“Through a Glass, Darkly.” Good, not great. The performances are great, but some plot points I’ve got some problems with because they aren’t as developed as well as they could have been, in my opinion. Let’s jump right in.
The episode begins with Bill pulling into a parking garage and spotting Virginia not too far off from him. He calls out to her, but gets no response. A man approaches Bill and tells him that if he can’t control himself, how can he expect to control Virginia? He needs to flatter her and set a trap that she’ll walk into, like always. The man then vanishes.
As Virginia prepares to head into work, Dan plans to do some sightseeing in St. Louis which, in his mind, is becoming the Paris on the Mississippi. To Dan’s surprise, Virginia is ready to begin the next phase of the scent research: testing scented lotions in sensate therapy. Dan gets right to the heart of the matter- he doesn’t see why the two of them need to tiptoe around Bill by doing fake work, as they’ve done for two weeks.
But Virginia’s justification for this is that she and Bill are about to head to Little Brown to present their initial research for their second book. If Bill found out about this other fling, Virginia fears that she’ll be kicked out of the project. Dan calls Bill a child, saying he’s one to take his toys away if he doesn’t get what he wants. Once the book is signed off, Virginia tells Dan that she’ll reassess. Dan agrees, for the moment.
Virginia enters the building and finds Ronald speaking with Mr. and Mrs. Carson. Ronald claims that he’s just here to get his typewriter fixed, but he’s got a few choice words for Virginia: he feels sorry for her. She’s been brainwashed by Bill Masters and isn’t the same woman she once was, and Ronald, of course, knows her well enough to make that judgment.
Upstairs, Bill approaches Virginia with some thoughts on her reservations about the surrogate program. He believes that she had valid concerns that he just dismissed without giving them proper attention. The results are not what Bill had hoped for and he’s ready to end it, but consider: all past projects in the study have involved both a male and female point of view.
Bill needs Virginia’s perspective and honest evaluation, which she can only offer if she participates. Virginia agrees, and she can start right now with Lester’s session.
Lester’s new mate of the day is a woman named Lois Weiland, played by Sascha Alexander, who does not like the term ‘vagina’ which Lester refers to it as when he tries to touch it. Nah. Lois prefers the term ‘kitty.’ Sure. I’ve never heard of it referred to as such, but let’s go with it.
On the other side, Virginia learns that there’s only been minimal improvement in dyspareunia, with only a little bit of increase in vaginal lubrication during sensate therapy.
Lois notices a scar on Lester’s forehead- a scar he received when he stabbed himself in the head with a compass in high school therapy. Lois veers way off topic by inviting Lester to her nephew’s Bar Mitzvah this Saturday, but Lester already has a Bar Mitzvah to attend: his grandmother’s.
Okay, that’s enough. Lester’s inaccuracy of other religions besides Catholicism aside, Bill and Virginia try to get to the root of the problem. Lester doesn’t see any issue since he stuck to the protocol. And he’s been doing his research. He read an article about finches in the Galapagos that pick their mate by finding a male that builds the best nest. His conclusion? Females are hardwired to want a provider, not someone to fix their dysfunction.
Virginia doesn’t see the direct comparison. The study shows that women can see sex in purely physical terms, just as men can. Bill sends Lester out so he and Virginia can discuss this on their own. To Virginia’s surprise, Bill agrees with her. The problem is the protocol, or rather, lack of protocol for male surrogates to use. There needs to be a protocol for manual stimulation.
Virginia suggests observing more cases, but Bill says they could just solve it themselves the way they always have: testing it on themselves. After all, they’ve done it before, so why not now? Plus, they’ve always put the patients first. Though Virginia wants to focus on the book, she agrees to the self-examination.
Libby attempts to join Paul in the shower, but he has to get ready for an all-faculty meeting. Though Libby has already paid the babysitter for the day, Paul suggests that she enjoy the time off…and if she gets bored, she can run some errands for Paul.
In their own little corner, Barton prepares for the next appointment when Jonathan asks if he has plans for tonight. Why? Jonathan has an extra ticket to see Parsifal after his friend canceled. Barton needs to draft his remarks for a panel on Saturday, but says he can do that tomorrow. Realizing that Jonathan won’t take ‘No’ for an answer, Barton agrees.
Tessa brings Matt by her house for some drinking and loving, but they’re interrupted by the arrival of Dan, who came to discuss work matters with Virginia. Right. Anyway, after discovering the two, he keeps them there until they all talk with Virginia.
Unfortunately, Virginia is too busy testing sensate therapy with Bill, who begins to place his hand on her pubis. After a bit of fingering around, Virginia sees the problem: when the woman opens her eyes, she’s aware of the other person and their needs. Eye contact is the issue.
Virginia concludes that for a woman to focus on healing herself, she needs to be free of a man’s expectations. So the suggestion is to have the man sit behind the woman and wrap his arms around her. Virginia feels a natural change, but Bill takes it further. What if the woman guided the man’s hands to show what feels good?
So yeah, Virginia is a bit occupied at the moment. Dan sends Tessa to grab some sodas so he can talk to Matt on his own. If Matt has feelings for Tessa, he needs to think about how her feelings in the long run.
When Virginia finally arrives, the four talk. Matt and Tessa have apparently been together for five months. As Tessa points out, Virginia hasn’t been around much to learn about this. After all, they’ve only had seven meals and three school rides together. Tessa is very meticulous in regards to her mother’s absence, I’ll give her that.
Virginia is still disappointed that her daughter lied and snuck around, and when Tessa says that she’s just as guilty of the same thing, Virginia’s mere defense is that she’s an adult. That doesn’t make it right, Virginia. Matt takes the blame for this, saying that his feelings for Tessa are unlike anything he’s felt for another girl. He loves her. Yeah, Matt, I’m sure your love for Tessa shined bright when you forced her to choke on your cock. Bottom line: if Tessa and Matt are going to keep seeing each other, Virginia wants them to be safe.
Paul arrives at home and finds that Libby managed to get the groceries. Happy days are indeed here. However, it turns out that Paul had a reason for Libby running errands: he brought the kids with him to present an early birthday gift they’ve been preparing. Johnny and Jenny put on a performance about a Princes named Libby who sat in a tower for days and days. One day, she tried to signal a boy who rode by on a horse. I smell a lawsuit.
Back at House Johnson, Virginia pops by Tessa’s room. Tessa feigns being asleep- even though her light is still on- but Virginia is just here to talk: she never intended to embarrass her like that. Sex, the most intimate thing two people can do, is something that should be taken seriously. Giving that part of you to another person is a sacred act. Tessa should know her heart and be sure that Matt deserves her.
At a bar, Barton and Jonathan talk about the performance. They’re joined by two of Jonathan’s friends: Cal and Arnold, played by Richardson Jones. The two are pretty flamboyant, to say the least. As Barton goes to get the three a drink, he overhears some other bar patrons don’t take too kindly to the pink ladies in the bar. As a confrontation leads to a fight, Barton slips out of the building.
Next day at House Masters, Libby finds Bill staring outside. He was tossing and turning all night and has now been thinking about his father, which he hasn’t done for 15 years, but has been doing for the past few weeks. Bill, having thought about what Libby has done for him and the kids, decided to get her something special for her birthday. He got her an itinerary for a trip to Chicago…a trip that she’ll be taking by herself.
Sounds odd, but Bill has his reasons: last time he and Libby went on vacation together, he ruined it and Libby sent her home. Libby doesn’t see why Bill would think that she’d want to do those things alone, but Bill calls this a well-earned break away that she can enjoy without him.
At the office, a bruised Jonathan talks with Barton, who says that last night didn’t have to happen the way it did. Barton is nothing like Jonathan’s fancy friends. He’s fine with the company of men, as long as they aren’t ones that make it harder for other men. People like Jonathan’s friends have to put on a show and giggle like girls instead of presenting themselves like men.
But Jonathan doesn’t see it that way. Hell, this isn’t the first time he’s been kicked out of a bar and beaten. He calls men like Barton weak. Jonathan will finish out the day and then leave.
Elsewhere in the office, Dan learns that Tessa is still angry at Virginia. Dan also informs Virginia that she’s in trouble because not only is Tessa smart enough to know about Virginia and Dan, but Dan also knows about Virginia’s affairs with Bill. Betty enters to inform Virginia that Bill is waiting for her in the exam room.
Virginia and Bill go over new protocol with Lester, who wants out and admits that he signed up for this surrogacy program to make Jane jealous. Yeah, no shit. And it worked. Jane won’t speak to him…which, I guess, must be why she’s not at the office. Maybe she took the day off. Anyway, during the sessions, Lester is scared that he won’t get a boner, and if he doesn’t, the women will feel bad. But if he does pop one, Lester worries that Jane will find out.
Virginia snaps at Bill: this is why the program doesn’t work. They’re trying an experiment that has an infinite number of variables and no controls. This leads to chaos, as we’ve seen. Bill is convinced that the technique can work, but right now, he tells Virginia that she means more to him than any research program. If she’s not fine with this, they’ll do a few more cases and end the surrogacy program altogether. Bill just wants it to be the two of them again.
Soon after, Bill makes a reservation for two this evening. But then Nora enters his office to talk about yesterday’s session and what Bill said about establishing clear and direct communication with the subjects. She did that, but couldn’t postpone ejaculation and isn’t sure what she could have done differently.
Bill tells Nora that it’s not all dependent on her, but then Nora begins to demonstrate on Bill’s finger how she pressed below the head of the penis. Was that the right amount of pressure? Bill tells her that the firmness should be proportionate to the degree of the erection. Nora moves back and forth on Bill’s finger to show how she would move higher up on the penis. Sensual as this moment is, Bill heads off as he spots Virginia heading for the elevator.
Down in the parking garage, he spots her getting out of his dreams and into Dan Logan’s car.
Betty goes to Barton to talk about Jonathan suddenly handing in his notice. Why so fast? Barton tells her that he wasn’t the right, but Betty thought that the two had a nice rapport. So Betty talks about her pregnant friend who needs a check, but doesn’t have a husband and she isn’t a single mother. Betty soon admits that it’s her girlfriend and how she wants to be by Helen’s side for every single appointment so she isn’t shut out of anything.
Barton has no problem with that, though Betty figured that he wouldn’t. Time for background. Betty used to pray that God would take her apart and put the pieces together differently so she wouldn’t have to want what she wanted. But then she met Helen, who happened to love her. Betty didn’t feel right about that at first, but she realized she was seeing herself through another person’s eyes.
Tessa wants to have sex on her mother’s bed. Matt is hesitant. Scene.
Libby barges in on Paul again, but he has an actual birthday gift. Libby tells Paul that she’s 40. If she’s lucky, she may have 40 more years ahead of her. She then dishes out details about her wedding at a city hall in Detroit. She and Bill had to wait because of another couple in front of them. The bride was blonde, just like Libby.
Every wedding anniversary, Libby wonders what that bride is up to now. Is she happy? Is there more in her life than Libby’s? Libby does not want to keep going like this because there’s something better. Paul agrees, and Libby can have something better with him. He wants Libby to be his wife and is willing to wait since a lot needs to happen for this to work. He puts a string around her wedding ring.
As Bill prepares to leave, he spots Nora hard at work. Figuring that the elevator isn’t that important anymore, he heads over to Nora, who almost turns on the light, but Bill tells her not to. Things get hot and heavy, but before penetration can happen, Nora tells Bill to say that he loves her. She wants this.
But Bill does not. He admits that he’s messed this up and the only thing he’s done right is loving someone so completely with as much of his broken soul as he can muster. If he gives that up, he’ll have nothing. Nora eases off, not realizing how devoted Bill was to his wife. Very funny.
Elsewhere, Virginia tells Dan that she didn’t decide her life would be like this. She’s just been walking through one door after another until she wound up married to her ex-husband and seeing two married men at the same time. Dan says she doesn’t need an explanation. People’s lives are complicated. Tessa just needs help understanding that.
But Virginia doesn’t know what to say to her daughter. She thinks of all her excuses for working late, figuring that Tessa knew all along. She thinks of how Tessa must see her- it’s as if she’s seeing herself for the first time. She can’t go home to face her daughter. So while Dan goes to put on some coffee, Virginia opens a drawer and turns the Bible around so the front isn’t facing her. You show that Bible.
Back in the parking garage, Nora cries in a car and is joined by Ronald of all people. It’s been a hard week for her, she says. Ronald explains that the word ‘holy’ comes from the Greek word ‘hagios,’ meaning separate. When God tells us he longs for us to be holy, he means at a distance. Each time we take away that distance, we’re in danger. We, Ronald says, forget the line that separates them from the others.
Ronald’s tried getting in touch with Nora for a few weeks, but she assures him that she’s fine. He hopes that she returns to the path from which she strayed.
The episode comes to a close with Bill making a call. He waits as the phone rings and rings…
“Through a Glass, Darkly” is a mixed episode for me. I enjoyed some of the performances and interpersonal conflicts, but some of the situations fell flat for me and what should have felt like big revelations and surprises didn’t have much impact for me.
If there’s a theme of this episode, it’s about seeing yourself through another person’s eyes. Often we find ourselves saying that we know ourselves better than anyone else. Sure, that may be true, but others can see things in or on you that you yourself can’t. Bill, for example, may think all he’s doing is for the good of science, but then Dan refers to him as a child who acts out when he doesn’t get his way. It’s one thing to think of yourself in a certain light, but it’s another when someone close paints you in a different picture.
It’s like when the Plastics or Cady tried to convince themselves that the world revolved around them when, in fact, they were just horrible people and it took other people pointing that out for them to realize that. And I understand this is just an easy way for me to make a Mean Girls reference since Lizzy Caplan appeared in that.
But keeping with the theme, it felt like characters observing themselves in a mirror or, rather, through a glass, darkly. Imagine looking at a cracked mirror of yourself. Would you like what you saw? I’m gonna guess ‘No’ because you can’t make it out, but even if you tried, it wouldn’t be a nice image. You’d hope you could try and find something nice to see in yourself, but the cracks are noticeable.
While I think some of Betty’s dialogue has been blatant in the past, I did sort of appreciate her words to Barton about wanting God to piece herself together anew.
Let’s get to Barton, actually. The man hasn’t had much screen time this season and we haven’t seen him working at the clinic that often since he arrived. Jonathan had shown up once prior to this episode and already he wants out because of Barton not being as out and proud as he is. Sure, Jonathan isn’t walking like a woman or talking like a sissy, as his friends apparently do, but they have no reservations about their sexuality.
Barton does. He’s a professional first. His personal life is no one’s business except those close to him. Like Dale two seasons ago, Jonathan feels bad for Barton because he sees in him everything that homosexual men shouldn’t be: trying to hide under a veil of secrecy about who they are. So it makes sense that he’d want to leave because he can’t work with someone who can’t accept his own identity. Though Barton never gave any indication that he was that kind of gay man.
The relationship between the two came a bit too fast and apparently must have occurred off-screen. Otherwise, it’s pretty fast that Jonathan would come to this conclusion about Barton after only the second time we’ve seen him. We as an audience met him once before, and that was his introduction. And even then, he didn’t appear that much. His exit was too fast, but then, the door looks to be open for him to return.
Also, I can’t recall many instances, if any, of Barton interacting with Betty, but she also seems to have him figured out as a gay man. Okay, it’s possible that Bill confided in her, but that’s a stretch. Otherwise, how did she connect the dots? And why would Betty even bring up having a pregnant friend who needed a doctor for some upcoming ultrasounds? She’s already filled in Bill, and Helen did see a doctor who confirmed that she was pregnant. Hell, even Austin is a doctor, and he’s staying with Betty and Helen.
Chances are that Betty and Helen have options to consider already. This just felt like a way for Betty to understand that she and Barton have something in common, but I didn’t like the sloppy execution. This would make more sense if we’d seen more scenes of the two interacting, because unless that all happened off-screen, I can’t see how she’d confide such a major secret in Barton. At least Bill already knows that she’s a lesbian. I’m just not as invested in Barton as I should be, but part of that has to do with how little we’ve seen him. If he has this friendship with Betty, fine, but I wish we’d seen it develop on-screen.
Virginia receives a sort of shock when she realizes that Tessa has been onto her for quite some time, though I can’t imagine why she’s surprised by this. She and Bill haven’t been what you’d call subtle in regards to this affair. I’m not convinced by Virginia being so caught off-guard by someone learning of her extramarital affairs. After all, Lillian knew and she had a very close connection with Virginia. Even Libby is wise to it.
So while it’s not as big a reveal as it could have been, but it’s a bigger deal for Virginia because this is her daughter. Tessa is walking a similar path as her mother with being defiant and rebellious. Tessa is Virginia’s mirror. The difference is that while Virginia just wanted approval from her mother, she’s not around enough for Tessa to say or ask for much of anything. And Virginia just looked petty when she brushed aside her private affairs by saying that she’s an adult.
It’s a copout that adults use often on their children when they don’t have a good justification for their questionable behavior, and for Virginia to stoop to that level is a step backwards for her. She’s coming down to Tessa’s level and tries to make up for this by talking about the importance and risks of sex. It’s nice to see Virginia be more careful in her approach, but she’s smart enough to have taken that approach from the start instead of just talk down to her daughter.
Virginia is conflicted in that she still doesn’t know what she wants. She never imagined way back when that she’d find herself in such a prestigious position, but morally conflicted. Though Tessa may be Virginia’s mirror, Virginia doesn’t even recognize who she herself is anymore. Hell, she even thinks the Bible may be judging her if her solution is to turn it around.
Even with Matt and Tessa claiming that they’re in love, I still call foul on this. Sure, Tessa may be resigned to pleasure Matt in any way that she can, but it’s odd for Matt to declare his love for her, given what he forced her to do.
Or maybe it’s not odd and Matt was just abusive in that moment, but now has second thoughts in light of Dan’s little pep talk. Whatever the cause, he’s now on the defensive as Tessa is the one who wants to have sex with him.
At the start of the episode, Bill received advice to set a trap for Virginia so she’d walk in like always, but this isn’t the same Virginia from two seasons ago. She’s wiser and smarter than that. So while Bill might have his own reservations about the surrogacy program, something he advocated and started when Virginia was away, his willingness to end it is just an attempt to woo Virginia back in his arms. That attempt fails.
Bill may realize that he’s slowly losing Libby, but it’s Virginia he wants to hold onto for as long as he can. The man is far too dependent on her. The breakdown scene with Nora was another example of Sheen’s great acting as we watched Bill crumble. In a moment of weakness, he was prepared to throw his love and passion for Virginia out the window for Nora.
This man is one childlike individual. Dan may have had him right. He couldn’t have Virginia in that moment, so he goes after someone who, in the very previous episode, said that he reminded her of her father. Bill’s emotions are all over the place. He almost bones a woman he’s known since her childhood, he pines for a married woman and coworker who he feels that he’s losing, and he’s further pushing Libby away from him.
I get why Bill wants Libby to go away on her own. Yeah, part of it could be him wanting to be able to pursue Virginia uninterrupted, but there’s some validity to his words about Libby enjoying herself. He soured their last vacation, so he’s hoping to let Libby be her own woman and not be shackled down by his pessimism and clinical talk. This may end up being the final push she needs.
Side-note, I did like the continuity nod, as we witnessed Bill ruin that very vacation back during “Brave New World” in Season One. Nice connection and it’s believably handled, as Bill kept talking about work during that vacation, leading Libby to send him home.
And Libby is indeed one step closer to finding that next chance at happiness with Paul. Her reflection is the blonde getting married in front of her. Libby’s future is one giant question mark because she’s always wondering what this other, unnamed woman is doing with her life. When Libby is with Paul, she’s at ease. Now she’s willing to do whatever it takes to have something better with Paul.
Never mind the fact that Paul’s wife just died and Libby just played matchmaker with Paul and Stephanie. But hey, Bill and Virginia are screwed up, so why not let Libby join in on the hijinks?
So Nora has some connection to Ronald. It’s hard to tell how these are linked based on what we have so far. I’m left wondering whether Nora is just another fundamentalist type out to save Bill’s soul. This reveal comes out of nowhere and not in a way that I like, particularly since we’re so close to the end of the season and we haven’t known Nora that long. We’ve seen Ronald plenty of times, but I find Nora more interesting when she was just a connection from Bill’s past. Ah well. It’s just the reveal, so we’ll see where this leads.
Side-note, while Emily Kinney may have a small rack, she has a gorgeous ass.
But anyway, “Through a Glass, Darkly” is a conflicting episode. There are some good performances and I like the idea of characters seeing themselves through the lens of other people, but some plot points, like Barton’s storyline, Libby’s devotion to Paul after a recent tragedy, and my general lack of interest in Tessa’s affairs muddled this for me. It’s not a bad episode by any means, but nothing great either.