Masters of Sex recap: Three's a Crowd
Did any working mother watch this episode and not cry? I certainly did. First when I thought Virginia got an abortion, then again when she had her meltdown right before delivery, where all the doubt she pushed away came roaring back up. I’m both astounded and confounded that they crammed an entire pregnancy into an hour of television. The issues Virginia, Bill, Libby, and George confront in this episode, regarding this pregnancy, their relationships, and new definitions of family could be examined throughout an entire season. I’m rather surprised that they were able to get through the jealousy, the guilt, and the pragmatic resolution that accompany the fact that single unwed Virginia is pregnant with her ex-husband’s child. And do we all believe it’s George’s kid? Seems so unlikely, yet none of the characters are even questioning that aspect of the story. Makes me wonder what Michelle Ashford and company have cooked up for the entirety of the season if they can cram so much into one episode without it feeling rushed.
Let’s break this episode down by our main characters. We of course have to begin with Virginia. For she is both an idealist and a pragmatist. Idealizing that the wisdom that comes from age will make her a better mother the second time around. While her daughter’s hurtful accusations (“You’re the worst mother ever. I’m not the only one who thinks so.”) swirl around her head while she grows another baby inside of her, she holds onto the belief through the majority of the episode that yes, she will in fact be more present, more engaged, and less involved in her own self. But her decision to continue the pregnancy is one that gives much consternation to Bill, Libby, and even George. Both Bill and Libby believe the baby is George’s, but they know the rest of the world won’t think so, and they are all worried about perception surrounding the release of their book. “A pregnant unwed woman cannot be the core of sexual enlightenment,” says Bill astutely.
And so she and Bill bully George into marrying Virginia, an act she never once second-guesses. And one she would never consider taking on honestly. Rather her moment of doubt comes as she begins to labor—attempting to be present for the delivery in a manner she never was for her other children. “It was like a present picked out for me when I wasn’t around,” she says about being handed a baby after she was sedated during her previous deliveries.
But then she falls apart, the guilt flooding through her when she finally admits to having interests other than her children. For that she feels guilty, for she has bought into the societal construct that only mothers who give all of themselves for their children are good mothers.
“I failed twice before as a mother: I don’t have the patience, focus, or selflessness,” she says through tears. “I’m a failure because I care about other things more. What if that’s the simple truth? I’m a woman incapable of putting her kids’ needs before her own.”
And for once Bill is miraculously there, finally sensitive to her needs. Recognizing that there isn’t one way to raise a child, justifying that having other interests doesn’t make her a bad mom.
“There are infinite variations on a single act,” he says. “More than one way to be a mother.” It’s simple. It’s kind and at that moment it’s exactly what she needs to hear. These two are propelling the sexual revolution, giving women more agency over their own bodies, their own lives. How could they not believe that women should be more than just mothers? The job of mothering is hard, it’s rewarding and it’s highly personal. And Virginia’s struggle back in 1963 feels just as relevant to her time as it is to ours now.
NEXT: And what’s up with the other three of this strange foursome?
Libby is taking charge. She is no longer willing to be the cuckolded wife. After Bill walks into the house in what should be a celebratory mood considering how well the presentation of their book went. Rather, he’s despondent over the news that Virginia is pregnant, because of course, he believes it’s his baby. But Libby is tired of his secrets, of being shut out, of living a single mother’s life when she actually has a husband. She tells Bill they will have a social life and she will solve it all with pigs in a blanket at a party with her new neighbors—the ones who really do think she is a single mom. I think Bill by this point knows what a terrible husband he’s been and he can do nothing more then go along with her plans. It’s the least he can give her. Virginia also makes concessions to her: going along with a “party” she throws for her arranged marriage to George. And thanks for George, who calls bullshit on the whole thing: “You used to be a romantic,” he says. “Now you have a lover who’s wife hosted this ceremony.”
And Bill: The Shah of Iran and his wife come to town hoping for a cure to their infertility. The moment comes as Virginia is forced on leave by Bill for fear that her “condition” would look bad on the practice and their research. Though when an opinionated female gynecologist joins him, Bill can’t re-create the rhythm he had with Virginia (obviously) and Bill finds her too intrusive to keep her involved. His attempt to go it alone is equally disastrous, particularly when he gives an interview to a news reporter and suggests that a woman with three sexual partners is morally superior to a woman with a husband who fantasizes about other sexual partners. Probably, not the exact point he was trying to make.
Bill’s one moment of honesty comes amidst his treatment of the Shah of Iran and his wife. The glamorous foreign duo show up needing help with their fertility treatment, but when it’s revealed that her tubes are permanently damaged, she tells Bill that she will be cast aside so he can marry another and produce an heir to the throne. She also gives him a moment of insight, instructing him that in a love triangle, the side with the child is where the bond is stronger. Bill doesn’t believe that’s true, spelling out his feelings for the first time: That to him, desire and respect fuel the bond (Virginia), not the woman who bore him children (Libby). But in the end Bill realizes his folly. He can be there to comfort Virginia while she is in labor, assuage all her insecurities, but when it’s time for the big moment, he realizes he no longer belongs and he walks out of the hospital as George walks in. The triangle has tilted in George’s favor.
Poor George. He is really the tragic figure in this scenario, forced into a sham marriage in order to legitimize Virginia, who won’t for a moment consider actually trying a real partnership again. (“I’m good enough to f—a but not to marry? Jesus, I sound like a mistress.”) And to have Bill sitting there during the conversation felt like he was being bullying. Couldn’t Virginia just have conveyed Bill’s willingness to pay George for his effort without him sitting there reminding him of where her interests really lie. I found it fascinating though that George and Virginia have much more honest, revealing conversations than she ever has with Bill. He speaks to her in half sentences while George can really emote.
And so the four stand there before a group of colleagues celebrating their success. They stand there as a lie, four people joined together in deception as they propel their truthful scientific findings while being bogged down with complicated emotional baggage. When the cracks begin to show in their well-constructed façade, the results are sure to be fascinating.
This Showtime drama tells the steamy story of real-life sex researchers in the 1950s.