We ended with the dawn of a new day as the nation watched the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. Now let’s jump forward a few years as we revisit the lives of Masters, Johnson, and everyone in between in Masters of Sex. This is “Parliament of Owls.” An odd title, really.
The season begins at a Ritz Carlton Hotel in Boston, 1965. Virginia and Bill try to sleep, but Virginia is too distracted by the setup needed for their big, upcoming day, like a hired caterer and whether they should cancel the photographer. She works on giving Bill a handjob, though she keeps talking to the point where Bill tells her to quit it so he can fuck her properly.
Not three minutes, Masters of Sex, and we’re already back to the fucking. Well-done, really.
The next day, Bill and Virginia go over how they’ll address certain questions. There will be no rebuttals. Their one defense is continued research.
We then cut to a press conference where the two address reporters who have come to hear about the duo’s book: “Human Sexual Response,” which will be published early next year. The two are ready to have an honest discussion. They open the floor to questions, starting with one reporter: David Buckland, played by Eric Lange, has some questions about the language and whether a candid talk on sexual language can incite people.
He wonders if Masters and Johnson deliberately planned this, if this book is supposed to be geared toward the medical community. This book, he says, is a Trojan horse for much bigger plans. Maybe they’re just piggybacking off of the so-called sexual revolution. Not possible, since this has been a 12 year study. Seriously, has this guy not watched the first two seasons?
The work of Masters and Johnson supersedes that of Alfred Kinsey and is based on empirical evidence. Hell, these two are the sexual revolution.
We then flash back to four months earlier as Bill, Virginia, and Lester observe a couple. These are the Einhorns: Linda, played by Hanna Hall, and Donald, played by Chris Dougherty. The couple partakes in the sexual touching we touched- not intentional- upon last season, but Linda is ticklish. She suggests that Donald give her a rub rump, similar to the ones she receives from a man named Sergio, who does her alterations. She finds the brushes exciting.
Donald, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to fondle her, prompting Linda to cry. Not a strong way to try and save your marriage. At this point, Virginia cuts off the couple and then discusses her upcoming lake plans with Bill, who isn’t looking forward to this trip, relaxing as it may be. As for the couple? They’ll be back, just based on the look on Linda’s face. Lester can’t imagine anything scarier.
At the office, Bill states contemplatively out the window. He doesn’t even notice Betty- sporting a stylish new hairdo- until she walks in, bearing a package. He tells her that she’s free to leave, but she knows that already since even Lester has left to avoid going home to screaming kids and his Caligula in curlers. Apparently Lester’s words, not Betty’s. Honestly, it could have come from either of them, I think.
Betty was courteous enough to fill up the car with a full tank of gas so Bill and Virginia can get to the lake in no time at all. Why? She wants to be thanked, though Bill feels that he does often thank Betty. Bill’s focus is on the package from Little Brown & Company: a proof of the book.
As the two arrive at the house by the lake, Bill makes plans: it will take six weeks to proof the galleys. Little Brown’s plan is to send the corrected copies to a few journalists for an exclusive press conference, but Bill doesn’t want to let the publishers decide how to release the book. Once the book gets out to critics, they’ve lost control.
It’s just like Darwin. He achieved international fame, but he waited 20 years to publish his work, even when Cardinal Manning called his work a brutish philosophy with no God. Virginia shifts the discussion to her incomplete studies. She needs four months to finish off her degree and she’s not as good at Bill is at proofing. And Bill has always had a reason as to why it’s impossible for Virginia to go to school, through some form of subtle discouragement.
Bill rejects that, since Virginia not getting her degree is partially her fault. He does eventually admit to being discouraging, but not this time.
Inside the lake house, Libby is hard at work and we’re introduced to some new and different looking faces: a slightly older Jenny, played by Alyvia Alyn Lind, Johnny, played by Jaeden Lieberher, and the Masters’ third baby, Howie. Tessa is down by the docks and Henry will be joining the family later. When Virginia asks for a second opinion, Libby agrees that it’s wrong that Virginia doesn’t get to go to college.
While Bill claims that you can’t predict or control what will happen at a press conference, Virginia fears that she’ll be exposed for not having an education. For Bill, he feels that Virginia should wait until after the book is published or she’ll look like she’s desperate and sneak in a degree under the wire. She needs to focus on how this will appear. Virginia finds that to be unfair, as she’s been planning for this. If she waits until after publication, it will be too late.
With so much madness going on around him, Bill orders the kids out so the adults can talk. Or rather, so Libby can talk. She reminds Bill and Virginia that there are only a few weekends where their families come together and she doesn’t want it ruined. Fair enough. Bill and Virginia have work to do, but Bill has an additional task set on him by Virginia: talk to Tessa about sex, unplanned pregnancies, and the male libido. Basically put the fear of God into her. After all, Tessa won’t listen to her mother.
Bill says no. After all, Tessa has a father, but George has apparently been sleeping with an 18-year-old in order to mend his broken after his divorce with a woman named Audrey. Even still, Bill sees no reason why Tessa’s mother and close-enough-aunt Libby can’t talk to a 15-year-old about sex. He just wants peace and quiet so he can work in the front room. That’s Tessa’s room, but Bill says that she can move. Smooth move, Bill.
While Bill prepares to get proofing, Virginia explores the lake house and hears some moaning. She sneaks a peek into one room and finds, wouldn’t you know, Henry having sex! With a real girl!
Virginia immediately backs out and acts as if she’s been in the hallway the entire time. When Henry, now played by Noah Robbin, eventually emerges from the now empty room, he tells his mother that he got in earlier. How convenient.
Back to the press conference, Denny Keller, played by James Lujan, brings up the use of the term ‘sexual tension’ in the book. Such a phrase isn’t in the dictionary, but Bill explains that it’s a physiological elevation of sexual enjoyment, with signs like increased blood flow in the genitals- basically what the body does in response to sexual interest. It’s a term that Masters and Johnson feel that they have coined.
Virginia is caught off guard when David Buckland asks about her educational background and what makes her qualified to coin such terms. After all, Bill has his B.S. from Hamilton, but what about Virginia? Bill jumps in and says that Virginia has a B.A. in psychology from St. Louis University and is pursuing her Master’s in the same subject. Hell, she might even go for a PhD and become a practicing physician. After all, studies have shown that women are capable of almost anything.
After this, Virginia heads right to a bathroom stall. Bill, for some reason, heads in after her, but Virginia is upset with him discussing her credentials like that in front of the press. You see, the thing is that Virginia hasn’t taken her final in her last statistics course, despite Bill giving her three months off for her studies. Right now, though, Virginia just feels Bill has managed to invade every corner of her life. In response, Bill will accept Virginia’s apology later. As for now, she has five minutes.
Back in the past at the lake house, Virginia and Libby theorize who may have been the girl that Henry had with him. Henry himself isn’t being very proactive with his life, as his job opportunities seem to keep disappearing.
It’s here that we’re also properly introduced to an older Tessa, now played by Isabelle Fuhrman, who wants a puff of her mother’s cigarette in exchange for something. It’s a longer drag than necessary.
John brings some coffee to his father, who is busy proofing away at the…well, proof. He’s not joining in on the game of Life since that’s not his thing, but he thinks that the others want both him and Bill to play. He sneaks a peek at the proof and asks what human sexual response means, but Bill doesn’t respond. So John leaves.
Back to the game of Life, Virginia ends up learning that she’ll have kids. She names one after her best friend from school- Lisa Soracco. Oh, we also learn here that Henry drives an ice cream truck, but he’s not on schedule this weekend. Or any upcoming weekend, as he’s not working there anymore. Virginia isn’t pleased with this. The agreement was that Henry would defer college for one year to find gainful employment, but he’s had and lost three jobs. Rather, he’s quit. Why? That’s something Virginia probably won’t understand. Maybe it’s time for Libby to serve some lingonberry pie.
But she takes some time to check on Bill, who is making slow progress. Tessa needs the room for tonight and she can’t sleep with Henry, as she feels that they’re too old for that. Bill could always sleep in the room with Libby or use the spare mattress, but the spare goes in the living room. So he decides to sleep in the backyard, under the stars. Wasn’t that the point of this getaway?
The next day, Libby watches- and pops some pills- as Virginia and Jenny hula together since Henry is scarce. I’ve gotta wonder why Jenny is so obsessed with Henry. Is it the ice cream truck connection? Anyway, Virginia and Libby soon head into town.
Not long after, Tessa tells Bill that she needs something in town and it’s too late to ask her mother. Bill is far too busy to drive her, even if she’s started her period and doesn’t have any Kotex.
But Bill does head out when he spots Tessa trying to hitchhike. My God, Tessa, you’re a young White woman. Don’t you know better than that? Tessa says that they can go to the general store since it’s closer and she won’t ask any questions about sex. After all, she agrees that Bill is one of the last people to ask about sex. Bill takes a bit offense to this, but he reminds Tessa that her mother just wants what’s best for her, though Tessa doesn’t see why her own mother is afraid to have a frank conversation with her about sex.
Though Bill knows that Tessa would ignore anything that Virginia says. She doesn’t need to ignore the advice of people who care for her. Tessa offers a trade: if Bill lets her drive, she’ll let him talk about her body works. No dice.
At a park, Virginia tells Libby that she thinks Tessa called Virginia’s mother, who now wants to see the kids. Also, the arch has put St. Louis on the map, so Virginia’s parents would be willing to move. That must be one hell of an arch. Henry also left and didn’t tell anyone where he’s going.
Oh, there he is with a lady named Tina, played by Caitlin Gallogly. She seems like a nice person, but she can’t come by the lake house for dinner because she has to take care of her little one at home. Henry also says that he has business to take care of and won’t allow his mother to judge or guilt him. He is taking charge and plans to get a job. It should be noted that as Henry is arguing with Virginia, he’s stepping backwards into the street and not looking where he’s going.
So yeah, he gets hit by a moving vehicle. Always look both ways before crossing the street, people tell you, but no one listens. Anyway, Libby, more frantic about this than Virginia, yells for someone to call a goddamn ambulance! She also tells Henry to not goddamn move.
We then cut to the goddamn hospital, where Libby rants to the receptionist, played by Lashette Showers, that they’ve been waiting for a whole goddamn hour. George is on his way later. An ambulance didn’t show up because of the long weekend. Virginia doesn’t think much of the incident and Henry himself doesn’t even look to be in bad shape at all, but Libby snaps and calls Virginia cavalier for being so calm. Henry could’ve died. He could have goddamn died, people!
Outside, Libby calms down and embraces her inner Betty Draper by smoking again. She apologizes to Virginia for her behavior, and Virginia notices that Libby hasn’t been herself as of recent. Libby concedes that her children deserve much better than a mother who gets by on two Serax a day. Serax? The drug you take for anxiety and depression. Libby is just so upset about the 30 people who have died for Dr. King’s human rights cause.
Virginia, though, tells Libby that there are better ways to process news than drugs. I tend to agree, but Libby says that life is filled with loss. It’s ridiculous to think that you can stop it.
We cut back to the conference, where Buckland notes that Masters and Johnson’s data supports a societal trend, the vanishing double standard between the genders and emphasis on female sexual pleasure. Is a woman now free to say no? Of course she is. Women have freedom to act without deciding based on fear.
Then Bill and Virginia take a question from Miss Carole Delacourt, played by Liesel Kopp, from Ladies Home Journal. She wants clarification on whether, when Virginia says fear if she means the traditional fears women have to face in regards to sex, like fear of disease, social ostracism and unwanted pregnancy. Bill responds that this all stems from sexual ignorance, meaning a woman now has a more sophisticated choice because it is, in fact, her choice.
Following this is a question from Peter Norris, played by Colin Trahan, from The New York Times. Is it possible that the elimination of fear will break down barriers, including ones that protect us from diseases, stigma, and unwanted pregnancies? Virgina’s response is that it depends on what Mr. Norris means by barriers.
Bill jumps in and says that there is no universe where fear is a barrier worth preserving. Buckland asks if Bill believes that people shouldn’t be bound by societal convention, but Virginia interjects evidence showing that young men and women today are inclined to work things out emotionally rather than fixating on sex. So no, neither Bill nor Virginia believe that the removal of fear leads to the destruction of good values, but an arrangement between consenting adults must begin with the truth.
Oh, and Virginia’s dress is slightly unzipped in the back. This’ll be important later. That and, hey, it’s a shot of Lizzy Caplan’s ass. You can’t really go wrong.
Back at the hospital, Libby has gone home. Henry is just a bit sore and only needs to take some iodine for his knees. See? Not that bad at all. He’s been talking with Sergeant Marcus Ivey, played by Peter Douglas, and the two have apparently been in talks for much longer than today. Turns out the reason Henry was downtown was to head to the recruitment office again and meet Sergeant Ivey. Henry is ready to enlist, and though he’s not 18, he doesn’t want to wait.
I don’t see this situation ending well.
Later, Virginia meets with George, who already knew about Henry’s plans, but didn’t think that he meant it. The two clash, though George thinks that Virginia is just sore about losing the kids. She never once tried to change the custody arrangement in the last four years. In addition, he thinks that having more time with the kids must be great for Virginia since she’s so busy.
Only one parent is needed to sign the consent form and Virginia refuses. George plans to, even though Virginia wants this to be a team decision. George wants them to meet halfway. That way, they can reason with Henry and try to buy some leverage. It’s their best shot. Though it doesn’t seem like it, George is just as terrified of Henry’s future as Virginia is. They both just want to make sure their boy is safe.
At the lake house, Johnny is hungry and wants to eat with his father, but Bill insists that they wait for the others.
Tessa, who got into the liquor earlier, is now drunk off her ass and resting in the tub. She takes off her dress and puts some moves on Bill and, in one of those convenient television moments that I hate, kisses him when Johnny approaches.
How cliché can you get?
Johnny doesn’t want to talk about it. He takes the proof and rushes outside to the lake. Bill chases after him, but it’s too late, as Johnny throws the work into the water. Bill rages and comes very close to striking Johnny, who refuses to apologize. So Bill decides to ground him instead.
Libby finally arrives at the lake house just as Bill lets her know that he’s going to order more copies of the proof, but he also wants Libby’s opinion. If she approves, maybe Bill and Virginia will proceed with this press conference and let the work speak for itself. Libby is a bit surprised by this, but agrees.
After this, she pops by Virginia’s room and asks about Henry. He’s off celebrating with Tina. Of course. Libby tells Virginia that she’s been thinking a lot about her kids. She’s spent time medicating herself to not feel and it’s as if she hasn’t slept in forever. As for her marriage, she realizes that she doesn’t need Bill to be all or most things. The heart can only be broken so many times, and then she’s done, so long as her home and family remain intact.
A tough childhood can make you stronger, but sadder as well. Libby just wants to spare her children from pain.
And then Libby kisses Virginia, just to know what it felt like with her. It’s not a long kiss, but there you go.
Back at the press conference, Bill and Virginia acknowledge that they’ve taken a risk, but they’re standing by their work. They know people have fears of sex, but keep in mind that sex used to be valued, even if people didn’t fully understand it. This book, they hope, will reacquaint people with their natural selves, free of fear, but full of understanding.
Buckland jumps in yet again, but this time he admits that he’s scrutinized the book far more times than necessary. He has a reason, though: to evaluate the impact this material will have on society through its immense contribution. If people view the sexual union as so sacrosanct that it’s not open to question, keep in mind that people took a similar view in regards to the stars in Galileo’s day.
Virginia heads to the bathroom to vomit. Bill follows her in- I’m guessing that any man could just walk into a women’s restroom in the 1960s- and realizes what’s going on with Virginia: she’s pregnant.
“Parliament of Oaks” is a different sort of premiere than last year’s “Parallax.” Instead of directly continuing the storyline, we take a leap forward about four years. Like “Parallax,” we fill in some of the blanks by jumping back in time to the lake house and then to the present-day press conference.
It’s still a brand new world for Bill and Virginia, as the world around them is just as lively as it was when we took a time jump forward in last year’s “Asterion.” Like that episode, however, some of this episode is a bit jarring to watch.
One of my gripes with last year’s time jump forward was how Henry and Tessa didn’t really look all that different. Their personalities were intact, but physically, they looked pretty much the same.
Regardless of them being recast now, these older versions of Henry and Tessa feel like completely different characters, in my opinion. Though Henry and Tessa weren’t prominently featured in the first two seasons, we did get to learn about them a little bit. Henry clashed with his mother in the past, but to go from that to having sex with a woman who has a child was a bit hard to accept. It may be a step forward from the introverted nerd we’ve seen for two seasons, but I’d like some explanation as to where he got this sudden confidence.
And Tessa is also a bit more defiant, when she seemed more reserved as a child. Now she’s drinking, smoking, and hitting on Bill. Virginia says that Tessa apparently looks up to Bill. I can see her being more willing to have a conversation with Bill about sex instead of her own mother, but I do find it strange that she would be fond of Bill.
Especially considering she didn’t even know who he was at one point last season.
Sticking with the kids for a moment, Bill and Virginia’s handling of their own children hasn’t gotten any better from season to season. I repeat, with their own children. While Bill isn’t able to have a long conversation with Johnny or avoid being bitten by Howie, he’ll take time to speak with Tessa about sex because she’ll be more receptive to him and he does have the expertise and educational background that Virginia lacks.
Virginia, meanwhile, may not be able to keep Tessa from getting into the liquor cabinet or warn Henry about why he should look both ways while crossing the street, is able to bond with Bill’s kids and connect with them in ways that Libby can’t. She’s pretty much the replacement, as far as Libby is concerned.
The show is now set at a point in history where youth rebelled against the old guard and established ways of life. This comes through in not just Henry and Tessa’s behavior, but Johnny’s anger at his father for neglecting him. He spends a lot of time with himself, but he’s not blind to the fact that his father and mother don’t get intimate or kiss.
So seeing his father in an awkward position with Tessa is the last straw, and Bill suffers a work setback because of it. Though, if I’m honest, it was pretty easy to call that something would happen to that proof. It’s a thick stack of papers that required Bill’s full attention. I guessed that something would either spill on it or it would be destroyed. And that’s just what happened.
And in that moment where Bill raged, he saw himself becoming his father- the same rage-filled, abusive man that he spoke of in “Fight.” Here, Bill was his own worst enemy and he’s let his devotion to his work cloud his judgment and cause him to neglect his family. At least he had the sense to stop himself from making a huge mistake. But I do think Johnny’s reaction was a bit over the top since he didn’t have the full story. Plus, Bill and Tessa never actually kissed.
Virginia’s problems don’t fare much better, as she’s on the verge of losing one of her children. I like how this is the issue that managed to bring her and George together, as neither of them wants to see Henry brought home in a flag draped coffin. George is making an attempt to bond with his children, but Virginia is just as distant as she was last season, even more so now that the kids are older.
Like Bill, her focus on her job and education has distracted her from being a good and attentive mother. The problem is that Bill has become too interwoven in her life, such as when she said that she couldn’t even have a bathroom stall to herself without Bill following.
After all, she wanted to pass off sexual education for Tessa onto Bill, telling him to put the fear of God into her. Side-note, I do like that Bill refuses to give advice based on Virginia’s reasoning. Sure, he’s busy with the proofs, and I know that Virginia means well for her daughter’s sake, but she and Bill know that using sex as a means of scaring someone goes against everything they are trying to accomplish. An open and frank conversation can’t proceed if it’s based on fear.
Libby, though, is finding it harder and harder to have a frank conversation with almost anyone due to her mental state. Caitlin Fitzgerald has always been great in her performance as Libby and she was just as good in this premiere as we see just how far Libby has fallen. Before, she was willing to challenge Bill at times, but now she’s buried herself in drugs and depression.
It surprises me that she even had time to push out a third child, considering how she doesn’t see herself as a good fit for her kids, compared to Virginia. When she watches Jenny and Virginia hula, I could feel that Libby knew she was being replaced and that eats away at her. Considering how this episode picks up four years after the Season 2 finale, I hesitate to wonder whether she’s allowed herself to suffer for this long.
All she wants is for her home to remain intact, and it is, on the surface, but below that, the family is disjointed. Libby accepts that Bill won’t be an everyman for her, but to me, that makes it seem like she’s allowed herself to settle for less when she deserves much better. In this love triangle, Libby is the third wheel, but at least she pretty much alerted Virginia to the fact that she knows about the affair. I wondered last season how she figured that out and I still do, but now Virginia knows that her indiscretion with Bill isn’t as secret as she would have liked.
Most of the people in Bill and Virginia’s personal lives become casualties as the two push forward with their work. They told themselves last year that this wasn’t affair, so while they keep lying to themselves to start a frank conversation about sex and the importance of their work, others around them suffer.
Like “Asterion,” there are some story points that we aren’t made aware of, but I assume will come up as the season progresses. What’s the deal with Lester’s home situation? When did Virginia first notice that she was pregnant? When did Libby and Bill decide to have a third child when Bill was never a fan of children in the first place? That and his sperm count, after all. What became of Libby’s affair with Robert? Though I wasn’t a fan of it or her previous treatment of Coral, it was one of the few times she allowed herself a bit of happiness.
Oh, and what was with that disclaimer at the end of the episode?
“Parliament of Owls” wasn’t as strong of a season premiere as “Parallax,” but it was still a good episode that showed us how far Bill and Virginia have gone with their lie while leaving a trail of unhappy friends and family members in their path.