Ladies and gentlemen, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” The second season finale to Masters of Sex had the task of bringing resolution to the season’s many plots, but also had to maintain enough interest through the next season. While the balance of the season was a bit uneven, there’s enough good to overshadow the minor nitpicks I have as Bill and Virginia prepare to become household names.
Unfortunately for them, they spend so much time on themselves that the whirlwind of other events in their lives make things crazier. At the end of the day, however, it was and still is all about the work.
The episode begins with Bill and Virginia recounting the times they’ve touched ever since the camera crew left, without having any ulterior motive of having sex. Virginia notes that after Bill’s fight with Francis, she comforted him by touch alone, and this led to them having sex that night. Given this, different approaches could inevitably lead to sex. But for now, sex is off the table. We watch the two engage in nonsexual touching, touching each other’s hands, Bill rubbing Virginia’s feet and so on. The two note that they still must stop before engaging in sex, but sexual touching does work wonders for arousal. Perhaps, Bill suggests, it’s time to move up to actual sex. Virginia is on board, but she will initiate.
The two continue noting their progress: seven days of nonsexual touching, Bill’s multiple erections, seven nights of touching and successful- and successive- coitus. It’s still too soon to consider Bill cured, though.
We then enter a dream sequence where Bill F. Kennedy returns home, only to find a crowd applauding him as he enters a convertible next to his wife, Mrs. Jacqueline Onassis Johnson. The car doesn’t get very far, as Libby stands in their way.
That morning, Bill wakes up to find Libby already gone. Libby is in the bathroom and disrobes while thinking of her night with Robert. When she arrives at the kitchen later on, Bill tells her that she left the water on in the shower. Libby’s mind is all over the place. She’s heading in to volunteer, though Bill thought she said she was done with that. Far from it. The leadership is in Atlanta to protest Dr. King’s arrest and she wants to do her part. As Libby kisses her children goodbye, Bill can’t help but notice something a tad off in his wife’s behavior.
Virginia forgets what it means to be on time, as she’s late for parent-teacher conferences while George has already been there, waiting. The teacher has already taken in other parents. George has some good news: his friend, Johnnie J, got him a gig at the Cosmopolitan Club. St. John’s Trio will be playing there for four nights a week. George proposes the kids spend more time with him during the week. Virginia objects since George just had them for six weeks in Europe- that was fast- but George just wants to do better. He says that he’s changed, but Virginia feels he’s only changed for Audrey. Virginia counters by telling George that she’s at least always been there for the kids, even though they both have problems. In short, she shoots down his proposal and sticks to one visit a week.
Following this, Virginia meets with Herb to discuss her shared custody with George. She tells Herb that George never even wanted kids in the first place, but he never signed the custody agreement. It seemed irrelevant. Virginia feels that George would back off at the sight of an actual lawyer.
Bill, Virginia, Shep and Lester watch a rough cut of the CBS documentary, and it’s bad. Many mentions of sex are omitted in favor of calling people ‘subjects’ instead of ‘sexes.’ CBS is fine with it, but the others are not. Even worse, Joseph Kaufman plans to publish a book entitled “Man and Sex.” Shep still promises that the documentary will come first and there will be follow-up press interviews.
At the C.O.R.E. office, Robert assigns Libby to the awesome task of addressing and stamping envelopes with the letters of intent that will be sent to the members of the housing board. How fun.
Bill and Virginia argue about the sanitized version of the program. In addition, they acknowledge that they have no substantial statistics or success on dysfunction. Bill tells Virginia that their work is not ready to be published, but Virginia brings up Kaufman’s book: if it catches eyes, Bill and Virginia being cut out altogether will be worse. People will see the film and remember the two of them as household names.
Herb then enters to speak with Virginia alone. George didn’t sign the custody agreement. Even more than that, he’s hired his own attorney.
Lester and Barbara enjoy a movie at the cinema. Well, Barbara enjoyed the movie and thought it clever. Lester, however, is more cynical and is not a fan of romantic comedies. He believes that since film is a form of art, it should be true to life. Barbara just wanted to forget real life for a moment, but Lester can’t: he feels he should just sweep Barbara off of her feet. But no, despite how similar they are, they still can’t have sex. They are still able to accept each other’s flaws, but it’s still upsetting. Barbara suggests the two just sleep together.
At Flo’s, Austin watches President Eisenhower deliver a speech. President-elect John F. Kennedy’s inauguration is this Friday and Flo needs Austin to watch the Cal-O-Metric office since she and her family will watch the next President of the United States be sworn in. Her brother has a job in the new administration. Turns out that her father is a big deal in Missouri- without him, Kennedy would not have won the state, as her father owns Packer Hardware, a pretty big deal in Missouri. Tomorrow in St. Louis, she’ll be attending a party for the Missouri Democratic Party.
Bill makes a phone call regarding Kaufman, but we’re not in on the details of the conversation.
Virginia and George have dinner. She apologizes for her initial reaction to George’s proposal, saying that she overreacted, but George is past that point. He says that their lawyers should talk. After all, Virginia wouldn’t want to walk into court unrepresented. Virginia wants the two to discuss the matter themselves, yet George has been talking- to Audrey. One day a week isn’t enough. Henry and Tessa have to know where home is.
Virginia believes that’s with her. George wants an unbiased opinion, so a judge should hear what a day is like for the kids. And given the court’s bias against fathers, if George wants to win a settlement with the kids, he’ll need to show that Virginia is unfit. Virginia proposes rearranging the schedule, but this is about more than the kids. It’s about Virginia’s job: she watches people fuck for a living and she’s having an affair with her boss. Granted, George has nothing to base that off of, but considering Virginia’s late hours, it’s not too far of a stretch. Virginia feels that George is just doing this to discredit her and the work she’s done, but this just proves George’s point: Virginia isn’t worried about the kids. She responds by throwing her drink in his face. Classy move, Virginia.
As Lester and Barbara prepare to sleep together, they first must get in what I think has got to be one of the most boring looking pair of pajamas I’ve ever seen. Oh, and Barbara isn’t ashamed about undressing with the door open, in full view of Lester.
Libby pays Robert a visit at two in the morning. Coral is still in Atlanta and insisted on staying there. Seems like a pretty flimsy reason to say Keke Palmer is conveniently absent, but whatever. Robert apologizes, as he must maintain some semblance of professionalism. He’s sorry about that night and how he allowed it to happen. He needs to take responsibility. After all, miscegenation goes against what they’re working for. Libby suggests he did it because of the danger that comes with being with a woman outside of his world. After all, what if he really wanted her? Libby, last I checked, you’re the one who wanted him to kiss you. Anyway, they disrobe and go at it again.
Betty gets a phone call from some Hugh Hefner guy, but Bill hasn’t got time for that. His loss, really. He wants to talk with Lester about an upcoming treatment he and Virginia have been working on. Lester isn’t interested since he and Barbara just took sex out of the equation and they function fine. Bill doesn’t see that as a solution. Lester is 29 years old- even though Kevin Christy is not- and would not sustain a romantic relationship without sex. There’s romance, Bill says, but sex is basic. His being will rebel against the lack of coitus. And even though Isaac Newton didn’t have sex, he was a virgin by choice. Bill is convinced that Lester would not want to live like that. Even though Bill has asked Lester to trust him before, with mixed results, he just wants him to consider a new way.
Austin brings up the fact that Flo has no date for the party. He’s fond of her and offers to be her date, but she says no. Her family is not like other families. He would have to be politically savvy. Austin doesn’t think that would be too hard. After all, he did go to medical school and is still a doctor. Plus, he’s always been interested in public affairs. He can’t fathom the idea that Flo would be embarrassed of him, but she isn’t. She’s embarrassed by her family. Huh.
Virginia and Libby share their woes, with Virginia telling Libby that she may have to quit so her work won’t be brought up. Libby points out that not only can George still take her to court, the lawyer can still talk about her work. Libby tries to imagine if Bill ever did something like that to her. She loves her children beyond reason, but that can’t be her only reason for why she’d stay. What if she just let go of all thoughts of how she thought her life would be? Virginia still believes that Henry and Tessa are happy with her, but she sounds unsure.
Bill finds an envelope waiting for him on his desk: it’s a proof of Kaufman’s book. He’s still reading it that evening when Betty is about to clock out. Bill isn’t impressed with the book- he finds it thin, conversational and there’s barely any data; all very similar to the CBS documentary. Bill is convinced that their actual film would leave Kaufman in the dust.
Following this, Bill takes the manuscript to Virginia, but she’s looking over the note cards and is not in the best of moods. She tells Bill that her role in the study may soon become public knowledge, so the two are about to make two public debuts: one on CBS and the other as amoral smut peddlers. Lovely. Herb has already given George an offer just to keep the study talk out of court, and it came at a heavy cost: Henry and Tessa. But never fear. Virginia is convinced that once the study hits the airwaves, it will show she’s a respectable and legitimate mother. It will show she has a sterling reputation worthy of helping her win back her kids. After all, it’s only temporary.
At House Johnson, Henry and Tessa talk about what they learned while spending time with their father and Audrey. Virginia tells the two that they are about to take an adventure. They like being at home and with their father, but what if they switched things up? Henry, naturally, asks why, but Dad just wants to spend more time with them. The phone rings and after a pause, Virginia answers.
We then cut to the office where Virginia joins the others, who are watching a presentation on Joseph Kaufman’s research. It mentions the word sex multiple times. Someone has royally fucked up, Tally says. CBS’ piece will not air. But oh, what is this? Turns out that Kaufman has a partner.
And it’s Dr. Ethan Haas! So that’s where Ethan’s been.
Virginia storms off and blames herself. After all, with the piece no longer airing, she’s lost her kids for nothing. Bill consoles her, telling her that all they can do now is get back to work. Priorities, this guy.
Barbara and Lester exit another movie, this one a foreign film. Lester has seen it four times, but he wanted Barbara to see the couple as representative of what he thinks they are: a real messy, complicated couple. With that, he goes in for the kiss. He then asks her not to give up on the idea that they can’t have sex.
Bill drinks his sorrows away until he gets a visit from Barton Scully. Scully called Ethan to remind him that he owes him a favor. The film, however, is dead. Barton figured Bill would be happy since he’s the one who wanted to sabotage his own work, but his study still isn’t ready for presentation. Had he known about Virginia’s custody battle, he might have thought twice about his plan. Plus, he never got a chance to tell her that he planned to kill their film.
Regardless, Barton reminds Bill that he’s a trailblazer. As was the case at Maternity when he first presented the study to his colleagues, Bill wants to change the world, but he ends up hurting the people around him. Barton’s life has been going well: he’s a doctor at a clinic and Margaret hasn’t left him. They decided to trust each other and took a leap of faith, so he told her everything. It’s tough, but they’re still together. Bill admits that he never meant to hurt Virginia.
Between the sheets, Robert tells Libby that this needs to stop, but Libby doesn’t see it that way. Why? Because she knows that her husband has been having an affair for years. She pretended that it didn’t happen and looked the other way, but then she met Robert. Whatever the two have, she wants to keep feeling good.
We then get a montage of characters watching Kennedy’s inauguration, with Austin noting that Kennedy didn’t wear a top hat while George helps the kids pack.
The season draws to a close as Virginia and Bill meet with Barbara and Lester, admitting that they failed them. However, this does not have to be the end. The two are making a protocol for a satisfying life. Even though Barbara and Lester have been asked to trust before, Bill and Virginia ask them to take a leap of faith together.
Well, that was another season.
This season has been about fresh starts, with Bill and Virginia trying to pick up the pieces from the wreckage that was Bill’s presentation during last season’s finale, “Manhigh.” Now everyone wants to move forward. The season, as a whole, built on the themes of Season One, but expanded on them: taking a leap of faith despite the risks, sacrifice, powerlessness, self-doubt, fantasy versus reality and the pain of loss.
One criticism I’ve read about this season is how uneven it has been with some plots having no bearing on the overall storyline, especially after the time skip during “Asterion.” The season took characters to a much darker place than the first season and added weight to their dilemmas, whether it’s Lillian’s death, Libby’s infidelity, Bill’s unwillingness to play by anyone’s rules but his own, Barton’s homosexual therapy and suicide attempt, Betty’s crumbling marriage and Virginia’s home situation. Personally, I think the show managed to handle these situations with care and allowed the issues to build over time, despite me not being a fan of how some- namely Libby- were handled. And I did appreciate the brief appearances by Barton and Ethan- his only on-screen appearance this season, I believe.
One thing Libby told Virginia stood out to me as a constant of this season: making decisions of our own accord and letting go of everything we’ve previously thought of, just so we can focus on ourselves. By throwing caution to the wind and focusing on our own needs, we become consumed with ourselves and ignore the people around us- the very people who we end up hurting. Like Barton told Bill, we may not intend to bring harm when we play by our own rules, but we inevitably do.
If Season One focused on building trust, Season Two led to broken bonds all around. Very few came out of this season unscathed or without some form of loss. Lester’s line to Barbara about how they are a messy, complicated couple could apply to almost every pairing this season had to offer. Many of the couples had issues that strained their already complicated relationships. A lot of this had to do with people keeping secrets, which did more harm than good, such as Bill sabotaging the project. We think we have a situation all figured out in our head, but the reality is we can’t be prepared for everything.
And while characters dealt with their interpersonal issues, there was progress made in terms of the study, such as the idea of sustaining a relationship without sex. It sounds ludicrous, even more so back then, but it adds a new variable to the equation: is sex needed for happiness? Obviously the couples that do engage in sex aren’t always happy- Bill and Libby being a prime example. Given how relationships without love and passion somehow stay afloat, it’s not a stretch that no sex could lead to something meaningful. Obviously that’s not always true, if we look back at Barton and Margaret Scully, but it’s possible and brings a new element to the study that I’m sure will be further examined in Season Three.
So Bill and Virginia want Lester and Barbara to try a new way. If there’s a consistency between this season and the previous one, it’s about Bill and Virginia wanting to open people’s minds about sexual response. Season One opened the door to that conversation, and Season Two was about proving that such a conversation is worthy of a lengthy, serious discussion in its most honest form. When you dilute or sanitize the message, you take away from the full impact of the conversation. And this is what Bill and Virginia grappled with: is the message more important than fame and recognition? Obviously so, since Bill was convinced the presentation was not ready. As much as Bill and Virginia would like to be first, they admit they have much to learn and more to explore.
Having said that, let’s dig into the characters.
Does Austin even practice medicine anymore? Because it seems like he spends more time at Cal-O-Metric. Sure, we have no real reason to return to Maternity, but it seems like he just showed up after being recruited by Flo. I’m still not sure where this all fits. Flo began as Virginia’s boss, but she’s been given more significance due to her relationship with Austin and family name. That point only seemed to be a way to get Flo to talk about how her family wouldn’t accept Austin. For now, Austin is trying to make the most of this situation. Elise is clearly not going to give him any more chances, and it seems like the writers are finding ways to keep Austin relevant. As funny as I find their scenarios, they don’t add much to the story.
And even though I know we’ll probably never see the brothel again, I am glad the writers decided to bring Betty back. Her marriage fell apart due to her feelings for Helen, but even that doesn’t seem to have worked out in her favor. When she came on as secretary, she filled Jane’s shoes, but has a sharper tongue, I feel, than Jane does. This probably comes from having to deal with so many men in her former profession. Granted, she doesn’t get anything to do in this episode except take a call from Hugh Hefner, but I’m happy to have her back and hope she sticks around.
Lester and Barbara. Wow. Barbara went from being a mild-mannered secretary to one of the more complex characters introduced this season. And, like Betty, I think bringing Lester back was a smart decision because he has something to offer when it comes to the study. Both of these two were made far more integral than they ever expected. Lester is still film savvy, but less awkward than before. With Jane behind him, his focus is on the study, and it’s clear he’s heavily invested in the message since he’s not a fan of the sanitized version. He acknowledged Bill and Virginia’s ability to change the discussion on human sexual response.
Granted, both Lester and Barbara wound up used as guinea pigs, but this helped make them more assertive on their views about relationships and sustaining one without sex. Barbara is more hesitant to this, but she’s willing to give it a chance. After what she discovered about her past, she’d like to put that behind her, as well. Christy and Brandt shined in their scenes together and while it’s unfair that Barbara and Lester were used for Bill and Virginia’s study, this drew them together in the process. Now the two must be willing to make a leap of faith, together.
Ah, Libby. And yes, this is the photo I’m going with. First off, I am glad that she is more involved this season than the last one. Yeah, she temporarily helped Jane out back at Maternity, but now, she’s grown both personally and professionally. She’s more vocal and outgoing instead of being the sheltered housewife. She challenged Bill on his need to complain about his problems. This affair with Robert is one of the few things she’s resolute in and Caitlin Fitzgerald’s performance is a major step-up from last season.
Again, this still doesn’t absolve her of how she treated Coral, and it’s pretty convenient that Coral wasn’t around for the finale. With the time skip, it’s almost like we’re supposed to forget about it. I would, if Libby hadn’t been such an ass. Granted, Libby does show some level of remorse, as seen when she talks with her kids, but she doesn’t let it eat away at her, like Bill does. I’m curious as to whether this will carry into Season Three. Even more than that, we got the big reveal that Libby knows that Bill has been having an affair and just said nothing about it. Sure, she doesn’t know whom with, though I’m sure she may suspect Virginia, but it was a nice wild card.
Bill certainly shot himself in the foot again. Maybe he shot the other foot. We sort of tread familiar territory here, where he realizes that his actions, selfless as he thinks they may be, hurt the people around him. When Bill goes down, others go with him. He sabotages the study on the grounds that it’s not ready. When it comes to the work, Bill wants to maintain his integrity. It’s why he couldn’t stay at Buell Green or Gateway Memorial and why he was so uncomfortable with CBS sanitizing the documentary- he has his own rules. At least he admits that he has much to discover, not to mention solving his own problem. We never really learn how and why he started meeting prostitutes, so that’s a storyline we could have seen explored.
Bill operates as a one-man show, but this doesn’t mean he charges forward without worrying about the well-being of those around him. There was genuine concern on his face when he learned that Virginia would be losing her kids, and when the study doesn’t go to air, all he can do is comfort her, but also remind her that they must get back to work. He never wanted to hurt her or Libby, but he does. Like the presentation of the study last season, Bill doesn’t fully grasp the error of his actions until right after they’ve happened. He needs to be in control and got it, but at a great cost.
And as great as Michael Sheen was, Lizzy Caplan was just as on point throughout the entire season. What Virginia said to Bill about their lives being linked rang true. Her priorities shifted between the two seasons. Before, Virginia merely wanted to prove herself and be taken seriously, despite not having the formal education needed to be considered a doctor. She also wanted to provide for her kids. She still does, but now, her focus has been on her reputation and the study. Consider, we saw much less of Henry and Tessa this season because they weren’t as important to Virginia as her work life was. This wasn’t on purpose, but it showed how she’s changed. Heck, given his mother’s absence, this would be an appropriate time for Henry to suddenly want to move in with his father.
As much as Virginia may not have wanted to admit it, George had a real point and she wasn’t as good of a mother as she claimed. When she throws her drink in George’s face, she’s only proving his point. This season has been absolute hell for Virginia: dealing with Lillian’s death, the fallout between her and Ethan, trying to justify the affair, and now losing her children. She was advised not to push back, but she did just that. As a result, she’s now suffering the consequences.
To sum up the season in a word, it would be “change.” This season took a darker turn than the lighter affairs of the previous season as Bill and Virginia strive to complete the work on their terms by taking a leap of faith. There are plenty of questions: how much does Libby know? Will Bill’s issue be solved? How will their work be impacted by Kaufman getting out there first? Will Virginia get her kids back?
And whatever happened to Dr. Malcolm Toll? He was brought in at the end of last season to fill Ethan’s spot, but he hasn’t been mentioned once since then.
If anything, there’s a real sense of optimism, but will things still be bright when we return? Who knows? We’ll find out when we pick up with Season Three of Masters of Sex.