Libby finally questions her marriage while Tessa has an identity crisis of her own.
This episode is all about the characters trying to find their place. All four (Virginia, Bill, Libby, and Tessa) are operating in unchartered territory. Out of the lab and into the limelight, Bill and Virginia are both dealing with the repercussions of the book’s publication while Virginia’s daughter, Tessa, is also coming to terms with her mother’s newfound fame. Libby herself seems on the brink of transformation. She’s still trying to hold onto her belief in marriage, but she is no longer willing to kowtow to a man who has essentially shut her out of every aspect of his life. And slowly the idea of a different kind of life is creeping into her psyche with the help of a more radical next-door neighbor. It was an interesting episode, one where once again they pack in so much in such little time. Though this time around, I appreciated that they let things marinate a bit longer then they did in episode number 2. Let’s recap this episode character by character.
Bill “I hope I’ve aroused more than just your curiosity” Masters is having a crisis: “Imagine going where you aren’t wanted,” he says to Virginia at the end of the episode, referring to his old mentor Barton Scully, who¹s grappling with a reduced role at his university. But really, he seems to be talking about himself. He’s not particularly wanted at his home as Libby cautiously entertains the idea of a divorce. His book is arousing success with critics, but it’s still not welcome reading material at Washington University in St. Louis, the institution that fired him after he worked there for 15 years. Yet what he may be most concerned is whether he’s still welcome in Virginia’s bed, especially since the baby keeps interrupting them, not that Virginia seems all that eager to sleep with him after having a baby. Add in the awkward scene where Bill watches football with his next-door neighbor, the old football quarterback, and starts geeking out over his trading cards from back in the day. The two practically revert back to their college roles: the jock vs. the scientist and we witness the distance growing between them, once again showing that there are few places where Bill is comfortable.
But Bill does thrive in conflict, especially in situations where he feels an injustice has taken place. Washington University’s Chancellor Fitzhugh is Bill’s perfect target for outrage. First he insults Barton and then reinforces just how unwelcome Bill and his sex book are at the school. But when Bill makes a scene and throws his drink, it’s the bookish fertility doctor who once again seems the most out of place. And when he begs Barton to come work for him, promising he will give him the respect he deserves, somehow it’s Bill who comes off looking the most desperate. Yes, Barton is still living a closeted life; yes he’s even found a new woman to take care of him, but the man seems far more at peace with his life than Bill does. In that final scene when he¹s laying in bed with Virginia and he reaches out to put his hand on the baby, you get an inkling of hope that maybe he’s going to try to reach out beyond his little narcissistic existence.
NEXT: Libby is finally ready to use the “D” word
Virginia, the embodiment of working parent guilt: Poor Virginia can¹t seem to find her balance between work and home and both her daughter and Bill are punishing her for not getting it perfectly right. Charged with meeting with the creepy potential investors, including a terrific Josh Charles as the lotion king of the Midwest, she and Betty endure rounds of sexist come-ons before they get an actual decent proposition from Hugh Hefner. But while Bill is probably right and Hefner needs Masters and Johnson far more than they need him, had those two entities coupled back in the ’60s, who knows what would have happened. Makes me think Michelle Ashford should take on the dawn of Hefner’s empire next. But back to Virginia—the woman seems so buried with obligation, both personal and professional, that she’s doing both miserably. Her daughter clearly needs her and Virginia seems almost incapable of listening to her, while Bill’s demands just seems overbearing. Not only does he need her professionally but he needs her sexually, and it feels like a bit too much in light of the new baby sleeping down the hall. It’s really clear Virginia doesn’t even have a moment to think about what she wants with everybody else’s needs taking priority.
Ugh, Tessa. Did anyone else find this story line the most tragic this week? The poor girl being teased mercilessly at her Catholic school for being the daughter of the sex lady, while also trying on her mother’s fame as a calling card for her own persona. She’s a teenager, she’s trying on different identities and she’s decided maybe this specific boy will like her if she plays the sexually experienced girl. It clearly doesn’t go well as the unfortunate scene in the car plays out. But that sexual abuse could have gone much worse had that boy decided to spread rumors about Tessa instead of keeping it quiet. Isn’t that what you were all thinking would happen? Rather he kissed her on the cheek and told her he wanted to see her again. Probably not wise, but for someone as lonely as Tessa, it could have been worse. And what happened to Tessa’s friends? Did they really all bail after her mom’s book was published? Seemed her social status deteriorated at an unrealistic pace, one casualty of moving the episode forward at such a breakneck speed.
Finally, we reach Libby. Libby’s ironclad rationalizations about her marriage to Bill are showing cracks of doubt. When asked by her neighbor, a woman contemplating her own divorce, how nice it must be to share in Bill’s success of the publication of his book, Libby’s far-off stare is just one indication that she can’t keep lying to herself. She is completely shut out from him, the lonely housewife who takes care of the kids while he leads his own life. It makes you wonder if the two ever had a connection. Were things different for Bill and Libby pre-kids? It’s hard to believe it was. But she’s still waffling. As her neighbor plots her own escape from her husband—the perfectly decent man who is guaranteed to provide a long, boring stable future—Libby is tempted to join her. Yet she first tries to prevent the divorce from happening by forcing Bill into a guy’s night where he will tell the dear devoted husband that his wife is planning to leave him. But all doesn’t go as planned, especially when Bill goes into full geek mode over his football trading cards. It was the final scene that was the real doozy: Libby walking into the neighbor’s empty house only to find out that her friend had an aneurysm and the results are “catastrophic.” The husband is frantic, his life has been turned upside down and not because his wife has abandoned him but because now he must become her caretaker. How does this all play out in Libby’s mind? To me it was an affirmation of her vows—in sickness and in health. This man will now take care of a woman, he didn’t know was ready to walk away. But it must also lead Libby to wonder what would Bill do in the similar situation? Would he show the same devotion? Knowing him, he might have more loyalty to a sick Libby then he does to a completely well one. Yet I still believe a lot is in store for Libby this season. She’s asking too many question, contemplating too many futures to remain stuck in the life she has. I predict a lot of change for her to come. She may just wind up being the most interesting character of the season. Until next week.