Masters of Sex: “Love and Marriage” (Episode 1.08)

TV Reviews Masters of Sex
Masters of Sex: “Love and Marriage” (Episode 1.08)

This week’s episode takes its name from the Frank Sinatra song Vivian Scully hums as she tidies up Ethan’s apartment. “Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage,” she sings as he looks on, surprised and pleased (but maybe a little weirded out?) by her fit of domesticity. But of course, on Masters of Sex, we know this to be untrue; all of the show’s unions are unhappy, loveless affairs, and “Love and Marriage” only underscored that this week by focusing on a series of failing relationships.

The most obvious example is Barton and Margaret. Margaret’s affair with Dr. Langham has run its course (in a particularly great scene for Allison Janney, she realizes he’s getting ready to dump her and ends things with him before he has the chance to), and she drowns her sorrows in a hotel bar and chats up the nice young man sitting next to her—who, of course, happens to be the male prostitute Barton’s been seeing. Barton arrives and experiences the dramatic, 1950s version of George Costanza’s “worlds colliding” moment on Seinfeld. He didn’t yell “you’re killing independent Barton!”, but he didn’t have to. The look of pure horror on his face said it all. He fumbles for some excuse, introducing the male escort as a graduate student he’s advising, and Margaret keeps up the charade, making up a story about the aunt she was supposed to be visiting being sick. They have a confrontation in the bathroom, and Barton admits he was meeting a prostitute, but he still can’t bring himself to tell Margaret he’s gay. Instead he says the man he was meeting regularly sets him up with female prostitutes. Rather than address their dying marriage, Barton spends the next day pretending as though nothing happened, taking Margaret to a drive-in and faking interest in her. She sees through his efforts and asks for a divorce.

Meanwhile, Libby and Bill’s union keeps hurtling closer and closer to disaster. This week, we’re introduced to Walter, the African-American handyman Libby has hired to clean the gutters. She and Walter have a pretty instantaneous chemistry, and before long she’s hired him to give her dance lessons. It’s obvious she’s starved for attention she doesn’t receive from Bill, and having her go outside the marriage to get it seems like an interesting development to their story. Introducing a potential interracial coupling also opens up a lot of possibilities plotwise; it’s a chance to delve into the prejudices of the era, and we get a taste of that when, after Libby collapses in Walter’s arms and he takes her into the hospital, the doctor treating her tells her “boy” can wait outside. Then, once he’s gone, Libby and Bill’s marriage gets dealt another blow: the reason she fainted was because her blood pressure’s low due to her pregnancy. Yep. Again. That secret procedure she had against Bill’s wishes seems to have been a success already, so once again she and Bill will have to deal with their conflicting levels of interest in having a baby. This felt a little rushed—after all, it was only last week that we saw Libby approach Ethan about trying to get pregnant again—and especially with everything else going on, I’m a little wary of the show going down the baby road again, but it’s important to remember these characters are based on real people, and the real Bill Masters did have kids with Libby before leaving her for Virginia, so perhaps we’re operating on their timeline here.

Speaking of rushed, Ethan’s in such a hurry to find a wife—any wife will do, it seems, and hey, there’s Vivian in his kitchen acting all wifely. Perfect. He decides it’s time to propose to her, not because he’s in love with her, but because he’s pushing 30 and doesn’t want to be a bachelor anymore. Oh, and tax purposes. He actually cites tax purposes as a reason to tie the knot. He and Langham take a trip to a jewelry store to pick out a ring, and Langham—who, after ending his affair with Margaret, buys his wife a new vacuum cleaner (how romantic!)—has the girl behind the counter pick out a pair of earrings and buys them for her. They sleep together, obviously, and Langham rejoins the study, declaring he’s “back.” Seems like anonymous sex is really what keeps him at the top of his game, and now that he’s free of clingy Margaret, he’s back to his old habits while his long-suffering wife, stuck with a boring new vacuum, mutters “Some poor woman is in tears” and keeps turning a blind eye to his cheating.

In truth, the only partnership that seems to be working this week isn’t a marriage at all. Bill and Virginia are growing increasingly aware of each other’s needs (sexually and otherwise), and when Bill discovers Virginia’s been taking night classes in an attempt to get her degree, he’s surprisingly understanding, telling her she can take off early to go study. He realizes how important being credentialed is to her, so he lets her go, but he’s also protective (and, yes, perhaps a little selfish). He pays Dr. DePaul a visit behind Virginia’s back and asks her to encourage Virginia to not pick up additional coursework and spread herself too thin. It turns out he didn’t even have to, however. Virginia (who aced her anatomy exam) reveals in their next session that she’s not sure it’s worth pursuing a degree. Bill plays it cool, telling her whatever she wants to do is fine with him, but he’s obviously excited at the prospect of having more time to sleep with her in the name of science. Then the two bond while looking at footage of the inside of a vagina (yeah, that happened), the credits roll and it’s obvious the only true love on Masters of Sex exists outside the confines of marriage.

Stray observations:
-Dr. DePaul presented her pap test proposal this week, including a slide showing cells from a woman with a terminal case of cervical cancer that would have been caught much earlier with a pap smear. Later, we see her putting away all her slides, and she places one back into a folder that says “Patient name: DePaul, Lillian.” So I guess we’re to believe she’s secretly dying? I don’t want to say I hope so, because that’d be cruel, but at least this fleshes out her character a bit and makes her more than just Virginia’s shrill antagonist.
-Jane’s stage name—Beav St. Marie—was pretty perfect.
-The male escort Barton’s been seeing revealed this week he’s “fond of his company,” but Barton’s too focused on pursuing horrible-sounding aversion therapy treatments meant to make him heterosexual. Oh boy.
-”It’s not the footage, it’s the fact that we’re the only two people in the world who have seen it.” Of course scientific breakthroughs turn Bill on. Of course they do.
-I’m starting to think we’ll never see Betty the prostitute again, and I’m 100 percent fine with that.

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