A man's got to know when he's beat.
Credit: Michael Desmond/Showtime

To say that Bill Masters has been on the ropes is the understatement of this season. All his angling, conniving, and misguided altruism has landed him in a boiling tub of hot water. And it’s fitting that voice inside his head — the one from both his father and now his son — is finally the voice that he listens to. Because he is beat — his actions have destroyed the clinic, his relationship with Virginia, and the remnants of his sham of a family life. It was a riveting season finale with our flawed protagonist succumbing to much more then a busted lip and a few broken ribs. Let’s break it down.

The third season of Masters of Sex opens with a dream sequence — a boxing match to be precise — where Bill is getting trounced by a more skilled opponent. On the sidelines sit his father and his son, both acknowledging that the man is beat and he’s a “damn fool” for thinking he can get back up. He wakes with a start in his bedroom, with Libby standing over him. Neighborhood bully Dennis and his family have filed a lawsuit that can go away should Bill be willing to settle with a fat check, but Bill still wants to fight it, unwilling to claim defeat in a situation where he knows he’s innocent.

Meanwhile Virginia is headed out of town. We don’t know where but she’s called her father in to babysit so she can get away to clear her head, what with Dan willing to leave his wife and Bill still lurking in the shadows. That is until Libby shows up at her doorstep to tell her about Bill’s mess. Virginia drops everything so she and Libby “can right the ship” together. It’s interesting that this man who believes he’s always in the right and can move in any reckless way he desires, is continuously propped up and saved by his lover and his wife, two women who consistently sacrifice their own happiness in order to save him.

This episode is clearly about allowing the truth to set you free. Barton Scully represents that as he inches his way out of the closet via his burgeoning relationship with the hot young med tech. Not only does he sleep with him but when he finds out it’s his birthday, he invites him over that night for a celebration. Sure it’s no night on the town, but it’s something — even if he tried sneaking out without waking his younger lover.

And then there is poor Libby, who didn’t even get a goodbye from Paul Edley, who got that For Lease sign up faster then Libby could open the shade in her living room. He didn’t even give her a chance to change her mind — and he didn’t even leave a forwarding address.

Meanwhile Bill returns to work after he and Virginia’s devastating trip to New York, when he sees his favorite surrogate Nora in the elevator, and is completely willing to accept that all is fine between the two after their awkward interlude. We should have all known that Nora, the completely evolved woman, is a totally fake—a Christian fundamentalist willing to sleep with different men in order to trap Bill in a prostitution ring scandal. I guess we should have seen it all coming when she cozied up to the Bible beater who continuously harangues Virginia and Bill in the lobby of their building. But I was as surprised as Bill was when she double-crossed him. Well played.

To me, Ronald Sturgis was more of an abstraction, the warning call Virginia and Bill hear inside their heads. But no, his call to Virginia, “This is your last chance. You should get out now. Save yourself. Do what you need to do” is no metaphor but a direct warning that he’s about to bring their whole operation to its knees. Fair to say the show has now deviated completely from any biography of the real Masters and Johnson.

Bill is still trying to make nice with Virginia. Despite her frostiness, he perseveres, offering to remove the MD from his name on their next book. And though these little gestures seem to appease her somewhat, his allure seems to have waned. Virginia returns to make things right with Bill’s Dennis issue for the sake of the clinic and their work together, but she’s fed up with his nonsense. Aligned with Libby as “the two people who can see past your bullheadedness,” she tells him to pay the boy’s family off, specifically from his personal funds, to ensure he doesn’t risk the reputation of the clinic any more then he already has. Oh, if she only knew what was coming next.

To make matters worse for them all, the little man from Little, Brown and Company shows up, to orchestrate a press conference announcing the duo’s new book. While he’s getting a tour of the office, Nora is blackmailing Bill, asking him for rent money, while the detective posing as a patient in the exam room hears Bill say, “I will give you another $200, but this has to be the last time.” If that’s not enough drama, Dan Logan shows up, looking for Virginia, who has “froze him out” for the last few days while she finally determines who she wants to love.

Dan has upped the stakes, escaping to Mexico to get a quicky divorce from his long-suffering wife. Makes sense but that means no more Judy Greer for us. Bummer. Now Virginia has a choice — Dan wants to marry her. He doesn’t expect her to give up her work, but he does expect her to give up Bill, a man he maintains can never make her happy. But just as she is about to choose Dan, who’s about to “take his broken heart and go home” she sees Bill with a plain-clothes police officer and things are about to get crazy.

NEXT: Nora’s secret is out

Turns out kind, dedicated surrogate Nora is not at all what she seems. Rather than being the docile former next-door neighbor with a profound dedication to helping impotent men, she is has been in cahoots with Sturgis and is actually a radical agent of the religious fundamentalists, willing to sacrifice her body if it means putting the evil Bill Masters and his conspirator Virginia Johnson behind bars. And it works, both are put in jail, though Dan bails Virginia out quickly and she has no trouble leaving Bill behind, considering he got her into this mess to begin with.

The only real light from this episode is coming from Dr. Scully’s. With Betty’s insistence he decides to take his new love out to dinner even if it “looks a little gay,” and she insists on making the reservation.

Now we switch to the jail, an apt metaphor for all the lies these main characters have locked themselves inside. For Virginia its the final straw in her relationship with Bill and she decides to plan her escape with Dan, quickly. She says, “I’ve been holding my breath since I was a little girl… I want to breathe with you. I want you.”

And then… comes the doozy scene of the season, the moment when Libby and Bill finally have it out. As he’s spiraling into his convoluted plan to set everything right — talk to Nora, talk to Dennis’ mother — Libby stops him and finally sets him straight. “This happened because of you. You are reckless… trying to control everyone and everything around you,” she said.

And then he admits he’s been having an affair with Virginia for years, an admission Libby laughs at because of course, she’s known about it for years and has decided to stick it out for the sake of her family. Bill tries apologizing and then is totally mystified that Libby has accepted so little of herself by staying in this marriage knowing he had been lying to her for years. And that’s when she loses it, lamenting all she has given up for his sake, and for the sake of their family. And then she tells him that she and Virginia had an agreement this whole time — that Virginia promised she would never take Bill away from her family. It’s an admission that astonishes Bill, that these two women could be so pragmatic about issues of love.

“You are the biggest fool I know,” she says and leaves the jail. She’s not going to bail him out either.

And if that weren’t enough excitement for one finale episode, things only got better when Virginia has a confrontation with Nora, and tired of listening to her rationalizations, knocks her out with her box of files. Seems all the villains are getting a little knock down this episode.

Bill remains in jail while Libby cries in the bathroom, comforted by her son who feels responsible for his imprisonment. As he sits there feeling guilty, you have to wonder if the cycle of father/son misunderstanding will continue despite Libby’s best efforts to break it. Just like Bill tries to control everything, Libby’s own efforts to maintain a hold on the outcome of her family have also failed.

When we cut back to Bill, he has to remove his shoelaces and the belt he borrowed from Lester, and we learn for the first time why Bill always wears suspenders. For the memories of his father whipping him with his belt come flooding back to Bill. Thankfully Dr. Scully interrupts his romantic dinner for two to finally bail Bill out but not before he calls Virginia.

And then for a second time in one episode, a man professes his love for Virginia. This time it’s Bill in the jail, telling Virginia, “I’ve loved you so deeply for the longest time. I could hardly make sense of it.” But it’s not enough. Bill has finally lost. And Virginia tells him what she should have told him a long time ago: “If you love me… If you want to put me first, you’ll let me go. I need to go.”

We finally come to the close: Dan and Virginia make a mad dash for the airport, while the Little Brown man is left to fend for himself with a gaggle of reporters. He makes a final threat to Betty that if Virginia and Bill don’t show up in 30 minutes, not only will he cancel the second book, he will tell the reporters that Bill has a thing for little boys that is when he’s not being jailed for prostitution.

And so Bill makes that final dash to the airport, for that quintessential movie moment to save the day and be with the woman he loves. Virginia seems to be waiting for this moment, constantly looking back to see if he’s come to finally profess his love. It’s not clear what Virginia would do if Bill did show up at the airport but finally, for once, Bill knows he’s been beat. The cabbie asks if he wants to return uptown, but Bill decides it’s over. “I’m going to stay down…” And the episode ends. And so does a very satisfying season. Each of the leads went on thrilling journeys, some ending up, some ending down, but all ending the season in a much more honest place then where they started.

Hope you all liked your time with me and Masters of Sex. We all learned one very important lesson: Stay away from nubile surrogates willing to give of themselves in the name of the work. They never are what they seem.

Episode Recaps

Masters of Sex

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

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