There was a lot about last night’s Masters of Sex that, on paper at least, should be concerning: The return of old (largely inconsequential) characters. A multi-year time jump. A revisitation of old storylines that had seemed to be laid to rest.
And yet, weirdly, it all felt…okay. Great, even. The time jump was handled in a way where it was obvious (indicated by changes to the building that now house’s Bill and Virginia’s private practice and time-stamps on Lester’s omnipresent camera) but not gimmicky or heavy-handed. And though it was a bit of a surprise at first, the leap in time actually felt like a necessary move to push the story forward. We’ve seen Bill and Virginia at odds before, and to witness them be apart for two more years while Bill struggles yet again to find his footing after leaving another hospital would get tiresome quickly. Fast-forward to the good stuff.
And there was plenty of that. After a few years of abstaining from “Dr. and Mrs. Holden”-style participation in the study, Bill and Virginia finally confronted their feelings for each other, admitting they’re not just “work colleagues,” as Bill described them earlier in the episode. Virginia wins Bill over by pointing out that what happened between them can’t be undone, that “it’s hard to tell where you stop and I begin.” This confession—and the promise that what she has with him will always come first over anything she’s got going on with other men on the side—coaxes Bill out of his multiyear sulk session about Virginia’s boyfriends and her “faithless and fickle heart” and back into the hotel bed with her. The only problem is that he’s been having performance issues ever since she broke his heart—not even alleyway encounters with prostitutes can get him going, and he and Libby haven’t had sex in over a year—so he tells her he needs to reacquaint himself with her body and resorts to other methods of pleasing her. Their affair is officially back on, but as Virginia points out, they’ll need to find a new venue now that their small practice doesn’t have the funds for unexplained hotel visits.
The practice doesn’t have the funds for a lot of stuff, and this becomes a way for the show to reintegrate Bill’s mother Essie into the story. When Libby discovers Bill has put up their home as collateral to get a loan, she goes behind his back and asks Essie—whom she’s been secretly meeting every week in Terre Haute, Indiana, we learn—for help. Bill finds out, and it leads to an excellently performed, explosive fight between him and his wife. Bill’s upset because in his mind, by going behind his back to interact with his mother, Libby’s ignoring the lingering pain of his childhood, when his mother was complicit in his abuse. He still can’t bring himself to come right out and tell Libby what his father did to him (that remains something he’s only ever opened up to Virginia about), but he comes closer than he ever has before, implying that he knows she knows and that her ignoring it is a betrayal. But Libby counters that it’s time for Bill to move on, that we’ve all got baggage and we’re all suffering. Later, Essie shows up and delivers a moving monologue about how she has realized her job as a mother is to love, not to judge, and so Bill’s secrets are safe with her. By the end of the episode, after more time has passed, Bill has invited her to his child’s birthday party, where he reveals that he’s aware she’s been secretly funneling money into his practice but extends the ol’ metaphorical olive branch despite this. He’s tired of fighting.
That seemed to be a recurring theme on this week’s Masters of Sex. Bill’s tired of fighting his mom. He and Virginia are tired of fighting their attraction to each other. Libby’s tired of fighting Bill (so she invites Virginia to join them on their vacation because “he’s so much easier when you’re around”). Austin’s tired of chasing skirts and wants to win his ex-wife back. And I’m tired of fighting Masters of Sex’s insistence on cramming as many minor characters and storylines into any given as possible. So I’ll give in for now. If the show keeps delivering compelling plots like the ones introduced in “Asterion,” I don’t mind how many it tries to squeeze in. Ahh, sweet forgiveness.
—Having Betty work as Virginia and Bill’s secretary and pursue her real estate license is actually a brilliant way to give her character something to do. Now she actually has an excuse to hang around, especially considering she’s apparently been left by her husband after he found out about her relationship with Helen.
—Lester’s an unnecessary character, but he sort of feels like the show’s Greek chorus, so it’ll be interesting to see how he develops.
—How did Bill manage to have another baby with Libby if he’s been impotent since the Virginia incident? Artificial insemination?
—Austin’s story is the only one that feels like a blatant retread of last season. Would love to see his swapped out for more Barton and Margaret.
—Betsy Brandt resumes her role as Bill’s old secretary here, admitting she was born without a vaginal opening. I’m assuming this isn’t the last we’ll see of her in the study.
— “Didn’t know they had postcards in Bitch Town.” I’m guessing this means Jane won’t be coming back.