Masters of Sex Season 2 Episode 3 recap

An unusual episode. None of our usual players (though possibly a starmaking turn for Elliot, you know?) and just one main location. Part of the glory of making a show that is not a procedural is that you can experiment with formats and types of shows and stretch the limits of what your show is. This one-act play is an examination of male and female – of bodies, internal and external, of what makes us attractive or attracted. I love the topics, and this early on in the season I’m happy to have the digression from the rest of the “action”, even if I’m not at all sure that it worked as an hour of TV. 

Parts of it, I liked. The bracelet in the hair, the stories they tell each other under the guise of being Dr. and Mrs Holden – but it’s all just a bit on the nose. “Maybe she could rescue him. It does too happen. You tell whatever story you like.” Okay, so we’re examining male and female roles, and why we have them and how we make them, and whether or not they are more or less validated by “he takes me seriously”.

But I have been feeling a creepy feeling this season, like the show realizes they’ve made Virginia too smart and all-wise and are inching it back by degrees. This is partly a problem of renewals – if Masters of Sex had been one season and done, you would want for her to be wise, to have options.   

But now that she and Bill are engaging in such an intimate ballet of whether or not they’re going to let anyone in, she needs to be a bit vulnerable. I just wish it didn’t equal wide-eyed and curious. Oh, she doesn’t know anything about fighting, but there, it almost looks like they love each other!

It got exhausting, the talk about the fight. And in turn, about their fights. They’re all about expectation and what does and doesn’t manifest itself based on what we think of the other person: “I play weak, I’m saying I’m stronger than you”.

Power, back and forth throughout the night. But, more importantly, expectation.  Can you throw a punch? Can you block it? Can you be someone other than who you try to be? Why am I teaching you to fight me? We’re literally training with one another, learning each other’s tricks and guards. They’re entangled with one another. They tidy and groom each other. They care for each other through, and after, their misadventures. “You enjoyed that.” “You are weak. Weaker.”

It’s hard for us not to shake them, isn’t it? “Can’t you two see…!”   

And that’s what I wonder, as we go forward. As Bill and Virginia continue to pretend to be working on work (“Two acts of intercourse, one masturbatory act. Roleplaying throughout”), we’re getting increasingly smarter than them in a way that I’m not sure is good for us or for the series.

When Virginia, under the guise of discussing “Lydia’s” sexual history, tells a true story of how she was seduced and shocked by the man who left to marry another woman, she’s still hurt at what happened, but more than that, she’s still hurt at how naïve she was. How much she didn’t know. She still punishes herself for not being more emotionally cautious. Bill and Virginia spend their time playing this marriage game – and really, the episode serves to illustrate that she’s just as bad as he is, where putting sex in place of other human interactions is concerned.

Meanwhile, is it such a revelation that Bill’s father used to beat him? That he broke his nose for no reason? It seems like everything we’ve learned about Bill and how he’s a “hard man” (come back soon, Keke Palmer) has pointed to this. They danced around it last season, but now it’s confirmed, his father was at least neglectful and cruel, and at worst bordered on sadism. I thought this wasn’t news.

But then again, perhaps we know more about human behavior in 2014 than they did then; perhaps we know more than Virginia, and relate to him differently. For as much as I find the sex scenes hot, I don’t find Bill attractive. Can’t figure out what part of him says “unbridled passion”. The bitch of it is, he can’t either. That’s why he puts Virginia down at every opportunity. Why he treats her like someone without much sense or brain, a lot of the time. Because how can he possibly respect someone who holds him in such high esteem?  

She doesn’t, though. Not enough. She proves that over and over. “I don’t want my son to be a boxer” = I don’t want my son to be like you. And if we were married, I wouldn’t allow you to bring up a child that way. Oh, and PS, how’s that son of yours? 

Because this is the elephant in the room, of course. The show doesn’t judge Virginia, nor should it. And I’ve always hated people who snark at “the other woman” because you know who has a responsibility to not step out on a relationship? The person in the relationship. Bill tries to be the picture of nobility – to rail against attitudes and practices that are archaic and two-dimensional –but he’s steadfastedly creating a relationship of resentment and anger toward his own child.

Which is why it’s probably not accidental that the baby operation scenes were brutal by design. That image of the thing they use to hold the baby in place for an X-ray is not soon going to leave my memory but the image of the surgeon reading the textbook is just terrifying. Just nauseating. Which is the point, I know, but I’m still not sure about it. 

Someone along the way once asked me, about Mad Men, “why would I watch a show about a time when things were terrible for women?” To me, the answer is, of course, “the show is awesome”. But I understand the question more in the context of Masters of Sex, which has a narrower focus and is less likely to show us how Bill and Virginia are a mirror of what’s going on around them. More often, they’re mirrors of each other. She’s too weak, he’s too hard, they take tiny chips out of each other’s hearts on an incredibly routine basis as one, then the other, asserts that what they’re doing is entirely mechanized and devoid of feeling.

But – the study isn’t respected. Bill and Virginia are in limbo. Libby and Bill’s family is a sham. (Virginia’s family seems fine, if poised to examine princess myths pretty soon.) When are we going to get an up?

Attached – Michael Sheen and Sarah Silverman out together this weekend.