Surrogacy doesn't just happen in the doctor's office.
Credit: Warren Feldman/SHOWTIME

There sure was a lot of surrogacy going around in the eighth episode of this season’s Master’s of Sex, aptly titled Surrogates. Besides Bill’s attempts to build a surrogacy program despite the objections of Virginia, Betty and Helen have turned to the always willing Dr. Austin Langham to give them a baby that Dr. Masters won’t on his own. But surrogacy goes much deeper this episode.

For the first time, Virginia has taken a vacation, bailing on work for a few days away in Las Vegas with Josh Charles’ Dan Logan. She has certainly found a far superior partner in him than what Bill will ever be. Meanwhile Bill seems to have found his own surrogate in the young Nora Everett, a former neighbor who after spending a summer on a farm coaxing horses into breeding situations has become an expert in the field. Libby has also found a sex surrogate in Paul Edley, but whereas Paul is looking for a marriage surrogate with his wife comatose, Libby’s only able to give a fraction of herself. Overall it was a complex, satisfying episode that deserves closer examination, and lucky for us no animals were involved.

The episode opens with Virginia doing an excellent con job on Bill, making him think it’s his idea that she stay home and recuperate from her fake flu while she actually tries to relax in Vegas with Dan. Asked to play the dutiful wife role, a part Virginia is clearly not capable of, immediately turns her day of pampering into one of field research where she determines that the physical responses to winning at a casino are very similar to that of having sex. Virginia’s field work comes in handy when she and Dan have dinner with Dan’s last chance at selling his scents to Vegas. When the owner of the casino is about to say no, it’s Virginia who puts on the hard sell, explaining that the smell of fear and desperation that currently permeates the casino could be obfuscated with much more pleasant scents provided by Logan. At this moment Dan seems to realize just how valuable Virginia is to him, not just as his lover but as his “partner,” a term he uses at the dinner table when she is about to call herself an “associate,” the word Bill always used with her.

It’s hard not to contrast Dan to Bill. At this point Dan so far above him, you have to wonder if she’d ever consider going back to Bill. Things seem to get even deeper for the pair when they’re confronted with a young, strung-out vet hoping to rob them in their hotel room. After Dan knocks the kid out, Virginia refuses to call the police once she finds out he’s only 19. Instead the two hear his story and the hell he went through in Vietnam, and then Dan, now achieving near saintly status, agrees to pay for the kid’s drug treatment if he will just call his mother first. I’m a big fan of this relationship but, come on—can Dan do nothing wrong?

The answer is decidedly, NO! by the end of the episode when Virginia finds out that Dan has turned down the $60,000 contract the casino offered because they wanted him to relocate to Vegas and he has no intention of leaving St. Louis. What will happen next? Virginia puts her head on his shoulder in the taxi cab, shoos Bill away when he comes to deliver her chicken soup. Is she ready for a man who not only worships her but respects her too? I hope so, but it seems a bit too easy, right? Where are the flaws? There has to be something, right? We will see.

Meanwhile Betty is helping Bill start his surrogacy program over Virginia’s objections—another piece of evidence that Bill really doesn’t see Virginia as his equal. The program has to be volunteer-only since paying these participants would make it akin to prostitution. But that doesn’t stop women, and continuously jealous Lester, from signing up. Only a few women make the cut though, one being the very young (19, 20?) Nora Everett, who is not only extremely eager to get involved, but also has such mastery of the subject matter that she clearly reminds Bill of a young Virginia.

And Nora is good with the flattery. She describes how terrified she used to be of Bill when she was a little girl zooming her bike up and down their streets, but now thinks Bill has changed and become much more human. It’s just the kind of sentiment Bill is dying to hear, since around both Virginia and Libby he acts like the same man he’s always been, closed off and selfish. Bill later discovers that Nora has nowhere to live and has been camping out in the lab. So maybe Bill has changed. The old Bill clearly would have thrown her out of the program for such a breach; this time he gives her some cash and keeps her in. If a love affair between these two doesn’t start in the next few episodes, I’ll be shocked.

NEXT: The dangers of heavy petting…

Simultaneously, Betty and Helen are trying to pull one over on Bill, dressing up the now run-down Austin Langham as Helen’s husband and trotting the couple out as one in need of Bill’s services. All is going according to plan until Bill examines Helen and realizes the ruse. Helen can’t be infertile because she’s clearly never had sex, a very funny moment when Bill says, “You’ve spent three years trying to conceive by heavy-petting.” But it’s not until the fake couple reveals Helen’s real name that he’s really upset, flying into a rage at Betty for falsifying medical records and deceiving him. Betty uses the opportunity to rage back at him, specifically when he accuses her of bringing her personal life into the practice, something Bill and Virginia have been doing for seven years while Betty looks the other way.

Bill’s hypocrisy continues when he tries to talk to Libby about Nora. Libby is against involving this young girl in his surrogacy practice, while Bill uses the argument that “human beings can’t survive without being touched,” and this woman isn’t being objectified by providing a valuable service. There’s a moment when the irony of what he’s saying to the wife he hasn’t touched in years seems to wash over his face but it’s a brief flicker and, per usual, it doesn’t amount to a more honest conversation between the two, something I’m wishing would finally happen. However, when she asks, “Is a stand-in enough?” and he replies, “For some it’s all they have,” in some ways it’s a moment of permission from him for her to find satisfaction wherever she can.

We are supposed to think Libby has found something satisfying with Paul, yet we never see them getting down, only the awkward post-coital moments when she makes no excuses for her behavior but can’t seem to get out of the apartment fast enough. When Paul confronts her she finally opens up about her previous lover, the civil rights worker and her “good friend” who she lost when he was killed by a driver asleep at the wheel. Libby doesn’t mourn for her marriage with Bill. That seems to have died so long ago. But she does mourn for Robert, the man she recently lost. And she is frank with Paul, telling him she’s can’t give him any more of herself. “I’ve already given it all.” It’s a sad, honest moment and you wonder if it will be enough for Paul, who desperately needs a surrogate of his own.

The episode also briefly touches on Dr. Scully’s life, introducing a new younger doctor to his practice. A gay doctor to be precise, one who knows immediately that Dr. Scully is a gay too, a realization that shocks the closeted doctor initially but may prove to be an opening for him to try living a more honest life. The steps he has taken are small but seem significant—he came out to his daughter for one—and seem to be an honest portrayal of a closeted man living in this time.

The episode ends with a bit of resolution: Helen loses her virginity to Dr. Langham in the name of making a baby, while Betty helps her through the act. And Bill tries his continuous futile efforts at change, bringing chicken soup to Virginia, while she makes the conscious choice to send him home in exchange for Mr. Logan. This season is proving to be one all about change and while the results are sure to be tumultuous, the process of getting there has been fascinating. Do you agree? Let me know and I’ll see you all next weekend.

Episode Recaps

Masters of Sex

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

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