Season 3 of Masters of Sex has been somewhat light on Betty DiMello so far, but that’s about to change. When Sarah Silverman returns to the Showtime series for a three-episode arc in two weeks, she’ll be part of a new Betty-Helen storyline that has the women attempting to create a family.
“We have a great story,” show creator and EP Michelle Ashford said. “Helen decides she really wants to have a baby and so it’s about what did gay women do in 1966 if they wanted to have a baby. It’s like seeing the very very beginnings of that movement when gay couples decided to have children. It’s really touching. She’s determined. She wants to have a baby and they want to stay together.”
Tony nominee Annaleigh Ashford plays Betty, the former sex worker who has since been employed by Drs. Master and Johnson (Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan) as their office manager. This week’s episode was the first time Helen has been mentioned since the time jump between Seasons 2 and 3, and it came in a funny moment where Betty takes Masters on her back to help align his spine. The moment is hilarious and also endearing because the two have known each other for a long time after meeting in such interesting circumstances. (Masters was interviewing and employing prostitutes to help with his initial sex study.)
“It’s amazing because it’s also a comment on the relationship between Betty and Masters,” Annaleigh said. “You know, she’s always telling him how it is and keeping it real for Dr. Masters. But through that, we’re also kind of reminded they’ve been working together for almost 10 years now, for as long as he’s been working with Johnson, he’s been involved with Betty a little bit longer. So she knows all of his secrets, she takes care of him. And so of course if would be apropos that she’d be like, ‘I’ll crack your back for you.'”
So when Helen and Betty decide to try and get pregnant, it seems natural to go to her trusted friend and fertility doctor for help.
“I think their biggest struggle is, obviously, the secrecy. They’re having to be so quiet about their life to everyone around them. But Betty finds a few familiar faces that she can be honest with. Masters has always been one of them,” Annaleigh said. “From the pilot, she told Masters about Helen. There’s a big conflict between Betty and Masters about him being able to help her with the insemination. You’ll see how it gets ironed out but we have a special guest who comes and helps us.”
Annaleigh said she was thrilled to have Sarah back on the show this year, even though it’s only for episodes 207, 208 and 209. (“Sarah’s a very busy woman,” Michelle said of getting her for as many episodes as possible.)
“I knew [the pregnancy was] part of our journey for this year and I thought, what a fascinating and important story to tell in a time in which we know kind of very little historically about what gay people were doing to have a family back then,” Annaleigh said. “It was very rare but at the same time, who knows if it was very rare because there’s not very much documentation about it because it was so private, it was so hidden, it was so secret. And I think Betty is in an amazing position to have that opportunity because she works in an office where there’s also a fertility clinic so her knowledge is almost more compelling. Also, it’s such an important storyline because it’s two women loving each other and sharing with each other a life in which they had to be so quiet about.
“I just think it’s amazing they stayed together,” she continued. “She could have not gotten back together with her after she left Gene but it just showed the power of the love Helen and Betty have for each other that they got back together and are sticking it out, and now are trying to have a baby and a family.”
At the end of last season, Helen and Betty were at odds because of Betty’s marriage to Gene, but Annaleigh said she created a story for what happened in between.
“True loves always find their way back to each other so I’ve always kind of thought that she left Gene and it was only a matter of minutes before she had to come back to Helen because she needed a place to stay—she got kicked out!” Annaleigh said with a laugh. “You know she moved right back in and they were so happy to be together again.”
In trying to build a family, Annaleigh said another struggle for the couple is getting their hands on some sperm.
“They did have a sperm bank at the research foundation, but it’s hard to get access to the sperm,” she said. “And there’s kind of a magical moment where Betty tries to take it into her hands. There’s never been a problem for Betty to find sperm! Basically what I’m saying is she finds a way.”
By season’s end Annaleigh promises “a resolution” to the storyline, so we’ll find out if Betty and Helen can achieve knocked up status. But besides that, Annaleigh is excited about “a beautiful scene” she shares with Scully (Beau Bridges), who is still coming to terms with his homosexuality.
“It’s such and interesting and beautiful comment on how hard it is to come out even to yourself, and she’s kind of encouraging him to accept who he is and shares how hard it was for her,” she said. “The writers did such a lovely job kind of capturing it with words, which is almost impossible to do. It was one of those scenes where I didn’t have to work on it. I just got to say the words and everything was there for me.”
As a theater actress whose first show was at a gay theater in Denver at the age of nine, Annaleigh said she feels so lucky to have been a part of an important story on Masters of Sex.
“I feel like equality, especially in the gay community, has been such a topic of my life. It’s always been a part of my life. So to have that scene with Beau—you’ll see when it airs, it’s just one of my favorite scene that I’ve ever done,” she said. “Just really grateful it’s been a part of my career. I’m just happy they’re sharing this side of [Betty’s] life and her story.”
Betty and Helen aren’t the only women locking lips this season, though, and I asked Annaleigh her perspective on that Ginny-Libby kiss in the Season 3 premiere, in which Libby plants one on Ginny saying, “I always wondered what that felt like with you.”
“I felt like there were two different things going on. First, we’re in ’67, a time where there’s an actual sexual revolution happening, number one. It was also the time for the women’s revolution and liberation, so I feel like it was a moment of curiosity,” Annaleigh said. “This woman has so much power over her husband, so I think it was less of a sexual kiss but more of a kiss of power. But it could have been a sexual kind of curiosity as well. It almost felt like a kiss of power for me, which there’s so much power in sex.”
But there’s also the idea of the Kinsey scale and where you fall, Annaleigh said.
“Sometimes kissing somebody helps you figure out where you are on the Kinsey scale. Like Libby gave Virginia a kiss and she’s like ‘Aw, bummer—straight on the Kinsey scale.” But when it comes to Virginia, Annaleigh said, “Betty’s always got it. I totally get it.”
Masters of Sex airs Sunday nights on Showtime.