By one definition, a key party involves the men putting their car keys into either a bag or bowl at a party. Then, the women select a set of keys at random and then go home with one of those men for some indiscriminate fucking. Swingers really knew how to entertain, didn’t they?
The episode begins with Lester awakening in a car with his pants down and the windows fogged. Someone wants him to call. Who? We don’t know yet. Then Virginia attempts to call a cab, but her bed mate had the keys all along. As she heads out, she grabs a coat. Bill, meanwhile, didn’t see the night ending like this. He hopes that his companion can change their ways or this arrangement won’t last.
We then cut to 24 hours earlier. Art and Nancy are in the middle of preparation for a gathering, though Nancy is more worried about Bill’s potential arrival. Art assures her that Virginia says Bill doesn’t show up unless he’s being honored for something. Virginia is also bringing someone with her, but no idea that person is.
At the clinic, Virginia informs Bill about the aforementioned party, though Bill had no intention of going. Besides, he has to take care of the kids. Virginia invites Lester, as Dan is apparently stuck in Florida. Virginia wants Lester to bring Jane, but she’s too busy courting her male lover. Jane has a male lover. I can see it.
Bill, as we soon learn from Libby, bought the kids a dog, Baxter, and that’s a problem because this dog got into a bit of mischief, including shitting in Barbie’s dream house. Well, maybe Barbie shouldn’t have a dream house! Bill tells Libby that the dog is the kids’ responsibility. Libby chews out Bill for not being in the trenches with the kids like she is, so he’ll talk to the kids soon.
To my surprise, we return to the misadventures of Gary and Fran. Things have not been going well since the last session. They barely speak. Fran wanted Gary to act like a man, and tells Virginia that wives should be more demure, even though she wanted to be dominated. Virginia asks if there’s anything in Fran’s background that would make her think this way.
Gary, meanwhile, tells Bill about his father, who could find fault in anything and even gave Mom a black eye. It never occurred to Gary that a woman would want to be treated like that. Fran’s heart skipped a beat once when Gary asked to order food for her.
Electrifying stuff, this couple. Fran’s parents are a different case. Her father wasn’t the demanding type. Gary just wanted a traditional relationship and to show Fran the love his father never did. Fran, meanwhile, just didn’t want to be her mother.
Later, Bill and Virginia discuss the couple, Bill thinking that Fran and Gary couldn’t be more wrong for each other. Each one wants something that the other can’t provide. Or they couldn’t drop their guard. It takes time to develop that kind of insight. Virginia asks what it took for Bill, and he says that it just took a while, and not her asking the right questions so he could reveal his secrets and feel safe.
Sensate therapy would be too traumatic for Gary, so are he and Fran capable of change? Can they let go and forgive each other for the hurt and disappointment that’s brought them to this point? Who knows?
That evening, Lester and Betty booze up as they arrive at the party, though Lester reminds Betty all about Jane’s boyfriend. Lyle and Kyle, played respectively by Yan Feldman and Rafael Feldman, greet the two. One is circumcised. That’s how you tell the difference. They had to say that, didn’t they?
While Art and Nancy decide on coats instead of keys, Virginia and Libby arrive at the party, with Libby ready to flirt with any single men. Virginia introduces Nancy to Libby, and if I didn’t know any better, I would think that Nancy guessed Libby and Virginia were an item instead of just friends.
Either way, she introduces the two to Michael, who knows Virginia because the two of them, along with Dan Logan, are supposed to have dinner in New York soon. Oh, how about that? Almost caught in a hard place, Virginia wanders off to distract herself.
Nancy tells Art how Michael knows Virginia. Good thing, because Art and Nancy would love to meet Dan. As the two leave, Betty asks what Virginia plans to do when others find out that Virginia isn’t married.
While Lester tries to chat up a woman about Jane because he hasn’t told enough people, Libby makes small talk with Michael about rebounding after divorce. He and his wife renewed their vows, but only to love each other as best friends.
There was even a ceremony. Libby claims to be close with her ex-husband, since they just need to talk about how much they love each other. Everything after is easy. And then Bram Keller arrives.
Nancy and an attendee sort the coats, with the attendee saying that he likes Nancy. Based on statistics, he thinks that he has a shot with her.
Bram Keller is surprised to see Libby and apologizes for misjudging her. Inside, Libby is a roaring cauldron of rage. Bram goes on about representing Libby’s ex-husband and how Libby would love to throw Bill to the wolves instead of helping. This manages to scare off Michael and allows Bran to explain to Libby just what kind of party she’s attending, as she has no idea.
Back to Virginia and Betty, who doesn’t see any shame in things falling apart between Virginia and Dan. There’s an honor, she says, in seeing that a marriage is ending, but remember that Virginia never got married in the first place. See, Betty thinks people should just tell the truth, like Helen ought to do with her parents in regards to Betty. Virginia will come clean. Tomorrow.
Bill arrives at the party, where Libby tells him that the kids are with their friends, even though he’s supposed to have time with them tonight. Yeah, Bill is inconvenienced without any regard. Sound familiar?
Nancy and Art halt the festivities and bring the coats so they can explain the rules of the key and coat party: tonight it’s gentleman’s choice. If Kyle and Lyle pick you, be careful because they do everything together. As host’s choice, Art picks first and ends up with Virginia’s coat. Well, this should be fun.
A coat-less and intoxicated Libby makes her way to her coat, so Bill opts to drive instead. No dice, Libby says, but she doesn’t have much of a say right now.
Lester picks out a coat that belongs to a Miss Adele Davenport, played by Eileen O’Connell, the woman that he spoke to before and who wants to pass. Well, that’s unfortunate. Betty talks with piano player Guy, played by Nick Clifford, who isn’t here to participate in the festivities. Betty isn’t interested in sexual roulette, she just wants moral support from the only other homosexual in the room. Well, he is the piano player.
Virginia isn’t into screwing with Art, even though she’s a guest in his house and was already spotted with a man in a bar. They’re not coworkers at this hour. Art tells Virginia, who is instead searching for her keys, that the damage is done, regardless of the two screw. People will come to their own conclusion. Virginia hopes that Art disavows that notion, but then she hears Nancy moaning through the wall.
It helps that she’s pretending for a purely sexual experience. She doesn’t care- she’ll learn something to bring to their bed. Art closes his eyes and pretends, too- he pretends to enjoy it.
Libby and Bill arrive at home, with the two arguing about blaming each other. Bill doesn’t feel that he’s making decisions to deliberately hurt Libby, including the dog, though she feels otherwise. Taking care of a dog gets easier, but Bill and Libby started easy. Now, unlike some exes, they aren’t even friends.
So Bill asks Libby what he can fix. She wants him to promise not to make her the bad guy with the kids or undermine her authority. Don’t treat her like a piece of business, either. And third, Libby wants Bill to go down on her. She wants to know what it feels like and so Bill can do something for the sole purpose of giving Libby pleasure. As in right now in the living room.
Hey, when a woman wants you to eat her out, you obey.
The server, Cleo, played by Enuka Okuma, joins Lester outside on the curb as he sits in his sadness. And because Lester has a big mouth, the server knows all about Lester’s life and advises that he just punches Jane’s lover.
Be better than the people randomly fucking because they matched coats. The server thinks Lester is better than them, even if no one wanted him. This sex isn’t an act of rebellion. Radical, the server says, is marching through the streets.
She hasn’t been arrested, though. The point is nothing radical was ever catered. Though Lester isn’t a risk taker and the server isn’t a radical, but they can change this. Lester can be her worthwhile cause. Tempting, Lester.
While the couples fuck, Guy offers to take Betty home after they finish on the piano. However, Betty needs to be dropped at the office because Helen’s parents are in town. Guy feels that Helen will tell the truth when she’s ready.
Back to Art and Virginia, who wonders why Art isn’t a willing participant in this. Nancy likes Art being with other women, as it makes her feel less guilty that she’s with other men. Art was the one who wanted to get married- the two give other people their bodies, but keep their feelings for each other. Separating sex and love. Interesting. Virginia has separated the two before, but now she’s taking care of herself.
Virginia knows there are infinite ways that sex can happen without love. Or you can get laid because it feels good and there’s nothing else on television. As Nancy’s moans intensify, Art then pleads with Virginia to talk to him about anything.
At the same time, Bill goes down on Libby, who thanks him for the service. That’s one thing to check off his list. And yet Libby is still upset because that felt good, but that never happened over 20 years. Libby was a virgin and only knew what Bill showed him, which was the most polite sex in the world.
But Libby wasn’t disappointed because she didn’t know enough to be disappointed. Bill wasn’t, though, because he saw other couples having sex and found someone else to fuck. As did she. Libby reveals herself to be a carnal woman. She wants sex in the shower and wants to be felt up under a table. Bill would have obliged during their boring dinners.
The only thing Libby saw Bill be passionate about was his work. Libby didn’t demand passion, she only wanted Bill home for dinner. It’s not tragic. Bill believes that he and Libby did their best. After all, they did produce three kids. Bill did love Libby, even if not enough or in the right way, but he knows that he loved her. Libby loved him, too. The two kiss until it evolves into something more.
While Lester and Cleo make sweet, interracial love in the car, Virginia notes how quiet it is in the next room. Apparently, Nancy gets stuffed up when she sleeps to the point that she has a whistle in her nose. Art knows what he signed up with Nancy and asks Virginia when it’s ever equal between partners. Why can’t Art love Nancy more than she loves him?
Virginia asks Art if Nancy isn’t all that and maybe she’s just pretending. Even if that’s the case, Art doesn’t care. After all, what makes Dan love Virginia?
Maybe it’s not her body or work personality, but the person she is and rarely acknowledges: a fucked-up woman that Dan loves anyway. Isn’t that true love? A man who stands by your side when it’s not easy, but when it’s damn near impossible when you don’t think you deserve it?
Libby and Bill eat up. Bill’s ready to leave and do some thinking about this evening, but before he does, Libby wants him to take Baxter outside.
So Virginia and Art are finally in a bed together, but he knew her coat because she wears it to the office every day. Not because he wanted to go to bed with her, but because he knew she wouldn’t. After all, she’s his boss and bosses shouldn’t sleep with employers. Virginia admits that it happens. Art tries to pry open Virginia’s mind through role play, but Virginia just calls him awkward, nervous, and doesn’t make eye contact.
Virginia waits until she feels a shared passion for the work. The boss may call the shots, but the boss also wants Virginia to be her equal with the same opportunities and success. That could be a ruse to keep it going, but the boss believes in Virginia. He thinks that Virginia is smart and defers to her. The ugly parts of Virginia don’t scare him away. She falls in and out of bed with other men, but still, the boss loves her.
So when Virginia goes to find her own happiness, without him, life continues. The boss is left a broken, afraid, insecure man, but he has shown Virginia these broken places.
So Bill takes Baxter for a walk, Lester is left in his car with a phone number on his window, and Guy takes a message at the clinic. Virginia, meanwhile, learns that Art had her keys all along. As she heads out for the day, she grabs a coat.
Bill, meanwhile, asks Baxter to change his ways or this arrangement can’t last. He then gets a visit from Virginia, who returns Libby’s coat. Virginia then admits that she and Dan never got married, but the reasons were complicated. Bill admits that he’s known for a while and doesn’t know why Virginia would be sorry. He then tells her that he’ll see her at the office as the episode comes to a close.
Another great episode this was. And a nice change of pace by having it all unravel after seeing how it ended. Having the majority of this take place within the context of the key party was a great way, I feel, to develop the characters and progress their stories, even if the dialogue was a tad blatant at times.
At the same time, it makes sense in this episode that the characters are grappling with how to accept the others around them and whether that’s taking them on the surface level or loving them for what’s beneath as well. This episode asks whether you can take someone at face value or if it’s possible to love them so much that their flaws are immaterial.
When you’re able to accept that significant other, body, soul, issues and all, you’re showing your devotion to them in every way because you don’t mind being with them at their worst. Even if they don’t show you that same level of love, as is the case with Art and Nancy, it shouldn’t be a contest of who loves who more. It’s just about being true to yourself and to them by accepting their true self, not the imitation.
Take Betty, for example. She can see right through anyone’s bullshit and isn’t afraid to call others out on it. She’s already called out the likes of Bill, Barton, and Virginia not because she can, but because she values honesty. Despite how fucked up Bill and Virginia are, Betty would prefer if they stopped pretending and just put everything out in the open. Although why Helen hasn’t come clean about her and Betty is something I don’t get.
But not everyone is as honest or forward as Betty. At this party, she exists on an island and finds solace in the only other gay person there. And even though Guy is a homosexual, Betty doesn’t care. She’s been there. Hell, she’s still there. And while society may not be as openly accepting of gays in the 1960s, Betty accepts Guy in spite of society seeing the two of them as pariahs.
Plus, while I enjoy Betty and Lester’s interactions, there’s something a bit more meaningful in seeing Betty befriend someone just like her. And from the way Betty eyes Guy at the clinic the next morning, I wonder if she’ll try to bring Guy on to be her secretary. After all, Betty could use the extra hands around the office.
While most characters keep their truer selves hidden, Lester sees no need to hide who he is. While he’s not a radical like Cleo, he already made a gutsy life decision by being involved with Bill and Virginia’s research. But his home life isn’t going well and he’s made a habit of ranting about it. Since Lester has done this in the past, it doesn’t come out of nowhere or feel like he’s bitter about Jane’s absence.
As we saw back in the first season, Lester loves Jane more than she does, the same way Art does with Nancy, but unlike Art seemingly having no problem with Nancy sleeping with other men, Jane having sex with another man feels like an endurance test for Lester. It’s almost as if, I think, he just tolerates her behavior rather than accept her flaws.
Two other things: first, if Jane is going to be name-dropped as often as she has, I hope she appears at some point, even if brief or to explain why she’s no longer working at the clinic. Second, I hope we get some follow-up between Lester and Cleo because it’d be unfortunate if they lost that connection. And it would give Lester a suitable and likable partner in Jane’s absence.
Art and Virginia’s conversation, while spelled-out at times, was one of the better scenes of the episode. While Virginia thinks highly of herself, Art is one of the few people that doesn’t find her desirable because of their work relationship. Plus, have you seen Nancy?
But as strange as an open relationship is to some, Art knows who Nancy is, inside and out, and is able to separate sex from love. That’s hard to do, given the level of Nancy’s moans. There’s got to be something there beyond sex, even if Art doesn’t want to admit it. And if there is, he still loves Nancy, despite how bothered he looks upon hearing Nancy having sex. He’s there for her at her lowest moments. That, I believe, is commitment.
And Art does get Virginia thinking about how much each partner puts into a relationship. He rightly asks when it’s ever equal between partners, and even in this setting, that’s very uncommon. Whether Art and Nancy, Bill and Libby, Barton and Margaret, or even Bill and Virginia, you don’t have both sides contributing the same amount. It shouldn’t be a problem if one side puts in more than the other if the relationship is stable.
That’s how Art sees it, but not Virginia, who believes that there should be equal output in a partnership. Bill doesn’t see her as a subordinate and she doesn’t carry herself as one. But unlike men who value Virginia for her body, Bill values Virginia for her intellect and willingness to challenge him, whether at work or in the bedroom.
I wasn’t a fan of how much Virginia spelled out Bill as the man in the hypothetical scenario, but I think it drives home just how much someone like Bill instead of Dan really gets her, even if their personal relationship is over at the moment. But based on that realization, there’s a good chance that the two of them could recapture what made their bond so strong.
Before that happens, though, we’d have to see what becomes of Bill’s relationship with Libby. I’ll say it again: I love single Libby. She’s brash, confident, and everything you’d want now that she’s on her own. Of all the things I expected Libby to demand of Bill, I never imagined she would want him to go down on her. But in this instance, she’s in control.
And this gives Libby an opportunity to live out what she’s been denied for years, but also what she’s seen in other couples. Michael and his ex-wife are, at the very least, friends, and Nancy gets her rocks off with other men, even though she’s married to Art. Libby had to get her rocks off through Paul and Robert because, like Gary, Bill didn’t desire Libby- he just respected her.
Their marriage was about as typical as you’d expect a nuclear family, but that was the problem. Libby didn’t want typical. She wanted to be felt up under the table or fucked in the shower. Certainly any man would accept such a proposal if it came from someone as pretty as Caitlin Fitzgerald. But Libby’s progression this season has felt very cathartic and this was her chance to have Bill pleased her in ways he never did before.
Also, the two do end up on good terms by episode’s end when they’re having a casual conversation. Bill accepts that he’s wronged Libby and denied her satisfaction he would have been able to provide, but he also doesn’t deny that their children are evidence that, for all their faults, their marriage did have its successes.
But this relationship didn’t have the success that Bill had with Virginia. With Libby, Bill only saw a wife. Hell, they slept in separate beds. He didn’t see the horny housewife who just wanted to get fucked instead of just make dinner and be on display for guests. The two were never equals the way Bill and Virginia always fought for domination.
This was as much a good episode for dramatic moments as it was comedic. Whether the main characters realizing they were at a sex party, Lester bonding with Cleo, or Libby asserting control over Bill, this was a very funny episode that came full circle by the end. After “The Pleasure Protocol,” “Coats or Keys” is a damn good follow-up with great character development in a fun setting.
But what happens now going forward? Will Lester ever see Cleo again? Are Bill and Libby back on good terms, despite being separated? And now that the truth is out on Virginia lying about her not-marriage, where does her relationship with Bill go from here? We’ll see next time.