What are three things we want in live? Stability? Safety? Sex? Maybe a combination of all three? Well, that proves difficult for the characters in Masters of Sex, as this week’s “Giants” gives the characters some not so friendly reminders that even if they want to change, their questionable pasts will come back to haunt them.
The episode begins with Libby and Virginia watching Baby John. Libby was in the area and stopped by Virginia’s while trying to get the baby to fall asleep. Virginia tells Libby that she hasn’t seen much of Bill recently, but that’s all about to change, according to Libby. She asks if Virginia knows about what is about to happen or if she’s given Dr. DePaul advanced notice. Even though Bill is picking up speed with his career, she worries that, given that this is the third hospital Bill’s been to, she doesn’t want him to screw it up.
At the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel, Virginia’s not in the mood for food when she finally arrives. She’s also none too ecstatic about Bill giving her the keys to her new office at Buell Green since Bill didn’t bother to run it by her first. However, even though Virginia may be on board, she still doesn’t have an official title. Though that can be decided on later, Virginia would prefer to know as soon as possible before upending her life since she still has two kids and doesn’t have the income that Bill is able to bring in. After all, she still has a great opportunity with Dr. DePaul, but Bill tells Virginia that Lillian probably doesn’t regard her that highly now that she knows about the two of them.
Gene heads down to sleep on the couch, ignoring Betty’s singing that, to his ears, reminds him of migrating geese. Betty’s insulted. After all, she was Miss Melba Snyder in her high school production of “Pal Joey” before she got booted out. Now, there’s a flashback I’d like to see. Gene is still sore because Betty lied, but he’s not giving Betty the reaction that she’d like: overt anger, yelling and that sort. Instead, he’s treated her with icy disregard. Betty still wants happiness, even if she can’t have children, but she is willing to adopt if it means that the two can have a family with kids that will be theirs. Gene warms to the idea, but needs to think it over. Yay, progress.
The next day at Buell Green, Bill is shown around his office by Dr. Charles Hendricks, played by our second Law and Order: Criminal Intent alumni, Courtney B. Vance. Changes had to be made for Bill’s arrival, much to the chagrin of the other doctors. Bill’s new exam room is next door. Even though the staff may be unhappy, Bill assures Charles that he’ll soon bring in a steady stream of patients. He tells Charles that he needs an employment contract for Ms. Johnson, but contracts aren’t given to members of the support staff because their guarantee is week to week. However, Bill asks him to make an exception. Bill, don’t burn the bridge before you fully cross it.
We also meet Dr. Cyril Franklin, played by Jay Ellis, who specializes in gynecology. Cyril is a fan of Bill’s and followed his work in fertility. Bill, none too boastful, is glad to take any referred patients. A clearly taken aback Cyril changes the subject to Bill’s office, which might not be big, but at least Bill didn’t get booted out of his office to make room for the new employee, like Cyril did.
Over at Washington University, Lillian answers the phone because Virginia can’t be bothered. A man in mimeo has a ten minute window between jobs, so Virginia can bring him the paperwork. Virginia wants to talk about Virginia, though. More specifically, she feels that it doesn’t matter what she does on her own time as long as she does a good job. We’ll get into that later. Lillian says that it most certainly matters to Libby Masters. Virginia goes on the defensive, saying that her and Bill’s work is still work, as they’re tracking the same physiological data as their other patients.
If it never interfered before, why should it now? Is this to punish Virginia? Lillian says that Virginia did that herself, but was also capable of waiting for a job she earned by using her ‘abilities.’ Now she’s made it harder for women after her. Virginia, single mom extraordinaire, doesn’t have the money to wait around for the perfect job opportunity. She says that Lillian had it easier, prompting Lillian to say that Virginia is the girl whose upset that she didn’t get asked to prom by the boy she didn’t even want to go with. Not entirely sure why Lillian chose that as her analogy, but let’s go with it. Lillian gave her work to someone who could secure its future, as she would never trust it to Virginia, who wants responsibility, but would just follow Bill anyway. Virginia leaves in a huff. Lillian yells for Virginia to try and not perpetuate the sick belief that women need to open their legs to get a leg up! Oh, those poor other women in the office.
Suddenly, Sarah Silverman. Silverman’s character, Helen, uses her precognitions to speak with ghosts while Gene watches- the ghost in question belonged to a 93 year old man named Saul, or Paul, who choked on a chicken bone. Betty enters and is surprised to see Helen, a friend from her past, back when Helen used to read palms. Gene tells Betty that his friend, Al, would hit it off with Helen. Betty disagrees.
Virginia arrives at Buell Green and finds Bill’s office still stacked with tons of paperwork and unopened boxes. Staring at it won’t make it go away, Bill. Human Resources did manage to draw up a contract specifying Virginia’s employment. He then tells Virginia that he’s open to resume their sessions either in the exam room or the hospital. He’s flexible. Virginia wants a third option: stop. After all, aren’t the possibilities exhausted and it’s time to reassess their objectives? She then asks Bill if personal involvement is a condition of employment. After a few seconds of silence, Bill says no, but he meant yes.
That night, at the hotel, Bill’s ready to go, but Virginia doesn’t remove a single article of clothing and is adamant about staying that way. Instead, she tells Bill to strip for her. Bill laughs, thinking this a joke, but Virginia does not flinch. Bill strips to his pants. Next up, Virginia wants him to touch himself, without sitting down. That’s probably a better way to do it if you’re trying to pound one out before you go to bed. That way, your chair doesn’t squeak, but I digress. Bill goes to work while Virginia asks what he’s thinking about and notes how quickly he closed his eyes. When Bill tells Virginia that he’s thinking of her, she beckons him forward, where he proceeds to go down on her.
The next day, Errol, played by Cutter Garcia, is looking for radiology to drop off some X-Ray solutions and asks Virginia for directions, but obviously she has no idea where that is because she’s new. He has a quick, but uncertain glance at Virginia’s flier on the sex study. Following this, she gets to work at calling the patient list to provide the updated location.
At House Masters, Libby receives a visit from Robert, played by Jocko Sims, who wants to talk about Coral before she arrives. See, every night, he asks Coral about her day and things are usually fine. Recently, however, Coral’s behavior has changed due to an incident involving having her hair washed. To the point, he’d like it if Coral went back to enjoying her days at House Masters. And there’s no need for her to know that Robert popped by, either.
Betty meets up with Helen, who is still upset about Betty breaking her heart years ago. Betty still believes that her marrying Gene was the best thing, but for her. Before that, neither woman would have a good future since they both secretly love women. Betty’s fucked a lot of men, but she won’t apologize for her past because now she has a hat for every day of the week, can eat beef bourguignon and lives in a home complete with gold faucets. Well, good for you, Betty. She doesn’t want Helen around, but it’s time for Helen to get the brass ring.
Back at Buell Green, Bill and Virginia talk with Mrs. Turnsworth, played by Melanie Paxton. Turnsworth is set to have another child, but, if possible, would prefer to be at home. Her husband, Earl, just got her a new car and she doesn’t want to leave it just parked for hours. Not in this neighborhood. It’s an El Dorado! Anything could happen to it. She also wants to know if Masters and Johnson intend to be at this current hospital for long, but Bill says Buell Green is a good hospital. Sheesh, lady, these Negroes work in a hospital. Do you really think they want to steal your car?
Libby confronts Coral on her unexpected visit from Robert. You know, exactly what Robert wanted. Libby knows what the world is like. After all, she’s older than Coral, if that wasn’t obvious by the obvious age difference. But Libby just wants Coral to be safe. She’s worried about her being with this Robert boy that threatened her. Seriously, Libby? Did he threaten to take your purse or something? Lucky for Robert, Libby won’t call the police, but she does want Coral to leave Robert. Coral agrees…for a moment, but she reconsiders after remembering that not only does she live with Robert, he makes her bad feelings go away when they’re in bed together, with his soft hands and lips. It’d be pretty hard to leave that. But it was worth considering. Coral then asks if Libby would like her to make both beds. Boom, score one for Keke Palmer!
Virginia sees that the flier she put up has been taken down. Not only that, she tells Bill that it will take considerable effort to get willing subjects. Hence, the two should prepare to lose their regulars. Virginia considers the idea of separating the data by race. Bill argues that they never did that before, but they also never had Negro patients before since they’d never been exposed to recruitment at a White hospital. Virginia just believes there may be a value in separate data since society thinks there’s still a difference. Oh, and a Mrs. Kennedy canceled her appointment and doesn’t want to reschedule. Guess she doesn’t want her car stolen, either.
That evening, Libby, from her bed, tells Bill that sex is used as a way for people to make up and iron out their differences. Bill’s not so sure of that. He thinks Libby is angry with him, but she isn’t. So, the two have sex, and Bill misses Libby’s orgasm because she didn’t want to wake the baby. How very considerate of her.
Lillian receives a surprise pick-up from Virginia, while Libby tells Coral that she’ll clean up her bedroom.
While Gene is hard at work, Betty misses the meaning of the word subtlety as she begins vacuuming, something she rarely, if at all, does. When Gene stops her, Betty tells him that she’s just burning off anxiety. Oh, and newsflash, Helen’s not good at bathing. Like Napoleon and Josephine, the more she stank, the more he loved her. Betty doesn’t want Helen to sink her hooks into Al, especially since she loves to gamble and spend time at the horse tracks. Guess what? Al loves that, too! Thanks for being so honest, Betty!
Patient Penelope Drake, played by Jules Lambert, is here to have her fertility history taken. However, some shouting from down the hall gets Bill and Virginia’s attention.
White man has Black man in choke hold because White man didn’t like how Black guy was apparently looking at his wife and might have tried to slip his hand into her purse. When the White taunts the Black, the Black throws a punch that ends up connecting with Bill.
When Bill explains it to Libby, he can’t believe how a bit of mixing can turn the best of men into Neanderthals. Guess what, Bill? Libby’s had a hard time, too. She got a visit from a large Colored man who banged on the door and threatened her! Banged?! Oh, for the love of-anyway, she mentions the Colored man’s accusation, prompting Bill to ask Libby whether she did force Coral’s head under the faucet. Libby gets defensive, wondering why he would take Coral’s side, but Bill is doing no such thing. He just wants the truth and says that Libby should apologize. Frankly, she got off easy.
The double date goes as planned, as Helen hits it off with Al, played by Johnny Sneed, who owns a pepperoni business. Helen shares a tale about a time she was in Kentucky and bet on a horse named Beautiful Betty. The horse had the odds heavily stacked against it, at 13:1. She gave the ticket to Betty, who had been feeling blue that day, to prove that when the odds are against you, someone will always bet on you. Sounds like a neat story until we learn that the horse broke a leg and had to be shot. The girls laugh for quite a while. Seriously, ladies, it wasn’t that funny.
Betty heads to the powder room in tears, quickly followed by Helen. After a moment, the two kiss.
The next day, Bill sees that Cyril has separated the patients according to race, based on yesterday’s incident. Bill doesn’t think it’s a good idea.
Virginia, meanwhile, gets a phone call and heads to meet Lillian, who fainted on the floor of the ladies’ room and was found by a wandering 10 year old. Lillian could only be released to a responsible party and, quite frankly, she didn’t know who else to call.
When the two head to Lillian’s, rather than get out, Lillian just wants to sit in the car and talk. She has no plans to return to the hospital as a doctor. Patient, maybe, but not doctor. After all, her condition is worsening each day. She’s afraid for what’s ahead, but can’t afford to be upset.
That evening, at House Masters, Libby meets Robert and tells him she overreacted. Good. She just had a baby and is having a few moments. That’s fine, but Robert believes that Libby should apologize to Coral, who just happens to walk out. Libby, however, has no such intentions since Coral deliberately disobeyed her. Robert is disappointed, but reminds Coral that this is what to expect from when dealing with White people that are unable to take responsibility and do the right thing. Coral gets in the car and the two drive off, unable to hear Libby gloat that her doctor works at the Negro hospital. Libby, stop talking.
Charles recommends that Bill sees Dr. McAlpin over in ophthalmology to make sure there’s no damage to his vision. Bill admits that he misjudged people’s reactions and is resigned to the fact that he’ll inevitably lose patients because he and Virginia work in the Negro hospital. Charles is disappointed, but throws an analogy at the two: how do people get in a cold lake? Do they go inch by inch to stave off the cold, or do they take the plunge to get it over with and hope that their body will adjust to the cold?
Charles has been down this path. If he wanted to change people’s minds on segregation, he’d bring in a young, unassuming White resident and let patients slowly get used to them. However, Charles has too much he wants to get done. Bill is a cold lake. He didn’t ease people out of ignorance to sex- he exposed them to the truth, no matter how uncomfortable. Charles tells Bill that he needs to call patients and let them know that this is what it is right now. This is how you move history forward, even though that’s outside Bill’s purview. Charles doesn’t buy that, since Bill wouldn’t keep doing the study if that was the case. One must embrace the future, and that includes integration. Though Bill isn’t one for wooing patients, he believes that Virginia is more than capable of that. Dr. Hendricks leaves the two to think it over, before he takes down a flier on the sex study while continuing down the hall.
There’s a lot take in with this episode. It deals with progressivism and how it takes time for society to prepare for change. We can’t always look as far down the road as others and, at times, we don’t want to move as fast. More than this, through the different storylines, we see who is ready to change, who is reluctant to change, and who refuses to because they’re steeped in tradition.
Change isn’t always a positive, sure, but depending on the circumstance, as we see with the class and racial angles, it can be inevitable. Inevitable as that may be, that doesn’t mean that change comes without challenge because the status quo is being threatened. Soon, however, societal changes come to embrace what becomes their destiny.
Like “Fight,” but nowhere near as well done, the episode gives us some significant power struggles that go against character’s expectations. We see more of the perception versus reality through the eyes of pairs like Bill and Virginia or Helen and Betty.
Betty has no shame or regret about what she’s done to get where she is. It’s a past she’d rather not acknowledge, but she doesn’t deny it. In her mind, she’s suffered and paid her debt for her sins, so it’s time for her to be happy. Through her suggestion of adoption, it’s clear that she’s willing to do whatever it takes to ensure her and Gene have that happy family life they’ve dreamt of for so long. She wants to save her marriage because it’s all she has, golden faucets and all. Now that she has a life of luxury, she’s doing whatever it takes to keep it.
Helen is another reminder of Betty’s past that she’d like to ignore, even more so because she doesn’t want to fall back into the temptation of loving another woman again. However, from the kiss shared, the desire looks to still be there. As far as Sarah Silverman’s performance goes, she’s good. It’s probably the straightest role I’ve seen her play since, maybe, Greg the Bunny. It is hard for me to separate the actress from the role because, at the end of the day, it’s still Sarah Silverman. If she wasn’t already so recognizable to me, that wouldn’t be an issue.
I like that Lillian is slowly becoming more assertive, despite her fate. From being willing to drink alcohol at work, to giving away her study, giving Austin Langham the time of day, showing far more emotion than ever and telling secrets- for a person who normally doesn’t engage in such behavior, they come off as the actions of someone who doesn’t have long to live.
I love Nicholson’s performance in this episode, particularly during her argument with Virginia and how she slowly shifts from cold and emotionless to anger. She’s disappointed in Virginia, yes, but she’s even more upset because Virginia didn’t trust her and probably would have gone to Bill anyway. Her line about women opening their legs is very telling- women in this day and age have to say and do a lot to get ahead or just be heard. Heck, the other women in DePaul’s office probably would love to make the salary that Virginia or Lillian make just because it’s more than what they get.
Despite all of this, even after her disappointment, Lillian still sees Virginia as a close friend and companion. Sure, she’s angry, but she also realizes that her list of friends is very thin, so burning her bridge to Virginia won’t do her any favors. Even though she’s dying, Lillian isn’t letting the inevitability of death of control her.
Libby, however, is losing control all around her. She’s trying to force kindness upon Coral and, as such, her apology lacked any feeling of being genuine. She feels the need to protect Coral, who has done nothing but try to be the best nanny possible, by passing on her so-called wisdom, but she comes off as more patronizing than anything else. She becomes defensive when Bill doesn’t side with her after describing her “horrific” incident. Again, I really don’t want to think Libby has some dislike of Negroes, given her friendship with Walter last season.
But then she goes and exaggerates her story to Bill about being confronted by Colored Robert, as if Libby was one of those White women who would falsely claim that she had been raped by a Negro. Where does this all come from? If it’s a way to make the audience dislike Libby, then no, I’m not a fan of that. And boasting that Bill works in the Negro Hospital? What, does that make her good with every Negro ever?
As the season has progressed, Libby sees that there’s nothing for her at home, which used to be her domain. Her sex life, which has never been glamorous to begin with, is at its end here. The scene where she and Bill have sex is just awkward. There’s none of the banter and passion that we see with other couples, and Libby doesn’t even look at Bill the entire time. It felt very wooden and mechanical. And for Coral to throw that at her shows that, as wise as Libby thinks she is, she’s still not getting any when between the sheets. Libby wants a happy future, but she finds it harder and harder to get that, as her happy, suburban life is crumbling all around her.
Bill may be a loving husband, but he’s not faithful. This, we know. He’s less likely to treat Libby like a patient, as he did for a lot of last season, but there’s no passion in their relationship. Each time Bill and Libby talk, Bill looks as if he’d rather be anywhere else. He misses Libby’s orgasm, for goodness’ sake. Maybe if he’d said the phases aloud, like last season. For now, it looks as if Bill just tolerates Libby. He’s clearly not afraid to call her out when she’s wrong, but he still comforts her when necessary.
With Virginia, however, the two are locked in combat, as if their battle from “Fight” never ended. Most of the time, Bill’s been the dominant figure between the two. However, during their session at the hotel, control switched and Bill found himself on the defensive. In this moment, he felt completely powerless and exposed. He’s in a vulnerable state, while Virginia, clothed and clinical, assumes control. It’s not a position Bill’s accustomed to, which made this a more interesting scene to watch. He’s so used to controlling the situation, but he sees that sex won’t always play out with him calling the shots.
This also translates to his job, where he had expectations of employees falling in line to back him, instead of the blowback he received. He came off as very arrogant when he told Cyril that he’d be willing to take on referred patients, like he can just waltz in and assume command based on reputation alone. He pushed a doctor out and thinks things will be the same before he arrived, but doesn’t see the reality in front of him, as evidenced when he gets subtle and not so subtle racism from White patients. Seriously, at least people who are overtly racist let you know it up front and don’t try to cover it up with code words. These Whites, for obvious reasons, aren’t fans of the Negro, so they won’t just warm up to change overnight. Bill, however, is an ambassador of change, if the sex study is evidence of anything, so he has another battle to fight.
The line about Virginia being able to woo patients shows her importance to the study. Last week, she told Henry and Tessa that you can only depend on yourself, but here, we see just how much Bill depends on her. She’s integral not just to him, but the study as well. Virginia does for herself, but here, she flat out takes power from Bill. Sure, we’ve seen that she’s capable of pleasuring herself, but during “Fight,” she followed Bill’s lead or countered him. Here, she’s in charge instead of having to wrestle control from him. And even better, she never reverts control back to him, which I like, because it shows how much more assertive she’s becoming.
Granted, she doesn’t back down against Lillian either, but Lillian forced her hand. She goes on the offensive regarding her research with Bill, but she’s being very contradictory. In the first season, Virginia often reminded Bill that he had a wife he’d been neglecting. Here, she doesn’t think that her personal life should have any bearing on her personal. I disagree. It affects her integrity, for one! Like Bill, Virginia harms her relationship with her superior, but while Greathouse can find another doctor, Lillian has few people to turn to. Their friendship remained intact. And, like Bill, Virginia is a trendsetter, but as DePaul says, her actions may make it harder for women who come after her.
We see the House That Bill and Virginia Built begin to crumble. This was a strong episode that threw a lot of messages at us, but managed to do so without overstuffing it, even if some of the racism was a bit cartoony and ridiculous. We know that Lillian DePaul’s time is almost up, but for Bill and Virginia, despite the obstacles they face, their challenges have just begun.