“Masters of Sex” recap (2.4): Sweet Little Lies

Hello and welcome back to Masters of Sex. Since last week was an extended meditation on masculinity, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot of “previously on” to cover. Truth be told, I’d be more than happy to Rip Van Winkle my way through the next week so we can get to Sarah Silverman’s first episode as Betty’s lover, but then again, anticipation is half the joy of TV.

This week begins with a dream sequence in which Bill says Ginny cannot return to the study, because her only real role is his mistress. It highlights how badly Ginny craves professional fulfillment, and not just that: importance. Maybe even fame. But it also exposes a major fault line on the show, which is its own ambivalence towards Ginny’s feelings for Bill. Is she fighting off her feelings of love for him because she hardened her heart a long time ago, or does she really harbor no romantic affection for him, and merely accepts his as an unfortunate condition of her ambition? I personally find the latter option a great deal more interesting, since it speaks more directly to the gender politics of the time and makes it easier to ship Ginny with Lillian.

Anyway, when she wakes up from her dream, Ginny is all business. (As beguiling as it is to watch Lizzy Caplan turn on the charm, it is nearly as entertaining to watch her switch it off.) She escorts Bill from the hotel, but on the way out, they are spotted by Austin Langham, who is in town visiting his children and hopefully getting called many delightful insights by his soon-to-be ex-wife. I am rooting for them to get back together, simply because I like the way she yells.

The next day morning, Betty shows up for her usual pretend fertility treatment, and accosts Bill on the way to the elevators. She starts gabbing about how “isn’t it weird how women have to take their husbands last names and totally subsume their identities to them? And how come men don’t have to do that?” That’s Betty for you; just dismantling the patriarchy in her chipper Minnesota accent. It pokes Bill right in the ego, since he actually is living a double life as the mysterious Dr. Holden.

Oh my gosh you guys, what the fuck is up with Libby lately? She went from being an angelic Fembot to an angelic Fembot who is also a racist monster. It’s like now that Coral has arrived and Libby finally has someone to control, every mean and petty impulse that she has tamped down for so long is roaring to life. She uses Coral relentlessly, as a sounding board for her marital problems and as an emotional punching bag for all her frustrations.

This week, baby Johnny comes down with a case of lice and Libby—because she is a racist and assumes black people carry diseases—blames Coral. Libby insists that Coral go home and douse her entire family in lice shampoo, which Coral refuses to do on the grounds that SHE DOES NOT HAVE LICE, YOU CRAZY RACIST ROBOT. When Coral tries to explain this to her—even enlisting Bill to say that in his medical experience, black people don’t get lice—Libby responds by forcing Coral to lean over the sink and let Libby scrub her hair. It is easily the most devastating scene of the episode, this quiet forced baptism, and Keke Palmer’s face is a portrait of humiliation.

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But the most triumphant scene of the episode is also hers: When Coral subtly declares that is going to pronounce the word “ask” however she damn well pleases, and Libby can go fuck herself.

The next day at work, Bill realizes that people with the faces of Michael Sheen have a much harder time getting people to masturbate in front of them than people with the faces of Lizzy Caplan. The study is hemorrhaging volunteers, and Bill begs Dr. Greathouse to rehire Ginny. Greathouse elbows him like, “Yeah, I’d like her to assist me too, heh heh.” You know, at first I thought Danny Houston was all wrong for his role, since both his charm and menace were lost on this buffoon. But now I see that he’s actually perfect, because he never lets you forget that Doug Greathouse is every single thing that is wrong with the world.

One thing I love about this season is the budding friendship between Austin and Ginny, especially since he explicitly took sex off the table. I may be alone in my fondness for Austin, and I can freely admit that he is morally indefensible, but he somehow manages to still be more charming than any other man on this show.

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He approaches Ginny in the cafeteria, and informs her that he saw her and Bill leaving the hotel last night. Ginny, much like her Harry Potter namesake, lies unblushingly about how they were just there to collate documents and draw graphs and other boring research stuff. At a hotel. As one does. Austin nods and does her the courtesy of pretending to believe this utter horseshit.

This episode features the continued adventure of Ginny The Diet Pill Saleswoman, which is only interesting because it sets up a meeting with her supervisor, who tries to give her some tips on how best to make women feel insecure enough to buy their product. Ginny demurs that she isn’t really interested in being a great saleslady; it’s just what she has to do to pursue her career. And her supervisor scoffs at anyone with the luxury of aspirations. It’s a conversation anyone with a dream has had, in some form or another. Following your dream, for the most part, is a miserable lot in life; I thoroughly envy anyone who hasn’t got one. You have to work twice as hard as the people around you, sacrifice money and luxury and often your health. You will be constantly judged and nearly always misunderstood, and you will be almost impossible to love. But you do it because you must, because without it the spark in your heart would go out. The best thing that Ginny has to offer as a character isn’t her charm or her sex appeal or even her work; it’s the fact that she is a woman whose primary goal is not love but success on her own terms. Try and think of another female lead of whom that is true who is not a villain.

Speaking of career-minded ladies, Lillian’s storyline this week is nearly as heartbreaking as Coral’s. She is playing host to the esteemed Dr. Papanikolo (I’m sorry I don’t have internet right now and I find Greek names very difficult to spell, for which I am expecting a thorough dressing-down in the comments for my cultural insensitivity). He is a pioneer in his field (hint: the first three letters of his name should make any woman wince) and Lillian desperately needs his support to continue her program.

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He spends the whole meeting looking faintly frightened that two women are addressing him, and craning his neck as though hoping a male doctor will pop out and reveal this is all a practical joke. After the meeting, Ginny tries to recommend Lillian for a prestigious award that Dr. Pap runs, but he’s like “Lillian? Was that the strange woman who was just talking to me?” That night, Lillian ditches her work to get drunk with Austin (I love how he keeps popping into other storylines out of sheer loneliness) and Austin drops the bomb about Ginny and Bill’s affair. (ACTUALLY, what he says is “How long have you known?” And she says “So long. Very long.” I AM TAKING THIS AS FULL-ON LESBIAN CONFIRMATION PEOPLE.) At that news, Lillian’s face crumbles like someone who either just found out that the person to whom she is entrusting her life’s work has different priorities OR like the person she so badly wants to scissor before she dies is already taken. OR BOTH. PROBABLY BOTH. Totally heartbroken, she decides to just give her study to Dr. Pap. Although he was not interested in her study when it took away from his own spotlight, he is VERY interested now that he gets to put his name on it.

Ginny feels awfully betrayed that the last job she actually cared about has been taken from her, but Lillian is like, “Well maybe you should of thought of that before you said the word ‘lesbian’ in Mean Girls and ruined me forever.” More seriously, though, it’s an interesting scene because on the one hand, Lillian is treating Ginny with the same selfishness and lack of regard we are used to seeing from Bill. But on the other, Ginny was totally planning on dropping Lillian just as soon as she got back on the sex study.

Now I don’t want to alarm you but I actually enjoyed Bill’s storyline this week. I think that’s because it focuses on Bill the doctor as opposed to Bill the tortured man. Bill the doctor is really just trying to get on with his study, but can’t seem to escape Doug Greathouse, who keeps on showing up and pressing his face against the glass like a monkey at the zoo. Finally Bill hits upon away to scare him off, by insinuating that—and I’m not kidding here—watching the study turns you gay. Yep, Bill’s seen it a hundred times: a fellow walks into the observation room a perfectly healthy heterosexual male, and walks out with a waxed chest and brunch plans. This does succeed in scaring Greathouse, but unfortunately it scares him into inviting a whole roomful of male colleagues, with the rationale that they can keep each other straight, kind of like Odysseus and the sirens. Bill finds them all camped out in the observation room, eating Chinese food and making wolf whistles at the unwitting young woman pleasuring herself on the table.

Bill responds by STUFFING AN EGGROLL DOWN ONE DUDE’S THROAT AND PUNCHING DOUG IN HIS STUPID FACE. I think we can all accept that this is the peak of Bill’s character and we will never like him more than we do in this moment. Of course, he is instantly fired, but before he leaves, he shuts the blinds on the exam room, so those perverts don’t get a free show. When Bill gets home, who should be waiting for him but Austin, who has taken to just showing up wherever someone will feed him and scratch behind his ears. Austin actually has some good advice for Bill, which is: don’t be like Austin, Bill. Don’t cheat on your wife, or if you, don’t fucking get caught. For once, he seems to take this to heart, because he promises Libby that he will take care of her, and put her first. It’s a promise I doubt he’s capable of keeping, but it’s the most sincere effort we’ve seen from him to save his marriage. Bill’s last act of the episode is to secure jobs for himself and Ginny at a black hospital, for which the show seems to think he deserves a medal.

A couple of you have pointed out in the comments section that Betty has been using her husband in much the same way that Bill used Libby re: lying about their fertility. I know that’s true, but I always excused it because Betty has so many other admirable qualities besides honesty. But her chickens finally come home to roost this week, when King Pretzel discovers that Betty knew she was infertile before they ever met. Even in the fallout from this revelation, Betty promises to stay and fight for their marriage, which I’m sure some of you are upset about. But keep in mind, the standards for what constituted a successful marriage were a fuck of a lot different in the 50s than today. In 2014, a woman expects her spouse to fulfill her emotionally, intellectually, financially, spiritually, and sexually.

But in Betty’s day, if you found a man who could provide for you and of whom you were reasonably fond, you had yourself a keeper. And kind of like Ginny’s supervisor said, dreaming bigger was for people who could afford to do so. So Betty explains to the Pretzel King that she lied to him because she knew what he wanted in a woman, and it included a yard full of babies. But His Majesty corrects this impression, and says that what he wanted was her. He loved her for who she was, and he knew exactly who she was, because the first time they met was not in church, as she believed, but in her professional capacity as a prostitute. Poor Pretzel King. Poor Betty. Poor lies on which their marriage was based.

OK, MOURNING PERIOD OVER. CAN IT BE SARAH SILVERMAN TIME YET?

See you next week.

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