Bill and Virginia's secret is out, leading to trouble at work.

By Amber Ray
August 04, 2014 at 03:15 AM EDT
Michael Desmond/Showtime
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While some people’s unsavory secrets are catching up with them in Masters of Sex episode 4, “Dirty Jobs,” nasty prejudices are highlighting the insecurities of others. At heart these characters are all good people, but a show like this isn’t interested in counting brownie points. So let’s examine what we learned about each character’s secrets and their “dark side” this week instead.

The secret: Virginia and Bill’s affair

What we learned: Virginia is feeling guilty about sleeping with her married boss as concerns about her job grow

A heated discussion between Virginia and Bill kicks off the episode; Virginia is upset he resumed the study without her. But the board at Memorial Hospital was “not impressed” with her application as a research assistant, and Bill echoes that sentiment. “You thought it was about the work, but I know the truth,” he says. Which is? Well, on the application she wrote “mistress” on the line asking for her current occupation.

And then Virginia wakes up.

She’s in the hotel room with Bill. He tries to be cutesy—no seriously, he makes endearing comments about the way she sleeps—but the dream has rattled her, and she’s short with him. She’s not only feeling guilt over the repeated hotel rendezvous, she’s unsure about the state of their relationship. She’s also concerned that, without the extra money coming in from the study, she’ll be unable to pay rent. Unfortunately, we learn, she’s still trying to hawk those diet pills to make some extra cash. (Which, you have to admit, led to some highlights of the episode, including the cynical Cal-O-Metric rep who told Virginia to go ahead and blindly follow her dreams of a career in medicine—maybe she’s special and that will actually work out for her.)

But she’s right in worrying, because serial philanderer Langham—who stays at the hotel with his kids when it’s his night with them—spies Virginia and Bill exiting the hotel. And this guy is as loose with his mouth as he is with his pants.

In the lunchroom, Langham tells Virginia he saw her and the doc at the hotel and assumes they’re having an affair. Virginia, quick on her feet, tells him they’ve resumed the study and a hotel is the only place they can get any work (ahem, “work”) done with any amount of seriousness. She wonders if he buys it. He totally doesn’t buy it.

The secret: Bill and Virginia’s affair

Bill’s dedication to the study—and Virginia—makes him a bad employee

Bill keeps insisting he wants Virginia to “stay connected to the work,” which, of course, connects directly back to that desperate “I need you” line from the season 1 finale. It’s not just about the work for him—it’s about having her in his life. “Work” for these two, is a synonym for “love.”

Virginia has a hard time believing that’s he’s doing his damnedest to bring her over to Memorial with him. The thing is, he actually is trying his damnedest to convince Greathouse that she’s indispensable to the research. And she is: Without Virginia’s people skills—and the fact that some of the research patients only feel comfortable participating in the study knowing another woman is part of the observation team and it’s not just one sleazy guy—Bill is losing participants.

Still, Greathouse insists he sit in on Bill’s research that evening. Bill tries to discourage his boss from meddling in his work by saying he’ll be looking at men with enlarged prostates that evening—”OLD MEN MASTURBATING!”—he yells, exasperated, at the daft secretary who will be passing along the message. Sometimes Bill’s impatience and short temper are awesome.

Greathouse may honestly be interested in Bill’s work, but he comes across as pervy whenever he talks about the study. He tries to use the “in the interest of medicine” excuse, but Bill knows he’s curious about the study on a much more primal level. Greathouse shows up to Elderly Dudes Jacking Off night anyway, surprised to see an older woman on the exam table. Bill passes it off as a last-minute schedule change; Greathouse makes derogatory remarks as the woman uses Ulysses. Bill again tries to ask if his boss has made any progress in hiring Virginia; Greathouse insists he talked to the board, but “this is a process,” he says, right as the test subject climaxes. (Sex metaphors! Maybe the writing staff is pitching new ideas for the opening credits next season.)

Apparently, Greathouse wants to see more. Bill tries to brush him off yet again, explaining the “transference effect” that could, essentially, cause the untrained observer to develop homosexual tendencies if he’s in close proximity to another male researcher. “Like wrestling?” Greathouse asks. “Something like that,” Bill says, with no luck. Greathouse is smarter than Bill gives him credit for.

Later, Bill tries to calm the nerves of a pretty young female study subject. He enters the observation room and is horrified to see Greathouse and a handful of other male doctors chowing down on Chinese food, getting ready for the “show.” Bill, of course, is livid—another testament to his deep commitment to not only the research, but to his patients as well. Bill pulls Greathouse into the hall and launches into the best speech of the episode (of the season?): “This is a scientific study, not a stag film in a frat house,” he seethes. “You have grossly misjudged me if you think I’m going to allow those baboons in my exam room, slurping chop suey, mocking my work. The terms of my employment—the terms between you and me—are changing now,” he adds. “You will clear my exam room and you will never get near it again. And you will authorize Mrs. Johnson’s hiring starting tomorrow morning.”

Greathouse all but laughs at him. It turns out he never brought up the idea of hiring Virginia to the board: “I’m keeping you from being perceived as a man who thinks with his cock, not his head,” he tells Bill. “Your colleagues are on your side, so relax,” he says, walking back into the exam room. It’s rare that Bill doesn’t get his way in a professional setting… but he ends up having the final say.

Remember last week when Bill mentioned he used to be a fighter? He puts those moves to good use back in the exam room, first shoving an egg roll into one doc’s face, then clocking Greathouse not once, but twice, square in the nose. Of course he’s going to be fired.

The woman study subject, unwitting to what is happening behind the one-way mirror, begins to orgasm. Despite the melee, the men all turn to watch. Bill, disgusted, rushes into the room and covers her with a gown, closing the shade on the peep show.

At home, he doesn’t have a chance to let Libby know he’s going to be fired. Langham has dropped by, and he wants to offer his colleague some advice. (For a second you wonder: Did he tell Libby anything?) The men head to the backyard to smoke cigars; there, with Libby in clear view through the kitchen window, Langham pontificates on the highs and lows of the bachelor life. (Good: all the sex. Bad: He wishes he could be with his kids). Langham used to think: Why can’t I be more like Bill Masters, a successful doctor, a happy family man? But now he knows Bill Masters—the can’t-keep-a-job doctor, the adulterer—is no better than he is. “Whatever you have with Virginia, weigh it against all of this,” Langham warns Bill. “Is it worth it?”

Bill seems to ponder that question the next morning as Libby reams him out for not telling her he has been fired. (She just got off the phone with Mrs. Greathouse, who broke the news; Bill never got around to telling her after his chat with Langham.) But she’s not upset for him; she’s mad at him and fearful for her own cushy livelihood. “Why are you doing this to me?” she asks, a telling line. She scolds him for never being satisfied (which is more true than she realizes) and squandering opportunities because he’s too focused on his research. Doesn’t he think of his wife and child?

“That’s all I think about,” Bill says. “I’ll take care of you, whatever happens. Please, Libby…” and he begins to have trouble breathing, as if he’s having a panic attack.

This is such a contrast to the Bill we’ve seen throughout the entire series. He’s rarely—if ever—shown true love or affection for his wife. But this isn’t a visceral reaction to disappointing Libby, is it? It’s the physical manifestation of his fear that he’s not living up to his duties as a man and that he’s a failure as a husband and a father—just like his dad. Replace Libby with any pretty housewife and his reaction would be the same—unless that woman were Virginia.

We know this because the next time we see Bill, he’s accepting a position at Buell Green Hospital—a black hospital. He “feels comfortable speaking for his partner” that they are very excited to bring their study to this new facility. “Partner”? Virginia is no longer simply his secretary, or even his research assistant. If Virginia is his now his “partner,” then he truly has taken Langham’s words to heart: He’s aware of what he will lose by continuing his work/affair with Virginia, and he is willing to leave it all behind to be with her.

NEXT: The secrets of Lillian, Libby, Betty, and Greathouse are revealed

The secret: Lillian cheated, too

What we learned: Lillian has trust issues… and her condition is not improving

Lillian and Virginia are eager to present their pap smear campaign to Dr. Papanikolaou, the (real-life) inventor of the test and (fictional) former professor of Dr. DePaul; if they receive his backing, their crusade could go national. But during their presentation at Maternity Hospital, Lillian—who is now undergoing radiation therapy for her terminal cancer—flubs her words, which seems to concern Papanikolaou. (The treatment, it seems, is not slowing the cancer’s effect on her body.) Later, Virginia smooths things over with the doctor—as she always does—by championing Lillian’s work as remarkable. Papanikolaou agrees that it is; Virginia hopes he will consider Dr. DePaul for the Williams Prize.

Too bad Langham—in another misguided, lonely Lothario moment—causes Lillian to lose faith in her secretary. Late at night, Langham wanders into Lillian’s office seeking companionship; what he finds is whiskey. As they become tipsier, Lillian admits she had initially pegged Virginia as just another secretary hoping to bag a doctor. Well, Langham says, you had her nailed down right from the start. Thinking Lillian meant she knew of the Virginia-Bill affair from the get-go, he goes on and on about finding the pair in the hotel, the silly excuse Virginia tried to tell him, how he’s surprised he didn’t see it sooner. Lillian is heartbroken. She meant the complete opposite.

Still, she gives Virginia a chance to set the record straight. While sitting in the oncology waiting room, Lillian admits she cheated in calculus in college in order to keep her perfect GPA. But, she says, that doesn’t take away from all of the hard work she’s done since. Did Virginia have any secrets? she wondered. “Honestly, I’m not that interesting,” Virginia says, severely disappointing her boss/friend.

You have to wonder: Why didn’t Lillian give Virginia the benefit of the doubt? Why didn’t she confront her directly about the cheating? Because Lillian has never trusted or opened herself up to anyone like she has with Virginia, and she has no idea how to handle this kind of deceit. And so she goes back to Papanikolaou and offers him her pap smear program—all of it, which means her name will never be associated with it when it finally becomes a success. Her university doesn’t have the proper personal to oversee the project, she says (sad face for Virginia and Lillian’s broken trust), and once he takes it, her role in the work is finished.

And because she’s hurt by Virginia’s perceived betrayal, Lillian informs her secretary that the program is going to Papanikolaou in a rather backhanded way: She simply instructs Virginia to send all of the paperwork to his office. When Virginia asks why she wasn’t told sooner, Lillian says she doesn’t need to consult her secretary on matters regarding her research. Our research, Virginia says, and it becomes even clearer that this “secretary” isn’t concerned about overstepping her bounds. When she works hard on something, she takes (at least partial) ownership of it. That doesn’t fly with everyone, and certainly not Lillian. The conversation ends bitterly, and Virginia realizes that she will be losing yet another job.

Secret: Libby is a maybe-racist control freak

What we learned: In what seems to be an increasing effort to paint Libby as some kind of villain, she’s becoming more and more cartoonishly written

Stress can bring out the worst in everyone, and having a child has brought all of Libby’s insecurities to the forefront: She blames the baby for Bill distancing himself, and she blames herself for being a bad mother when she sees the nanny, Coral, so at ease with the babe. On top of that she’s a control freak, falling to pieces when things aren’t as perfect as a spread in her Ladies’ Day magazine.

Ladies’ Day, of course, is where she learns that new babies are “traumatic” for men because their peaceful domiciles are suddenly taken over by screaming, pooping attention grabbers. She explains this to Coral while insisting everything must go perfectly during her luncheon, which will be attended by the wives of Bill’s new colleagues.

Libby, of course, is in her element during the lunch. She’s dressed well and serving the right food on the proper plates and having very important conversations about supporting your hardworking man. The ladies want to know more about Bill’s “experiments”; Libby, flustered by such an improper topic, says it’s nothing but charts and paperwork, which bores/disappoints her guests. Enter Coral with the baby, who makes the women melt. One woman asks how Coral became so good with children, and Libby scolds the young nanny for an answer that apparently went on a little too long. To make matters worse, Coral mispronounces ask as “ax” once again, which nearly makes Libby’s head explode in front of the present company. And then one of the women notices bugs crawling in the baby’s hair…

Yes, he has lice. And yes, Libby assumes they came from the black, lower class help: Coral. She’s freaking out over the bugs, trying to launder everything when Bill comes home. He says they’re just a few harmless insects that can be cured with shampoo. She’s happy to solve problems like this with his help. He takes the diaper pail out—because just like her magazine says, that poopy baby smell is just too much for husbands.

The next day, Libby hands the lice shampoo to Coral and tells her to use it when she gets home. Coral tries to defend herself, saying she didn’t bring the bugs into the house, but stoically takes the medication anyway. Next time Coral arrives to work, Libby notes that her hair is the same as the day before. So… she didn’t use the shampoo? Libby views this as an affront to her position as Coral’s boss—scratch that, as Coral’s superior in every way. Coral tries to appeal to Bill, who sides with the girl: It’s difficult for “negroes” to get lice due to the texture of their hair, he says (which, upon viewing in 2014, makes the conversation that much more awkward and uncomfortable). The racist/classist overtones are palpable when Libby later calls Coral into the bathroom and demands that she wash her hair with the lice shampoo, right there, right now, or never be allowed back in the house.

Libby says Coral has given her no choice; she no longer trusts the girl. “We need to be on the same side,” Libby says. “Mr. Masters is not a part of this. You and I need to stick together.” It’s a cry for help as she further alienates the one girl who is willing and very able to provide that aid. And she douses the girl with lice shampoo. Coral sits up from the sink, hair sopping wet, distraught. As some sort of consolation, Libby hands the girl money to get her hair redone.

The problem with Libby right now is she’s very one note. In a show that is very capable of showing the complexities and contradictions of its characters, Libby is flat. She’s boring. She’s the bad guy. Worst of all, she’s a stereotype: the frustrated housewife desperately trying to keep the cracks in her June Cleaver facade from showing. Give her a gun and some pigeon-targets and maybe we’ll reconsider.

Secret: Betty is sterile, but she’s going to Bill for “fertility treatments” to hide the truth from her husband

What we learned: Betty’s lies about her fertility issues can’t hide her past

When Betty’s husband, the Pretzel King, decides to join her during one of her (fake) fertility treatment appointments, Bill insists she finally tell him the truth. When he returns from the bathroom with his “sample,” Betty breaks the news: The doc just got the results, and she’s unable to have children.

The Pretzel King is devastated, and Betty puts on a good front trying to console him and show disappointment herself. (In truth, she does wish she could have kids, but found out in season 1 that she is sterile.)

At home during dinner, Betty is being her usual sarcastic, chatty self, making conversation about Betty Crocker and how she’s not a real person, but a marketing ploy. “You would be an expert on phony Betties,” the Pretzel King says. Why didn’t she tell him she couldn’t have kids? he asks. She knew before they were even married.

Betty says she was afraid he wouldn’t marry her if she told him the truth. But the Pretzel King knows more about Betty than she expected. Their first meeting wasn’t at the church; it was in a brothel, where Betty worked, where her now-husband had paid her for sex. He had always been shy around girls, PK says, and he never thought he’d find a girl that nice again. So when he saw her in the church, he knew that they were meant to be together. He didn’t think she was a good Christian girl, just the love of his life.

Betty cries, silent, realizing they’re broken, kindred spirits in more ways than one.

Secret: Greathouse is even more of a chauvinistic ass than we expected

What we learned: He’s a man of his era? Whatever. Let’s consider some of the comments he made tonight:

“Thar she blows!” — said when a study patient he refers to as “old and fat” begins to climax

“What’s on the menu tonight?” — asking Bill what kind of patients he’ll be seeing that evening.

Telling Bill “this is how it works”: Secretaries don’t get promotions or titles.

Not to mention the fact that he hired his incompetent mistress to work as Bill’s secretary, but refuses to bring Virginia on board as an “overpriced secretary.”

So. The negative effects of Bill and Virginia’s affair are beginning to take hold, with both researchers losing their jobs because of their dedication to each other—ahem, to their “work.” Lillian has given up on her one friend and her work, which are the only things she has. With her cancer not improving, things look bleak for Dr. DePaul as we move further into the season. Libby is becoming a monster, if only to serve as a villain standing in opposition of Bill and Virginia’s success as a couple. Though that final scene between Betty and the Pretzel King felt like it was wrapped up with a nice little bow, hopefully this isn’t the last we see of the reformed prostitute. She brings so much fun, comic relief to a show that needs an occasional jolt of humor. As for Greathouse, well, sorry Danny Huston, but we’re not sad to see what appears to be the end of that jerk in this story.

Episode Recaps

This Showtime drama tells the steamy story of real-life sex researchers in the 1950s.
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seasons
  • 2
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  • 09/29/13
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  • On Hiatus
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