A Look at Masters of Sex- Season 4, Episode 2: “Inventory”

After some help from Hugh Hefner, Bill and Virginia are back to work at the clinic, though their personal and professional lives are far from fixed.  And while working to amend their own affairs, a new relationship sneaks into their lives in the form of new work partners. This is “Inventory”

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The episode begins with Bill observing rabbits when a Playboy Bunny offers him a drink.  Bruce follows the Bunny to a bedroom where Virginia bids him to crawl back into bed.

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This dream doesn’t last very long.  Bill awakens to find Johnny, who is surprised that his father is sleeping at the office instead of at a hotel.  Johnny tells Bill that neither he nor the girls want to see him again, so Bill should stop pestering Libby.  Bill counters that he wants to create a reasonable schedule so he can spend time with the kids, but Johnny finds this all too similar to other kids whose parents got divorced.

Bill offers to take Johnny to school, though not only is Bill lacking a car, but if he walked with Johnny, he’d probably be seen by other parents who are firmly in Libby’s corner.

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Then you’ve got Virginia showing her various hotel keys and trinkets to Tessa, who tells her mother that Lisa got so sick recently that Tessa had to call Libby.  In five minutes, problem solved.  Now that Virginia is back, she’ll need Tessa’s help around the house since Dan will be occupied in New York for some time.  Dan, by the way, called Tessa last week to say goodbye since he and Virginia are splitting.  Well, there you go.

Virginia, though, says she was just waiting for the right time to say this.  It’s complicated- so much so that Virginia wants Tessa to keep this under wraps for now.  Yes, this means telling people that her mother and Dan are married because it protects her.

If Bill thinks that Virginia is married, that removes any complications.  Virginia doesn’t want a lecture on sex from Tessa, so Tessa instead says that her mother needs a shrink.  Hot damn, I’m loving Tessa right now.

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At the clinic, Lester finds a now empty plate of cinnamon rolls that was full 20 minutes ago.  See, Betty is eating for two, even though Helen is the one that’s pregnant.  Yeah, that’s now how this works at all, but it’s the closest Betty has to being pregnant, so she doesn’t want Lester ruining this for her.  You know, a simple solution would be to not put the cinnamon rolls in front of Betty.

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Virginia arrives to receive the calls that she’s missed, much to Betty’s chagrin.  Also, Virginia has a visitor by the name of Nancy, played by Betty Gilpin, who just finished her degree in May and has been working with Barton.  He, in turn, recommended Nancy to be Bill’s associate.  A stunned Virginia is still set to interview Nancy now.

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But instead of doing a one-on-one interview, because that would make sense, Virginia has Lester and Betty sit in to be interviewed by Nancy.  The intake interview is essential to the program, so this isn’t a test.  It’s just to see Nancy’s natural instincts.  She gives Lester and Betty a less than flattering scenario and then interrupts Nancy’s assessment with her own choice of words to use.

Betty’s fictional scenario?  Lester doesn’t fit.  Nancy suggests a physical exam, but Virginia suggests a sexual history instead.  Virginia, let the woman conduct her own damn study!  Nancy decided against the history and analyzes Lester and Betty using Bill and Virginia’s own explanation.  I like this Nancy.  She’s good.

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Libby drops by unannounced to give Herb some retainer forms.  Herb’s secretary is no longer present, so he’s responsible for paperwork. Keep that in mind: Herb does not have a secretary on-hand right now.

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Across the hall, Bill arrives and tells Betty that he’ll be working with the Connolly couple alone.  In addition, he wants to review the calendar so he and Virginia are making efficient use of their time.  Indeed, Bill speaks with Dale and Darleen- the latter of whom is livid that her husband deposited his seed all over them.

Okay, you know what?  There are some weird fetishes out there, some of which I will never understand, but ejaculating into shoes?  That’s just wrong.  Dale maintains that he just wanted to be honest, so Darleen blames Bill for what Dale has become.  She tells Bill that when she was in high school, her sister dated the varsity quarterback.  One month into it, her car started to smell.  In order to show his love, the boyfriend shat in her trunk.

Alright, that one is kind of funny, even if it is also wrong.  Dale says that he never even considered crapping in a car.  Oh, well thanks a fucking bunch, Dale.  Darleen is upset that Dale is in love not with her, but her shoes.  Bill understands Darleen’s distress, but letting Dale express himself is only the first step.  Ha.  I get it.  Following this, Bill wants to focus on redirecting Dale’s energy towards a way that is sexually satisfying for them both.

Dale loves Darleen, shoes or no shoes, so he’s willing to try.  Darleen just wants some damn normalcy.

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Bill walks in on Virginia, who is observing a session in-progress, to discuss the schedule.  They divide up responsibilities, as Bill can deal with the court case and Virginia will try to put the book deal with Little Brown- a deal that broke apart because Virginia was not present for the launch in the first place.  You know, Bill and Virginia don’t know the meaning of the word subtlety right about now.

Interviews will go on a case by case basis and the two will work with their respective partners.  Virginia would prefer someone with more clinical experience.  In order to keep an eye on the partners, Virginia wants Lester to install recording equipment in the conference room and examination room.  To be fair, had that happened in the first place, Bill might not have gotten in trouble with Nora last season, as Virginia points out.

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Betty arrives with flowers from Dan, as Virginia said to get her if any deliveries arrived.  As Bill leaves, Betty tells Virginia to show a little appreciation once in a while since Betty is the one who has kept the business afloat.  In all that time, she heard nothing from Virginia.  However, Betty doesn’t want words.  With Helen pregnant, Betty will have another mouth to feed and she hasn’t had a raise since the Truman administration.

Virginia agrees…to discuss this later, but no.  Betty wants to talk now.  She’s worked at the clinic for 10 years and knows Virginia’s handwriting.  She doesn’t know why Virginia is sending herself flowers and isn’t asking, but does want some support.

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That evening, Virginia is ready to leave the clinic when she spots Lester installing listening equipment that’s all voice-activated.  When the microphone picks up people talking, the recorders in his office start recording.  Lester tries a James Bond routine that fails.

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Bill attends another A.A. meeting as one member, Kevin, played by Alex Weed, shares his story about his mother calling the police on him for breaking into her home.  When the meeting ends, Louise tells Bill to help her stack chairs.  Louise saw how Bill’s face said that he has nothing in common with the other members.  Kevin didn’t really understand the fourth step, but he’s trying, which is more than Louise can say for some.

However, Bill doesn’t get the steps or slogans of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Though, one week ago, his business was in shambles, but now it’s back up and running.  Then he’ll go see his soon-to-be ex-wife to hammer out a custody arrangement.  As such, Bill feels that he’s a success story, even though he’s staying at his office.

Louise makes Bill an offer: her upstairs neighbor goes to Fort Lauderdale for the winter.  If Bill is willing to do a few chores, Louise can set him up there.  Bill isn’t swayed, but he doesn’t have much of an alternative.

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Later that evening, Bill goes to Libby’s home and tells her about his talk with Johnny.  Libby confirms that Johnny and Jenny are upset with Bill, who thinks that Libby has poisoned them and the neighbors against him.  And that gets Bill a door in the face.

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At a bar, Virginia tries to connect with Dr. Madden, who tries to abide by his guidelines of not acknowledging a former patient in public.  Turns out that Madden is here for a blind first date.  Odd move, and Virginia is disappointed that Madden would go with such a risky move.  She’s also 15 minutes late.  Yeah, even I have issues with that.  Virginia tells Dr. Madden that she has a proposition for him.

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Bill enters the home anyway to tell Libby that a cab is on its way.  He tells her about his living situation and that the children can visit once his affairs are in order.  Bill even helps himself to a drink, and then shares that he’s attending A.A. meetings.  Irony isn’t strong enough of a word for this.  Bill then tells her about the fourth step related to inventory and making a list of people harmed.

And right now, Bill knows that there’s no one he’s hurt as much as Libby.  He apologizes for everything.  Libby finally stops smoking for a second to call it even.  She asks Bill if he really thinks that Libby just played the part of a happy housewife while Bill worked late.

First was the fling with Robert, then Paul.  There’s no room in the home where the two didn’t fuck.  Paul wanted to marry Libby and take both her and the kids.  Libby regrets not going.  So, Libby says, if Bill wants to feel sorry for someone, he should feel sorry for himself.

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Back at the bar, Madden tells Virginia that he’s satisfied with his current practice, though she’s skeptical that Madden doesn’t get tired of the same routine.  Madden reminds Virginia that there are psychologists are more qualified than him, but in Virginia’s case, everything he told her as a patient was true.

He said what Virginia needed to hear.  Virginia gives Madden a business card and tells him to think about it.  When Virginia leaves, Madden crumples the card.

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The next day, Nancy asks Virginia for tips on her first day of working with Bill.  Other than calling him Dr. Masters, Virginia tells Nancy to find her own way of working together.  Since Virginia is interviewing, Nancy has a family friend who would be perfect for the role.  He’s young, but accomplished.  Virginia claims that she has a long list, so she tells Nancy to give Betty the information.

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Louise stops by Bill’s temporary setup only to learn that Bill has no plan of going to the meeting.  But if he won’t go, neither will she.  Bill gets blunt with Louise and tells her that he won’t take inventory or make amends.  He just wants to be left alone.  After getting angry with the cat, Bill tells Louise about his situation with Libby.  He broke her heart and can’t change the fact that his children hate him.  Hell, at this point, Bill can’t change anything.

Then Louise tells Bill that her husband didn’t speak to her for a year.  She would ask about his day, but got nothing in response.  Louise asked for forgiveness and even begged on her knees, but the husband would just look at her.  Some days, Louise wanted to kill him or herself.  What her husband did to her was nothing compared to what she did to him.

All of those people in the meetings are tormented in the same way by anger and remorse at the people who’ve harmed them and who they have harmed.  When you put the lists side-by-side, the same names are often on both lists.

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At the office, Virginia meets with Art Dressen, played by Jeremy Strong, who tells her that he was at the symposium at Princeton.  He asked about what single quality all great psychologists have in common.  Virginia’s answer left a strong impression, so he answered the call when Nancy told him about the offer.  Art and Nancy went to medical school together.

Virginia zeroes in on the fact that Art has an M.D in psychology, but did not pursue an advanced degree.  A medical degree is advanced, yes, but Virginia tells Art that the office is looking for applicants with a Ph.D.  Oh, but Art doesn’t give up like that.  In his mind, the more degrees a psychologist has, the higher chance he’s a charlatan, horse’s ass, or both.

After school, Art did a research fellowship on the role of sex in marriage.  Bill and Virginia’s book was his bible.  Art is glad to just be considered, even as Virginia maintains that she wants someone with higher credentials.

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Bill, meanwhile, tasks Nancy with taking the lead in the exam room with the Connolly couple.  After Nancy details the rules, Bill suggests that Darleen remove her slippers.  The feet are off-limits, yes, but through sensate therapy, Dale will focus on more acceptable parts of Darleen’s body.  Hiding that desire would become something else, like a secret.  A secret marriage is hard to survive.  Better that the two find their pleasure together.

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So Bill and Nancy observe as Dale starts by just touching Darleen’s knees, as he considers them perfect.  Dale gets to work massaging Darleen’s feet and begins kissing her toes.  Darleen actually doesn’t consider this awful.  This gets the two up and running straight into intercourse, even as Darleen asks Dale to stop kissing her toes.  In the midst, Nancy touches Bill’s shoulder in excitement.

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Later, Bill speaks with Nancy about the dangers of observing a couple while having sex.  The observers may experience an erotic charge of their own and may mistake the intimacy behind the glass as one between themselves and their partner.  Bill wants both himself and Virginia to fill out the questionnaire to establish their professional relationship.  There can be no secrets between them.

Nancy tells Bill about her first encounter, where she did not achieve orgasm.  How sad.  Bill tells of his first time as well.  The first woman that Bill loved, though, was the sister of a friend.  The two then move onto current frequency.  Nancy talks of an encounter with a professor who was forced to resign and lost everything.

She didn’t keep seeing him due to transferring schools.  Bill, meanwhile, was unfaithful, but so was Libby.  And so has Nancy.  She suspects just as much from her husband.

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Virginia again meets with Dr. Madden, who has not changed his mind.  He did read the book, though, and felt that if everyone who bought it actually read it, Madden might be out of a job.  Madden wants to take himself out of the running since he’s still against working with a former patient.  It’s a boundary, Virginia says, if he allows it to be.  Madden, though, feels that Virginia has a disregard for professional and personal boundaries.

It doesn’t help that Virginia came to Madden under an assumed name.  Whether helping Barbara or not, Virginia’s pattern has not changed.  Madden has seen this rationalization before in his patients- whatever the patient does, they convince themselves that they’re not to blame.

Virginia didn’t feel remorse for the affair she had with a married man and for hurting Libby, after all.  But it’s Madden’s honesty that confirms to Virginia why he’s perfect for the job.  Not to mention that he gets her.  Virginia suggests that she and Madden find another place to continue this conversation.

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Nancy has one more thing to note: during her internship with Barton, she overheard rumors about Bill and Virginia, so was Bill ever involved sexually with her?  After all, the two are being honest.  Bill denies this.

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After the conversation has ended, Virginia tells Madden that she won’t breathe a word of their encounter to anyone.  Madden regrets drinking as much as he did, prompting Virginia to throw the rationalization card back at him.  To Virginia, Madden is good at labeling and judging people, but what about himself?

And what does he know about Virginia and her sacrifices?  She is good at her job because she doesn’t judge.  But given Madden’s limitations, Virginia wants his name out of contention.

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Bill again drops by unannounced to talk with Libby about their previous talk.  He hasn’t slept at all and admits that what Libby said was painful.  Right.  However, Bill accepts that Libby found pleasure somewhere, even if it wasn’t with him.  Libby, though, believes that they should have found their pleasure together.  There’s just so much that Libby has missed out in the world.  She’s not dead, just 40.  Come now, Libby.  40 isn’t old.

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At House Johnson, Virginia arrives and finds Tessa finishing the dishes.  Tessa announces that she’s moving in with George.  Virginia announces that she took her daughter’s advice and saw a psychiatrist, who said that workers like Virginia are doing the best they can.  That’s not good enough for Tessa.  And with that, she leaves.

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Small world that it is, Libby catches up with Virginia at a diner.  Virginia thanks Libby for helping out with the baby.  Also, Libby congratulates Virginia on her quick marriage.  Virginia is happy, supposedly, but she doesn’t know what to say outside of apologizing for Bill.

Libby thinks back about the pact.  The only mistake made was leaving out Bill.  Libby also wonders how things might have worked out had she met Virginia under different circumstances.

Virginia is sure that they would have, but hey, now they’ll never know.  The only thing they had in common was Bill, but Virginia doesn’t believe that matters anymore.  At the very least, the two are friends now.  As for why Libby is here in the first place, she’s here to work.  Well, she is now, as she offers to work for Herb, since he does need a secretary.

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Art and Nancy park outside, with Nancy instructing Art to wait a few minutes to enter after she leaves.  That way, they don’t come in too close together.  Oh, is that right?  Anyway, Nancy wishes Art good luck on his first day.

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Later, Art and Virginia meet with Bill and Nancy.  The episode comes to a close to the tune of “Happy Together” by The Turtles as the four begin reviewing patient files and coordinating meetings.  Oh, if they only knew.

The fourth step of Alcoholics Anonymous reads “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”  Bill and Virginia have done a lot of judging and analyzing of other people and each other, but not so much with themselves.  This episode gave them a chance to do that, some by having other characters say what they needed to hear in order to make them take a look at themselves.

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To me, this felt like validation for what the side characters have endured, not just in their own lives, but their relationships with Bill and Virginia.  Like last episode, I enjoy seeing a more assertive Betty, who deserves more than just a raise.  She’s looked the other way in regards to Bill and Virginia and been an asset so many times dating back to Season One, but her work has been overlooked.

And that’s unfair because she’s proven useful and reliable, not to mention kept secrets, so watching her demand support from Virginia was satisfying and I hope Betty remains this outspoken.

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Same goes for Tessa.  I’m not sure how often Tessa will be around this season, but for me, her two moments here trump most of what she did last season.  There, I found her damn near insufferable, but here, she’s wising up and calling out Virginia on her lying. More than that, Tessa realizes that her home situation isn’t ideal for her right now.  So she takes it upon herself to leave.

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Instead of withholding information or taking solace in Matt, Tessa takes the more proactive route and decides she can’t live with her mother for the moment, not while Virginia is still deluding herself into thinking things are fine.  Virginia has lied to Tessa before, so why should Tessa stick around?  George might not be Father of the Year, but he may provide more stability than Virginia.

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This is part of a larger problem surrounding Virginia: she likes to be in control.  More than that, she does not like being told when she’s wrong on something.  Not that Virginia is a perfectionist, but I think she’s got a bit of Bill in her when she tries to take charge of a situation.  Rather than let Nancy conduct her own analysis, she attempts to steer the conversation the way she would conduct it.

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When Dr. Madden tells Virginia that she tries to rationalize some of her poor choices, like having an affair or not respecting boundaries, instead of doing some soul-searching and seeing if Madden was right, Virginia beds him and throws his words back at him.  More than that, she inflates her own ego by pointing out what she’s sacrificed, never mind the people she’s hurt in the process.

She tears down the doctor at a vulnerable moment with this smug satisfaction that she bested him, but nothing Madden said was untrue.  Virginia does have a habit of rationalizing her bad choices.  She even tries to tell Tessa that she’s doing her best when she isn’t, and that ends up further splitting whatever bond they had.

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It remains to be seen what sort of friendship she has with Libby, who gets one of her best moments when she accepts Bill’s talk of transparency.  It’s satisfying to see Libby admit all the times she’s gotten pleasure from other people, but I don’t her reveal was as strong as it could have been because this hasn’t been going on from the start.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised- Libby tells Robert that she likes what they have

These weren’t ongoing affairs as far back as the first season, and the incidents with Robert and Paul didn’t even take up the entire second and third season, respectively. So while it’s a powerful moment for Libby, I don’t think it’s as powerful as the show thinks it is.

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That said, I love how Libby just has nothing but absolute contempt for Bill right now, and it’s contempt he deserves.  Libby has played the part of humble housewife and endured more than a wife should from a cheating husband, and while she’s held her tongue when Bill tries to rationalize his bad choices, whether related to Virginia or otherwise, the gloves are off here.

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This is a side of Libby I enjoy seeing and it helps that the show has built her up to this over the course of four seasons.  She’s not the same housewife from the start.  She’s a 40-year-old woman who has been denied the truth from her husband for so long, so her revealing her own infidelities felt very cathartic.

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The only thing I didn’t like with Libby in this episode was how telegraphed the show made it that she would work for Herb.  It doesn’t help that Libby has worked with Bill in this capacity before, so I just wish the show didn’t make it so obvious that Libby would again be working in the same space as Bill, even if the two don’t end up interacting that much.

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Bill’s soul searching and willingness to be more open allows him to admit that he failed Libby and the kids, but he can’t make amends with them at the moment.  The best he can do is ensure his professional relationship with Nancy goes well, which he does by talking about sexual history on the first day.  Though he doesn’t go as far as he should when he denies any involvement with Virginia.

Like Virginia, Bill wants to be in control of most situations, but he sees that his bond with Libby is beyond repair.  As he told Louise, even though Libby kept secrets, Bill can’t be angry with her because of how he’s wronged her many times more.  He told Virginia that the romantic part of their life is over, but with Nancy, he has a fresh start.  As he said, it’s hard for a secret relationship to survive, so put everything out in the open.

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I liked his talks with Louise and it’s good that the two have more in common than Bill believed, and at least Louise isn’t just here to give sage advice.  She wants Bill to turn his life around and avoid hurting any more people.

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He does use his experience to help the Connelly couple successfully make love, so at least he can apply his own circumstances to couples that may also be keeping secrets. Side-note, even though it might not happen, I’d love to see the Connelly couple as recurring patients because their situation is both funny to watch and explores new territory through the introduction of the foot fetish.  Or, at least, shoe fetish.

“Inventory” is a strong episode that helped develop a lot of the main characters through some real soul-searching and desire to be more transparent.  Granted, Bill and Virginia are still frozen out by their families due to their behavior, which they deserve, but hopefully they can still get things done at work.

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But the introduction of Art and Nancy as another secret couple, coupled with Lester’s recording equipment throughout the clinic, should make for some interesting circumstances throughout the season.

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