Masters is tested on his first day at Memorial Hospital when a VIP patient needs emergency care. Meanwhile, Virginia must decide between staying with DePaul or following Bill.

By Amber Ray
July 21, 2014 at 03:15 AM EDT
Michael Desmond/Showtime
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  • TV Show
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“You’re not your worst part.”

In an episode dedicated to showing the “good” side of characters whose decisions often fall into a gray moral area, “you’re not your worst part” is a reminder that beyond the controversial research, checkered pasts, and yes, even affairs, these are decent human beings worth rooting for.

The case of Rose, a promiscuous 18-year-old who becomes Masters’ first patient at Memorial Hospital, serves as the centerpiece of this lesson in episode 2, “Kyrie Eleison.” Rose’s parents are VIPs at Memorial—in other words, they’re hospital mega-donors—so when she is rushed to the emergency room for vaginal bleeding, she’s expected to be met with the best care. And that means Dr. Bill Masters.

It’s his first day at the new office, and he’s already perturbed by the charade his old test patient Betty is trying to pull over on her husband—she’s seeing Bill for “fertility treatments” even though he told her last season, heartbreakingly, that she’s unable to have children. These “treatments” involve Betty hanging out in his office for an hour or so, trading barbs with the doc and his new secretary, Barbara—comic relief in an otherwise glum situation. (Betty has always been a whip-smart jolt of street smarts and humor to a show that often takes a more serious, clinical approach to drama. Considering the subject matter, serious and clinical is quite appropriate. But Betty is a welcome scene-stealer.) Bill’s not happy about Betty’s presence, but he tolerates it because her husband, the Pretzel King, is a VIP himself. He’s more than a VIP, actually—he’s Masters’ lifesaver. The Pretzel King donated a boatload of money to Memorial, but only on the condition that Masters get a job in obstetrics—so Bill could help him and Betty conceive—and that Masters gets to continue his study on human sexuality at the new hospital. All that to say: Hopefully this leads to Betty sticking around for a while.

Bill scrubs in and quickly diagnoses Rose with a perforated uterus. Her mother is hysterical as Bill urgently spouts medical jargon. In all of her “what is happening?!” mania, Bill hisses, “So you have no idea when your daughter terminated this pregnancy?” Uh-oh.

In the aftermath, Rose’s mother demands he perform a hysterectomy. Her reasoning: Rose’s sexual urges can’t be controlled. She first caught Rose “naked with a boy” at the age of 14. Her father can’t even stand to be near his daughter anymore. “We are a loving and generous family,” she tells Bill—or, rather, reminds Dr. Greathouse. The head of obstetrics agrees with his VIP and tells Bill to go through with the procedure.

This becomes a defining moment for Bill. On his very first day, does he stand by his ethics—yes, he has them—or play by the rules? Bill, of course, was never one for coloring within the lines. (See: Undertaking a groundbreaking study on human sexuality; getting fired for showing footage of the female response to sex.)

Bill meets Rose as she’s waking up from the procedure he performed to stop the bleeding. She knows what her mother has asked of him, and she wants him to go ahead with the surgery. She’s desperate: “There’s this dark thing inside of me,” she says, explaining that she’s unable to control herself when she starts thinking about sex. Bill tries to reason with her, explaining that no matter what her emotions, this is an irreversible procedure and she will never be able to have children. But Rose doesn’t want to be bothered with the future; she wants these dark feelings to go away now. She doesn’t want these “sick thoughts” anymore, and she doesn’t want to feel ashamed. If taking a part of her could make that go away, she says, do it.

As a doctor, Bill is dogged in his mission to help all women have a chance at procreating (more on the irony of that later). He again comes back to Rose to try reasoning with her. This time, he brings a tiny piece of plastic with him: an IUD. The technology, he says, was “recently refined,” it’s the most effective form of birth control, she doesn’t need her mother’s consent for it because she is 18, and “it’s the first step in fixing her problem.” Rose is skeptical: How can a piece of plastic make her “stop acting like a whore”? Bill flinches at those words, demanding she never say them again. “There is such promise of hope ahead,” he says. And while they wait for answers, the least they can do is make sure she doesn’t have another unwanted pregnancy.

Rose’s story serves as a metaphor for the other characters in this episode. Let’s break it down.

NEXT: Bill Masters, the Best Damn Baby Doctor in St. Louis

Bill

Bill was at his emotionally distant, pigheaded, egotistical best—and by that, we mean worst—last week. He had lost his job, his study, and his patience—particularly with Libby and the baby—and was lashing out because of it. This week, the focus is on Bill, the Best Damn Baby Doctor in St. Louis. And viewers are reminded exactly why and how he has earned so much prestige and has been given so much power: He’s an excellent doctor who puts his patients first. He refuses to sterilize an 18-year-old girl who has other options. Though he’s terse with Betty for pretending he can help her, they have a long history and he sincerely cares about her well-being. Without these very important character traits, it’s very difficult to view this man as any sort of hero.

But he’s not a hero—not in the typical sense. His research is heroic, yes; in the pursuit of understanding the human body, more than once he was forced to perform his research in secret and was ostracized. But this guy can still be a real jerk, which is why he doesn’t get away with looking like a white knight in this episode.

His favorite targets are Libby and the baby. Scenes with the three of them are excruciating to watch; whenever Bill is in their presence, he’s agitated and snide. Whatever love he once had for this woman is gone. Things may have been going downhill for the couple before the sex study began in earnest, but once Virginia entered Bill’s life, that crumbling quickly escalated. A child has only made the situation worse, as Bill’s son is a reminder of his own terrible upbringing, something that haunts him deeply, despite all of his successes. And there’s the rub: The man who makes miracle babies for other couples received one of his own, and yet has no ability to love the child. And so he continues his non-affair affair—ahem, research—with Virginia in a hotel one state away.

Virginia

Virginia and Bill share a number of tender, non-sexual moments in this episode, which is thrilling to watch. (That’s the beauty of this show—some of the most scintillating content doesn’t take place between the sheets.) When they’re not talking about their research, or what the research means for their relationship, or, um, are actively involved in their research, Virginia and Bill let down their guard, and the chemistry and love they have for one another shines through. This happens in episode 2 in scenes revolving around a mutual concern for Barton Scully, who has seemingly gone M.I.A.

They first realize something may be up with Scully while making small talk in their hotel lobby over cocktails. This precedes a discussion about Virginia’s future with Bill and their research; she assumes she’ll be joining him at some point at Memorial. Bill, for once, is actually rather meek in breaking the news that he’s been given a new secretary and they don’t view Virginia as qualified enough to be brought on as a research assistant. That’s a terrible insult, and Virginia takes it as such; her name was on the study, and who could possibly be more qualified in this work? As always, she doesn’t let this faze her—at least not long-term. She’s going to handle this new secretary situation herself and make sure she’s hired in Masters’ office ASAP.

It’s when Virginia goes to enact her secretary-scaring scheme that she and Bill decide something is definitely wrong on the Scully front. She had a run-in with Scully’s daughter—more on that later—that leads Virginia to believe he’s not really on some fun, spur-of-the-moment holiday in Europe. Virginia turns to leave, but what about getting rid of the secretary? Her plan was going well—she was cozying up to the overwhelmed Barbara and about to make her move—but she had a change of heart. She’s got her work with Dr. DePaul back at Maternity, and she’ll be starting to help another doctor with his gastro study. Could she turn her back on the research so easily? Has she decided DePaul needs her more? Or perhaps it’s just another play to momentarily exert power over Bill, as they so love to do to one another.

That kind of plotting and emotional tug-of-war is not Virginia at her best. Like Bill, she has an unrivaled passion for their work, which is why she is so likable. (Add to that the fact that she’s a woman trying to be taken seriously in a male-dominated field in a male-centric era.) Also like Bill, this episode makes a point of highlighting her compassion—in this case, with Dr. DePaul.

Virginia pushes DePaul into creating a video for the pap smear campaign, the mere thought of which terrifies the stoic Lillian. DePaul is slowly warming up to her secretary, and they almost share a kind of shorthand. Their conversations have become easy; you might even think they’re becoming friends.

At the video shoot, DePaul is garbling her words; she’s not making sense… and she doesn’t even realize it. She storms out, nearly in tears, and Virginia follows. DePaul’s condition is worsening—that would explain the mystery black eye last week—though she refuses to acknowledge it. It’s Virginia’s turn to play doctor, demanding Lillian give her the number for her oncologist. They go to the appointment together, and when the doctor reveals DePaul’s terminal cancer is worsening, Virginia asks, “What are our options,” which gives Lillian whiplash. It’s doubtful she has ever given anyone permission to get this close to her, and she’s having a hard time understanding why Virginia is so invested in her well-being. It’s because Virginia will always fight for the important people in her life. And Lillian—and her own groundbreaking studies on women’s health—is very important to Virginia.

But which doctor will Virginia ultimately choose to stand by? At Maternity, DePaul can’t pay her enough to support her two kids as a secretary. Masters doesn’t seem willing to fight for a job for her at Memorial. And that gastro doc who was going to pay for her expertise using the technology behind “Ulysses”—turns out he just wanted to meet Virginia’s magic camera and get his rocks off. (Cutting between the scenes with Virginia and the doctor and Masters and Greathouse—both explaining their sex study to men who may be a little more randy than they’re willing to let on—offered some of the episode’s funniest moments.) If the episode’s final scene detailing the lies and lengths to which Virginia and Bill go to meet for their elicit “research” is any indication, it’s going to be Masters. The most telling line: Virginia’s babysitter saying, “You do what you need to do,” as she leaves for her late-night rendezvous.

NEXT: Breaking down Betty, Vivian, Dr. Langham, and Libby

Betty

Betty overhears everything about Rose’s case—and what her mom wants Bill to do—while having her “treatments” in Masters’ office. A former prostitute who herself is sterile, Betty is, in a way, a grown-up Rose. Before Rose leaves the hospital, Betty sneaks into her room for a little pep talk. Her mom used to call her a tramp, too, she says… and then she stabbed the woman’s eye out. “There’s a life lesson in there,” Betty insists, and Rose gets it. Rose is thankful Masters talked to her; he said, “You’re not your worst part.” And that brought Betty to tears, particularly since she had just been confronted about her former occupation by a client from her past, a past she is desperately trying to forget with her new husband and those “fertility treatments.”

Vivian

After Scully’s suicide attempt—Vivian and her mother rescued him, hanging from an electrical wire—Vivian goes to Maternity to have her injured wrist examined. (It was presumably hurt while helping to cut her father down.) There she runs into Virginia, who shows concern for her and her father, who hasn’t been to work in a while. Vivian tries to brush her off with the “my parents are in Europe” excuse, but worse, she wants to know why Virginia is trying to act nice—Virginia slept with her fiance, Ethan, after all. Already emotionally drained after the ordeal with her father, Vivian lets Virginia know exactly what she thinks of her. (“Were you bored?” “You’ll do anything to get what you want.”) The harshest zinger: “Eventually people will catch on. All you’ll be is old and ugly and alone.”

Virginia caught Vivian at her worst; Bill caught Vivian off-guard. He meets her at her school to ask about her father, and that’s when Vivian breaks down and finally tells the truth, knowing Bill was one of her father’s oldest, most-trusted confidants. “It had to be an accident, right?” she asks, helpless. Bill knows the unspoken truth: Barton tried to kill himself because he’s not able to “cure” his homosexuality. He’s a “sexual deviant” in the eyes of society—just like Rose. And later, that realization is enough to make the usually guarded Bill fall to the ground in tears.

Dr. Langham

Langham, brilliantly called out by his wife for his cheating ways—over the hospital loudspeaker—last week, returned to his old tricks, trying to hit on Vivian while applying the cast to her wrist. But later, when he invites Virginia to the party he’s throwing in his office, he quasi-redeems himself. He compares their recent breakups, saying he has a theory why they’re both now single (and why they won’t ever sleep together): We’re lone wolves driven from the pack for our refusal to conform, he says.

Interesting foreshadowing: Langham’s estranged wife has moved back with her mother in Alton, Illinois—the town where Bill and Virginia’s hotel is located. So how long before they’re caught?

Libby

Bill’s wife is the only person who doesn’t receive some sort of redemption this week. Instead, her grasps for power are highlighted, which ultimately serve to draw attention, once again, to Bill’s failures as a husband.

Bill sent his mother back to Ohio and instructed Libby to find new help for the baby. She hires an 18-year-old, Coral, whom Bill criticizes for being too young, as if he suddenly has an opinion about the care the child receives. “The home is my domain,” Libby asserts… but she can’t remember where she put Bill’s shirt, which makes her feel foolish in front of the new nanny/maid.

Libby and Coral bond over old cooking scars earned due to their mothers dying young and both women being forced to help out more around the house. Libby begins venting about Bill—about his directness, his lack of “chitchat.” She admits it: She had hoped having a baby would soften her husband, but it’s made him more cold and distant. “It’s like he’s afraid of his own baby,” she says desperately.

Later, the baby is crying uncontrollably. Libby, frustrated, slams shut her Dr. Spock book. (Frazzled parent jokes—ha!) Coral suggests swaddling; Libby doesn’t listen. Bill comes home, and of course is annoyed by the crying child… who suddenly quiets. The solution: Coral wrapped him in a tight swaddle, saying she was telling Ms. Masters all day long about her aunt’s amazing swaddle technique. Coral didn’t mean to put down Libby, but Bill jumps at the opportunity to get a jab in. “Maybe you were right about the girl,” he says. “She does seem competent.”

The next time Coral is working for the Masters, Libby corrects her pronunciation of the word “ask.” Obviously Libby isn’t okay with the girl showing her up in the parenting department. “I’m always grateful when someone points out something I could do better,” Libby viciously says with a smile. Poor Coral is stunned, but accepts her boss’s desire to “operate as a team.” Perhaps Libby does already realize the extant to which she has lost Bill—and that it’s very likely she’s not going to get him back.

Episode Recaps

This Showtime drama tells the steamy story of real-life sex researchers in the 1950s.
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seasons
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  • 09/29/13
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