Virginia and Bill treat a celebrity couple while they all grapple with their own personal mythologies.
Credit: Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME

We all create personal mythologies—stories about our lives, our choices that help rationalize our actions and get us through our days. Same goes for the characters in Masters of Sex—humans grappling with their circumstances in their quest to find contentment and peace. The one speech Virginia’s dad gives to Virginia about her behavior turns out to be the crux of the episode: “We all need stories to tell ourselves.”

Libby admits finally to herself, via her brain-damaged friend, that the moment Bill stopped loving her was the moment she deceived him and conceived a child with a doctors’ help, making him a father against his wishes. Just as Bill tries to rationalize with Virginia that their relationship is more than something that was conceived in a lab, that it would carry the same weight if it evolved through a traditional courtship of dinners and roses. Those relationship complexities are revealed through the dysfunctional celebrity couple—the fictional Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe “It” pair—that come to Masters and Johnson seeking to fix their relationship, which has fallen apart due to infidelity on his part and, therefore, frigidity on hers. Whether or not this is a new formula or not for Masters of Sex, with the couple seeking help from the doctors, being the catalyst for a theme for the show to explore, I like it. It gives the show a framework, while allowing the writers to delve deeper into these characters’ psyches. Let’s get to examining where are favorite sex researchers are going this week.

Virginia Johnson

To me Lizzy Caplan’s character remains the most inscrutable. She is clearly very challenged by the presence of her mother—a woman who can’t seem to just appreciate her daughter for who she is and is constantly trying to change her. The fact that she sets Virginia up on a “date” with Bill in her own home under the guise of taking three-month-old baby Lisa to get ice cream proves to be the last straw in this tension-filled relationship. And it’s happening as Virginia pulls further away from Bill, realizing perhaps that this very flawed man will never be able to give her what she wants and needs. Even his efforts to book a proper hotel room for the two of them go askew when the man at the front desk recognizes the increasingly famous Masters & Johnson and they can no longer continue their challenged romance under a pseudonym. Retreating to their lab is about as unromantic as it can get—a reminder to Virginia that their relationship was created by work, not by a natural attraction that was impossible to resist.

This all happens while Virginia and Josh Charles’ character, Dan Logan, continue their study of scents, this time turning to pheromones as a possible solution to finding his love potion. Lester sweats, women smell him, and their body chemistry changes are recorded. Logan clearly wants to court Virginia properly—but when she suddenly sleeps with him, it’s unclear why. Does she feels she doesn’t deserve the proper courting he wants to give her? Is she really into him? Or is she just trying on another story while she decides whether or not she wants to keep things going with Bill?

Virginia does finally call her mother out on her behavior. It’s an impassioned scene where she loses it after seeing her daughter Tessa start conforming to her grandmother’s wishes via a ridiculous beehive hairdo. Tessa feels like her mother finally has her back and won’t allow the manipulative grandma to turn Tessa into a version of herself “that she will come to loathe.” It’s a striking moment for Tessa and Virginia, only to be undone when Virginia comes home from her tryst with Logan. Tessa is about to share her published essay with her mother—an essay I sure wanted to read—when Tessa sees her mother’s mis-buttoned blouse and realizes her mother has once again put a man before her. She drops the essay, unbeknownst to Virginia, in the trash and goes upstairs, the moment of intimacy lost.

NEXT: Bill tries his hand at football coaching

Bill Masters

Poor, misdirected Bill. He wants to do right yet seems to flail at every opportunity. His priorities this week: Virginia and his son, yet he fails miserably at both efforts. It’s progress that he realizes things are going south with Virginia—a fact that shows just how much she means to him. Yet, as we discussed earlier he can’t seem to get that right, and trying to sleep with her in the lab, the elevator, anywhere really, just isn’t doing it anymore for Virginia.

His efforts with his son are even more misguided. First he tries to engage with him over football, a sport the kid is clearly not cut out for and really has no interest in. Yet he thinks if he muscles him into it, offering to be an assistant coach, he can make it all okay. All he really improves is his relationship with Johnny’s bully, Dennis. The kid calls him an asshole yet comes around and Bill finds he has more connection with this meathead than his son—even when his son starts to discover he has some aptitude for the game.

His interpersonal skills are challenged even further by the famous couple looking for help. Motivated by the $3,000 a week they are paying him, he thinks he can fix them even though Virginia knows they are doomed. And further questioning gets him to that conclusion, too. The last scene is actually really perfect: Bill examining a gorilla. Seems humans are too confusing to him. Perhaps he will have better success with animals.

Libby Masters

Libby’s story proves to be the most compelling of the week. She’s trying on a lot of different roles as she finally comes to the conclusion that’s Bill’s feelings have completely dissipated and won’t be returning. He ignores her wishes to not have their son play football and then when she sits in the stands she gets an earful on all that is required so she’s not seen as the “bad mom.” Must sit and cheer, never judge, never make yourself known and yet be sure to bring snacks and not be absent. Sounds a lot like the requirements required today to be a perceived “good mom” and that speech reminded me so much of Gillian Flynn’s “cool girl” speech from last year’s Gone Girl. Anyone else?

Libby also tries on another persona, that of the divorced woman, the role her friend Joy Edley was about to take on before her aneurysm left her in a vegetative state. Edley’s apartment is still rented for six months, so Libby thinks, why not try on the part she’s too afraid to take on for real? She bathes in the apartment, makes herself some coffee and even denounces the idea to the handyman that somehow her behavior could hurt her children. Yet this doesn’t really work for Libby either and when Joy’s football coach husband, Paul, calls her out for “molly-coddling” her son, the same term insensitive Bill used on her, she let’s the poor man have it. She reveals that his wife, whom he must care for the rest of her life, had intended to leave him and has an apartment to prove it.

It’s a cruel moment, where all her rage for her husband is misdirected on this poor man, who did nothing to her except use the wrong word at the wrong time. Not only has she now wrecked this guy who is already pretty shattered, she’s now ruined the fantasy she’s concocted for herself, too. She realizes that when she returns to the apartment for another respite, only to find grieving Paul sitting at the kitchen table. What will happen next? Will these two get together in spite of the pain she’s caused him? I wouldn’t be surprised. Seems they have a greater understanding of each other than anyone else does.

Masters of Sex may be flawed, but it’s a great example of a show that’s willing to dive deep into its characters. Where will it go next? Until next week fellow watchers….

Episode Recaps

Masters of Sex

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

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