In many ways, falling in love with a TV show is like the beginning of a romance. You have the clearest eyes about it right at the beginning, which is also the time you’re most likely to walk away. And then gradually, you find yourself falling into its rhythm, becoming invested in its history, charmed by its little idiosyncrasies. There’s an element of self-sacrifice, too. In love, you are certain of being hurt, and when you open your heart to a person or a story, you are saying “Here. Hurt me. But help me more. Love me more. Teach me more.” The last two episodes of Masters of Sex have been when I really fell hard for it, and this episode felt like a whole relationship packed into fifty-eight minutes. I laughed, I swooned, I felt dizzy with joy, I screamed myself hoarse in frustration (lookin’ at you, Libby), and I let myself be really and truly hurt. But that kind of pain is worth it when in service to love, or to a really good story.
This is really Lillian’s (and Julieanne Nicholson’s) episode. More than ever, it draws a parallel between Ginny’s relationship with each of them and finds that Lillian is hands-down the better doctor, human being, and kisser. (Did I say kisser? YES, I DID.) The episode begins with Ginny and Bill mid-coitus and Bill asking if they could please kiss. “No,” Ginny replies. “I fuck you for science. I kiss people for love, you megalomaniacal twat.”
Meanwhile, Lillian is also flat on her back, but for reasons even less pleasant than enforced sex with Bill. She’s receiving more radiation treatments from an utterly disinterested x-ray tech, which is a real shame, since she’s throwing some of her funniest lines ever at him just to try and get a reaction (“I drive getaway cars in my spare time!”). After the radiation, Ginny comes to her side yet again. She fights to get her the best appointment time, which starts to raise eyebrows among the office staff, who wonder at the conspicuously close friendship between these two women. Libby, for her part, seems bewildered and overwhelmed at the way Ginny loves her. Because that’s what it is, finally. The care and the devotion and even the fighting: that’s love.
Sigh. Much as I wish I could spend the whole recap basking in shades of lesbianism, there are other plots taking place. At the hospital, Ginny and Bill finally discover that it was Dr. Hendricks who has been tearing down their study fliers and forbidding hospital employees from participating. As a matter of fact, Dr. Hendricks is really only cool with the study if all the participants are white. Bill corners him and accuses him of cowardice, to which Hendricks sighs and pulls out a copy of Black History for Dummies. He talks about horrific medical experiments performed on black patients, and recalls seeing men castrated for being lynched. That, he says, is the terror surrounding black sexuality. Bill protests that his study could dispel the stereotypes that justify such behavior, but Hendricks is like “Why don’t we work on getting the waiting room integrated before we tackle that.” Hendricks is rightfully concerned that the study would undermine the air of respectability he has worked so hard to cultivate, and Bill isn’t worried about anything but the study.
Determined to go over Hendricks’ head, Bill brings in a reporter from a local black paper (fun fact: did not know those were still a thing until I moved to the deep south). The reporter—who appears to be a perfect human woman, and who I would trade a kidney for the mere pleasure of sitting at her feet and hearing her insult me—does that reporter trick where she lets her subject think they’re running the show riiiiight up until the minute she pulls the rug out from beneath them. This works like a charm on Bill, who always believes he is conducting the orchestra of life, no matter the occasion. Bill and Ginny are like “See, this study is going to be GOOD for black people, probably. We’re just going to let the facts speak for themselves.” The reporter is like “Cool, cool. So how about how Bill Masters got fired from his last two jobs for breaking a window and a man’s face, respectively?” Bill is very displeased with this line of inquiry, but the reporter is like, “Hey, I’m just letting the facts speak for themselves.” It’s not just that Bill is determined not to be misunderstood, he’s determined not to be understood whatsoever. He resists any and all attempts to humanize him, and especially this reporter’s attempt to paint him as a radical, opposed to the white establishment. He sounds a lot like Dr. Hendricks when he’s afraid to rock the boat, but he sounds a lot more like Libby when he’s astonished that the reporter won’t change her story to suit his interests.
That night, we see Bill at his most villainous. He goes to the reporter’s editor and demands that he refrain from running the story, and this is the real kicker: he says he has findings that will prove that black people are indeed sexual animals, with uncontrollably voracious appetites. The editor doesn’t buy into his bullshit, so Bill storms out. But the damage is done. Bill traded in on dark and violent superstition to protect his own ass, and he compromised the integrity of his beloved study to do it. I know I’ve never been much of a Bill fan, but I don’t see how the show could try and redeem after this. However big his ideas, they can’t cover for sad, desperate, man who holds them. Back at his office, he is visited again by Dr. Hendricks.
And with that, Bill quits his third job in as many months to be a full-time sex researcher. Libby will be thrilled.
In other news, Betty tries to work out her guilt over Helen by throwing Gene a party celebrating the increase of his dominion into Food Fairs across the country. He stops her, and at first you think it’s going to be a Big Gay Confrontation, but instead he just says that they don’t need to adopt, because any child that didn’t have Betty’s adorable face would be defective, in his opinion. Clearly, any time a man is this much of a prince charming at the beginning of an episode, we’re being set up for a major fall by the end.
Sure enough, the next time we see Betty, she’s groaning in bed, and you don’t even have to see who is under the covers to know that it ain’t Gene. It’s a certain quality to the groans, you know? Not like “Ooh, you brought a fruitcake! You shouldn’t have!” It’s like “OOOOOH I AM ON ANOTHER PLANET AND YOU ARE MY ROCKET SHIP.” But after the orgasm is over, the sordid reality of Betty and Helen’s relationship sets in. It’s not enough for Helen to be Betty’s dirty secret, and Betty only makes things worse by offering to set Helen up in an apartment. To Betty’s mind, it’s the closest thing to a happy ending they can hope for, but Helen can’t stand to be the other woman. She retaliates by audaciously proposing to Al right in Betty’s living room, and when he accepts and they share a kiss, Betty flips out, chugs a bottle of gin, and orders everyone to leave. (Holy double standard, Batman.)