It’s a narrative technique great dramas have been relying on for years: if you’ve got characters who need to escape the problems of their daily lives and find some moment of clarity about the direction in which they’re headed, plop them into some exotic locale. California is where Don Draper heads whenever he’s seeking redemption, and last season he and Megan tried to outrun their marital problems by vacationing in Hawaii. When her daughter starts talking about moving across the country, Carmela Soprano copes with a trip to Paris—and it’s there, in the City of Light, that the mob wife has an illuminating dream convincing her that Adriana is, in fact, dead. Masters of Sex may still be a ways away from being a great drama, but it continues to improve and demonstrate a solid knowledge of what goes into a strong show. This week, it forced Bill and Libby to confront their problems after attempting to escape them with a trip to Miami.
Bill, who admits he hasn’t been on vacation since 1953, predictably has trouble unwinding. When they hear singing and jumping on the bed in the room next door, he grabs the phone to complain and protect Libby from any reminders of the child they just lost, but she assures him he doesn’t have to walk on eggshells around her. The playful noises next-door soon evolve into loud sex grunts, and Bill and Libby soon discover their neighbors are actually an old, horny couple. This fascinates Bill—”It’s like something out of Ripley’s!” he gleefully exclaims—and he spends most of their vacation secretly timing their trysts, calling Virginia to discuss the research she’s been conducting in his absence (more on that later) and ignoring his wife.
Libby finally reaches her breaking point, and—in a pivotal moment for their marriage—asks Bill to go home. She stays and dines with the old couple, getting drunk with them and reveling in the Bill-free backstory she’s created for herself, claiming she has two children, aged 10 and 12, and her husband died years ago in a plane crash. But when the old man reappears in her room later that night and attempts to woo her, she’s horrified and threatens to call Bill. It seems single life is a little too much for Libby to handle; will she come running back to Bill? He certainly seems to be doing fine without her, diving right back into the research with Virginia.
Meanwhile, Virginia spends the time while Bill’s away trying to debunk Freud’s theory that clitoral orgasms are “adolescent” and “immature” and that a grown woman who cannot achieve a vaginal orgasm is somehow frigid. She runs a test with Jane, getting readings on both types of orgasm, and determines there’s virtually no scientific difference between the two—except the clitoral orgasm is slightly stronger. Bill’s impressed with her ingenuity and decides to promote her from secretary to research assistant. The two of them get a little giddy about all their new findings and start rattling off other things they can investigate. Virginia mentions Jane told her she can climax just by having her breasts touched. “Men can climax in their sleep,” Bill offers. “Women can too!” Virginia responds. Bill half-jokingly remarks that he’d need to see a woman climax by having her breasts touched to believe it. Perhaps because they’ve just bonded over some sexy science talk or perhaps because she’s taken “I am promoting you to research assistant” to mean “I’m into you,” Virginia promptly takes off her blouse and bra, attaches some sensors to herself, reminds Bill they’re doing this for science and puts his hand on her breast as we cut to the end credits. Oooh boy.
It’s obvious the Libby-Bill-Virginia love triangle plot will really pick up steam in the next few weeks, and—in a welcome turn of events—it’s no longer the only one on the show. Provost Scully’s wife Margaret (Allison Janney) is turned away from the study after she admits she’s never had an orgasm, and her problem is soon rectified by Dr. Langley (who’s apparently working out some mommy issues) in her car after she runs into him outside a late-night screening of Peyton Place. Janney’s fantastic as the meek, neglected housewife, and in two short episodes her presence has lifted the series significantly. Here’s hoping she gets a Miami of her own, some sort of vacation in a brave new world, as part of her recent sexual awakening.
-Bill’s off-handed comment about Freud—that he doesn’t buy his theory about the Oedipus complex—was a fantastic tiny detail. Remember what we know about his mother and their complicated relationship, and it’s obvious this line was thrown in for a reason.
-Do Margaret and her husband sleep in different bedrooms? It sure looked that way as he said goodnight to her and then walked down the hall.
-This week also saw the return of Dr. Lillian DePaul, whose sole purpose so far seems to be strolling around the hospital acting uptight and jealous of Virginia. Her demand that everyone know Virginia isn’t an MD is weirdly understandable—she earned her position through years of schooling, and Virginia talked her way into hers—but I’m hoping her character becomes more than an angry adversary.
-Oh hi, Alan Ruck! It was pretty funny to see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’s hopelessly neurotic Cameron doling out advice as a therapist this week. Here’s hoping we see more of him in subsequent episodes.