“And then he said, ‘I’ll tell you what you’re not, Rose. You’re not your worst part.’”
Bill Masters may have been specifically reassuring a young patient that her sexual escapades don’t make her a bad person, that she doesn’t need to undergo a hysterectomy as an extreme measure of birth control, but his words ring true for all the characters on Masters of Sex, for the show itself, for all of us. After all, if we could be “fixed” by just cutting out our flaws, we’d all be walking around full of holes.
Masters of Sex proved this week that it’s not its worst part, either, that it’s capable of delivering a strong episode by just toning down that part—its tendency to overcrowd episodes with too many disparate storylines—rather than chopping it off entirely. There were still a few threads that felt tossed in or unnecessary, but “Kyrie Eleison” felt focused in spite of that.
Part of that might be because for the first time in quite a while, Bill has a case that we see on-screen. This week, it’s Rose, a teenage girl who really enjoys sex (I hesitate to call her a nymphomaniac because it’s hard to tell how much of her parents’ reaction to her promiscuity is just 1950s puritanism. She’s had a few abortions already, but that speaks more to society’s ignorance about birth control at the time than her sexual history). She arrives in the hospital in shock after losing a lot of blood due to a perforated uterus from a botched abortion, and once Bill stops the bleeding, he’s surprised to hear that Rose’s parents want him to perform a hysterectomy on her to prevent her from ever getting pregnant again. He refuses, citing his hippocratic oath to do no harm, and he talks with Rose to reassure her that one day there will be a cure for her “condition.” (Yes, although Bill’s open-minded, he’s still a product of his time and believes that homosexuality and promiscuity are “sexual dysfunctions” that can be cured.) In the meantime, he gives her an IUD—a much simpler solution than removing her uterus.
Rose’s story gives the episode a bit of a theme, that idea that we are not our flaws, as all of our other characters try to cope with theirs. Barton and Margaret disappear to Venice for some much-needed R&R (and an excuse to give Beau Bridges and Allison Janney time off to shoot their other series—CBS’ The Millers and Mom, respectively). Austin is “steering into the skid,” living and partying in his office after his wife left him for sleeping with her sister. Libby goes from being genial and dishing about her husband to Cora, her new nanny, to cruelly correcting her pronunciation of “ask” after Cora does a better job of calming the baby than she does. Betty (who was a little more tolerable this week. A little.) shows up at the hospital every day for “fertility treatments” that actually consist of her reading magazines in Bill’s office until it’s time to go home because she’s unwilling to just tell her husband she’s sterile. After she has trouble with her words while filming an instructional video, Lillian sees her oncologist (at the insistence of Virginia) and learns that her cancer has spread. And of course, Bill and Virginia are still carrying on their affair in a hotel in the name of science.
It’s amazing how all it takes is one thread to weave everything together and make for a very solid episode. Bill’s no saint—he’s cheating on his wife and he still can’t bring himself to be in the same room as his son—but the wisdom he drops this episode is huge. There’s no surgical solution for flaws like his, and he just has to accept that they’re there and figure out another way to fight them, before they metastasize like poor Lillian’s.
—This week also saw Betsy Brandt make her debut as Barbara, Bill’s new secretary.
— “There is no more qualified gem than me.” Virginia might be upset about the delay in getting her over to Memorial, but on the plus side, it gives her more hotel time with Bill.
—Speaking of that hotel in Alton, Ill., did anyone notice that Austin mentioned his ex-wife had moved to Alton as well this episode? That can’t be an accident. Will he visit her and catch Bill and Virginia?
— “Mrs. Masters is some other lady who drew the short straw.”
— “The fastest speculum in Missouri.” Oh god.
—What a bummer that the esophagus doctor was only really interested in Ulysses so he could get all hot and bothered while talking about vaginal sweating with Virginia. But on the plus side, that’s one more extraneous plot nipped in the bud!
— “We’re lone wolves, driven from the pack for our refusal to conform.”
— “Every good fight begins with pizza.”