill very uncomfortable because he despises babies even though it is his life’s work to bring them into the world. For he is Bill Masters, Walking Contradiction, and it is vital that nobody understand him. Anyway, he escapes his loathsome offspring when Libby drags him out to a dinner (the bitch) so he can hopefully get a job, because even Saint Libby is getting tired of him.

They go to the dinner, hosted by Doug Greathouse (Danny Huston). And man, I really love Danny Huston as an actor for being equal parts charm and menace, but he is wasted here as a foot-in-mouth cretin who cannot utter a single sentence free of a racial slur or dirty joke.

A much more welcome sight is Betty and King Pretzel, who are also attending the function. His lightly salted majesty asks Bill why he and Betty haven’t produced any kids yet, because he has no idea she was rendered infertile from years of untreated STIs. Bill says he can’t treat her anyway, since he is currently jobless, but that is no obstacle to the Pretzel King, who just goes over to Doug Greathouse and buys Bill a new job. Poor Libby thinks things are finally getting back to normal, totally blind to the fact that Bill only wants an excuse to get back to the sex study and by extension, Ginny.

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