After last week’s rough end for the child formerly known as Catherine, this week’s episode of Masters of Sex is a fun change of pace for many of the characters. The fallout from last week is still present, but Bill and Libby try to press forward. Side characters enjoy more screen time to move the plot forward, and while we do still have some downer moments, this episode is not without its moments of comedy.
The episode begins with some footage of Sigmund Freud discussing the clitoral orgasm as an adolescent phenomenon. His daughter, Dr. Anna Freud, goes over the nature of femininity, while the audience, including Virginia Johnson and Jane Martin, watches with intense interest. Johnson sees it differently, and says as much to Masters when she returns to the hospital. Masters explains that after adolescence, there’s a transfer of sexual response. Most of the women for the study have described themselves as frigid, but to Johnson, the men play just as important of a role. Why aren’t they implicated?
Regardless of a clitoral or vaginal orgasm, Johnson notes that Masters hasn’t talked at all about the loss of his child since the procedure and that he needs some time away. Last time he took a vacation was in 1953, so sounds about right. Libby, in the meantime, visits a neighbor, Nessie Lawson, played by Rachel Kimsel, to discuss the mail and milk delivery, and it’s here that the loss of a child becomes evident to Libby. She notices Nessie’s still leaking nipple and hears the cries of a baby in the home. When a caretaker brings the baby to Nessie, Libby can just watch a woman living the life she hoped to live.
That evening, with the darkness of night clouding him, Mr. Barton Scully has a young gentleman meet him in his car. It’s unclear to me whether this is the same man we met in “Standard Deviation,” but for now, Scully’s concerned about his reputation and asks the man whether he’s brought up his name. The man insists he doesn’t kiss and tell, but given how he can tell this isn’t the first time Scully’s met with another man, it’s not too outrageous that someone else knows about him. But whatever, Scully, unzip those pants and let Mr. No Kiss and Tell get to work. When he returns home to play the straight man, he finds his wife reading Peyton Place, a book she borrowed from Vivian.
At House Masters, Libby packs for their getaway trip to Miami, but Bill is too into Freud and how illusions save us from pain. This serves as a very telling moment, as it shows that the William and Libby Masters who walked out of the hospital after losing a child are trying to move forward with their lives, though Bill is less interested in discussing the matter. Libby, however, acknowledges that the two of them can’t pretend it didn’t happen. Bill insists that they should focus on the future since the two of them are all that Bill needs. All that Bill needs.
The next day, at the hospital, Austin meets up with Jane. His erectile dysfunction is still fresh in their minds from last week, but he insists that isn’t the reason he wanted to see her. Jane, however, talks up her visit to see Anna Freud while Austin asks for her help. In what could be seen to me as one of the episode’s best lines, Jane says that the problem isn’t in Austin’s pants, it’s in his head. My question is which head? Jane never makes that clear.
We finally return to Dr. Lillian DePaul, who comes to the office to speak with Masters, but finds Johnson instead, letting DePaul know that Masters has already left for his vacation. Never mind, then. Dr. DePaul leaves a message that she needs to discuss cervical testing. Well, Johnson refers to it as a pap smear, which gets Dr. DePaul’s attention, as Johnson read her proposal for mandatory smear testing when it was on Masters’ desk. Noting the gender bias, Dr. DePaul comments that if it had been men, the proposal would have received full backing, as it’s mandatory at New York hospitals, but not in St. Louis. Her plan is to start an outreach program to teach and save women’s lives. While Johnson initially offers to help pull some strings, the laundry list of requests needed turns out to be out of her sphere of influence.
Still in St. Louis, Margaret Scully invites a few friends over. They gossip about life until Lenora, played by Joan Severance, blabs that one of the women among them, Harriette, played by Ann Cusack, has had her evenings occupied by matters other than being at home. Turns out she’s participated in Masters and Johnson’s study and she could not be happier, as she lights a cigarette and shows some confidence in her discussion. Her partner, M 51-147, taught her more about love than the 20 plus years she’s been married to her husband. But it doesn’t stop there. She compares the revelation to when started wearing shoes that fit, size eight-and-a-half loafers: It was like walking on whipped cream, she regales.
In the sunshine filled city of Miami, Libby and Bill try to enjoy some time to themselves and get their minds off of the miscarriage. Bill, however, still looks like he’s dressed to go for work and buries himself in books. Libby reminds him that they can’t keep hiding from other people’s children forever. He does manage to unwind, but the two of them are interrupted by what sounds like a family next door singing “Pop Goes the Weasel.” But then it turns out to be a couple doing the horizontal polka while and popping the weasel. As it turns out, however, the very active couple turns out to be a very happy pair of senior citizens. Gives you some hope that, when you enter your 60s and 70s, you’ll still be able to get your rocks off, doesn’t it?
Back at the hospital, Jane and Virginia discuss Freud’s views on marriage. Well, sort of. Virginia just speculates that, one night, Freud was a bad lover in bed, found his wife one day with her hand in her knickers, and after that, he decided to take it out on all women. They discuss Freud’s theory of immature orgasms the way one discusses sports until Jane points out that she can climax when someone is touching her breast. Well, they have science on their side and Virginia has done these studies enough to know how to do it on her own, so what do you think happens?
Virginia hooks Jane up, sets her up with good old Ulysses, and reminds her that there can be no clitoral stimulation. When Jane’s finished herself off, all the data on cardiac reaction matches what Masters and Johnson have studied so far, with one exception: there was an uptick in intensity. That’s right: the clitoris beat the vagina, crazy as that sounds in the 1950s.
Back in Florida, the older couple has popped the weasel three times in the day alone, as noted by Bill, who can’t help but be fascinated in their exploits instead of his own wife. They’re like lions, he says. He wants to relax, and Libby suggests that they give them a run for their money, but when Bill both notes they’re in the plateau phase and looks at the clock to keep track of their stamina, his shot at sex with his wife is blown and she goes to bed. Not that he would have been all that interested to begin with, but it does show the growing disconnect between the two, as Bill studies the couple like something out of Ripley’s Believe it or Not. The next day, to further emphasize Bill’s disconnect, begins with a phone call from Virginia, who relays the results of her independent study. Who knows? It’s conceivable that women may not even need men at all in order to achieve satisfaction greater than that achieved when together.
Not exactly what Bill was getting at, but he is intrigued by what Johnson found and hopes to further investigate it when he returns. Turns out he’ll get his chance sooner than he thought. When Libby overhears the conversation, she concedes that the vacation is not just working. People have different ways of grieving, she says, but Bill remains buried in his work, while what she would like is some support. Maybe from a husband. So, to placate them both, Libby decides that the trip is over, but just for Bill. She will remain in Miami because she is interested in being happy. Also, not a request, so Bill better get moving.
Langham meets up with a psychiatrist, played by Alan Ruck, who discusses Langham’s mother. Langham insists his mother has nothing to do with his lack of performance, but the psychiatrist proposes that Langham’s dysfunction made him feel judged. Around the same time this is happening, Margaret Scully arrives at the hospital specifically to meet with Virginia. Why do I mention these two together? Well, keep reading.
Bill arrives home alone and takes solace in alcohol. He calls Virginia to let him know he’s back, but she’s too wrapped up with preparing dinner and keeping Henry and Tessa in check before they eat. The next study session will take place tomorrow night.
Libby, meanwhile, meets up with the older couple: Morris, played by Barry Bostwick, and Barb, played by Caroline Lagerfelt, who are as vibrant and youthful as their sex sounded. When asked about her own life, Libby mentions that she has two children: a 12-year old named Tommy and a 10-year old named Susan. Her husband? Died in a plane crash. While Libby may not be able to keep her story straight, she does enjoy some independence and time away from the calculating Bill. That evening, Morris of the couple comes to Libby’s room with alcohol in tow. Barbara, has turned in for the night, but he’s still raring. He dances with Libby for a moment and puts the moves on her, but Libby, faithful as ever, has him leave before he calls her now living husband.
The night of the study begins with Bill and Virginia questioning Margaret Scully with the same type of questionnaire we’ve seen used with previous subjects. Turns out that after she had Vivian, she and Barton only had intercourse once a year. Her orgasmic response is described as not really painful, but more of a rubbing sensation. Sort of protracted, but she does experience a great relief. When it’s over. Virginia asks whether Margaret has ever even had an orgasm, but Margaret does not even know the answer. As a result, Margaret does not qualify for the study, as it’s part of the study’s baseline that subjects have experienced an orgasm at least once. Margaret leaves the hospital and makes her way home.
Margaret’s bad day follows her home, where Vivian suggests that her parents see the film adaptation of Peyton Place. Barton backs out, noting that he’d just fall asleep, but insists that Margaret would have just as good of a time if she saw it by herself. Right.
Dr. DePaul catches up with Bill Masters in what I think is only their second scene together. DePaul tells a bit of her life story and how she never had a mentor to make it where she is. She wishes there were more women in this field of study. Despite her expertise, she’s still mistaken as a secretary, which brings about DePaul’s main issue: how does Virginia Johnson, who is not a doctor by any stretch of the imagination, get mistaken as a doctor- as was the case earlier in the episode- and just accept that? If she’s a doctor, surely she should act professional and correct those who mistake her for being a doctor. DePaul’s point is that Johnson hasn’t earned her credentials and finds it unfair that Johnson apparently uses her beauty to substitute the knowledge that DePaul spent years acquiring. Though Masters points out that this is a conversation best had with Johnson, DePaul respects him as a doctor, which is why she came to him. However, she suspects that Masters isn’t thinking with his brain when it comes to Johnson.
Margaret finds herself in tears when watching the film, but regains her composure when she walks to her car and right past Austin Langham. They bond over their troubles, as Langham is still reeling over the talk with the psychiatrist, and reveals that he took part in the very study that Margaret tried to enroll in. As they move closer and Langham reassures Margaret with a tenderness that Barton lacks, they both have their moment of happiness in the car. And Margaret gets hers.
The study ends with one of the subjects noting that Virginia certainly acts like a doctor, even if she isn’t. Overhearing this, when the woman has left, Bill declares that Virginia will no longer be his secretary. Though Virginia believes she is being fired again, Bill clarifies that she will be his research assistant. Combined with Bill’s fascination with the older couple and her solo work, there’s so much information they could test, learn and discover together. Fitting that Virginia have a title that reflects her work. When Virginia mentions that Jane managed to achieve an orgasm just by touching her breast, Bill, in an offhand comment, remark that it’s something he’d want to see one day.
So, in the interest of science, Virginia suits up…well, suits down– Lizzy Caplan’s breasts making a reappearance- and, for the good of the study, brings Bill’s hand to her chest. After all, they’re both doctors.
“Brave New World” is a nice follow-up to “Catherine,” with just enough of last week’s events referenced here without overshadowing this week’s plot. One of the key focuses this time around is on the couples, save for Vivian and Dr. Haas, who is limited to a mere mention when Vivian says that he once cooked for her.
Bill and Libby’s trip to Miami is typical of a lot of television shows: character in a bind? Send them to an exotic locale so they return fresh and clean-clean. But Bill’s obsession over not just his work, but the elderly couple next door, not just prevents him from openly acknowledging the miscarriage, it further alienates him from Libby. One would think that him mentioning to Virginia that he had second thoughts about having a child and his emotional breakdown would lead to at least the slightest change of heart, but each time Bill seems to relax, something snaps him back into doctor mode and Libby is neglected again.
That said, this episode marked a small, but strong turning point for Libby, as she’s beginning to imagine a life without Bill. Sure, the stillborn is fresh in her mind, but she’s not willing to let it ruin her always cheery demeanor, which I think could be a small sign of denial, but at the same time, does show her willingness to move forward. The reminders of what could have been- noting that the hotel bed was big enough to fit a family, watching Nessie Lawson deal with her baby- don’t ruin her vacation, but the uncomfortable looks Libby displays during these scenes shows that she is still dealing with the fallout from the operation.
However, it also hints that there is more bubbling under the surface and that Libby is displaying a growing desire to be independent. It is nice to see her happy without looking over her shoulder and expecting a cold remark from Bill. Granted, her hastily thrown together story about her two kids and a father who died in a plane crash aren’t entirely convincing, but she’s making an effort to be her own woman. She’s slowly becoming the free bird that Virginia Johnson already is, albeit without two kids and an ex-husband. That said, the fact that she reverted back to the faithful wife when the elderly man attempts to win her over shows that she does still care for Bill, even if he has more interest in a couple of geriatrics over his wife. Heck, the sight of her lingering in the background when he talks to Virginia about the study shows the growing detachment Bill has with Libby.
Then we have the Scullys, with Barton now dealing with the possibility of being outed, which was hinted at when one of the male subjects in “Standard Deviation” noted that Bill was not the first person in the medical field to fuck him. His awkwardness around the male prostitute, the lack of passion in kissing his wife and the fact that they sleep in separate rooms, hints at a long line of disappointment for Margaret Scully. Reading Peyton Place just serves as an ever painful reminder of the passionate love life she can never have due to the rigid nature of her marriage. At this point, she’s just looking to feel something.
It’s also worth mentioning that Allison Janney is in top form here and excellent as the love deprived woman who can’t even tell or remember if she’s ever had an orgasm. From the awkward description of her sex life as protracted and a rubbing sensation, followed by her silent sobs in the elevator when she’s rejected from the study, paints her as someone who just wants to rekindle the spark in her love life. Never mind her marriage, Margaret just wants to experience that sensation that Harriette describes when she talks about the study. She’s damaged goods due to her closeted husband. The excitement and wonder in Harriette’s eyes when she talks her sexual awakening is a clear indication that she wants in. It validates Masters and Johnson going through with this study to answer the multitude of questions about sex and liberate a repressed public by helping them understand their bodies.
As it is, she’s not qualified and it’s clear during that scene that both Masters and Johnson are uncomfortable not just with interviewing the provost’s wife, but having to turn her down even after learning about the lack of sex in her life. It’s a sad moment and it’s made worse by the fact that Barton does care for Margaret, but, for obvious reasons, he cannot bring himself to make love to her. He doesn’t treat her like a test subject the way that Bill does with Libby- he’s just living a lie and trying to keep on his mask.
This brings us to Teddy Langham, whose still dealing with inadequacy issues he experienced in last week’s episode. The line about Langham feeling judged due to his inadequacy hints as something further about his past. However, for the purposes of the episode, he and Margaret Scully make the perfect matching as a pair of fractured individuals who want more in their love lives. Strange, though, that Langham told Masters and Johnson that he wanted warning if he would be paired with someone other than Jane, and here he is, making love to someone he didn’t expect to run into and he does just fine. Yes, it’s a little too convenient how they wind up together, and given that we’ve only had two episodes to know Margaret Scully, it feels too soon to have her go through such a drastic change, but seeing her experience passion for the first time in who knows how long was one of the warmer moments and I couldn’t have cared less about how fixed it seemed.
Virginia and Jane definitely have the most fun in this episode with their solo study. I like how the writers are not just giving Virginia something to do outside of worry about her kids- who are seen, but not heard this week- and helps her grow into the role of research assistant when she’s promoted by the end of the episode. What we learned about Virginia Johnson up to this point is that she’s very practical and to the point when it comes to sex, unlike Bill Masters, who has to give a textbook definition for everything work related. This is the episode where, more than any previous moment, it’s clear that she has much to contribute to this study. It also encompasses Johnson’s mentality through the first two episodes and what led to her assertiveness in “Standard Deviation,” where she demanded to be referred to as an assistant and to be taken seriously.
At the same time, I’m glad the writers are making great use of Jane, not just for the study, but for giving her some of the most quotable lines of the episode. From her openly declaring that she can climax when someone is touching her breast to being fascinated when her clitoris beats her vagina, Jane has the same optimism and wonder for the study that Masters had when he studied rabbits. Even more than this, having Jane be the guinea pig adds credibility to her involvement with the study, as her and Johnson’s discovery ultimately leads to Masters and Johnson wanting to explore this new world of possibilities. It’s also believable that Jane would want to lend a hand, as she’s actively avoiding Langham so she won’t have to help fix his broken penis.
The big moment, of course, comes with Johnson stripping down and having Masters touch her breast. Sure, it helps bolster their professional relationship- which is more than the other relationships have- but given that Johnson has rarely shown any romantic interest in Masters whatsoever, it feels a bit forced. Yes, it’s for the good of science, but I think a moment as big as this could have waited another episode. More so because of the fact that Masters still lost a child last week and Virginia even told him earlier on that he needed some time away. So it seems as if that advice about taking some time off has gone out the window and, along with protocol.
The only other person left to discuss is Dr. DePaul, who I’m glad we finally get to see again. She seems to be here as a potential adversary to Virginia Johnson, but here, she has a real point and her frustration at Virginia is not unjustified. When we first met Dr. DePaul, Virginia is just in awe that a woman in that profession could make it to where DePaul did on her own steam. Here, not only are we told that DePaul is not blind to blatant sexism- in regards to the lack of women in the study- but that she lacked a mentor figure that Johnson has in Masters.
I understand DePaul’s reasoning: she’s spent years attaining her title, but is mistaken as a secretary. Yet Johnson, who, in the pilot, just wanted to enroll in classes, is treated as a doctor, much to DePaul’s annoyance. She feels that Johnson hasn’t earned the right to be referred to as a doctor, and I can’t say she’s wrong. Having someone basically take a shortcut to attain what took you years can be discomforting- it’s one of the reasons that I take issue with citizen journalists, even though I’m no journalist myself. At least, not now.
It’s a revealing moment that DePaul, who just wanted Johnson to get her coffee at first, now sees her as a potential threat, but again, she isn’t wrong when she points out that Masters isn’t thinking with the right organ in regards to Virginia. Though I suppose of DePaul dressed in brighter colors and was more accessible, the way Virginia is, maybe she’d be seen as a doctor. At the same time, none of the females outside of Virginia thought much of DePaul when she was introduced, so it’s not unrealistic that DePaul isn’t getting the credit she feels she deserves.
Overall, “Brave New World” was a calmer, light-hearted follow up to “Catherine.” While it had its darker, more depressing moments, the comedic element was more apparent here in an attempt to have our characters move on with their lives and not dwell on the negative. Or, in the case of Margaret Scully, get rid of the negative altogether when she bonds with Dr. Langham. The show, again, made effective use of its secondary characters. Instead of trying to give everyone screen time, as was the case with “Catherine,” more folks like Jane, Teddy and even Margaret’s friends helped open up the world established here and invite others into this new world of sexual discovery.