Last week, when I wrote that gushing introductory paragraph about how I was falling in love with Masters of Sex, a small voice in my head warned me that I might regret being so effusive. “Don’t declare your love for a series based on a two-episode hot streak” the voice said. “The main reason you liked it so much was Lillian and Sarah Silverman and they’re gone now.” But, like always, I hit the voice of reason with a hammer and proceeded to have a feelsplosion all over my last recap. To be fair, I doubt anything could follow the act of Ginny tracing constellations on Lillian’s freckles, but I still didn’t expect to be so disappointed by this week’s stroll down memory lane.
This episode picks up five months after Lillian’s death and continues over the course of two years. The whole hopscotching through history concept rarely works for me in television, because it implies that huge stretches of time have passed which are irrelevant to the story. That never feels particularly genuine, since television excels at finding meaning in the mundane, and at tracking slow and (to use the episode’s own imagery), seismic shifts. Masters of Sex also seems to be in serious danger of losing all its best characters. I get that Lillian was dying from the start and Sarah Silverman was only brought on for a guest appearance, but what about Barton and Margaret Scully? There marital conflict was one of the richest dynamics of the show and it’s MIA. And what about Coral? Coral was indispensable! MoS tries to compensate by gathering up some old standbys—nerdy film guy and the Calometric lady—but they provide amusement, rather than substance.
At any rate, it’s been five months since Lillian died and Bill discovered Ginny’s secret boyfriend. Lester the camera man returns from Hollywood to take a job at Bill and Ginny’s new Institute for the Study of Naughty Bits. He and Jane didn’t work out (shocker) so he’s returned to film guys jacking off. While the research is coming along swimmingly, Bill and Ginny are in increasingly dire financial straits. Never fear, Betty to the rescue! It turns out Bill has given her a job to help with secretarial duties and bookkeeping at the institute. But boy, the Betty who shows up in this episode is nothing like the one we’ve seen the past couple of weeks. She’s hurt and humbled, and divorced from the pretzel king. Bill says he gave her this job to return the favor after she let him hide in her closet back in the brothel days, but the clenching of Michael Sheen’s jaw reveals it’s because every audience member finds her more appealing than him.
Even though their professional life seems smooth, Bill still hasn’t forgiven Ginny for having the audacity to maintain a boyfriend stable of her own. (Bill has some serious only child issues when it comes to the concept of sharing.) He goes to the hotel where he and Ginny used to meet and complains at great length to Elliot (The World’s Most Invasive Bellhop) about how Ginny (sorry, Mrs. Holden) “betrayed” him. He showed her his soft lil underbelly, and she responded by having free will, the bitch. He vows to never, ever trust her again.
This actually reminds me of something I used to do when I was a kid. Whenever I would get really mad at my dad (and it was always my dad; we had the same strong personalities), I would promise that I would NEVER SPEAK TO HIM AGAIN. I planned to communicate in hand gestures, in head nods, but mostly in my coldly reproachful stare. AND THEN HE WOULD BE SORRY. I usually maintained this hardline approach for about two hours, at which point it would be necessary to speak, if only to confirm that yes, I was hungry for dinner. So I resolved that I would talk to him ONLY in monosyllabic words, which would do almost as good a job of illustrating my continuing outrage as a lifetime of silence. From there, I rarely lasted more than 15 minutes before I forgot all about my vows and rushed to tell him a joke or a story or a song I’d just made up. I think about as much of Bill’s resolve to stay permanently mad at Ginny as I do my seven-year-old self’s. In further childishness, Bill takes to frequenting prostitutes, even though he can’t have orgasms anymore, because his penis is pouting about Ginny too.
While they mope, Ginny is busy getting busy with a parade of forgettable men. Her bedroom has one of those revolving doors, and not even the kind you push yourself. It’s an automatic. Keep moving. Whenever she gets a chance she clinks glasses with Austin, who has found his own version of happiness in Holly, who progresses through the years from a mildly charming hand model, to a sexy lingerie model, to…well, we’ll get there.
Meanwhile, Bill takes out a huge loan to fund his enterprise, using his car and house and soul as collateral, and totally neglecting to tell Libby. Libby, meanwhile, successfully angles for another child, to complete her image of the perfect American family. But a year later, she shows up at the Institute, both children in hand, to reveal that the nice man from the bank just showed up to reassess their house. The best part of the whole episode is when she hands the kids off to Betty, who introduces herself as “Uncle Betty.”
You getting any, Uncle Betty? Heard from Helen lately?
These questions are glossed over, along with what promises to be an emerging storyline: the study’s refusal to admit anyone who does not fall within the bounds of “normal” sexuality. As Ginny observes, this excludes huge numbers of people, as well as disappointing those who are looking for help with a sexual ailment. (The most piteous example of this is Doug Greathouse’s ex, who it turns out only let him in the back door because her front door is SEALED SHUT.) My hope is that this storyline leads Bill and Ginny to the conclusion that when it comes to sex, there is no real normal. Or if there is, it’s synonymous with boring.
But no, no. These interesting questions must take a back seat to Bill and his Feelings. First, his mother offers to give him some money so her grandchildren don’t starve, and he orders her to say away from him and his family UNTIL THE END OF TIME. (AND HE MEANS IT.) Back home, Libby bets him to reconsider, but he’s like “Don’t you understand? MY MOMMY HURT ME.” And Libby, in what is her single most shining hour, yells back “EVERYBODY HURTS. Everyone is barely covering up their scars. But you convinced that you are stranded on an island of your own agony and isolation. WELL WE’RE ALL STRANDED ON THAT ISLAND. IT’S CALLED EARTH.” Totally unswayed, Bill goes to Austin’s birthday party, gets drunk and tries to seduce Ginny, fails, gets drunker and tries to get an orgasm from a hooker, and fails at that too. So Bill has basically morphed into a full-on monster. Because Bill isn’t trapped in a loveless marriage; if he had the guts to start the sex study then there’s no reason he shouldn’t have the guts to get a fucking divorce.
Let’s fast forward to the 1960, shall we? We know it’s the sixties because the show is like: Look! The Beatles! Civil Rights! The girls are wearing prints now! At last, enough time has passed for Ginny to grow bored with her long line of faceless suitors, and decide that even his dreadful personality is better than no personality at all. They decide to resume their nighttime activities at The Plaza. This is supposed to be a momentous shift in their relationship, but since they’ve been sleeping together all season, it just feels like a continuation of the status quo. Sure, this time around, Bill reluctantly agrees to let Ginny date other people, but it doesn’t do much to normalize their dynamic.
Also frequenting their hotel that night are Austin and Lester, who are attending and filming a bachelor party, respectively. As always, Austin’s idiotic good humor is thoroughly endearing, until the boys put on a stag film. And who to Austin’s wondering eyes should appear but his girlfriend, Holly, who is getting it on, Bettie Page-style, with another woman. Like, there’s spanking and she does a thing that is reminiscent of Rita Hayworth’s hair in Gilda, BUT GAY. Austin is like “I need to get out of here” and I am like “Yeah but let’s keep watching that movie though.” Austin goes to the home of his ex-wife and begs her to take him back. She wisely declines his offer, since Austin isn’t capable of being faithful even if he wants to be.
Down in the lobby (how are none of these people running into each other?) Bill casually asks if he could moonlight as the in-house doctor so he and Ginny could have their room for free. And Elliot the bellhop—who until this minute has been like Bill’s fanboy/unpaid bellhop, and listened credulously to the saga of Dr. and Mrs. Holden—is like “Yeah, the thing about that is our guests probably don’t want a doctor who is going by his fuck-time pseudonym, you know? When you write your Congressman, you don’t address the envelope to Carlos Danger. Now, hypothetically, if BILL MASTERS were to want the job, no problem. But you are, ahem, no Bill Masters.” I totally fucking love Elliot for being on the lie all along. You’ll go far in the service industry, son.
We close out the episode at a barbecue at the Masters residence, where I guess Lester is filming again. (The episode keeps flipping back and forth between its usual look and grainy home movies, and I wish they would commit to one or the other.) Libby asks Ginny to accompany them on a weekend getaway, so Bill will get out of her hair and let her fucking tan for a few hours. I have a comment section question to pose: do you think Libby knows about Ginny and Bill? Personally, I think she very well might, because Libby has only ever been interested in projecting an image of happiness, and is wiling to overlook all manner of secrets to maintain it. Then Bill’s mom shows up, loaded down with presents and wearing the same fur coat, which I assume has been glued on to her shoulders. Bill finally consents to have her back in life, but only because she somehow managed to sneak him the money he needed, and on the condition that the money NEVER BE SPOKEN OF AGAIN. Or how about “Thank you,” Bill? Thank you is what humans say. Libby is a fucking robot and even she knows that.
I’m assuming the timeline will slow down next week, so hopefully we’ll have more to dig into. Until then!