Masters of Sex Season 2 Episode 12 recap.


There. That’s what we’ve been building toward. Satisfying, terrifying, and nauseating like the best of all the golden age of television. I was uncomfortable and upset for most of the episode, which paradoxically feels good, and right.

So – did we need to go through all that to get here? This stark portrait of the terrible, fundamentally lacking people that our characters are, where we see that every single one of them has major flaws and nobody has the moral high ground, it’s an uncomfortable and uncharted place to be – so are we glad for the journey we took to get here, or would it have been better if we’d gotten here weeks ago? 

I was ready to say that those weeks up front were wasted. I still don’t really have a thorough love for the bouncing from hospital to hospital, and for the time jumps and the endless, endless discussion of Bill Masters’ Father, A Very Bad Man.

But tonight’s episode made me feel like I’d gone on a journey that felt like it was worth it.  

When they began their sexual therapy together – the nonsexual touching that was the most erotic nonsexual scene since “Out of Sight” – I found myself wishing they’d done it earlier. So sexy and so intimate, and you get the idea, finally, of what Bill and Virginia might actually have learned from their work all this time.

The other thing that’s amazing and interesting is that I never once feel a sense of shock or discomfort even in the most stark nudity. In the most intimate sexual places. Bill and Virginia might not have done what they set out to do in terms of normalizing sex for the American people, but they have normalized it for television in a way I wasn’t sure was possible. The sex between Bill and Virginia is sexy, if not lusty (that’s saved for Libby and Robert) but the show has absolutely established a camera’s gaze that is sensitive and unintrusive somehow. Intimate.

So the series, this year, has made some very curious choices. I have to believe that what they chose to do was on purpose. It’s been an intense character study on only two people – Masters and Johnson, the people behind the study. As Bill and Virginia – mainly Bill – have come closer and closer into focus, the rest of their world has receded. Not necessarily a bad thing. Too often, on shows like this, the people around the leads are always talking about how wonderful they are. That’s Mad Men, for example. Everyone says how Don is magical and you kind of wish they were more inwardly focused. But on this show, aside from the laconic comment of the week from Betty, we don’t know what anyone thinks about Bill and Virginia. Not really. Which, on a show with this many supporting characters, feels strange.

What happens is that there are stories that just don’t land. So…Cal-o-Metric has connections to the Kennedy administration. Okay, so she thinks of him as purely a physical specimen, and he’s shocked at the idea that he’s seen as a stud and not an intellect – but it continues to exist in the empty space that is shoehorned around the other stories. It doesn’t make any sense, it doesn’t fit with a previous worldview of Dr. Langham that we need to change, and we could have used the airtime elsewhere.

Lester and Barb, on the other hand, are sweet and broken together. I love the scene where they first realize that they could try to sleep together. The wonder in both their faces is just lovely. I’m not convinced their story, which twined its way together over the season, is exactly universal, but I do appreciate the idea that Bill and Virginia have a vested interest in broken birds such as them – and that, even though I was maybe on Lester’s side as he said you could be romantic without being sexual, Bill and Virginia believe enough in what they’re doing to push forward and try a second time.

But in this last episode, Bill and Virginia really become who they are. To their own detriment. Because they’re arguably awful, but after all, isn’t that what we want to see? Good people don’t make history. Speaking of allegedly good people …

Red coat (red herring?), followed by the dramatic exit in the morning…I began to worry about the long-term health of Libby Masters at about the nine-minute mark.   But she’s always been one to turn all her resentment and realization in on herself.   She isn’t furious with Virginia, as she knows she should be, or even Bill, really, who stopped being an obstacle a long time ago. She just turns into a self-flagellator. Why can’t she “just accept what is”? I love that she isn’t, she loves that she isn’t, and regardless of the clumsiness of the creation of this story (Whither Coral? Like, the actual person? It’s so weird to keep mentioning her without an appearance, and it’s not like Keke Palmer wouldn’t be able to play three years older), it’s actually allowed us to find out what makes Libby tick and how far she can be pushed. I enjoyed it because they’ve asked us to imagine it several times over the course of two seasons, even if it’s basically too easy and too cute.

Because we know the show is not about Libby.

Virginia and her children, though, I’m not sure anything could be less cute but it was somewhat …easy isn’t the right word, but something in the swiftness of the way the whole situation went catastrophic made me think that Virginia is much, much less stable than we’ve given her credit for. I’ve been wondering how she’s seen in the world at large, since there have been large hints that the calm way she sees herself has nothing to do with the way others see her.  

It’s ironic to me that Virginia wants a modern man and a modern life - and yet resents that George wants to be involved with his children. The narrative of her divorce is supposed to be that the feckless man is basically harmless and Virginia is wonderful and indeed it would be a simple story to tell. No story, actually.

It’s to the show’s credit that after “ignoring” her neglect of her children – because it really doesn’t seem as though it can be seen as anything other than neglect,  given that she manically makes the decision to give them up and simultaneously justifies it thinking she can leverage something workwise, as though that’s rational – the consequences come home to roost. Not only are her children not upset, they don’t care. They don’t see enough of Virginia during the “week” for it to matter that they’re going to sleep somewhere else. She’s reaping what she’s been sowing.

But she doesn’t know that it’s all because of Bill. 

Virginia gambled on a TV interview that would skyrocket the team and in turn give legitimacy to their work and allow for her to prove she was a good parent. She wanted the interview to be the magic of TV, basically. Bill was terrified of it. And so he pulled the ground out from under her, in a move that was so innocent and despicable in the same moment. He didn’t know what she was going to do. He only knew he couldn’t be vulnerable. And that was almost a big enough moment without bringing back Barton Scully and ETHAN to punctuate it.  

We go forward knowing both Bill and Virginia have made awful choices that they’ll never be able to recover from. Witness Virginia when she picks up that phone and fights for control. That’s a part of her story, now. Just like Bill’s cowardice and deceit are a part of his. A part of theirs. But Bill and Virginia believe they need to focus on the work. They both can ignore whatever’s up in their lives if they focus on the work. It’s a lie, that it’s “important”, maybe – but they need it to be true.  

Satisfying. Uncomfortable and imperfect, but so satisfying. See you next season.