Bill's plan to save the integrity of the study has serious consequences for Virginia. Meanwhile, his dedication to his work—and his partner—continues to leave Libby questioning her path.
Masters Of Sex 02
Credit: Michael Desmond/Showtime
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Can one scientific breakthrough eliminate heartache? Bill hopes so. Or if not, he’ll do what he always does when confronted by pain: ignore the problem and bury himself in his work.

But not everyone has that kind of coping mechanism. And so Barb, Lester, Libby, and Virginia are all left to find their own ways to deal with the anguish that Bill has unintentionally brought upon them.

Bill and Virginia are on their way to curing Bill’s impotence. After seven nights of nonsexual touching, seven nights of sexual touching, and seven nights of successful—and successive—coitus, they seem to be onto something. Bill is back to his old self again—and so is the show, including the kinds of provocative scenes of Bill and Virginia discovering each other’s bodies that haven’t been seen in a while.

This victory causes Bill to have a dream that he’s JFK—who in the real world is preparing for his presidential inauguration—while Virginia is his Jackie. A crowd outside his home throws him a ticker-tape parade, which is glorious until it’s derailed by a stern-looking Libby blocking the road. Bill wakes up in the bedroom, alone.

But Libby is preoccupied by her own daydreams. She reminisces about the hot sex she had with Robert on the kitchen floor, and somewhat scolds herself for this indiscretion by making a show of telling her two kids how much she loves them in front of Bill. Back in the CORE office, Robert plays it cool when he sees Libby. But that’s not enough for her to back down…

Meanwhile, Virginia has her own rude awakening. After a successful six-week trip in Europe with their kids, her ex George decides he wants more time with them. His new wife is a model mother figure, and let’s face it—the always-working Virginia is not (ouch). The conversation is enough to make Virginia reexamine their original custody agreement… which turns out to be void because George never signed it. Virginia seeks the advice of Herb once again, thinking she’ll be able to make this situation legal without too much trouble. But now George has lawyered up and is willing to take Virginia to court, where her name and her work will be smeared as “unfit” until he gets the custody agreement he wants. If only she didn’t have other equally pressing concerns.

Shep shows Bill, Virginia, and Lester a rough cut of their CBS documentary. It talks about ways to improve marital bliss rather than speaking frankly about sex, which riles up Bill and Lester. Virginia once again tries to look on the bright side when Bill gets into one of his fits about not being understood. They’re under serious time constraints now that their rival, Dr. Kaufman, will be releasing a book about his similar study in just two months. Virginia points out that this documentary, flawed as it may be, will help them capture an audience. And once they are ready to present their work on human sexuality and sexual dysfunction—or “physical dysfunction,” as CBS edited it—that audience will be willing and eager to read the full story. It’s better to present a sanitized version of their controversial work rather than be lost in history as a footnote in someone else’s book. That prompts Bill to make a mysterious phone call to get the dirt on Kaufman…

If only he paid as much attention to his wife as he does his rival. Libby shows up at Robert’s apartment at 2 a.m., desperate for his attention. (Coral, by the way, is away in Atlanta fighting for civil rights.) Robert apologizes for “that night” and Libby gets upset. Maybe he had sex with her for the danger of it, he says. But Libby wants to know: What if he did it because he wanted her? And then the clothes are off and they’re standing there, facing each other naked, then kissing…

Later, Libby has a difficult time keeping her composure when Virginia seeks her advice about her ensuing custody battle. Virginia’s afraid she may have to quit her job to be with the kids more, but Libby points out that a judge would see through that kind of move. She says she has a hard time imagining what she’s do if Bill tried to take her kids… as if she’s already had to imagine it. Libby’s internal struggle comes pouring out of her mouth: What if you just let go of everything you thought your life would be? What really matters when you think of your children, deep down?

Virginia responds: That they’re safe. That they’re happy and know they are loved. And maybe that’s the key, Libby says. Let go of the ideal. Live the life you have, not the life think you’d have. Just accept what is.

Both women are miserable.

NEXT: Bill’s plan to “save” the study has unexpected consequences

Meanwhile, Bill isn’t making things any better (though he thinks he is). He’s on a covert mission to derail the documentary, which he believes falsely portrays his work. First he asks Lester to reconsider seeking treatment for his own impotence. When Lester tells him he has a girlfriend—it’s Barb, with whom he shares tentative, awkward dates going to the movies—and they’ve figured out a way to be happy being nonsexual, Bill isn’t having it. Sex is as basic as breathing, Bill says. Your entire body will rebel if you deny it. He asks Lester to consider a new path toward healing, a.k.a. the one that worked for him with Virginia.

Phase two of Bill’s plan involves reading Kaufman’s uncorrected proof for his book, Man and Sex. It arrives as a top-secret package (Betty gets some good jabs in about that) and after finishing it, he dismisses it as written for the layman with not much science in it—like his CBS documentary. Their real work, however, will leave Kaufman in the dust. Betty know this—she points out that he should keep wearing his bow tie instead of that other straight tie the CBS crew made him put on to look less “academic.” In other words, she’s telling him to be himself.

But when Bill is himself, bad things happen because he’s a pretty selfish guy. He begins to realize this when Virginia reveals that she’s reversing her custody agreement with George. That means she gets them once a week and every other weekend now. Bill is shocked; how could she give up her kids? But that’s not really what he’s thinking. He’s realizing that she hinged custody of her kids on the impending success of their documentary, and this is bad news.

Another network has scooped CBS and is airing a film about Kaufman, one that previews his “groundbreaking” study of human sexuality and subsequent book. What’s worse: Ethan, Virginia’s former fiancé, is Kaufman’s partner.

So of course Virginia blames herself for dumping Ethan and losing the documentary—CBS is no longer moving forward with their film—out of his revenge. She has a complete, sobbing breakdown at the realization that giving away custody of her kids isn’t temporary as she had planned; with no documentary to prove the significance of her work, how can she argue for more time with them? That she is a fit mother?

Bill holds her and apologizes, saying all they can do now is get back to work. Yes, he’s falling back on the one coping mechanism he knows: work takes away pain. (Well, he also likes the “pain takes away pain” method, as evidenced by allowing his brother to punch him repeatedly in the face.) But it’s also the most sincere apology he’s probably ever given Virginia. Why? Because Bill is the one who caused CBS to yank the documentary. Bill is the one who had Kaufman’s work leaked to another network. In an effort to “preserve the integrity” of his work, Bill has devastated Virginia’s life.

A familiar face aided him in doing so: his old mentor, Barton. He’s the one who got the manuscript and had it leaked, but he didn’t realize Bill hadn’t told Virginia his plan. He calls Bill out for being bullheaded in his single-mindedness: Working by your terms only is hell on the people around you, Barton says. And it’s no picnic for you. He points out that Bill’s done this before, when he blackmailed Barton to see the study continue at Maternity, and that he’ll probably do it again. Bill says he never meant to hurt Virginia. You never do, says Barton, who is still dealing with his own demons. He’s a practicing doctor again, and still with his wife, Margaret. Though their relationship is far from perfect, and letting her know the truth was painful, they’re working through his admission that he is gay together.

“Together” might resonate with Bill, but not in terms of his wife. Libby essentially laughs off Robert when he says their affair has to end. Why should it? Libby informs him that her husband has been having an affair for years. (She knew!) I used to pretend it’s not happening, then looked the other way, then focused on my children, then I met you, she says, adding that she “wants to feel.” (So through all of those heart-to-heart conversations with Virginia, Libby knew about the affair? Yikes.) Libby’s so checked out of her relationship with Bill, the only thing that seems to be keeping them together is expectation. As Libby told Virginia, she is now definitely contemplating life outside of “what should be.” The Masters marriage is not looking long for season 3, is it?

But that’s okay, because Bill will always have his work, right? And now that Virginia is losing everything important to her, he’s sharing his method of operation. There sit Bill and Virginia, both wearing lab coats, talking with patients. Their conversation is easy, back-and-forth as they finish each other’s sentences. They’re dedicated to the work, and dedicated to helping their patients, Lester and Barb, find an answer to their sexual dysfunction. They’re in the process of developing protocol that may lead to a happy, fulfilling life. But it takes both of you, they tell Lester and Barb, working together. That is the key.

So Bill’s selfishness, in essence, has led Virginia to losing her kids while driving her even further into the work, now with blinders on. It’s caused his wife to seek attention, satisfaction, and even love in the arms of another man—not that he isn’t guilty of essentially the same thing. This season it’s caused him to lose a brother (again), and multiple jobs (again). But the study, once it’s published… well, it’s going to be groundbreaking.

Other thoughts:

Lester and Barb’s romance added an awkward sweetness to this somber hour. This “messy, complicated couple” could still shoot off a few sparks when Lester pulled Barb close and kissed her against the car. Hopefully next season, “sleeping together” doesn’t only mean lying next to each other in matching pajamas while holding hands for this pair.

Flo’s putdown of Langham as a dumb blonde was a revelation for the doctor. She’s a straight shooter who may be taking total advantage of their professional relationship, but she recognizes when he’s trying to take advantage of her—or at least her family’s connections to JFK—too. All his life Langham got what he wanted, and it’s a shock to him when someone puts him in his place. Luckily for us, it’s the indomitable Flo.

Episode Recaps

Masters of Sex

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

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