Well, a somewhat focused story. After episodes of dealing with multiple plots, this week’s “Party of Four” condenses things down to a mere two storylines. That’s good that we’re more focused, but bad in that some of the characters go through motions we’ve seen them experience before. Let’s dive right in.
The episode begins with Bill and Virginia arriving at a fancy restaurant that, according to Betty, was given a four star rating by The New York Times. Indeed, very fancy. But it’s also hard to get a reservation. Bill feels that tonight is a time to celebrate, even though Virginia says that Bill monopolized their prior meeting. Bill checks his coat in to the clerk, Colette, played by Carly Waldman, but Virginia holds onto hers.
Meanwhile, Bill’s reservation is nowhere to be seen. In addition, Virginia is surprised to learn that this dinner is for four, not two, as Bill invited Dan and his wife, Alice. That shouldn’t be a problem for Virginia.
Over in St. Louis, Paul plays a bit of grab-ass with Libby, but she won’t have that while the kids are still awake. Paul, putting on his football coach persona, orders Jenny and Johnny to bed, but the kids don’t make a move. They do respond to Libby’s order that they head to sleep in 10 minutes.
Back at the restaurant, Virginia is livid that Bill did not fill her in about this being a four person dinner. Maybe Bill told Betty about this, not Virginia. He asks if he’s listed under the name Mosher instead, but then the real Moshers arrive.
So why are Dan and his wife coming? After all, Bill barely talked with Dan and didn’t even like his scent work. Bill admits that he’s been unfair and how he felt threatened by Dan’s presence. He was taking Virginia’s time, but also opened his checkbook, so Bill and Virginia have a book contract.
Hence, this dinner is meant to show Bill and Virginia’s appreciation. Virginia is surprised, but doesn’t find it awkward that Bill invited Dan’s wife. She heads off to freshen up.
In the powder room, a bright young woman named Daphne, played by Yvonnne Zima, offers Virginia some fragrances. Virginia turns her down, but ends up getting sprayed anyway. Daphne is new at this. The normal employee, Carol, slipped in the kitchen, knocking out two front teeth and giving herself a black eye in the process.
Must’ve been a hard floor. But her employees told her to stay home and heal so it doesn’t look like her boyfriend beat her.
But the reason Virginia doesn’t want to be sprayed is because the man she’s seeing has an aversion to women wearing fragrances due to his sensitive nose.
This reveal doesn’t escape the ears of a woman in a stall who was in need of some paper. Who is she? We’ll get to that in a second.
Paul, who had been fixing some lights, is called by Johnny to help flatten a bug in his room. But big, brave Johnny isn’t afraid of them. He just doesn’t them. That or thunder. He hates thunder. Maybe timpanists like thunder, but not Johnny. Paul shares his own fears- he’s afraid of letting people see him when he’s scared of something. For example, he closes his eyes and whistles when he gets a shot. After a brief example, the two promise not to share each other’s secrets.
Dan finally arrives at the restaurant, an establishment he’s familiar with, as he invested in it years back. He’s surprised to find Virginia there, as Betty made the arrangements and Dan’s secretary assumed that Alice was the other participant, so she called her to confirm.
And then Virginia finally gets a face-to-face introduction to Alice, played by the always lovely Judy Greer. Alice knows that Dan thinks highly of her, as he talks about her nonstop. A table finally becomes available.
Unfortunately, as Jacques, played by Jonathan Kells Phillips, tells the four, it’s not nearly large enough to suit them, but they can accommodate. Bill orders champagne.
Paul is still at work fixing things around the Masters’ household, though Libby tells him that he can’t fix everything since Bill will notice. Paul doubts that. He shares a fantasy that the kids will someday call him their father. Howie, for example, has a thing with pronouncing his Ls. Paul would eventually become Pa. I suppose that’s how it works.
Though Alice isn’t a fan of the name, Bill leads a toast to Human Sexual Inadequacy, which happens to be the title of the next book. Sure, it’s a hard sell, but Bill just upped the ante by deviating off-script for a bit, while Virginia again says he hijacked the meet altogether. How’s that? There’s going to be a chapter in the book related to the surrogate program, which he revived and committed to after Little Brown seemed disinclined to move forward.
Virginia still isn’t a fan of the program or Bill’s approach. The last time they were short hard evidence that would yield results- the impotency study- Bill argued that it was wrong to promote it. Alice, noting the chemistry between the two, asks if they’re married.
Dan then turns it on Bill: why isn’t his wife present? Well, they have three kids, and Bill cares about them so much that he doesn’t have photos of them. But then, Alice points out that Dan doesn’t bring her on trips, either. Her theory is that with more women working, it’s easier for a man to work unencumbered by a wedding ring. Dan thinks that Bill’s approach is to tease what he probably can’t provide.
Alice thinks of Dan’s past flings, starting with a linen heiress in Dallas whom Dan sold her on the idea of having lavender sachets in your seet shets…ahem, sheet sets. Alice has had a few drinks, if you haven’t noticed. Bill leads another toast- this time to Dan’s financial support, as the advance will cover operational costs moving forward. This means Dan can be repaid in full and be given a significant return on his investment. The journey has ended.
Of course, this surprises Virginia and Dan, who saw this as a partnership. Bill needs clarification on the partnership involving lubricants- I mean, lotions. This prompts another memory from Alice, particularly a company in Seattle where Dan helped with a lotion line and worked for months with a darling Japanese chemist.
Virginia interrupts the toast to remind Bill that while he might not have been a fan of Dan’s work, she has given him latitude to do things that interested him. Alice, though, likes some of the scents, but Dan objects to her wearing any fragrances. He has this…what’s the word? Aversion. Yeah, Dan has an aversion to scents.
Dan sees what’s at play here: Bill planned this dinner before he knew how the publisher meeting would go. But then, a good outcome was assured since the last book sold well. And yet, Bill was probably prepared to offer the surrogacy study over Virginia’s objections just to get the publisher on board to celebrate. And after that, there’d be no more Dan Logan. Virginia heads off in a huff.
Libby goes over her farewell speech to Bill. Paul advises her to be honest and direct, but the problem is that Libby isn’t sure yet what she wants. A separation? Divorce? Would Bill ask why? She doesn’t want him to know it’s because of Paul, even though she’s had plenty of reasons to leave. Libby hasn’t had the courage to say anything yet. She thinks Bill may be shocked and angry, but won’t yell. Libby’s fear is that Bill might not care. Hell, he might even be relieved.
Then Libby receives an unexpected surprise when she receives a visit from Detective David Asher, played by Maury Sterling. He asks for Bill, but he also needs to ask Johnny some questions. As Paul is not family, Detective Asher asks him to leave.
Bill and Virginia’s argument continues all the way to the coat room. He apologizes, but he needed Virginia to see for herself that she’s just Dan’s most recent affair. Even still, Virginia maintains that it’s her business what she chooses to do outside of work. Bill counters that this became his business when Virginia came up with a research program designed to keep Dan in her life. Even still, Bill cut Virginia out for an entire year the last time she admitted having a lover.
Detective Asher asks Johnny what his father does for a living, and he specifically wants to hear Johnny, not Libby, say it. Johnny’s response is that his father teaches people how to make babies and help their parts fit. Has Bill ever shown Johnny how his body works? No? Well, what about his friends? Johnny also says no…in regards to his friends. His memory is hazy.
So Asher recalls an incident from a few weeks back where Martha Geiss and Olivia Lambert heard Johnny say that his father showed Dennis how to fix his penis. Johnny admits that he said it, but only because he was angry and hates Dennis. Johnny rejects Libby’s claim that Bill loves him since he spends much more time with Dennis.
It’s only when Asher asks Johnny if he ever saw any physical activity that Libby cuts off this interrogation and sends Johnny to his room. Asher tells her that Dennis confirmed with his mother that Bill showed him photos of a naked man without his parent’s permission. And under what circumstances would it be appropriate for an adult to show explicit sexual images to a minor? Libby maintains that Bill would never hurt a child. Asher leaves, but he’ll be back.
Dan is ready to leave, but Alice wants to stay and threatens to make a scene. Please don’t make a scene, Judy Greer. She asks if Dan is sorry, since he apparently feels the need to rub Virginia in Alice’s face. After all, that’s not a good way to meet your husband’s mistress, but Dan claims that he never denied being with any of his past flings. Alice can’t claim it’s unfair when she proposed this arrangement, but she didn’t have a choice other than looking the other way.
But Dan maintains that Alice’s behavior leaves him no choice, what with her constant drinking and threats to hurt herself. But Alice isn’t stupid. She knows that Dan likes fixing her, as he likes fixing other women as well. But Virginia? She’s not broken, though Alice thinks otherwise. Dan at least said he loves Virginia, while he hasn’t expressed such emotions for Alice.
Bill and Virginia are still arguing in the coat check. Why they haven’t relocated their argument is something I don’t understand. Virginia demands to know what kind of partnership can the two have if Bill just marginalizes her every time she upsets him. A fair question. Bill doesn’t believe that Virginia can be happy with Dan. Yes, he concedes that she’s entitled to a life outside of work, but she doesn’t want one.
Virginia recognizes this as the same argument Bill used when she was in labor- ambivalence was her problem. She thought Bill meant it, but now sees that this argument only helps him.
So why does Dan love Virginia? Well, Dan likes that her life doesn’t start when he arrives or stop when he leaves. Dan needs a partner, not a project, like Alice believes is how he sees her. And Alice can make Dan laugh like Virginia does, but it’s not enough to make up for past sins.
Bill stands his ground. In his eyes, Virginia needed permission to stop hating herself. She’s unconventional, but is still her mother’s daughter. A relationship will never satisfy her the way work does because at least that gives much more purpose than a man. Being shackled down to a man would be a waste of what she can offer. Virginia leaves the coat room- at last- just as she spots Alice rushing to the bathroom. See, too much wine will do that to you.
Johnny wonders whether his father is in trouble because of what he said. Libby says that the problem is just how people will interpret his words. Even still, Johnny worries that this will give Bill yet another reason to hate him. After all, Libby is always telling Bill to spend time with his son instead of just letting the bond develop on its own, which Bill won’t do.
Libby shares a secret with Johnny: she thinks Bill is afraid to show how much he loves Johnny. He was afraid to hold him as a baby because he’s afraid to love something he might hurt. In Libby’s mind, Bill doesn’t want to pass on what he doesn’t like about himself, like his own father, who didn’t care about being a good parent and often took out his anger on young Bill. Even worse, the two never made up their spat. Johnny hoped that things would be better.
In the ladies room, Alice is done evacuating and joins Virginia. Daphne offers some mouthwash, but Eau de Toilet probably isn’t the best of options. You know, I would love a spin-off with nothing but Daphne’s misadventures in the ladies’ room. Anyway, Alice laments the fact that she and Virginia could have been friends.
She’s wise to Dan and Virginia’s affair and won’t stand for Virginia playing dumb. Alice tells Virginia to enjoy Dan while she can. All of his flings think they’re different. Dan is a gentleman, yes, but when he shows up at your door saying he want to spend his life with you, in that moment, he’ll think he means it.
Libby Draper smokes while telling Paul about her talk with Johnny. Though no charges have been filed, Paul wants more information on what Johnny may have said. Bill’s work and lack of judgment have made him vulnerable, Paul says. But Libby knows Bill…and she also knows that he’s had this other woman for over a year. Even still, Libby still believes that Bill would not hurt a child.
Paul thought his home life went well, too, only to learn that Joy planned on leaving him. You think you know someone until you don’t. Libby second guesses walking away since she’s protecting her children from the impression that Bill is a monster. If she leaves, that’s what she’s saying and there’s no taking that back.
But, Paul says, leaving Bill says that Libby is better off without him. Bill is a bad husband, no doubt, but there’s little reason to take the kids away from him, even if Paul would be a better father. Libby fears that leaving Bill would start Johnny down a cycle where he’d become as distant as his father.
So Libby could stay, but is this what to do now? Or forever?
Bill and Dan face off, Dan asking Bill if he expected things to go the way they did. They have, even though Virginia stormed off, though Alice leaving is Dan’s fault. Dan calls Bill misguided if he thinks that alienating Virginia is how to win her back. But Bill isn’t worried. He knows it’s inevitable that Virginia will leave Dan because that’s what she does. After all, she did the same thing to Ethan Haas way back when.
Sure, Bill asked her to marry him, but more as a sort of intellectual partnership with both of their names on the study symbolizing the vow. This is how they think of themselves. Granted, that was 10 years ago, but Bill is planning to put Virginia’s name next to his on their new book to renew their vows.
What if it’s too late? Well, Bill says that when a train is pulling out of a station and you’re not on it, you run twice as fast and hard to make sure it doesn’t leave without you. Dan figures Bill must be a chess expert with all this plotting and planning, but there’s an easier way to get what he wants: tell Virginia how he feels about her. Did that ever occur to Bill? It did to Dan. And that is checkmate. And that is also when Bill receives an emergency phone call.
Dan and Alice leave, while Bill informs Virginia that Betty called because Libby has been trying to track him down. Something happened at home that needs his attention, so much so that Betty booked him on a flight that leaves in 90 minutes. He advises Virginia to stay since their luggage is in the hotel anyway. He prepares to say something, but Virginia says that now isn’t the time.
Well, at least Virginia gets to enjoy dinner on her own. She even checks in her coat.
But later that evening, in the hotel room, she receives a knock at the door and is surprised to find Dan there with a suitcase in tow. He tells her that he’s left Alice, but also that he wants to spend the rest of his life with her. He means it.
Huh. That wasn’t too bad. This season has had its share of issues with side stories and while I’m fine with some more than others, they’ve felt a tad distracting. “Party of Four” had the advantage of being a mostly contained story. We were either in New York at the dinner party or Paul and Libby in St. Louis. And that’s fine because the characters are given more screen time to grow instead of being balanced along two or three other separate storylines.
Few, if any, of the couples on Masters of Sex are 100 percent functional, and that’s made very clear here with the official introduction of Alice who, like Libby is a wife that’s just going through the motions of her husband’s extramarital affairs. Unlike Libby, she’s been wise to his infidelity the entire time. It was established earlier this season that Dan had affairs during the war, yet his wife remained with him, but much wiser.
If your home life isn’t working the way you want it, you can’t expect all problems to be fixed with a replacement, or even a surrogate. When Libby tells this to Paul while he’s fixing pipes, I got the impression she was talking about more than just the plumbing. Paul can’t just waltz in and become Bill’s replacement because, at the end of the day, he didn’t father Libby’s children.
Sure, he has a better connection with Johnny than Bill and I do like the optimism in his eyes when he imagines the kids calling him their father, but this is a process that can’t be solved overnight. Few marriages can. Hell, if they could be, Bill and Virginia would lose a slice of their market.
Bonds have always been an important staple of this show, but here, the deep connections, for the most part, involve people outside of marriages, completely turning the idea of a typical, committed marriage on its head.
In addition, this episode focused a lot of its time on choices: do we choose to force ourselves to be happy? What will one person do to keep someone they love at their side? What is the best way to deal with a cheating lover? Leave or stay by their side? And what is it that drives us to find that special someone? Just for the sake of having a partner or because we want something out of it?
In Bill’s case, he doesn’t see that as a viable future for Virginia. Sure, Bill may be attracted to Virginia in a physical way, but from the start, he’s been more impressed with her intellect. Unlike Betty, who did want to get married for stability, Virginia has always been drawn to her work. It’s what made her into the expert she is today but, at the same time, also drawn a wedge between her and Tessa, who is thankfully nowhere to be seen this week.
And while Virginia is miffed at Bill’s quite underhanded and snakelike tactics at slithering into every aspect of her life, I imagine she agrees with him to an extent: she does get a thrill out of the work and is much more than her mother’s daughter. A home life would bore her because she’s too smart to just be a housewife.
But she has every right to be angry at Bill for undermining her every move. That’s a good and bad thing for this episode. The good is that she gets a chance to tell off Bill, but that’s part of the issue. Most of what Virginia does in this episode is react. Whether it’s Bill pulling fast ones, Daphne spraying her with perfume, or Dan and Alicia’s observations, Virginia is just here to respond to actions. Aside from storming out on Bill, which she’s done before, she’s not very proactive.
She has her moments, though. She isn’t passively letting Bill walk all over here. Virginia is great at throwing Bill’s arrogance back at him and pointing out the double standard of pushing forward with the surrogacy program, despite its issues, but holding off on the impotency study because they didn’t have enough hard data. I just wish she’d had more to do than just be angry and react to things happening around her, but that’s not Lizzy Caplan’s fault. The script here doesn’t let her do much else.
Virginia is like a trophy. She’s the object of both Bill and Dan’s desires and she’s trotted around Alice this week to show why she’s so desirable. But again, she’s just here to be shown, not to act.
That’s because Bill is always thinking steps ahead of her and everyone else around him, adding credence to Dan’s line about him possibly being a great chess player. Even if things don’t end up going 100 percent the way he had hoped, Bill has pre-thought out almost every possible angle of a situation. It’s like looking into the mind of a sociopath. Bill has taken so many steps to ensure Virginia remains within grabbing distance.
He has feelings for her, but like Virginia said, most of what he does is to benefit him. He pushed Virginia away when she first found a different partner and now he’s still overstepping their boundaries by continuing to push the surrogacy program, despite admitting that it had problems. Like Virginia coming up with another component to the scent test, it’s another way for Bill to keep her around like she wants with Dan.
Though there are holes in his plan, I did enjoy the standoff between Bill and Dan near the end of the episode. Both men know what the other wants and they both have something that the other lacks: Bill is the more intellectual of the two, but Dan is more in touch with his emotions.
That’s why he’s quick to point out that for all of Bill’s smarts, he can’t just be direct and tell Virginia how he feels. And when he does, he either comes off as nervous and unprepared or tries to explain himself through science.
Now, there are exceptions to this. Bill showing up at Virginia’s doorstep at the end of the first season and declaring that he can’t live without her came off as genuine and showed that he cares for her as a person as much as he does her mind.
Then you have that scene mirrored here with Dan telling Virginia that he wants to spend the rest of his life with her and it doesn’t feel as honest, but that’s because we’ve been told about this from Alice. Again, we’ve been told that Dan has had affairs in the past, but not to the extent that we learned here. So while Virginia may think herself a special case, as Alice reminds her, she’s just one more woman in a long list of flings.
Speaking on Alice for a second, I’d like to say that Judy Greer is excellent in the role. She’s great at showing such emotion when she and Dan talk about how Alice has continued on a downward spiral, but the two look to be locked in battle forever. For every time that Alice stumbles, Dan is there to pick her up, but as indicated when she says that she used to make him laugh, the spark that once lit their relationship has extinguished.
She’s like Elise, in a way. She’s aware of her husband’s infidelity, but remains by his side anyway. The difference is that Elise eventually got the courage to leave Austin and take the kids with her, but Alice is stuck in her situation. At the same time, she’s not a moron and I like how she doesn’t hold back when calling out Dan’s past flings or how she’s not fooled by Virginia trying to play dumb.
She’s a character I’d like to see return and Judy Greer is great at playing a less-than-perfect wife with an equally less-than-perfect husband, but the two try to stick it out together, despite their situation.
Anyway, over to Paul and Libby. Libby gets a bit more to do than Virginia instead of just reacting, but it’s also just preparing for what will happen when she breaks the news to Bill. I don’t fully understand why she’s worried about his reaction since she was quick to accept Paul’s proposal without giving it much thought. She was overjoyed to have one foot out the door, so Bill’s reaction shouldn’t matter much. After all, she got confirmation on her birthday that Bill figured she would be happy without him, so no need to speculate on how he’d feel about separation. Though she’s right that he might not react much at all to it.
She admits that she has every reason to be angry at Bill, but unlike Elise, Libby hasn’t done much about it. I bring Elise up again because she has the courage that women like Libby and Alice lack. She had the courage to get out of a loveless marriage when she had the chance instead of just remaining stuck forever. It wasn’t about how the kids would take it. It was just about Elise being fed up past the point of no return.
Libby still isn’t at that point because she’s of two minds about leaving Bill. At the very least, she does try to explain to Johnny why he comes off as so cold. She doesn’t want Johnny to walk down the same angry path that Bill walks right now where he can’t connect to the people closest to him. She knows Johnny has every right to be upset at his father, but she also knows about Bill’s abusive past and why he shuts himself off to the world.
Instead of taking a stand on most issues, Libby remains stuck in the middle. She refuses to believe that Bill would harm Dennis and to her credit, she’s right.
I have a problem with this investigation curveball. Yeah, it’s nice to see that there were repercussions to Johnny’s strong words, but I question whether two girls repeating something they heard on the school yard would eventually lead to an investigation, particularly for the 1960s. Bill and Virginia’s study is still considered smut and indecent by some, but the idea that Bill could be a pedophile is a bit much. It just seems like easy drama to create when chances are this season won’t end with Bill being carted off to prison for indecency.
Furthermore, neither Libby nor Detective Asher have the full story. Dennis is the one who first sought Bill’s help. Bill, being a doctor, wouldn’t have a reason to turn him away just because of his age. So while it’s true that Bill showed explicit images to a minor, I’m curious whether Dennis just didn’t mention why he needed Bill’s advice in the first place.
So I’m not sure what will come of this. Libby could still end up leaving because honestly, at this point, she’s acknowledged multiple times that there’s nothing left for her. To hold on by a thread for the children’s sake is a bit ridiculous because Johnny and Jenny already don’t have a solid bond with Bill anyway. Let them continue to grow up with a father figure that will spend time with them.
“Party of Four” is mixed for me. The dinner scenes, particularly the standoff between Bill and Dan, as well as Alice and Virginia, are well done and feature some great performance from the four actors. Where it suffers is with characters like Libby and Virginia going down roads we’ve already seen them travel instead of progressing. Judy Greer’s appearance is a welcome one and it’s one I wouldn’t mind seeing again. As we head into the season finale, though, Bill is in deep trouble. Where will it all end? We’ll find out next time in the season finale.