The Egg Roll Incident
Masters Of Sex Season 2 Episode 4 recap
On a show like this, the question of what constitutes loyalty, or “the right thing to do” is in constant question. Do you fight for your lover who’s also your legitimate assistant? Do you deserve the title of “partner” if you’re keeping the biggest secret of your personal life separate from your partner? Do you owe your employer the benefit of all the doubts that she’s trying to “help” you and needs to trust you – even if everything she’s doing says otherwise? How far do you let your study go before kicking out the ever-growing peanut gallery in the one-way mirror?
Cinematic and honest as last week was, to me, this is what makes Masters of Sex actually work. Bill and Virginia believe they’re doing the right thing about everything. That they’re acting according to what’s right for “the study” and for themselves, and Virginia’s arbitrary rules about not sleeping in the hotel let her believe she’s not doing something quite as bad as what she’s actually doing. Bill believes that because he’s noble about protecting his subjects, that it makes up for some of his other shortcomings.
Which, of course, is preposterous. The difference between the Bills and Virginias, and the Austins or Dr. DePauls or Bettys of the world, is that they never pretended they were extra-noble or good people. They never promised to uphold any ideals of being a good person. Hippocratic oath and all, but that doesn’t extend to the emotions. So why does it matter?
The parallel worlds of Bill and Virginia don’t always work, but there’s some stuff going on here as both investigate whether or not they’re good people. I was genuinely shocked and dismayed to discover that this Cal-o-metric thing is a continuing plotline – not least because the woman hawking the pills seems like a cartoon from a high school play. It does, though, allow Virginia to examine which of her supposed principles she’ll discard when it comes to making money.
You can’t fault her for that – as the cartoon points out, dreams are for the privileged few to follow and the rest have to make some money and put food on the table – but Virginia seems to operate as though she’s far above reproach, as though she’s acting with utter saintliness all the time. It’s getting annoying.
That’s why it’s nice to see that for all her efforts to do good things – to go to bat for Dr. DePaul with the wonderfully-named Dr. Papanikolau – she’s oblivious about girl code, and what it means, and why letting Dr. DePaul be the one to tell her is absolutely degrading – even if she would never have concerned herself with romantic intrigue otherwise. Virginia isn’t the friend – or partner – that she says she is, and Lillian has the proof.
Even though it’s totally convenient that she does so. It was set up weeks ago but now it’s here - Dr. Langham lives in the town where Bill and Virginia go for their assignations. I really want to hate Dr. Langham and I maybe almost do, but damned if he isn’t such a hilarious busybody. Like he just wants to be into everything, and shocked and almost resentful when he isn’t, except that it allows him something new to gossip about. There isn’t usually a male character like this on TV and I appreciate it. However, he doesn’t do anything other than spread gossip, and while I value that in a human and especially in a man who likes cigars, I’d love to flesh him out if we’re going to see more of him.
Bill Masters, of course, has never worried about whether he’s a good person. His study is important, and that’s all that matters. When he does things that are noble – like covering up a subject so she can’t be ogled by his egg-roll-eating colleagues – you almost get the impression he’s being caught being more caring than he means to be. Incidentally, let’s not forget for a second what a good actor Michael Sheen is. His look of sort of vague helplessness as he looks around for a hot towel or Virginia to warm the vibrator, neither of whom appear, is kind of magic.
Bill owes fewer things to fewer people, so his façade needs less holding up. Of course, when he has to do so it’s with effort and zero ease – note how awkwardly he does-but-doesn’t-but-pretty-much-does spill the beans to Betty’s husband (and how quickly we escaped the financial monkey on Bill’s back, now that he won’t be indebted to her husband as he heads to the black hospital, Buell Green, notably with Virginia by his side).
But as usual, the starkest difference between a person’s intentions and their actions are highlighted by Libby, which I wish didn’t happen because I love her and don’t want her to be turned into a cartoon, but which works so well because Keke Palmer is magic, takes centre stage.
Imagine being Libby. You’re not quite doing it, whatever it is – maintaining a perfect home façade for your husband, raising a baby happily, running the household help the way the household help needs to be run. In fact, as we’ve heard over and over, Coral is young – extra-young – and very, very competent. So if you’re Libby, and you’re feeling out of step with your husband, and you don’t gossip at the right time when you should about your husband’s sex study (and did you notice she chose the wrong dress to wear to tea with the ladies? Poor Libby), and if you don’t have any control over whether your husband does things that will keep you in the style to which you’ve become accustomed, what recourse do you have other than to exert far too much power over your teenage baby nurse? You can force her into compliance, even if you kind of know that’s kind of wrong, even if your husband won’t even back you up because his irritating liberalism and education means he doesn’t believe you’re inherently smarter by virtue of being a white woman who probably went to Vassar. And you have to keep him, your husband, from ganging up on you with your teenage baby nurse? “He’s not part of this, you and I.” It’s hard to be Libby. (Harder still to be Johnny, who appears to have lice in what appears to be no hair.)
Do you suppose Bill’s choice of hospital is going to cause further conflict between him and Libby? Between Libby and Coral? And ultimately, between Bill and Virginia? How liberal is liberal for these people who think they’re unimpeachable? Stand by to find out.
Masters of Sex airs Sunday nights on The Movie Network/Movie Central.