A lot can change over the course of one day—especially when a camera crew arrives to document your controversial life’s work.
Bill’s still not “functioning,” despite that moment of passion last episode when he showed up at the hotel room bloodied and Virginia “took care of him.” (Bill’s brother, who busted his face all up, is out of the picture again; he and his wife went back to Kansas City, and Bill hasn’t spoken or written to him since.) Bill can wake up with an erection, much to his dismay, but he’s still having trouble curing his impotence when he’s intimate with Virginia. Still, he soldiers on, applying some of Libby’s makeup to his still-healing face. The CBS cameras are arriving in the office to tell the Masters and Johnson story.
Bill is still unsure about PR guy Shep’s plan to present their research to the masses via television. Is he personable enough for viewers to invite him into their homes? Can he explain his research in layman’s terms without coming across as a pervert? Not wearing that bow tie, Shep tells him. And is Bill wearing makeup? Shep thinks it’s a good idea to include Libby—who will be bringing Bill a straight tie from home—in the interview and play up the family man angle. Bill reminds everyone who will listen that he’s not a salesman. Too late for that.
An interviewer preps Bill and Virginia by asking questions about their research and relationship before the cameras roll. Virginia is a natural, while Bill can’t even muster a smile. She tries to lead him in the conversation, but he’s not taking her cues. He looks like a deer in headlights; things get even more awkward as he realizes his diction and vocabulary really isn’t going to fly for a mainstream audience. “CBS doesn’t like dildos” one guy tells Lester while trying to sort through research footage, quickly realizing clips of masturbation and sex—between unmarried partners, nonetheless!—is all useless for broadcast TV. If you sanitize the clips, you undermine the work, Lester angrily declares, attempting to stand up for the cause. His concerns go unheard.
Bill is told the word “orgasm” won’t work. Censors aren’t going to like “climax.” Maybe “peak” could be okay? Bill finally shows emotion—how can they talk about the study when they can’t even say the name of one of the stages in the human sexual response cycle, which is fundamental to their research? This knocks Bill out of his dead-fish state. The goal is to promote conversations about human sexuality, he says, passion growing in his voice. Vocabulary—words this broadcast won’t permit—about sex should be commonplace, he explains.
Like sneeze or hiccup, interjects Virginia. Hey, they’re getting the hang of this…
Censorship perpetuates shame, which in turn fosters ignorance, and ignorance prevents change, Bill adds. So you see, it’s a dangerous trajectory to shy away from the language of the body.
Later, in the bathroom, Lester confesses his concerns about the documentary to Bill. But Bill is trying to talk himself into the merits of this endeavor. Maybe they know what they’re doing. The last time he tried to explain his work, he got his hat handed to him—literally. Maybe they should give CBS enough latitude to do the job they brought them in to do.
Lester disagrees. The end justifies the means? Now is not the time to give up on your principles, he scolds Bill. Also, Bill needs someone to tell him he looks stupid in that tie. Because it’s not just Bill’s life’s work that is hinging on this documentary; Lester, too, has given his all because it’s something he really believes in.
Lester’s words hit home when a “couple” is brought in for an “intake interview” for added visuals in the documentary. But giving viewers any perception that Bill and Virginia are healing couples suffering from any kind of sexual dysfunction is way ahead of the study. They’re not there yet—Bill hasn’t even found a way to fix his own impotence, which just adds insult to injury anytime anyone brings up the new objectives of the research. Shep and a producer massage the message, using forward-looking wording that projects what the study hopes to accomplish in the future—and that way it’s not lying, right?
Bill doesn’t view it that way. In an aside with Shep, he makes it clear he’s very unhappy with the idea of portraying study patients through actor reenactments. Shep tries to explain that the entire documentary can’t be Bill and Virginia behind a desk. Bill once again stresses he’s not a salesman, but Shep calls BS on that excuse. Of course he needs to sell this study. He compares this interview with the televised debates between Nixon and Kennedy. Whatever happens in the long run doesn’t matter right now—what matters is that Bill and Virginia are the first to deliver this research. Is Bill still aiming for that Nobel Prize? Does he still want to make sure he’s not a footnote in someone else’s study on human sexuality? That’s what this—the camera crews, the message that he and Virginia are the friendly medical researchers next door, the mainstreaming of their research—is all about.
But all of that brings out Bill’s insecurities. It’s made worse when a cameraman uses a “beauty and the beast” analogy for him and Virginia. Of course everyone assumes they’re more than just professional colleagues watching people do it all the time. Look at her—why wouldn’t he want her? The question is why would she want him…
All of that doubt—about publicizing the study this way, about himself—weighs on Bill after the camera crew has left. Virginia finds him in an exam room, jacket, shirt and tie off, soaked through with sweat. They can’t present themselves as the saviors of sexual dysfunction without having cured anyone, himself included, he tells Virginia. And why would people want him in their living room anyway? He doesn’t have that Jack Kennedy twinkle, that allure. I’m not personable, I don’t smile, he says. He feels like Nixon. He feels like a loser.
Virginia tries to offer reassurance; she’s appalled that he suddenly believes he’s not attractive. She’s here, with him, when she should be putting her kids to bed. (More on that below.) Isn’t that proof enough that she finds him attractive?
Why do you want to be with me, someone who looks like this? Bill asks. I can’t twinkle. I can’t f—k.
Virginia tries again to calm him down, this time by simply hugging him. He breaks down; she holds him, puts her hands around his face. Weary, he collapses to the ground, and she sits there, cradling him…
NEXT: How was your day, Libby?