A Look at Masters of Sex- Season 1, Episode 9: “Involuntary”

“Involuntary” is a deceptive episode.  The production is much brighter and cheerier than the past few episodes.  Last week, we got to see Dr. Haas and Vivian somewhat take the first step toward matrimony, Margaret Scully took a step toward independence and Libby got to enjoy the fact that she is pregnant again.

While some of those happier moments continue along this week, “Involuntary,” through some bumps and stumbles, has characters making big decisions that test those around them and, like last week, show how walking the fine line between work and love can be treacherous.

Involuntary- Bill and Virginia, post-coitus

The episode begins post-coitus, as Bill and Virginia have their version of pillow talk: discussing moments of numbness, Virginia cutting her nails, and, oh, the scar on Bill’s back that came from Virginia scratching him.  On top of this, performance evaluations are soon due.

Busy as Bill is, he doesn’t have time to relax at home because Libby rushes into the bathroom to vomit.  In a rare show of concern, Bill asks whether Libby has a bug or flu, but Libby changes the subject to Bill’s mother.  She wants the two of them to reconnect.  Bill writes it off, saying he’ll do it eventually, but Libby insists.

Involuntary- Jane is super enthusiastic due to performance evaluations

Back at the hospital, Bill and Virginia go over physical responses from patients.  The question is now whether such reactions are just assumed to be passion or part of an involuntary pattern.  Before the two can discuss this any further, in comes Jane with an unannounced pot of coffee and apricot danish.  Of course, Bill has to write up an evaluation on Jane as well, so she’s being super enthusiastic.  Seeing that Bill is not enthused about writing yet another evaluation, Virginia offers to write Jane’s, leaving Bill to write one for her.  Going back to the study, Bill proposes bringing in Lester to film the participants to see their reactions.  Also, it never hurts to have a visual record of their work.  Problem is, as Virginia points out, that this has been all anonymous up until this point.  So who would agree to being filmed?

Involuntary- Ethan and Vivian at cake store

Meanwhile, Ethan Haas awaits Vivian’s arrival at a cake store.  One of the attendants goes through some cake types until Haas insists that cake is cake.  Clearly Haas has never been married.  Or a woman.  For, as the woman notes, he’s getting ready for the biggest day of his life.  You can never prepare too much for that.  When Vivian finally arrives, she explains that she’d been held up by a patient due to his anteater looking penis. Haas explains that it’s foreskin, meaning he’s uncircumcised.  So yeah, turns out Haas’ parents were Jewish, but he himself never observed the faith.  He doesn’t see it as a big deal or reason to ruin Vivian’s dream of being married in a church.

Involuntary- Virginia proposes filming idea to Jane

Virginia brings the film idea to Jane and explains that the purpose of filming is to capture neuromuscular responses, such as hands, feet and stomach contractions. Jane, however, has a few ground rules: shooting from the right and no showing her rump or her appendix scar.  Oh, and she wants it in writing, like a movie star would.  She’s still hesitant since, compared to seeing her tunnel, there’s the possibility that someone will recognize her body, even though Virginia promises that Lester will avoid those things.

Involuntary- Essie invites Libby to play cards with her girlfriends

Ann Dowd is back as Mama Masters as Essie invites Libby to a game of cards with some of her girlfriends.  Widows, to be specific, since couples don’t want you anymore when you’re not part of a set.  When Essie asks Libby to fetch an urn at the top of a shelf using a step ladder, Libby refuses and it doesn’t take long for Essie to put two and two together.  Libby still hasn’t told Bill, but insists that he and Essie try to make up.

Involuntary- Students in Dr. DePaul's class want Virginia to lead their study group

Dr. DePaul hands out the scores for the exam and, as expected, most of them are abysmal except for Virginia, who scored a 99 percent, which goes against DePaul writing a 100 percent on her test at the end of last week’s episode, but whatever.  One student is not pleased with his score or the fact that DePaul would read scores aloud, but she does offer an alternative method she herself experienced: write the scores out in blood on their lockers.  And then, in a very sitcom-like moment, two students offer Virginia a chance to not just join their study group, but lead it.  Right.

Involuntary- Bill deflects Essie when she tries to talk to him

Back at House Masters, Essie and Bill talk, though Bill tries, to no avail, to deflect Essie from engaging him in conversation.  When trying to get Bill to open up fails, Essie goes as far as asking him why he spends so many late nights at work.  Bill does tell her about the sex study, but while Essie seems perplexed, she isn’t shocked or turned off by it.  In fact, she wants to learn more.

This kind of setup in television or film usually leads to awkward confrontations.

Vivian and Ethan meet with a priest in order for Vivian to gain some clarity on Judaism.  Her brief visit to an Orthodox Temple- an unnecessary scene, I might add- got her nowhere, so she wants to learn more before Ethan converts.  Ethan, however, has no issue with it.  He just needs a sponsor who will help him foster his spiritual connection.  After studying the Bible, he’ll receive the Holy Sacrament and accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.  Seems easy enough, right?

Involuntary- Vivian with study group

With the study group, the boys learn that Virginia got such a high percentage through the magic of studying.  She’s gone as far as prepping notes for them, but that’s as far as their similarities go, as it becomes clear here just how different Virginia is from her colleagues.  Not only is this her first time going through the course for her undergraduate degree, but she’s also got a full time job, pays for tuition out of pocket and has kids.  Not the typical student the others expected in the anatomy course.

Involuntary- Essie and Libby talk of birds and happy endings

Essie and Libby deal with the body of a bird that ran into the window.  Libby then springs a surprising question to Essie: what’s the worst thing she ever did?  Before Essie can explain, Libby says that she has done a bad thing, but it was to stay alive, so the ends must have justified the means.  When Libby’s mother died, her father vanished.  Just up and left Libby and her sister, their dad did.  Sometime later, a neighbor found out that he had moved to Virginia.  Having been denied a family then, Libby concedes that she still wants to have that family now, to have that happy ending.  Essie agrees, stating that it’s time for Libby’s happy ending.

Involuntary- Lester films Jane pleasuring herself, will have problems having film developed

And while it’s not exactly another end that we cut to, we do end up on Jane’s naked body as she pleasures herself, Lester filming the process at her side while Bill and Virginia look on.  The two note the amount of responses Jane had and look forward to Lester having the film developed.  Problem is that Lester could get away with having the footage of the inside of Jane’s vagina processed because it was inside.  He could get away with fooling the tech crew into thinking it was a laryngoscopy.  This, however, could be interpreted as smut or porn.  No, it’s not the first sex act on film, but Lester does offer Bill and Virginia an alternative for having the film processed.

Involuntary- Essie dines at Bill's job

But before anyone can make another move, Mama Masters arrives and, true to her word, wants to learn more about the study.  Luckily she brought dinner, so there won’t be an awkward silence when she asks Jane and Lester if they masturbate.  Well, Lester at least waits until he’s at home.  Bill, again, is not for opening up, so Virginia expounds on the nature of the study.  Actions like grabbing and scratching aren’t signs of desire, they’re involuntary.  Essie notes that Bill is avoiding the black olives in his food, something he never did before, but Virginia seems to have known that detail about Bill like she was his mother.  In fact, why stop with how much Virginia knows about her boss?  Time to dig into the evaluation, which Virginia reads aloud and is surprised to find Bill gave her a healthy amount of praise.

Involuntary- Adult film store owner hits on Virginia

Bill won’t be the only man of the evening to compliment Virginia. The two of them head to a seedy adult film store in order to have the film developed.  The clerk explains that it will take a few days, but they need it now.  Not to mention Jane was very protective of having footage of her seen.  It will cost extra, but Bill and Virginia insist.  When the clerk implies the footage is of Virginia, Bill, in another rare flash of anger, seizes the man and orders him to get the film developed.  Now.

Involuntary- Vivian and Ethan continue to talk religion before Ethan backs the car into a man

Vivian appears to be the only one between herself and Ethan taking the religion work necessary.  Ethan is very nonchalant about it to the point where Vivian wonders if it’s indifference.  But then, Vivian wants to get married in a church and go to Heaven, so he’ll do it.  He begins there in the car by constantly proclaiming that the Lord Jesus Christ is his savior.  Luckily, Thou Shalt Not Strike Another Human Being with Your Automobile is not a Commandment, so Haas doesn’t feel too bad when he realizes he’s backed into a man behind him.  No.  He just faints, but he’s a doctor, so he’ll be okay.

Virginia’s isolation woes become more apparent when one of the guys from the study group is awaiting her.  Turns out she missed a study session due to work and she can’t fit into their schedule because she works at night and they have class during the day.  Quick solution?  Let them copy her notes.

Involuntary- Women at baby shower don't allow Virginia into their circle

But Virginia’s not out of the woods yet.  In the cafeteria, the women are holding a baby shower for one of the secretaries.  Jane offers to open up a spot, but the others are hesitant about letting Virginia into their circle, so she ends up eating by herself.

Until Dr. DePaul joins her and the two connect.  Well, as much as DePaul can connect with anyone.  She knows the feeling.  During her first year of medical school, she didn’t sit with her male students or the nurses.  So instead she focuses on the work because that’s what endures.

To Bill’s irritation, Essie has once again come to his place of work, but this time she’s got something on her mind that cannot be shared at home.  The worst thing she did was not speak up about what happened to Bill as a child.  Her husband was sexual, but not with her.  He had a secretary that he fooled around with but Bill cuts her off before she can fully make the connection between him and Virginia.  Of course, she, again, has already put two and two together and reminds Bill that his father was what he wanted to be, but Bill still has a chance to talk to Libby and fix this mess.

Elsewhere in the hospital, a doctor explains to Ethan that his vitals are fine.  When Vivian leaves, the patient next to Ethan shows him two cards: one with St. Jude and the other of St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things.  Ethan says he’s not into religion, but the man counters that being a doctor is a sort of religion.  He asks Ethan what he wanted to be when he was a child.  Turns out Ethan had a thing for baseball, but his parents wanted him to be a doctor.  He ended up floating that way and the one time he tried to go on a gut reaction for something, he got shot down.  Only the young think that floating is an option, but, as the man explains, floating is just for boats.

Involuntary- Libby tells Bill that she and the baby are his echo, also attacks Bill's study on the grounds that it's sex, not humanity

At House Masters, Bill and Libby face off.  Bill doesn’t go into detail about Essie’s visit, but they both acknowledge that they have secrets.  Bill, without Libby saying a word, figures that Libby is pregnant again.  He’s baffled as to why and even doubts it, but Libby goes on the offensive, throwing back everything Bill said about her uterus being incompatible with conception, yet it happened.  The fact that there is a child inside her is what matters.  But Libby’s not done yet: she attacks his study, claiming that it’s sex, but no humanity.  Sex is life, not physiology or an orgasm.  It can’t be measured.  Without that work, he’s lost.  But Libby, the baby inside her, they’re the echo.

Involuntary- Ethan unsure about his future with Vivian

Back with Ethan and Vivian, Ethan turns down ham for breakfast.  He reflects on his father and grandparents.  His father never ate bacon, but Ethan did and he never understood why it bothered his father because he never asked.  Vivian grows nervous, but Ethan admits that he has no plan to convert.  He’s doing it for her because, up until this point, religion never factored into why Vivian loved him.  After all, she picked him.  She still does care for him and says that they’ll raise their kids together, as any parent would, but Ethan wants to care about something.  The Ethan who earlier said that the man Vivian would marry is nothing now wants something to hold onto.  And while Vivian may have been the woman Ethan wanted when he was 20, now he’s not so sure.

Involuntary- Virginia and a nervous Jane watch the footage of Jane masturbating

Jane tries to watch the footage of herself while nervously taking drags on a cigarette.  Unable to even look the footage for long, she abruptly turns it off, and while Virginia is more fascinated by the discoveries and reactions within the video, Jane is not so enthusiastic.  Yes, it’s her in that video, but she can’t tell that it’s her.  Those are her spasms, but something is just…off.  Jane admits that she’s no saint: she likes having sex with men and feeling the weight of a man on her body, as if she’s just millions of nerve endings.  That feeling is how she knows what sex is.  The footage, however, is far from sex.  She doesn’t call it smut or porn or tasteless, but the implication is there.  She doesn’t want the film out there and asks that Virginia destroy it.

So, of course, Virginia consults with Bill and explains that not only does Jane not want others to see the footage, she returned the extra money she’d been paid for the extra work.  In the name of science, Virginia volunteers to do the work herself.  Just one condition: Bill is the only one in the room.

Involuntary- Virginia dresses and Bill about to pay her for participation

When the work is done, Bill, guilt displayed on his face, sits in silence until Virginia enters his office.  He hands her an envelope of money, more money than Bill usually pays her.  He explains that it’s for her participation in the filming tonight and for each time the two of them have participated in the study together, including the money that would have gone to Jane.  Virginia laughs it off, thinking it’s a joke, but Bill is dead serious.  No way will he have her do for free what others paid to do.  After all, it is his study.  Virginia, of course, counters that it’s their study and proclaims that she will not sell herself.  She leaves, not taking the money with her.

And winds up crying in her car.  And who should find her crying but Dr. Haas?

We end with Virginia writing her own performance review while Bill, at home, watches the footage of Virginia pleasuring herself.

Oh, “Involuntary” is an interesting episode.  There’s a lot I liked about it, things I did not like about it and parts that frustrated me.  The dramatic, confrontational moments were the highlights and, like last week, characters made big decisions that progress their storylines and allow them to stand on two feet, rather than let their actions be dictated by others.

The idea of desire versus involuntary responses is prevalent throughout.  We want characters to make choices on their own that they’re comfortable with as opposed to just being reactionary, and that’s what we got with Dr. Haas and Vivian this week.

Now, to be clear, I’m still ever perplexed by Haas and even more so with Vivian this week as I’ve ever been.  After Vivian singing “Love and Marriage” in the kitchen, her overjoyed reaction at Ethan’s engagement, her complete dedication to him a few episodes ago, her being comfortable with Ethan taking her virginity, none of that seems to have mattered this week when it came to Haas’ religion.  I’m not assuming that Vivian is, in any way, anti-Semitic, but her strong reaction to Ethan telling her that he is Jewish strikes me as odd.  There’s nothing that ever indicated that Vivian, or even Barton and Margaret, have issues with other religions.  Religion, like race, is a prevalent topic matter in society around the time this show is based, but it has not been touched upon until now.  And what I don’t get is why Vivian, for all her declaration of love and devotion to Ethan, would suddenly take issue with a faith he never considered himself a part of.  Granted, Ethan’s Judaism was not a deal breaker, as he himself seemed more than willing to convert for her sake, but it feels overdramatized.

This is made very clear through Vivian’s visit to the Orthodox Temple, a scene that I feel could have just been relegated to a mention.  There’s nothing to the scene other than Vivian being kicked out of a temple, which leads to her sitting on a bench, crying.  Other than, I guess, showing that Judaism can, at times, be exclusive, there’s nothing to it.  Also, if Vivian has issues with Haas’ religion, I have to ask why she’s so quick to wanting to convert him to Catholicism.  She’s not trying to save his soul from damnation, so why the rush?

And then there’s Ethan himself, who baffles me from week to week.  Sometimes he’ll make good decisions and say the right thing, but then he’ll put his foot in his mouth.  For all of Ethan’s talk with Langham last week about a woman standing by a man no matter what, he seems unwilling to do the same for Vivian despite how nonchalant he is about conversion.

Involuntary- Ethan learns his vitals are fine, roommate talks of religion

Though I’m not a fan of his flip-flopping, Haas strikes me as an interesting character because, unlike Bill, he’s more often willing to call out and accept his flaws, as seen when he tells Vivian that “The man you are going to marry is nothing.”  While I’m glad he made the decision to stick with Judaism for the sake of giving something in his life a purpose, I’m not a fan in the way it’s executed.  By this, I mean the conversation Ethan has in the hospital with the patient next to him.  The conversation serves a purpose, but, like Langham’s psychiatrist, it’s another example of a character telling someone something about their life that they could have figured out by themselves.

Involuntary- Vivian learns that Ethan is breaking up with her

Ethan comes off as very odd to me.  One day, he’s out to prove himself to Vivian, and now that he’s proven himself in another way, it’s led to the end of their relationship and the beginning of his growth as a man coming to terms with his faith.  Yes, it’s a sad way to just drop Vivian after all of the build-up and her excitement about the engagement, so if you want to knock off sympathetic points toward Ethan on that regard, I’ll give you that one.  But, again, I like that he’s making a choice that will help define his character and make him go beyond the coasting young man that the hospital patient saw him as.  As opposed to floating through life and letting others dictate his actions for him, Ethan has taken it upon himself to make this decision.  There are still areas where he needs work, but more on that in a second.

Involuntary- Jane wants Virginia to destroy footage of her masturbating

I was surprised to see Jane come to terms with her decision regarding the study and being recorded.  As much praise as I give Allison Janney for her performance as Margaret Scully, Helene York deserves just as much for her work as Jane.  She’s fun to watch on screen and unpredictable with what she’ll say or do.  We know she’s self conscious, proving that with the ground rules in which she wants to be filmed.  And we know not only is she smarter than some would give her credit for, but her assisting Virginia during “Brave New World” showed that she has much to contribute to the sex study.

But as eager as Jane has been throughout the show’s run, this was one of the few moments where we saw her hesitate.  Her reluctance to being seen masturbating on film, even though her face is not shown, shows that she’s still self-conscious about her image.  After all, she has that great moment near the end of the episode where she tells Virginia that she’s not perfect and just likes the sensation of sex.  Having it on film for the world to see almost makes it seem like smut.  In a way, Jane would be no different from the adult film actress that Bill and Virginia watched at the adult film store.

Though she’s interested in helping out for the good of science, Jane strikes me as a person who would rather do first and ask questions later.  Last week, it wasn’t until Virginia compared having the inside of her vagina filmed to hand models on commercials that Jane was on board with the filming.  Let’s not forget that she gave her vagina the nickname “Beav St. Marie.”  But now that she’s seen it, and that more of her body is shown, it looks and feels dirty.  Jane’s been willing to do very compromising things that many women would turn down, but she does it for the good of the study and believes she has something to contribute.  Yet all that confidence seems to have washed away once she sees herself, almost as if shame has gotten rid of her eagerness to participate.  For each time Jane has anticipated something for Bill and Virginia before they even request it, that desire to be ready for anything could not have prepared her for watching and almost being disgusted by watching herself masturbate.

Involuntary- Jane openly discusses masturbation

Virginia’s husband referred to her as a liberated sexual goddess.  In a way, I sort of see Jane embodying that same personality, but without the added baggage of an ex-husband, kids or trying to find the balance between undergraduate studies and a full time job.  Jane knows her body and what she likes.  And, like with Langham, she’s not afraid to call people out on their problems.  I’m glad that she’s not one hundred percent on board with everything Bill and Virginia propose, as that goes against their expectations and shows that she isn’t just a people pleaser.

And I suppose that’s where we transition to Virginia, whose now just trying to find somewhere to fit.  Within the study itself, she’s beginning to show the early levels of fascination and wonder for the study that Bill first had during a flashback in “Standard Deviation.”  She’s truly devoted herself to the study and has adapted to the research assistant title, but it’s the one place where she feels comfortable.

Of course, Virginia is doing just fine in Dr. DePaul’s class, but again, I’m not a fan in the way this is all executed.  When it’s revealed that Virginia has the highest score, some of the boys want to for a study group.  This is something I’d expect from a normal sitcom, where all the students try to offer favors, friendship or any other type of treat to the smartest kid in class in exchange for their smarts.  And I don’t like that because Masters of Sex has been able to avoid using any sort of sitcom tropes.  Side-note, given the test scores in the class, I have to wonder how the students in Dr. DePaul’s class have progressed to this point with those marks.

Involuntary- Virginia eats with Dr. DePaul

This episode showed that Virginia, like Dr. DePaul, does not comfortably fall into any sector outside of her job.  Aside from Jane, none of the secretaries seem fond of her, which is odd, considering how Virginia was just one of them and, to my knowledge, has done nothing to earn their spite.  So now she’s been isolated and buries herself within the work.  She’s going down the path we already see Dr. DePaul on now, though DePaul seems to have at least garnered some appreciation for Virginia, despite seeing her as unworthy of being called a Doctor.  We understand that Virginia is an anomaly amongst the other women, but it’s that unique identity of hers that gives her confidence and the ability to look past people criticizing her.  Not so much this week.

The study group is an example of that: Virginia could not possibly believe she related to any of her classmates when she’s only in this for her undergraduate degree and is raising two kids by herself, but it shows how impossible it is for her to make acquaintances.  Her friendships with Jane and Libby, as well as her respect for Dr. DePaul, give us snippets into the woman Virginia could be if she always displayed the wit, intelligence and care for others that she shows these three women.  Virginia has no reason to be apologetic about not always being available for the study group.  As much as she wants to complete her undergrad, she knew what she was getting into with a demanding course that could conflict with the study.  And now that she’s written in her performance evaluation that she becomes too emotionally invested, I have to wonder if she’ll start distancing herself.

Involuntary- Essie calls out Bill's apparent infidelity

Now I’ll get to the relationship between Bill and Virginia in a minute, but for now, let’s return to Essie Masters.  Despite how frigid Bill has been toward her, I’m glad Essie is making an effort to connect with him, even if she’s not being met halfway.  Is it too convenient that, after a few seconds, she’s able to figure out both that Libby is pregnant again and that Bill is interested in Virginia?  Yes, but her interactions with them kick off the confrontation between them later on in the episode.

Essie’s presence is key this week because, by having her around, we’re allowed to see Libby open up about her desire for a happy ending.  Essie displays the warmth and affection that Bill only shows Libby in flashes.

While her apology about not speaking out when Bill was a child felt a bit heavy-handed, it does serve a purpose by allowing her to shine a spotlight in Bill’s apparent infidelity.  The look of silent shock and anger on Bill’s face as Essie compares him to his father is a great moment and I like how Essie never backs down, despite Bill’s cold demeanor.  Between this and not budging when Bill admits that the study is about sex, Essie shows that she wants to form a genuine relationship and won’t allow any thrown up barriers to stand in her way.

I’m assuming Libby no longer has need for Walter’s presence and she’s given up dancing since that subplot is not brought up this week.  As happy as I was to see Libby enjoying herself, this week we dig more into her background through her story of being abandoned by her father.  We see Libby’s desire to maintain a family and have a happy ending, but the writing came off as clumsy.  I mean, really.  Her father moved to Virginia, the state, of all places?  Come on, writers, you’re smarter than that.  Don’t spoon feed me a metaphor or foreshadowing.  There are better ways to write that a character has daddy issues.

Involuntary- Libby about to argue with Bill

That said, the face-off between Bill and Libby is one of my favorites of the episode.  Libby, again, is standing up for herself and rebutting Bill’s cold, clinical attitude through her emotion.  It harkens back to the moment during “Brave New World” when she sent him back to St. Louis while she remained in Miami because she wanted to relax, but he just wanted to work.  She goes for the jugular by attacking his work, calling sex something that can’t be measured or quantified.  Though Bill takes great pride in his work, Libby reminds him that, at the end of the day, she and the baby are his echo.  They’re extensions of him, and while he may be lost without his work, he still has them.

Caitlin Fitzgerald is great in this moment and the frustration heard in Libby’s voice hints, again, at something bubbling underneath the surface.  You get the feeling that, while Libby is lashing out at Bill, she’s still holding back and I like how the writers are allowing her to become more combative with Bill.  Sure, it may have been wrong for her to continue the cervical capping behind Bill’s back, at least from her point of view, but it’s no different than Bill blaming just her for their inability to produce a child.

Oh, Bill.  You do one thing right one week, then you flub it.  Go back to softer, warmer husband we saw during “All Together Now.”

I’ve read many reviews with people saying they don’t like Bill because of his cold, clinical personality.  And yes, that characteristic is accurate, what I like about him is that he’s so complex.  Despite being a man of science, he doesn’t always know what to do next.

Since the show began, we’ve seen Bill as a man who treats his wife like a patient or test as opposed to his wife.  Rarely do we see the two of them attempt to have sex and only through prodding by Virginia, who he can now have sex with in the name of science, does he display some warmth, but he still has barriers thrown up.  “Catherine” was an example of those emotional barriers being broken down, but here it’s about the ever deteriorating relationship between himself and his wife, and even Essie, to an extent.

Bill prides himself on his work to the point of elitism and it’s when someone doesn’t just roll over and accept his ego without question that he hesitates.  For example, he didn’t expect Essie to ask about the study or even be fine with it after he explained it.  He didn’t even think Essie would be interested, as far as I can tell.  The relationship between Bill and Essie weighs a lot on their past, which is expounded upon here.  I don’t like the fact that Bill tries to shut Essie down when she compares him to his father when he has to know that his infidelity will end up hurting him, Libby and Virginia.  Like the tightrope Bill and Virginia walk when separating work from emotion, Bill has to juggle two women and he’s unable to fully devote to them both.  This creates a clear conflict of interest due to his feelings for Virginia.

Involuntary- Bill's anger as adult film store owner hits on Virginia

Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan are still great together and their characters have developed a friendship beyond employer and employee.  The scene where Bill shows a flash of anger at the clerk when he makes a remark about Virginia is very telling: he’s protective of Virginia, but at the same time, he doesn’t fully see her as an assistant so much as he sees her as part of the study, not contributing to it.  When he says to Virginia that it’s his study, she has to correct him, a reminder that pretty much says ‘Hey, Bill, you moved me from secretary to research assistant for a reason, now start treating me like one.’

Involuntary- Bill watches footage of Virginia

Bill is at odds with the three immediate important women in his life and it reaches a breaking point by episode’s end when he pays Virginia not just for her work that evening, but each time they’ve had sex.  Virginia ends up feeling the way that Jane felt when she watched herself masturbate and it make sense that she would think it was a joke at first.  There’s no way that Bill would willingly cooperate and have sex with her all this time in the name of science, but then give her an envelope of money for her work.  On a brief aside, if Virginia didn’t want the money for her work, chances are she could have used it to pay tuition for Dr. DePaul’s class, but I digress.

Bill and Virginia participating in the study themselves from the beginning was destined to cause problems and we see those issues head on this week.  As emotionally distant as Bill can be, he can’t be doing that good of a job if Essie found out in just one scene that he had an interest in Virginia.  He can’t be doing that good of a job at most things, really: as a doctor, he couldn’t tell from Libby vomiting that she may be showing signs of pregnancy and just passed it off as a bug.  Granted, Libby’s not showing yet, but if she’s never had any type of bug before, as far as we’ve seen, you’d think Bill would at least guess at her being pregnant.

Involuntary- Virginia volunteers herself for the study while Bill films her

Also, Bill is again using Virginia or some aspect in her life for his own satisfaction.  First, he interviewed her husband after hours during “Thank You For Coming” in order to learn more about her take on sex, and now he’s at home, watching the footage of her masturbating like some kind of voyeur.  It’s maddening, but it just makes Bill so complicated, yet interesting to watch.  There’s clear guilt in his voice when he hands Virginia the money, not unlike telling Betty about the bad news about her procedure, and it hurts him, but he succeeds in shattering some of the bonds they’ve forged.  Will it drive him to devote more time and love to Libby?  No way of knowing that.

Involuntary- Ethan finds Virginia crying in her car

But will this drive Virginia back to Dr. Haas?  It seems possible, given how he found her crying in her car.  Side-note, what in the world was Ethan still doing at the hospital, anyway?  Is he going to try and rekindle whatever fire they had after proclaiming to Vivian that things were over between them?

“Involuntary” was a mixed bag for me.  The character development, as always, is very strong and the actors still bring their A-game, but the writing felt uneven and too heavy handed, as if the writers need to spell things out for the audience when they should give us more credit, given what we’ve seen from this show so far.  Still had its funny moments, but some of the writing did hurt an otherwise good episode.

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