Bill takes on his bullies... and his sons' while Margaret claims her freedom
This episode centers on bullies and being bullied, with Bill and Libby’s son’s exploits at school serving as the framing device for everything else that takes place in the show. But the epidemic that has plagued childhoods since the start of time is clearly not limited to youths. Virginia feels bullied by her mother’s endless judgments and conventional expectations; Margaret has been bullied into a new, radical relationship that is way out of her comfort zone while she takes the heat for Barton’s inability to tell the truth; and Bill’s visceral response to his son’s bullying illustrates that our childhood traumas never really heal, even if redemption comes our way. All in all it was a very complex episode with a lot to unpack. Let’s get going…
Virginia’s parents show up as an unexpected surprise—well, a surprise to Virginia but not to her vindictive daughter Tessa who is so angry with her mother she is willing to sabotage her at every turn, most profoundly by inviting her judgmental grandmother into town to bust Virginia for her unconventional life choices. Tessa’s plan goes swimmingly of course, with Virginia’s mom ready to throw shade on every aspect of her life: from her sham of a marriage to George, to her career (“Going off to do your sex work”), which she blatantly disregards. Lovely Tessa takes her sabotage to the next level by purchasing a bowtie very similar to the one Bill would wear and shoving it into the wash for the dutiful Grandma to find.
The caricature of the pushy mother wears a bit thin here as it feels like something we’ve seen before. The one interesting scene that defies that convention is between Virginia’s father and Virginia when he takes a moment to point out Virginia’s revisionist history of her childhood. In fact, it wasn’t her mother that forced her to enter beauty pageants at the age of 8, but Virginia herself who found the ad in the paper, begged her mother to go and then her mother finally acquiesced. It’s a nice moment for a character we are ready to dislike to have a moment of vindication—and a few more dimensions—than we are used to seeing with this kind of archetype.
But that doesn’t mean that Virginia’s mother is now a saint. You’ve got to love that Grandma ends her time in Virginia’s world praising her, finally, not for her career achievements, not for raising children on her own. No, she praises Virginia for what she thinks is Virginia’s long, manipulative con game to steal Bill away from Libby and claim him as her own. As if! That one bit of encouragement could be the very thing that sends Virginia in the other direction. In fact she quickly asks perfume tycoon Dan Logan (Josh Charles) to take her out to dinner. Pretty sure that won’t go anywhere but his communication skills serve as a stark contrast to struggling Bill—and boy did he struggle this episode.
Bill’s kid is being bullied just like Bill was bullied by his father when he was a child. Bill’s wounds may refuse to heal but that doesn’t mean he has any sage advice for his bruised progeny. No, he decides the best way to fix the problem is to do his own bullying, using his doctor moniker as a weapon. This happens as Bill also gets the chance to get back at the bullying academics at Washington University that forced him out after 15 years of service. On that side of the equation, the redemption was justified. For poor Dennis Daughtry, the chunky 13-year old boy they pulled from central casting, not so much. When Bill finds the kid walking home from school he grabs him, knocks his ball out of his hand and then insults him, his plumber father, and the likely future he predicts for him: shoveling others’ shit. And to top it off, he throws in the “Dr.” reference for a good ending: “If a Dr. threatens you, no one can protect you.”
NEXT: The highs and lows of adult bullying…
The kid, of course, pisses himself and runs home to tell mommy. The action, of course, lands Bill in hot water with Libby, but still probably felt super satisfying to Bill, who once had his father as his own Dennis Daughtry, knocking him down on a nightly basis and forcing him to admit to being a sissy. It also proved to be far more satisfying to Bill than speaking at Wash U. He brought down the house with his erudite talk and, even more importantly, his biting response to the “Where is the love?” question regarding all his sex research. Yet, not even referencing Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein could feel that rewarding when the night was over and he was still alone with his thoughts. The hole his father left seems too big to be filled by rousing speeches. If only he had more Dennis Daughtrys around to unleash his anger on.
This show may be about Masters and Johnson but the most important storyline of this week belonged to Margaret—and her ex-husband Barton. Veteran actors Beau Bridges and Allison Janney are both fantastic in this episode, especially in their final moment together. But to backtrack, at the start of the episode, we discover so much more about Margaret’s relationship with Graham. Perhaps the reason why he has so much trouble with premature ejaculation is because he’s just so damn tired from juggling two women… who live down the hall from each other in the same home… with him. Way to go Graham. Nice job convincing two women that it’s totally okay to be sharing time in each of their beds on different nights of the week. It is the dawn of the sexual revolution after all. And you’re a germ doctor! Have you no shame?
Whatever his methods, he’s succeeded, and both Jo and Margaret are forced to look at the calendar to determine which night belongs to them. This arrangement has Margaret explaining her relationship to Barton, who is no stranger to elicit sexual behavior, but still finds Margaret’s situation akin to “living in a commune like those crazy people in Berkeley.” And Margaret isn’t finished yet. She also gets some very clinical advice from Bill and Virginia involving a dildo and the “squeeze technique” which I imagine is rather painful but, alas, we didn’t get to see conclusion because the “Bible-waving lunatics” showed up en masse at the offices of Masters and Johnson to protest the book. (Another case of bullying.)
Still, Margaret is fighting the good fight and takes Virginia and Bill’s lessons to heart in one of the most intimate and clinical sex scenes I can remember seeing on TV. Their advice works, enabling the couple to have a spontaneous orgasm, only to find poor Jo (the third wheel in this particular scenario) listening at the door. Ewww. When Jo admits to listening in, Margaret flips out, finally admitting that all their problems started (including the premature orgasms) once Jo came along. See, he was tired! In a huff, Margaret storms out with the great line, “We didn’t invite the travel agent over for fondue and two bottles of rose because we wanted to f–k her.” Yes, Margaret!
Leaving all her possessions behind, Margaret goes to see Bill at his office, only to find Barton there. He comforts her when she confesses that she doesn’t believe she can ever start her life over again. And then he gives her the one gift he can: He calls up their daughter Vivian and tells her the truth about why their marriage broke up, a truth that will allow Vivian to no longer blame her mother for the end of the relationship. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking scene that brought me to tears. Did it do the same for you?
All in all, this episode was complex, challenging, and revealing—a great episode of television where layers of character were exposed and great actors did their job brilliantly. It makes me look forward to next week. Only hoping this isn’t the end of what we get to see of Margaret and Barton. Until next week…