Bill and Virginia take a new interest in their patients' sexual dysfunction. Bill becomes secretive while treating a couple for infertility.

By Amber Ray
September 01, 2014 at 03:15 AM EDT
Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME
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Where last week Masters of Sex repeatedly flashed forward into the future, episode 8, “Mirror Mirror,” kept dredging up the past. And surprise, surprise—there are some shocking secrets in those previous lives.

Like mystery man Frank. His meetings with Bill are all crack-of-dawn appointments and late-night diner dates. Frank is introduced as Bill’s old college mate, a successful plastic surgeon whom Bill lost touch with years ago; he’s seeking help now that he and his wife are having trouble conceiving. But losing touch happens to us all, right?

Except then there are the clues: Frank, like Bill, has a low sperm count. (Bill almost admits he shares this problem, then reconsiders and decides not to let this “weakness” be known.) Bill’s eager—maybe too eager—to brush off Frank and recommend another doctor closer to his old pal’s Kansas City home. It’s actually rude and unprofessional the way Bill dismisses Frank, even if they were formerly on good terms. And then the truth comes to light: Frank is Bill’s brother. “You think it’s enough to fix the outside—that’s the easy part,” Frank says, recounting the miraculous recovery of the patient who inspired him to get into plastic surgery… who later committed suicide. But he’s obviously talking about his relationship with Bill here. Frank admits he spent most of his life pretending Bill didn’t exist… but now he wants his brother back. What happened that so badly fractured their relationship? And did their mother—who reentered Bill’s life physically, emotionally, and financially last week—play a part in this surprise reunion? That’s to be seen… (Kudos to Christian Borle for giving a strong performance in his debut as the frustrated yet determined Frank.)

“Fixing the outside” turns out to be a good metaphor for Bill’s new philosophy for his practice, too. Virginia becomes almost obsessed with the sexual dysfunction cases they’ve been turning away since changing their screening process for the study. They’ve rejected nearly one third of all applicants because of issues like impotence and, as one woman describes her experience during intercourse: “Is it supposed to feel like knives?” Virginia kept all of their applications out of the would-be patients “bravery” for showing up. But it’s more personal for her than that—she’s still thinking about Bill’s old secretary Barbara and her tearful admission that she’s unable to have sex due to a “closed” vagina, medically known as vaginismus. And we all know Virginia can’t turn down the opportunity to try to help someone, even if it means intruding upon someone’s very painful secrets (see: her unlikely friendship with Lillian, RIP).

That leads to Virginia tracking down Barbara, asking for her help in better understanding her particular sexual dysfunction. Except that backfires when talking about Barbara’s first sexual experience, and Barb comes to the realization that it was with her brother. And it wasn’t a one-time thing, either—they continued their incestuous relationship until they were caught by their mother. The recalling of this memory shakes Barbara to the core, to the point where she shows up at Virginia’s house begging for help. When Virginia makes an appointment for Barbara with a prominent psychologist, Barb freaks out, unable to fathom telling her darkest secret to a stranger, let alone a man. And then Virginia makes a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad decision: She impersonates Barbara at the appointment. Sure, she may get a better understanding of how psychological trauma affects sexual performance, but holy crap. This has got to be the most unethical thing this show has so far tackled, and there is no way Virginia is going to get away with it.

Bill already said Virginia crossed a very dangerous line when Barbara showed up at her house. But because of Virginia’s passion to help Barbara, Bill agrees to take his former secretary on as a client—helping her together, no more solo advisements by Virginia. (Yeah, she totally ignored that request.) But it wasn’t all altruistic, of course—now that Bill can’t get it up, sexual dysfunction is of new importance to him.

NEXT: Physician, heal thyself

So when Virginia asks Bill which dysfunction they should delve into first, naturally he says impotence. Well, it’s the biggest file, which means by looking into it they have the potential to do the most good, he says. And how will they learn more about impotence? Luckily, they’ve got an expert on staff.

Betty once again shines with her irreverent street smarts, detailing how she and the other prostitutes would deal with a limp John. Hands, mouth, or sometimes the ‘ol “punch for suckers”—an “Indian tonic” that could make an erection permanent. In reality, it was rum and cayenne—a placebo. But if she got the brain to believe, the guy downstairs would believe, too. Most of the time, she says, it was a mental block. Bill raises his eyebrows at this.

So when Lester admits he’s having trouble in bed too, we catch a rare glimpse of Bill’s tender side. Yes, it’s selfishly motivated—if he can find out what’s causing Lester’s problem, maybe he can diagnose his own—but there’s something sweet about the doctor sitting down with his cameraman and asking him about his past relationships. He also asks Lester about his role in the study, why he has taken on the work. Lester says everything they do, every day, is new. Bill tells him that even that is changing—no longer will they only be studying human sexuality, they will begin to explore the idea of intervention. Their new mission: Not simply to observe, but also to heal. (Like he’s also “healing” the relationships with his family, perhaps?)

Bill’s other mission for the practice is to find some decent funding. He’s being audited by the IRS for filing as tax exempt when he actually needed a board of trustees to do so. (Betty really knows her tax law, right?) Bill and Betty cook up a plan to enlist the chief of police as one of their board members, knowing more St. Louis power-players will follow suit if he’s on board. They set up a dinner with the chief and his wife and Bill and Libby, and Betty insists Virginia attend to really seal the deal. Bill may be good at getting his way, but everyone knows Virginia is the charmer in that partnership.

Bill and Virginia sell the study as a means to prevent divorce—the main cause of which is sexual dissatisfaction—which in turns leads to bad kids and a rise in crime. Libby sweetens the deal by suggesting they all attend the famous Veiled Prophet Ball, a St. Louis tradition promoting philanthropy among the city’s elite. She’ll even volunteer to raise funds before the event.

Turns out, Libby is a pretty natural saleswoman. She even convinces the shrewd Cal-O-Metric lady Flo to purchase an ad in the VP Ball program to appeal to all of those “rich, unhappy woman” who will be attending. (She’s speaking from personal experience, of course.) But while walking out of the office, building she’s nearly run over by a pickup truck… out of which a number of white men throw the body of a black activist/history teacher on the sidewalk just down the street. Libby eyes the scene, horrified, then drives away.

The police/newspaper report the incident as a drug deal gone awry, which is a coverup. Robert—yes, Coral’s brother Robert—who was on the scene, saw Libby drive by and stops by the Masters house, asking her to report any details she may have seen. The cops aren’t going to do anything about it if there are only black witnesses, he tells her. She lies and says she saw nothing. It isn’t until she attends the VP Ball and sees the Veiled Prophet wearing a white “hood” and notices that all of the waitstaff are black that Robert’s words—and his comparison of the ball to the KKK—resonates with her.

Libby tells Bill the truth about the incident, and he falls back on one of his favorite lines: It’s not our issue. That sets Libby off. Everything in their lives has been about Bill’s study. “I don’t know where I fit in with it all,” she says. “With me,” Bill replies. But that’s not enough, and soon we see her at Robert’s apartment, telling him she wants to talk about what she saw.

These are positive turns for Libby: displaying her strengths outside of the home and standing up for something as important as civil rights. But everything we’ve seen about her relationship with “negroes” so far has been so negative, it’s hard to believe her decision to do the right thing here is anything other than an impulse to spite her husband by doing the opposite of what he told her to do. And that, unfortunately, makes her even more unlikable.

On a lighter note, this episode may have had the best moments of comic relief of the season, such as:

Lester asking if it’s okay to take some time off to attend his father’s funeral… while he, Bill and Virginia are observing two study subjects having sex. The best part: He tries out his eulogy on Virginia while the study couple begin to climax.

The intercutting of scenes between Lester discussing his sexual woes with Bill and Barbara talking with Virginia about her first sexual encounter was nicely done. It echoed the scenes from episode 2 when Greathouse revealed his kinky side to Bill and Virginia discovered the real reason that gastroenterologist was interested in working with her. It’s a trick that could come across as cheesy, but instead added levity to the scenes.

Any scene with Flo. Artemis Pebdani is just too fun to watch—especially when she’s trading witty barbs with Betty (Annaleigh Ashford). These women are the refreshing antithesis of the ’50s housewife stereotype (ahem, Libby… still wishing she wasn’t so thinly written) and seem to revel in their roles. How great was it to see her take down Langham in one scene and giving him his chance at “starting over” by naming him the new Cal-O-Metric spokesman in another? Definite highlights of the season.

Speaking of Cal-O-Metric spokesmen, the old one—an obese radio star—croaked by “eating himself to death.” Bill pronounced him dead, either because his stomach burst or of cardiac arrest, at the hotel where he now serves as an on-call doctor. He tells the night manager Elliot he needs a coroner, not an obstetrician—so does this mean he told the kid the truth after all? That he is the “legendary” Bill Masters?

Episode Recaps

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