I assume “Phallic Victories” is what the first man called his orgasm.
This episode deals with the fallout of the crumbling relationship between Bill and Virginia. I think that, despite not having as many characters around as we’ve had the past two weeks, this episode gave us a deeper look into the lives and minds of Bill and Virginia, harkening back to the development we saw in both “Standard Deviation” and “Thank You for Coming.”
“Phallic Victories” is about characters trying to make up for lost ground and fill the apparent gap in their lives. It isn’t filled with melodrama or scenes with Bill and Virginia always looking longingly into the distance, thinking about one another. It pushes them forward and advances their storyline, but also lets the audience see how these two characters, who had grown closer as the series progressed, work separately.
The episode begins with Bill going through some paperwork and calling out for Virginia until he remembers, right, she doesn’t work here anymore. But Jane does, so Bill wants her to gather paperwork on women in the study who have given birth. He also demands that Jane not go to Virginia with that since she’s not an employee in this office anymore.
No. Virginia is off working for Dr. DePaul now, and she looks to be enjoying herself. She informs the Doctor that she just finished a phone call with Hal Fortner, a pharmaceutical representative whose company is sponsoring a two-day OB-GYN conference at a golf resort in Knoxville. Virginia managed to secure Dr. DePaul the final fifteen minute slot due to the comedian dropping out at the last second. Therefore, she’ll be able to make her case about pap smears before 100 doctors. Virginia tells Dr. DePaul that a little humor should help, so the good Doctor lets loose a great one out of the gate:
How does a man save a woman from drowning? He takes his foot off of her head.
No. In fact, Dr. DePaul should never go into stand-up comedy again. Virginia is reluctant to come since someone has to take care of Henry and Tessa, but Angela, another woman in the office, has cocker spaniels that are still alive, so she must be doing something right.
At this point, Jane enters Dr. DePaul’s quarters and motions for Virginia. The two talk in what looks like a supply closet as Virginia fills Jane in on what Bill needs. When Virginia asks why such information is needed, Jane explains that Bill plans to use it in his presentation on a broad range of study subjects. Just to be safe, Virginia warns Jane to not let Bill get bogged down by statistics and keep him calm before he becomes his own worst enemy.
From this and Bill’s scene with Jane, we can see that, although Bill and Virginia are still trying to adjust to not working with each other. Though Virginia seems to have adjusted quicker, from her advice to Jane about helping keep Bill calm, it’s clear that she still wants his study to proceed.
In the cafeteria, some of the hospital staff sings their farewell to Dr. Ethan Haas on his final day. He thanks them for helping make him a better man, he’ll push forward, the usual. Conspicuously absent from this staff and mention of being a better man is Vivian, but fine. Ethan wants to move forward. Libby is also at the hospital and while she apologizes for being responsible for Ethan losing his job, Ethan is adamant that he will find work elsewhere. He wants to be liked for his work, not being William Masters’ protégé. Plus, as Libby now learns, Ethan has Virginia, so he’s more than happy.
Libby then pays Bill a visit just as he’s still mispronouncing “Jane” as “Virginia.” Libby offers to help out with telephone calls, but Bill, less as a doctor and more as a concerned husband, is against the idea due to Libby’s pregnancy. But hey, Libby isn’t doing much at home anyway and since Bill doesn’t normally get home before midnight, this gives them a chance to see each other more often. She can be the new/old Virginia and answer the phones, but then, Virginia didn’t just answer phones. Libby also informs Bill about Ethan’s farewell, but Bill is adamant that Ethan’s leaving is his own doing. Libby disagrees, stating that Ethan’s relationship with Virginia has made all the difference.
We stay with the Masters’ at home when Libby has to pry Bill away from his work so he can eat. She then asks a question that appears to have been on her mind for awhile: what happens on the other side when the study is presented? Bill responds that, if accepted, the university would give it an official stamp of approval, legitimizing the work so it’s not just seen as some seedy operation done in hospitals and brothels. From there, Bill could have greater access to resources, samplings, as well as headlines and awards, as Libby finishes. But does it end with the awards? Will Bill stop feeling like he has something to prove? Not anytime soon.
At House Johnson, Virginia brings up Dr. DePaul’s trip to Ethan, Henry and Tessa. To lessen the burden and spend more time with them, Ethan offers to take care of the kids while Virginia goes on the trip. Hey, if the kids are all for it, so should their mother, right?
Back at the hospital, Bill attends a lecture on diverticulitis by Dr. Frank Ditmer, played by Evan Arnold, but Ditmer is just not the captivating speaker. The audience slowly but surely thins out, but it does give Bill something to think about-
-Which he then brings back to his office with a new sense of vigor and energy. Libby lets Bill know that Lester needs to know what information to put on the slide, but Bill is interested in the spectacle. His presentation has too many numbers and methodology. What he needs is a hook, something to grab them in two minutes and then hold their attention for the next 38. How? With penises, that’s how!
Yes, Bill wants to present information on penis size, since some smaller ones expand more than larger ones. It wasn’t in the presentation already since he thought it would be too distracting, but now it’s time to throw in everything but the kitchen sink! This also includes the footage of Jane, but, to Jane’s relief, it’s the interior footage, or, as she puts it, the footage that looks down a mine shaft.
All right, can I marry Jane if she can just spout off funny lines like that?
Bill also requests the identities of women who had strong orgasmic responses with Ulysses so they can be brought in for two more sessions, some where they’ll use a different sized phallus. It’s time to see if size does matter.
Ethan, true to his word, helps Henry and Tessa with their homework when there’s a knock on the door.
Mather Zickel returns as George Johnson, while Ethan, of course, is lost at what to do. For all of Virginia’s rules, how to deal with the ex-husband was not one of them. As this is George’s first time meeting Ethan, he’s a bit confrontational, but he respects the home. Ethan counters that he’s there to take care of the kids and can do so with his medical expertise, but George is quick to point out that doctors normally aren’t free in the middle of the day. So an ex-husband comes home to find his kids in the hands of an unemployed man while his ex-wife is out on a trip. What does George do?
He reconnects with his two kids, who are just as glad to see him as he is to see them.
On the bus ride to Knoxville, Dr. DePaul attempts to get work done by the bus’ reading light. Why a bus? Because a train ride would have been seven dollars more. Heck, you could get three pap smears with seven dollars, but a man behind DePaul asks if she can turn off the light. She refuses, but Virginia turns it off anyway and reminds the Doctor about being kind. And the Doctor seems to grasp this when she says ‘Thank you’ after saying no to the woman across the aisle who offers her ham sandwich.
Back in St. Louis, Jane reviews Bill’s calendar with him. It’s possible that they could maybe get three to four subjects in such short notice, but given how Bill then wants to come back to use a different size, maybe a fourth of them could return. At most, 12, but it’s still not enough. He asks Jane and Libby to leave the room so he can contact the women since he knows their identities, which leaves Libby and Jane to read the files on some of the subjects. One in particular stands out: a woman came in 23 times and each session was intercourse. She also had the same partner each time. Huh.
Ethan and George get into another measuring contest while watching television with the kids. Henry asks how Indians shaved, which leads to the two men offering their variation until Tessa hushes them so they can keep watching TV.
At House Masters, neither Bill nor Libby can sleep. Libby inquires about the frequent couple from the study. They weren’t married and the woman had gotten a divorce, so what drew them together so much. Libby asks if Bill knew them beforehand, but, through his hushed tone and short responses, he tells her that he did not. Libby concludes that they must have fallen in love, but Bill says such a question is outside the area of inquiry.
Back with DePaul and Johnson, the two have found themselves in a hotel, and for some reason, they’re joined by the woman from the bus. They won’t be able to get another bus until 8 a.m., so they’ll be cutting it very close. The woman, who seems to dig the vibrating bed, offers to do Dr. DePaul’s hair for a reasonable price. The woman, who seems to dig the vibrating bed, offers to do Dr. DePaul’s hair for a reasonable price. In her work, she worked out a deal with her employer to keep all of the profits because of the good work she did.
This is referred to as the rainmaker’s prerogative, Virginia notes. It’s also a prerogative that Dr. Masters uses. Bill has so many patients that he collects directly, sort of like an independent contractor, so he doesn’t get a salary. Dr. DePaul, however, believes he’s misusing funds, while those who have to scrape and claw can’t even get sufficient funding.
We return to Dr. Masters’ office and are introduced to Dr. Malcolm Toll, played by Michael Cassidy, who just completed his residency at Ann Arbor. He’s eager to learn and will fill in Dr. Haas’ shoes. But no worry. He wears a size 13 ½, so he’s prepared.
In Knoxville, Lillian and Virginia have, of course, arrived when the conference has ended. Just great! They ended up in a fleabag motel because they couldn’t afford a train due to lousy funding. And who’s at fault? Men like Bill. However, Virginia leaps to Bill’s defense and notes that not only did he beat the system, but he’s a good doctor. He excels not because of his gender, but because he believes in his research.
But having a dick doesn’t hurt, Dr. DePaul concedes. Sounds like a case of penis envy, but DePaul goes further than that- do women ever wish they were men so they wouldn’t feel betrayed by their anatomy? Virginia says no, and then makes the trip worthwhile by inquiring to the cleaning men about where the doctors’ wives would be.
The two manage to find some and, after Virginia bums a cigarette from them that she doesn’t smoke, they talk. Turns out most of the women were in office romances with their now-husbands. They all agree that men need a woman around to give them that human touch. This opens the door for DePaul to talk about her study.
That evening, George comes to Virginia’s home too late, as Henry and Tessa are already asleep. He warns Ethan that Tessa will need her turtle to sleep with, but it’s now a Raggedy Ann doll, so she evolved. Ethan comes clean and admits he plans to marry Virginia and knows that she’ll say yes, but George is not so sure of that. After all, Virginia isn’t like most women. Regardless of George being the actual father, Ethan just wants the job.
On the bus ride back, Virginia notes that talking to the women proved successful. They now have six advocates in six cities in six states. Dr. DePaul is fixed on how the women there met their husbands at work. What if those women pursued their own careers? Made it on their own steam instead of hitching their wagon to a man? Would it have helped?
After all, Virginia left Bill’s study for her own reasons, so it must anger her that, as Dr. DePaul believes, only his name will be on the study. She finds it ironic that a man is telling women that they can get satisfaction without his help. But Virginia states that no one has anything that’s just theirs.
But Dr. Lillian DePaul has something that’s just hers: cervical cancer. Advanced and past the point of treatment. First discovered in her mid 20s. She’d already wanted to be a doctor, but this led her to specialize in gynecology. She’s gone through radiation and had a hysterectomy, but then the cancer came back 18 months ago, it’s now in her liver at Stage 4. Dr. DePaul knows she’s on a clock and won’t see her testing redeemed. She needs to give it to someone who talks small, but thinks big. She leaves Virginia with that thought while she gets some much needed sleep.
In St. Louis, Ethan accompanies Henry and Tessa to the school bus. Once it pulls off, there’s George, leaning on a car and smoking a cigarette. He tells Ethan that he never wanted children and that Virginia is still his, but the kids would pull her away from him. He let them go. Just because he didn’t want them to turn out the way he did doesn’t mean he doesn’t love them. George and Virginia used to be very close when they sang. They were a real team, but then Virginia got ambitious and pursued a career. George’s point is that what he and Virginia had, Ethan can never have, and that’s his consolation prize.
When Virginia finally returns, she and Ethan rendezvous, with Ethan pretty much devoting himself to making her happy, the same way that Vivian did with him.
Ethan, have you learned anything?
At House Masters, Bill is unable to get to sleep. He tells Libby, in a tender moment, that he should be taking care of her, but she argues that he does. He may be clinical and distant, but he still cares for her. He feels right inside of her. Once she met him, there was no other man.
We end with a montage as Bill and Virginia find themselves, among others, sharing an elevator, while Ethan and the kids, later, get to listen to the magic that is Lizzy Caplan’s singing.
After many episodes devoted not just to Masters and Johnson, but the people around them, this episode focused mostly on Bill and Virginia. “Phallic Victories” was about change and acceptance: in some cases, it was the changing of the guard, the passing of the torch, if you will. For some, it was a change of pace from what they had grown accustomed to. It touched upon how people try to refuse change, but must accept that it’s time to move on. It leaves the door open for fences to be mended, but also to build new ones.
Throughout the episode, Ethan talks a lot about the future: he’s in-between jobs, but he’s still looking. He knows that Virginia will say yes when he asks her to marry him. He’s confident that she and the kids will follow him out of state once he finds work, but above everything else, he feels that his job at the hospital, the friends he’s made, the relationships he’s formed- and in the case of Vivian, ruined- have all made him a better man. His line to George about wanting the job of father instead of the title is very telling: he wants to play an active role in Virginia’s life and make sure that she’s happy.
His motivation is to make something not just out of himself, but the people he’s grown attached to. We saw in “Catherine” that Ethan can connect with Henry and Tessa by relating to them. That relationship has grown to the point where they’ve accepted him as a father figure, but it does call into question just how they actually view him. Keep in mind that Henry and Tessa were just as excited when their actual father showed up as they were when Ethan is around. For all Ethan knows, he could just be a temporary stand-in. His never-ending talk of Virginia during his relationship with Vivian shows that he’s been unable to fully let her go, even when he says he has. Now that he has a chance, his goal is to solidify the bonds he’s managed to forge.
The problem is that Ethan is too idealistic. He’s seeing things the way he’d like them to play out, not how he thinks they will. After all, he told Langham back in “Love and Marriage” that a woman stands by her husband’s side no matter what. We saw that Ethan was not willing to stand by Vivian, so he’s trying to make up ground by sticking to Virginia no matter what. At least now he is. He’s focused on the later as opposed to the now, which is a problem given that he is out of work. Ethan has good intentions, but he’s not thinking straight because his blind devotion to Virginia makes him ignorant of the fact that she’s not a woman who will be bogged down by marriage. Despite having two children, Virginia has managed to weather the storm and make it on her own. Even if Ethan wants to spend the rest of his life with Virginia, he knows that she’s ambitious and will keep moving forward. After all, part of the reason Virginia’s marriage with George didn’t work out was because she kept moving ahead with her career aspirations. Ethan seems to think that a similar outcome won’t come his way.
But unlike Vivian, Virginia isn’t as easy to use. As much as I love Vivian, she was very willing to compromise with Ethan a lot of the time. Virginia isn’t that way. She has her own rules and Ethan will have to play on her terms, particularly if he’s going to play the substitute father to Henry and Tessa. He expects Virginia to come with him out of state and while he’s more certain about his future with Virginia as opposed to Vivian, he can’t tell now whether Virginia will comply with his requests like Vivian did.
On a brief aside, one thing that’s impressed me with Masters of Sex is its slow introduction of secondary characters. With the exception of the rapid-fire speed in which we learned about Margaret Scully, many of the side characters, whether Mama Masters, Austin and Jane, Lester and George Johnson, they were established early on, which expands this universe and fits them into the world early. That way, when they show up, it doesn’t come out of nowhere or feel forced.
Granted, it’s convenient that George Johnson returns the second Virginia takes a trip out of town, but if this had been his introduction, rather than the second time we’ve seen him, it would have been too coincidental. While before, we just learned from George what made Virginia so interesting, here he’s set up as almost the polar opposite of Ethan: he never wanted kids, he’s not around and he’s not ambitious like Virginia is. But at the same time, he’s not a deadbeat man who hates children and his ex-wife. From Henry and Tessa’s reactions upon seeing him, it’s clear that George is still someone that they want in their lives. He’s still their actual father and has good intentions. He’s not out to swoop the children away and fly to Tijuana- he just wants an actual relationship with them. And it seems that Henry and Tessa want that, as well.
We know that George still loves Virginia and respects her ambition to pursue a career. He doesn’t seem like a man with a chip on his shoulders, at least, based on the final scene between him and Ethan. Little things like knowing which doll Tessa slept with and telling Ethan that just because he’s not around doesn’t mean he doesn’t love his children show that George has a good heart and, at the very least, accepts Ethan for being there for the kids when he isn’t. It would have been cliché for these two to come to blows and talk about who loves Virginia and the kids more. Kudos on the writers for not falling back on that. And I do like George’s trump card about knowing Virginia when she was free-spirited compared to now- it gives him an edge on Ethan.
If we want to talk characters with chips on their shoulders, we can move on to Dr. DePaul, who seems to dislike a lot of things. With Virginia working for and helping give her a personal touch, Dr. DePaul definitely felt a bit more personable this week. A bit, I say, because she’s still a doctor and proud of her work. If she’d done a complete 180 on her character, it would be too sudden. So any attempts to get Dr. DePaul to unwind or relax are blocked when she continues to put the work first. Not out of character, as the lack of passion in DePaul’s tone does not equate to a lack of interest for her work. I think having Virginia accompany Dr. DePaul was a good idea for two reasons: it lets them get out of the hospital and forces DePaul to interact outside of her element. And at least this scenario is more plausible than the two of them conveniently ending up under the same table during the drill in “Fallout.”
We know Dr. DePaul takes her work very seriously and that’s put on full display here through her admission to Virginia that she has cervical cancer. It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off of the Doctor’s shoulders when she reveals this information and it’s telling that the Doctor, whose first order to Virginia was to get her coffee, has now gained an appreciation for Virginia not just as a woman, but for her intelligence and ability to relate to people. While she still may not accept how Virginia used tactics outside of an education to be considered a doctor, she at least respects that she does know more than the average woman at the hospital.
To me, Dr. DePaul comes off as a woman whose hit roadblock after roadblock all her life. She contracted cancer in her 20s, dealt with torments and rejection from nurses and fellow medical school students, her study struggles to get off of the ground and she now feels that the boss of the woman now working for her has an unfair advantage due to his gender. Through all of this, she’s persevered. It’s the very reason Virginia admired Dr. DePaul in the first place: making it on her own steam despite the disadvantages. There’s a real sense of camaraderie and trust during the moment where DePaul admits that she has cancer which, despite us already knowing this, is still a great, sad scene. And I like that DePaul gets an opportunity to expand her networking by discussing the study with the people who would be most receptive to it: women.
I haven’t talked a lot about the performance itself, but Julianne Nicholson does a good job as the serious, yet tender Dr. DePaul. And if you’ve ever watched Law and Order: Criminal Intent, you know that Nicholson is capable of playing it serious. I’m interested in what they’ll have next in store for the Doctor.
I’ll get to Virginia in a minute, but for now, Jane and Libby, who I put together since there’s not a lot they get to do individually. Credit where credit is due, Jane has managed to stick it out despite Bill getting her name wrong and barking orders that he assumes she’ll always understand. Much like early introduction of characters for later use, it makes sense that Jane is used to Bill’s demands by now. It would be different if this was the first time she had to take Virginia’s place, but given how she became the permanent new secretary back in “All Together Now,” she’s seen Bill and Virginia work long enough to understand how things operate.
Despite Bill being overly difficult, Jane has shown him nothing but patience. She has a softer touch that Virginia, but is more useful than Adelaide was, even if Bill was unnecessarily mean to her. Her going to Virginia for help against Bill’s wishes shows that she still wants them to maintain a connection.
After weeks of Libby demanding that Bill be more involved in her life, particularly with this second pregnancy, she’s taken a big step by inserting herself into his job. Libby took the initiative because she knew Bill would never ask her, and I can’t help but smile at the moment where she and Jane go through the records like a couple of schoolgirls. It does bring up an interesting point- before, she told Bill that this study was nothing but numbers and things that could not be quantified. With such a take on it, it surprised me that she’d want to get involved with the work. But, as she said, she wasn’t doing anything at home, so it won’t kill her to help out. She’s getting dangerously close to learning about the repetitive couple, so you know that won’t end well. Though I like her line near the end of the episode where she states that Bill felt just right with her and how she wanted no other man once she met him.
“Everybody loves Virginia” would have been a good episode title. This episode showed just how much she’s needed by others because of her range of usefulness. She can be sexual, practical and analytical, but never lose her fundamental character. And those characteristics are just what someone like Dr. DePaul can benefit from. Going up to a random group of women and bumming one of them for a cigarette just to get the conversation started shows how sociable Virginia is, but how smart she is as a research assistant. Mentioning pap smears right off the bat would just alienate her and Dr. DePaul even more and kill any attempt they had at establishing any connections.
Virginia has not come off as one to complain about her lot in life, the way Dr. DePaul often does. Sure, her children stress her out to the point of questioning her ability as a mother, as she did in “Catherine,” but, again, like Dr. DePaul, she persevered and became a stronger person because of it.
Having Virginia learn about Dr. DePaul’s cancer gives her a chance to grow as a research assistant. Dr. DePaul may not like everything about Virginia’s personality, but she respects that she knows more about sex than the average woman. Hence, Virginia would naturally be seen as the one who could continue Dr. DePaul’s work. Like George mentioned, Virginia is ambitious and when she sets her sights on something, she’ll go after it. The same applies to the cervical cancer study and even more so now that she’s learned one of her mentors has it.
One difference, though, is that Virginia, unlike Dr. DePaul, cannot fully devote herself to the work. At least not yet, she can’t. Virginia still has a family and she’s driven by them to pursue something to better herself, but it also divides her time. Similar to when Virginia couldn’t devote time to the study group because she had to focus on her family and the study, her home life splits her focus. It remains to be seen whether she can maintain a balance. But if she’s able to, it begs the question of whether she would even need or want to return to Bill’s side. Remember, Dr. DePaul warned Bill that if Virginia stood up on her own two feet, she could just walk away. And she still can.
That said, her defense of Bill acknowledges that she respects him as a doctor and his ability to beat the system. She could have just agreed with Dr. DePaul that Bill’s gender gives him an advantage, but she defended him. Despite the fallout from last week, she still cares for him.
Whereas Bill may care a bit too much. We have Bill adjusting to life without Virginia to the point that Jane’s name may as well have been Vir-Jane. He’s disorganized, he’s more apologetic to Jane and Libby than he has been to Virginia, his thoughts are scattered and he’s unfocused. More than that, he lacks the personal approach that Virginia has when it comes to study subjects, which may be why we never actually saw any subjects this week.
Bill’s all about numbers and data, which Virginia warned Jane about, since it distracts him. Without Virginia around, Bill is less quick to think about the theatrics of sex. The line about Bill being bogged down by statistics could have been just a throwaway, but it serves a greater purpose when Bill returns from Dr. Ditmer’s lecture and realizes that a bunch of data won’t hold an audience’s attention. He needs a hook, something to captivate or at least interest the audience, so why not go with penis size and footage showing the inside of a woman’s vagina?
To go back to another episode for a moment, “Brave New World” opened the world of sexual exploration for both Bill and Virginia. It showed what they could explore besides couples having sex or a person masturbating, but things such as multiple orgasms and recording self-pleasure. It’s opened the study up beyond the doors of the hospital, or, for a brief moment, the brothel, and puts it on full display. I feel that’s part of what Bill got at when he told Libby that there’s always something to prove. Having a stamp of approval makes the work feel credible as opposed to seedy.
The problem with this exploration of new ideas, such as enthralling a crowd with penis sizes, is that Bill compromises his integrity in the name of having something to show. Ghost Virginia had him pegged when she said that he cut corners just to have something to present, when they both know that he’s a smarter and better man than that. Only having twelve subjects on penis size is nowhere near conclusive, and Bill knows that, but he’s willing to make that sacrifice just to have a presentation. Even when Virginia isn’t around, she’s still keeping him in check.
I’m glad to see Bill being a bit warmer with Libby than he has been when she’s at the hospital. There’s genuine concern in his voice when she offers her services and you get the feeling he does want her to take it easy. It didn’t feel like he refused her help because he doubted her ability. And yet Libby looks just as deep into Bill’s soul as Virginia and Essie have. When Libby mentions that the repeating couple fell in love, it shines a spotlight on Bill who, in a nice touch, has his back facing Libby during this scene. Libby is now the third woman to spell out the guilt etched onto Bill’s face and it’s proving Essie right: the affair will come back to harm him and those he loves.
“Phallic Victories” put the focus square on the lives of William Masters and Virginia Johnson: what they’ve learned from each other, how they’ve influenced each other’s lives and how integral they’ve been to the people around them. In the case of Virginia, she’s learned Bill’s method about how the system works, while Bill is trying to utilize Virginia’s taste for the fantastic in his presentation. The episode also worked to the benefit of other characters, such as Dr. DePaul, as her study is now gaining legs and bringing her cancer into the open gives Virginia a greater incentive to help. Bill and Virginia have impacted not just themselves, but their friends and family and this episode was a good way to show their usefulness to them. The episode has its slow moments, as the Ethan and George stand-off isn’t all that interesting, but I had a good time.