A Look at Masters of Sex- Season 4 Premiere: “Freefall”

So last season ended with Virginia heading off for a new life with Dan Logan, Bill’s life in disarray, and Libby finally breaking things off with Bill.  Though the Season Three finale wasn’t as good as the previous two, in my opinion, it did leave the characters in an interesting place.  Now to see where they’ve ended up since then.  Welcome to “Freefall.”

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The season begins at the office with Betty fielding calls and dealing with impatient patients who have waited months to have their appointment.  Problem is that Bill and Virginia are nowhere to be seen, so Betty gives excuse after excuse to cover for the doctors.  Finally, a Girl Scout trooper arrives to sell Betty some cookies.  Even still, Betty has no idea on how to find the building owners.

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Meanwhile, at a hotel, Virginia watches television footage of a bra-burning protest.  Apparently, bras are a symbol of patriarchal oppression.  Hey, I’m all for letting the girls go, just putting it out there.

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At another hotel, a now-rugged looking Bill downs some booze as he sits by himself.  He later watches the same protest at the bar with a man named Donald.  Must be a slow news day.  Anyway, Donald thinks that the protesters are lesbians and that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but Bill is more concerned with the bras since he’s a bra salesman.

Bill explains to his new friend that he stopped being a pilot because he almost died.  His co-pilot dared him to jump off of a wing, so he did.  This is true.  When Bill jumped and released his parachute, it got tangled.  He was in freefall: first, the panic stage, but then it got worse until Bill realized he could not fix it.  As such, he gave up, which meant death. But with death comes a certain peace.

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Libby’s at least having a good time.  As some rocking music plays to the scene, she takes down all of Bill’s suits.

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Back with Virginia, who is also having drinks at a bar.  The bartender, Gavin, played by Sydney Jay, asks about Virginia’s husband, who is away on a work situation: The Miss America Pageant.  The big wigs in Vegas have been trying to take the pageant from Atlantic City for years.  

Virginia, as Miss Former Missouri, knows all about that.  Things between Dan and Virginia have been complicated.  The bartender, impressed with Virginia’s brains and intellect, offers drinks on the house.

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Next thing Virginia knows, she’s dancing with a man named Rick as the two sing Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.”  When the singing ends, Virginia, now inebriated, wants to turn in for the night, but not before telling Rick, who wants to know her profession, that she’s a sex researcher.

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At the same time, Bill tells Donald that sex therapy is the way of the future.  He and Virginia made huge breakthroughs and learned every inch of each other’s bodies. However, being sex experts wasn’t enough because despite Bill’s best efforts, Virginia still left him.  After that, Bill says, you have to look at yourself in the mirror and say the words you most fear: “She does not love me.”  Bill then leaves the bar.

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As Bill drives, he steers in the direction of a car heading his way, but turns away at the last second before there’s a collision.  Bill has just enough time to regain his composure before a car then slams into his vehicle.

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The next morning, Virginia tells Rick that she had too much to drink, which happened because she misses Dan.  Rick still figures that he has a year to send a gift.  Virginia then tells Rick that Dan is protection from men like him, so it’s time for Rick to get the hell out. Okay.

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At City Hall, Bill faces Judge Parks, who is all too familiar with Dr. Masters at this point, based on his history.  Bill will pay the damages caused by his drinking while inebriated, even though the other driver hit him.  

True as that is, the judge revokes Bill’s license for three months, gives him community service, and mandates that Bill attends 90 meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.  The service, meanwhile, will be at St. Vibiana’s Elementary, where he’ll tell students the story of St. Joseph, the statue of which is a pile of rubble.

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Okay, back to Virginia, who is ready to move past the bar and find another way to distract herself.  Among Gavin’s suggestions, he says that Virginia should check out the doctor that’s teaching people to have sex.

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We cut to said Doctor Fahy, and his introductory line?  Women fake orgasms.  Now this is true.  How do you tell if she’s faking?  A consistent physical response in women who have orgasmed is erect nipples.  So if your lady has hard nipples, she came.  If not, she’s faking.

Virginia corrects Fahy’s usage of physical response versus “physiological response,” and then asks where he conducted his study.  Everything comes from Fahy’s book, titled “The Method,” and data from his studies at the University of Michigan and time spent at the Masters of Johnson clinic.  

And yet, Virginia is unable to recognize him.  Oh, but the audience sure recognizes Virginia.  One woman even wants her copy of Human Sexual Response autographed.

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While Bill gets no help from Libby, Virginia finds herself surrounded by people who want to spice up their sex life and plan to visit the Masters and Johnson clinic in St. Louis.  One man suggests that Virginia branch out so people nationwide can benefit from their work.  

It’s been on Virginia’s mind, yes.  She’s also considering writing a column, just like Ann Landers, who has a legion of 90 million fans.  Hot damn.  More people read Landers than watch the nightly news.  Now what does that tell you about the state of news?

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Bill attends an A.A. meeting and has about as much fun as you’d expect from someone being forced to attend one.  Louise, played by Niecy Nash, asks any first time attendees or those with less than 30 days clean to identify themselves and their disease.  Bill tells Louise that he’s here by force.  Louise tries to tell Bill about the steps, primarily the first one, but Bill isn’t interested in being told that his life is unmanageable.

It is, though.  Bill offers to go to another meeting, but Louise tells him that he’ll stay.  And since Bill doesn’t have a car, Louise offers to drive him herself.  It will remind Louise of how far she’s come.  Louise asks Bill if he’s more than court mandated, and he responds with what he isn’t: a man with a wife or lover.  He has no business partner or business and he hasn’t delivered any babies in a long time.

Hell, Bill doesn’t even have a home or clean suit.  When Bill is done venting, Louise explains the system: understanding a higher power.  But Bill doesn’t understand God since he’s a man of science.

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So Louise brings up the scenario of jumping from a plane with no guarantee that the parachute will open.  That’s faith, but Bill counters that it’s science.  The point is that when you jump out of a plane, you put your life in something else’s hands.

Bill can’t take steps, though.  There’s no direction, and Louise says it’s because he doesn’t know how.  Right now, he can at least show up and see what happens.  Not like Bill has much to lose.

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Later, Bill tries to enter his old home, but his keys don’t work, so he opens the screen window and unlocks it that way.  I guess people were more trusting back then.  That or Bill is just desperate.  He enters House Masters to pack a few things, but finds his closet empty.

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Virginia does indeed connect with Hugh Hefner, who remembers all too well their encounter from last season.  Hugh was shafted, but Virginia maintains that she fought hard against Bill to bring Hugh on board.  She wants the two to be on the same footing- they saw the sexual renaissance as the opportunity to educate.  Though people see Hugh Hefner as a tits and ass peddler.  Part of that is true, I’ll admit.

However, Virginia feels that the public doesn’t know the real Hugh Hefner or the seriousness that he brings to the subject of sex.  Virginia suggests a monthly column in Playboy about sex.  Virginia understands people, after all.  In return, Hugh gets the legitimacy of hard facts without the tits.  Hugh wants Virginia and Bill to come to the Playboy Mansion to talk details.  Virginia eventually agrees.

When Hugh Hefner invites you to the Playboy Mansion, you accept.

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The stars must have aligned in Bill’s favor, as he and Libby end up on the same elevator at the office.  Bill is glad to see her, but Libby couldn’t give any less of a shit.  She’s here to see her lawyer.  She won’t even tell Bill about his clothes.  Upstairs, Bill walks into the clinic and finds nobody there but Betty.

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Not to pat herself on the back, but Betty tells Bill how she’s fended off virtually the entire world, not to mention doing Barton and Lester’s jobs while they go off to find supplemental employment.  What about Jane’s job?  She read letters, didn’t she?  Point is Betty has operated as a one-woman show.  Not sure why she didn’t get Austin to help.  He was a doctor at one point and, last I checked, living with Betty and Helen.

Anyway, Betty tells Bill that it’s time for him to meet the Connolly couple, even though he’s not in the right place to meet with patients.  I must say, Betty is a very patient person.

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Libby, meanwhile, tells Herb that she doesn’t intend to be reasonable or generous.  She wants protection for herself and the kids from Bill, as he usually dictates the terms.  Herb isn’t too concerned since Bill hasn’t even hired an attorney yet, but Libby doesn’t care if Bill might be taking a less-aggressive approach.  She cautions Herb against underestimating Bill, and he won’t.

Turns out that Libby has even created a scenario where Bill has died.  Herb knows a former client who runs a women’s group.

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Across the hall, Darleen and Dale Connolly tell Bill about their troubles.  Darleen, played by Erin Karpluk, is more curious on where Mrs. Johnson is, which just shows how crucial Virginia was, I feel, at the human connection versus Bill’s more clinical approach.  Dale, played by Rick Sommer, though, is rather focused on Betty’s figure, but he’s less interested in her now.  Though he does remember what Dale wore, though.

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Bill and Betty wonder whether Dale is a homosexual, and that’s not impossible because how often does a heterosexual man remember what kind of bag his wife owns?  Seriously, I’m curious.  Either way, Dale is hiding something.  Betty tells Bill that he can see things that other people can’t see, which makes him a good puzzle solver.  Helps that the patients are often confused.  Point is Bill may not need Virginia to get Dale to talk.

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Virginia lives out every man’s fantasy and enters the Playboy Mansion.  She even gets a White Russian.  Yul Brynner is staying at the mansion, turns out.  Virginia then meets Hugh Hefner’s personal secretary, Maude, played by Mary Birdsong.

Huh.  Reno 911 has two of its former cops appearing in this show now.  Virginia tells Maude that she came to talk with Hugh alone.  No Bill.

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Bill wires Dale up to find out and tells him that he’ll be showing pictures of women, couples having sex, and men.  Dale has to say that he’s not attracted to men.  Good to know.  If that’s true, then there should be no problem with the wires.  Dale finds the testing pointless and just wants testing, but Bill gets right to it: he thinks that Dale is hiding something.  So Dale tells Bill that his dick doesn’t work.

But Bill knows that carrying around a hidden truth can become an intolerable burden. There’s a freedom in giving up.  Dale admits that he loves women’s feet in high-heeled shoes.  It’s all he could think about since he was eight.  He would even crawl under the table to stare at his mother’s…shoes.  

Well, that’s better than her underwear.  Darleen has no idea, but since she wears slippers, Dale can’t be open to her because it would mean he wants to fuck shoes.  However, Bill tells Dale that, eventually, he’ll have to tell Darleen who he really is.

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Back at the most wonderful place on Earth, Virginia meets Hugh and two of his Playboy bunnies in his office.  She tells Hugh that she’s broken things off with Bill, but that doesn’t diminish what she can offer on her own through a column.  Men know what men think, but a woman’s perspective on sex in a column written for men would be a change of pace.  

Hugh disagrees.  And though it’s not his business, he does want to know why Bill and Virginia split, though, and he sends the playmates off to fetch him a snack.  Hurry back, girls.  Virginia tells Hugh that things between her and Bill got too close.

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For years, Virginia gave as much of herself as she could because she thought Bill was the key to a big life.  Now Virginia realizes that Bill couldn’t have gotten where he is without her.  Okay, but Hugh thinks that Virginia now wants to stand on her own feet…with him.

Yes, but it’s different from Bill.  Virginia believes that Hugh’s readership is hungry for insight from the nation’s best female sex researcher.

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Libby introduces herself at the not-book club and passes up on a chance to light up.  Only fair since this group is all about raising consciousness.  Rock on, ladies.  Anita, who I assume is the leader, played by Alysia Reiner, says that ways to raise consciousness include talking about family life, education, sex, the military establishment- all from personal perspectives and without patriarchal interference.  

Yeah, this is just a goddamn book club without the books.  Well, Libby is fed up with men at least, so that’s a start.  Anita then asks who among the ladies wants to share the story of their own abortion.  Okay, maybe I was wrong.

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While Betty tells Bill that Hugh Hefner is calling, we return to the mansion, where Maude calls Virginia a tweener: half-bunny, half-scholar.  Virginia has no intention of fitting into a category since the times are changing, like that Bob Dylan guy says.  Maude suggests that Virginia write for another magazine.  Though it seems like Maude is discouraging Virginia, she says that if Virginia really wants the job, fight for it by writing her first column.

But Virginia doesn’t want to have to prove herself again, despite her accomplishments. Even still, a woman always has to audition.  Virginia’s first column will be titled “10 Sex Myths Exploded.”

Bill learns from the call that Hefner wants to invest in the clinic and wants Bill to discuss terms.

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Libby tries to tell Anita about her husband’s demise, but Anita has heard of Bill from Herb, so the bullshit story is just that- bullshit.  Anita understands.  After all, she used to fantasize that she castrated her husband and mounted his penis on the trophy wall.  I flinched while writing that.  But Libby just feels that she’s not like the other women.  She brings up the bra burning protest and tells Anita that she found it silly.

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Anita counters that the women weren’t burning their bras, but Libby even finds that a useless gesture.  In response, Anita asks Libby to take off her bra.  She eventually does and then drops it.  The world is a slightly happier place.

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Bill shops for clothes and spots a man wearing his suit jacket.  His former suit jacket.  I don’t think Bill understands how this works.  Yes, it was in his closet, but it isn’t anymore.  Nevertheless, he insists that he needs the jacket because he’s trying to save his life and business.

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At the Playboy Mansion, a clean shaven Bill tells a surprised Virginia that he was invited. Hugh tells the two that he hears rumblings every now and then and is fully aware that the two are in legal trouble.  The two will do great work, but only if they work together.  Virginia maintains that she’s working alone and even has a draft of her first column.  

Oh, but Hugh has a major condition: he’ll only become a major investor if Bill and Virginia work together.  This extends to publishing Virginia’s work because this is much bigger than Masters and Johnson.  The two are like a brand.  If the business is the two of them, they should use their therapy on themselves.  Clearly Hugh hasn’t seen the past three seasons.  Bill and Virginia say this won’t work, but Hugh isn’t giving them a choice.

Masters and Johnson, like Playboy and Hefner, can only be separated by six feet of dirt and a headstone.  Careful, Masters of Sex.  You’re leaning on foreshadowing with that line.

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Later, the two speak alone about how other partnerships that have split and gone on to do great work.  Their examples are shit except for maybe Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.  Bill doesn’t have a plan for this one, though.  For the first time in his life, he just shows up, like he did at work.  Virginia is livid to learn that Bill went to work since that’s her clinic, too, but as Bill points out, she did leave.

Bill reminds Virginia that she’s talented and will land on her feet.  Still, Virginia now wants to use the clinic as her home base and will work out of her own office.  So yes, the two will meet with different patients.  Bill is surprised that Dan agreed to these terms, but Virginia says that her new husband is understanding.  Sure.  So the only way for Masters and Johnson to continue is to hire new people and new partners for both of them.

Their working relationship would have to be professional.  Virginia is wary and doesn’t believe that Bill has changed, but he tells her that for 12 years, he has tried every wrong and misguided way to win her heart, only to realize in the past few weeks that she wanted something else, so she picked someone else.

So that part of them together is over for good.  It’s a surprisingly blunt answer from Bill and it looks like Virginia didn’t expect that level of honesty.

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Bill carries out his community service and tells the story of St. Joseph and how he was told by an angel that he must take the Virgin Mary as his wife.  Another angel told Joseph that Mary had not loved another man and the child she carried was the Son of God.

Things like this don’t happen in real life, as in most men wouldn’t believe this story, but Joseph was a special man.  And he decided to have faith by believing in something that he didn’t understand.

Outside, Louise tells Bill that she’s seen people make huge breakthroughs, but Bill isn’t as optimistic.  The two drive off as the episode comes to a close.

After having most of our main characters separate and off in their own places, to an extent, “Freefall” manages to bring them back together in a way that services all of their respective storylines and not just a reason to have them interact with no real purpose.

We saw Bill, Libby, and Virginia at some of their lowest moments last year, but now, they’re picking up the pieces and trying to move forward with their lives.  Or rather, trying to make the most of what they have, despite the challenges.

Masters of Sex has been, for a long time, about venturing into the unknown, and that’s made clear here both through the bra burning protest and Bill’s time at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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The first step of A.A. is admitting that you’re powerless over alcohol and that your life has become unmanageable.  Alcohol isn’t part of everyone’s equation here, but Bill, Libby, Virginia, and even Betty find their lives somewhat in disarray and difficult to manage. Some of these hardships, in Betty’s case, are out of their control.  Other hardships come from outside influences, like patriarchal oppression.

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Libby has never been what I’d call a rebel, but she’s more than ready to break free from Bill’s shackles after he betrayed her more than once.  She has every reason to brush him off and move on with her life, but she’s not sure how.  Based on Libby’s conversation with Anita,  we can see how she wants to let go of her oppressors, whether Bill or bras, but to her, this is nothing but a meaningless gesture.

But it’s more than that.  We’re in the second wave of feminism with women standing up to upset the established order.  Libby and Bill have, for the most part, had a pretty typical American life.  But Libby has always been under Bill’s thumb and enduring his brutish, commanding attitude.

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Now is the time where women like Libby say no more to the status quo.  I’m glad she’s moving past Bill and I’m even more curious how she’ll proceed in this group.  She’s already had relations with a Colored and that’s pretty radical for a White woman.  Not unheard of, but still a bold move.  Point is I’m already interested in Libby’s story for the season.

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Betty again proves how valuable she is to Bill not just as an employee, but friend and aid to the clinic.  To take on the entire clinic and push away as many clients, visitors, solicitors, and girl scouts as possible, in addition to doing Barton and Lester’s work, is no small task.  But Betty is no quitter or one to roll over when things get rough.

After all, she ran a brothel on her own back in the first season.  She knows how to manage a complex operation, but this is still more than one person should bear.  Life at the clinic has been hectic, but not unmanageable for her.  She’s versatile enough to accomplish all of these tasks without quitting or getting burned out.

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More than that, she’s not just here to be Virginia’s replacement.  She encourages Bill to continue advising patients because she’s witnessed what he can do for them.  Unlike Virginia, Betty is more blunt in her approach and cuts through the bullshit.  I’m glad that we got to see her in the advisory role and I hope, even though Virginia is returning to the clinic, that she continues this.

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Virginia still wants to be as independent as possible and isn’t waiting for a white knight to guide her path.  Whether Dan is out of the picture or otherwise, Virginia’s work never ceases.  Her knowledge of human sexual response and experience in the field gives her the confidence to challenge a man like Fahy, and it never felt like Virginia did this to boast.

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There’s no need for her to wait on Bill’s approval to speak her mind or experiment because she doesn’t need it.  All the same, she still finds herself in the position of having to prove herself- not necessarily her worth– to Hugh Hefner.  And as Virginia notes, the two share the desire to educate the public on sex and not just titillate.  But this is Hugh Hefner, so titillation is on the way regardless.

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And while she’s as over Bill as Libby is, there was a real disappointment on her face when Bill said that he wouldn’t win her heart and that part of their relationship is over.  It’s almost as if she expected him to put up a fight or try to win her again.

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But Bill has his own troubles.  From his rugged appearance, driving into oncoming traffic, and trying to take back his sold clothing, to name a few, Bill is a broken man near the end of his rope.  Libby said that Bill is a very dictating man, and while that’s true, that man is nowhere to be seen here.  He’s looking for purpose and refuses to see it in Alcoholics Anonymous, despite the group’s effort to help rehabilitate him.

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So despite Bill spiraling downward, he still has a level of arrogance and pride about him. I’d say he’s softened because he doesn’t outright turn down Louise’s help.  He’s willing to give it a chance but, as a man of science, he is always skeptical- as we saw when he told the students that situations like St. Joseph’s don’t happen in real life.  That’s the doctor in Bill slipping through, still fighting against reform, liberation, and the unknown.

But going forward, with his personal life being a constant struggle, his marriage all but over, and his professional relationship still in disarray, Bill is taking the first step by putting his trust in the unknown, as is Virginia.  They’re both uncertain how to proceed together at a point when they couldn’t be further apart.

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And given Hugh Hefner’s terms and conditions, this is going to be a real challenge for both of them.  Good on Hugh for not just rolling over and taking Bill and Virginia at their lowest state, but trying to get them to work together, even if that has the potential to be explosive.

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But, as always, they’re compromising for the sake of the work, and the work must continue.  As Dale’s interest in shoes indicated, there are still new avenues to explore. And as Virginia overheard, people across the nation could benefit from the study. So time to put petty squabbles aside for now and get back to work.  But, of course, I don’t expect things to smooth over between Bill and Virginia anytime soon.  And neither should you.

“Freefall” is a strong start to Season Four and continuation of the individual storylines. Our main characters have hit a few bumps in the road, but in this era of liberation and freeing yourself from oppression, it’s time to swallow your pride and, like the man in the plane, take a leap and put your trust in something or someone else’s hands.  Now to see if the characters can still land on their feet.

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By the way, I’ll take any and every excuse for this show to visit the Playboy Mansion. Just for the record.

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