Bill and Virginia get back to work while the Masters brothers continue to attempt a reconciliation.
Credit: Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME
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Everyone seems to be looking for some form of acceptance in Masters of Sex episode 10, “Below the Belt.”

Take Libby, for instance. She’s found a cause in CORE, but CORE—or at least Robert—isn’t interested in her help, beyond sending her on lunch runs. “You’ll just be one more white person showing up and trying to tell them how to live their lives,” Robert tells Libby, when she asks why he won’t allow her to come canvassing for a rent strike. But undeterred, she continues to run the activists’ small errands. This is starting to piss off Bill, who doesn’t like his own dinner interfered with and snarkily says, “My wife, back from work,” when she pulls up to the house late from her volunteer efforts one night.

But Libby is so determined to be taken seriously, she decides to show up to the group’s rent strike canvassing efforts uninvited, and even asks Virginia to provide an alibi for her so she doesn’t have to bother with Bill criticizing her decision. (That, of course, leads to an awkward exchange, with Libby telling Virginia they’ll keep the lie “between us”—unless the idea of lying to Bill is too uncomfortable. And so the woman who is having an affair with Libby’s husband is now being asked by Libby to keep secrets from said husband.) Turns out Libby is a pretty good saleswoman (which we’ve seen before) and helps CORE get signatures from 30 percent of the residents in the projects they visited. Unprompted, Robert invites her to the next canvassing effort.

Barbara and Lester may be on a similar path to acceptance. Though they got off on the wrong foot when they first met—Lester unintentionally insulted Barb for her belief in God—Lester later apologizes. At the diner, they bond over their sexual dysfunction and how it has led them both to a place of despair. Lester says he kind of wishes he could adopt a belief system that would allow him to absolve his sins; Barb says it’s not quite that easy and admits that she, too, had given up on herself. Now that they’ve found kindred broken spirits, maybe Barb can be the woman Lester is looking for to start a relationship with and (eventually) work through his/their mutual problems.

Flo, that fierce Cal-O-Metric lady, is also looking for a little love… in the form of her hot spokesman, Dr. Langham. She commands him to meet at her apartment—”Do not be late or you will be fired”—but when he arrives, he protests as much as possible (in as many words as possible) that he’s just not going to be able to have sex with her because she’s not his type. But Flo is a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it, and in no time proves to Langham that his “equipment” is going to work just fine for the task at hand. In fact, it’s up for the job at least two times that evening.

When getting ready to leave, Langham seems relieved that they’ve gotten that business “out of the way” so they can go back to their professional relationship. Turns out Langham really likes his Cal-O-Metric job, and he’s really good at it—making the ladies feel good about themselves and all. But Flo makes her intentions clear—no, this was not a one-time thing. She has an uncanny ability to bare her soul while making sure Langham knows she’s serious: Like their clients, she also wants to recapture that feeling of being young and pretty, and Langham is going to do that for her.

Sex as a means for feeling fulfilled also resonates with Bill and Virginia. First, on a professional level, they discover a Dr. Joseph Kaufman is trying to infringe on their turf by publishing a rival study on the human response to sex. This sets off Bill, who is determined to be first to deliver the groundbreaking research on human sexuality to the world, and not become some scientific footnote in someone else’s paper. He wants a Nobel Prize, dammit!

And so, despite the office’s inability to pay their electric bill on time, Bill hires a public relations specialist to ensure he and Virginia will be the researchers receiving all the credit for this work. (It’s the same guy who helped one of Bill’s colleagues get the credit for developing the birth control pill.) The PR guy’s pitch: Put Bill and Virginia on TV as a human interest story plumbing “the mysteries of desire.” They’d be great! They’re just like every married couple in America, the way they argue!

Virginia sees the value in taking their study to the masses. Bill thinks the idea is absurd—this is a serious medical study that should be published in the American Journal of Medicine, not preceding Mr. Magoo. Virginia asks him the most important question: Would you be able to forgive yourself if you did nothing and Kaufman walked away with the Nobel Prize?

NEXT: Bill and Virginia get back to “work”

Sex for Bill and Virginia takes on a deeper meaning personally, too, now that Bill has admitted his impotence. Bill says the point is to find a cure, not just for him but for millions of men. This is the way back to the work, he says; “I’m broken and you’re the only one who can fix me.”

That’s a lot to put on one woman, but Virginia accepts the challenge. She has met with the psychologist once again, this time admitting she was impersonating a patient (the doctor doesn’t seem too upset or surprised by this) and says she knows that her research—her affair—has a higher purpose. The psychologist seems unsure about this; is she actually deceiving herself?

No matter—there’s work to be done. Virginia takes the lead the next time she meets Bill at the hotel… with no luck. The next time, she is much more assertive, telling him she will make him powerless and completely at her mercy. “I don’t beg,” he reminds her, yet she ties his hands behind his back and insists he not touch her breasts or move without her permission. It works… until she rushes things. She wants to begin again; he says they can’t. Virginia covers her chest with her hands, as if she’s suddenly embarrassed, and says his name as if she’s about to utter an apology…

The following time they meet… well, there’s another story line about acceptance leading up to that. Bill and his brother, Frank, are still at odds after Bill walked out of his little brother’s AA meeting. Bill’s mother shares his distrust of the AA program (and things they can bond over are rare). Both she and Bill feel as though Frank’s desire to “make amends” is just a way to accuse them of bad behavior while disguising it as an apology. This theory blows up in Bill’s face when their mom gets in a car crash after having a drink one night.

Frank disapproves of his mother’s drinking, especially when it results in him stitching up her face in his brother’s office at night, and thinks Bill enables her. Bill demands that Frank leave the room.

Both his mother and Libby plead with Bill to come to some kind of understanding with Frank. But these brothers seem like they will always be at odds. After Libby takes their mother home, Frank argues that alcoholism is their entire family’s—including Bill’s and their father’s—problem. “We are a family with a shared disease, a corrosive disease,” Frank says. Frank continues to tell Bill that he, too, was beaten by their father. Bill continues to deny this idea and plays off Frank’s story as some fairy tale he’s telling himself to try to reconcile his own demons. Alcohol wasn’t the problem; their dad was. Still, Frank sticks to his story and tells Bill he forgives both him and their father. Bill doesn’t understand how anyone can forgive a “monster.”

Bill then slowly but viciously turns it back on his brother. He asks if Frank begged for the beatings to stop, because Bill never did. And so he taunts his brother, much like one would imagine his father taunted him. “There is something inside you that is weak,” Bill says. “That’s your real affliction. You are a coward.” He tells Frank to forgive him for seeing what he really is: “a weak little boy who became an idiotic clown who grew up to become a gutless, pathetic man.” Frank punches him directly in the face.

Bill slaps him back, repeatedly. Frank punches him again; Bill laughs. “This is what binds us,” Bill says. “Him living on in us. Not a bottle in sight.”

Bill shows up at the hotel room (late, thanks to the fight) and tells Virginia she doesn’t have to stay; he’s there because he didn’t want to go home to Libby with his face looking like raw meat. He collapses on the bed and Virginia lays down next to him, gently caressing his bloodied head.

“I abandoned him,” Bill says, “to that monster. And then I punished him for it. What is wrong with me?”

Virginia kisses his fingers. “I give up,” Bill says, touching his face, streaking Virginia’s face with his blood, moving in to kiss her. And then there’s fumbling with his belt buckle, a zipper being pulled down, moaning…

Episode Recaps

Masters of Sex

This Showtime drama tells the steamy story of real-life sex researchers in the 1950s.

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