Let Johnson Be Johnson
Masters Of Sex Season 1 Episode 11 recap.
Wow. This show has never been anything other than an investigation of gender – it’s not even about sex, really, given that Masters and Johnson haven’t pinned down ways to investigate the x-factor that is attraction.
No, the show is about men and women, and what it means to be each, and what can be done to change the looks of the role you were assigned to. All our favourite women try that this week – and also Ethan, so you know there’s hilarity afoot. The question is whether they are actually able to effect any change in their lives and whether they’re glad to do so or not.
Take Libby, for example. To me, the most amazing thing about this woman isn’t that she married Bill Masters at all, but that she unfailingly comes across as the most reasonable, understanding, with-it wife around. She couldn’t be more understanding of Bill, yet she’s still somehow not a robot. Basically, she’s mastered the art of not asking too many questions while still feeling like a person. It’s something you think she must have a gift for. Nobody teaches you that (especially not when her parents are gone, as she told Bill’s mother). Seriously, she’s the most likeable woman on television and I feel like if you’d written in the character description “Everyone must love her”, you’d be asking for serious trouble. And yet here we are. Libby is the best.
But then, when she works in an office for the sake of helping Bill and Jane – and she realizes the tip of the iceberg of what Bill doesn’t tell her. The insult, of course, isn’t just that he’s having an affair. The insult is that she’s the coolest, chillest, most understanding wife with no hangups about his work’s sexual nature – and it still didn’t keep him at home. Her chillness didn’t make him any better a husband. It must be a really bitter pill.
But she’s not bitter, at least not yet. Maybe bitterness comes only with great disappointment, like Dr. DePaul has. After all, it’s only when you’ve worked so hard for everything in your life that you start to see everything as a battle…isn’t it? From the train and bus to the hotel room to the utter indignity of having to pitch to the wives of the doctors, instead of the doctors themselves, Lillian sees every unfairness coming to her as a result of being a woman. Even her body, even the sickness that is going to kill her in a matter of months, is a woman’s sickness. Everything that has happened to her that’s unfair and disappointing and helped add to the bitterness that she wears like armor – it’s all because she’s a woman.
They couldn’t be more different, Libby and Lillian. But in the end, they’re exactly the same. Knocked down by mere virtue of being women.
And then there’s Virginia.
We’re told over and over again – sometimes in words – about how Virginia’s not like other girls. That she wants different things, that she does different things. The show wants us to know that this practicality, over and above her face or anything else, is the reason Bill Masters is so taken with her. He takes her advice on how to live and how to run his research because she’s so not like a woman.
And so it’s worth investigating what “not a woman” looks like. She’s got a career, of sorts – remarkable not just because she has it but because she’s willing to leave when she’s treated poorly; she has a family on her terms, and while Ethan wants desperately to spirit her away and take care of her, it’s not the answer to Virginia’s prayers. Hell, she even has an ex-husband and a would-be husband duking it out for the privilege of caring for her children (although, who are we kidding, that’s not going to last for long). If she ultimately decides not to marry Ethan, we get the sense she’ll be fine.
So the question is, is this just luck? Genetic gifts? Virginia is awesome but she can’t be the first plucky woman to ever have challenged the system, can she?
Is it just that she has the right combination of brains and sex appeal and a very dirty word – selfishness? A lot of the things she undertakes would be considered abhorrent by other mothers, based solely on the fact that she chooses to do things for herself and leaves the children with sitters. This is underlined for us at the end of the episode. Ethan and the children can enjoy Virginia from afar, but when she’s doing what she wants to do (Lizzy Caplan has a nice voice, doesn’t she?) she’s in a world, or a glass box, all her own.
I had one question when I was finished thinking all this. What would Margaret Scully have to say about the life Virginia has carved out for herself? Most recently, an opportunity to champion a new women’s health initiative was presented to her. Would Margaret think it was just luck? Timing? Not being over six feet tall? It’s clear Bill Masters thinks Libby is a magical unicorn who can never be replicated – and that he needs her to keep his life on the narrow. But what does everyone else think? How easy is it to be Virginia Johnson?