A Look at Masters of Sex- Season 4, Episode 6: “Family Only”

For a show that’s mostly about human sexual response, Masters of Sex makes sure to remind us about the importance of bonds between partners, coworkers, friends, lovers, and so on.  With “Family Only,” those bonds are tested as characters grapple with seeking what they truly want and rejecting what they shouldn’t want because it will just bring them trouble.  Let’s dive right in.

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The episode begins with Virginia paying Bill an unexpected visit, as she has good news and wine.  Good news is that Arnold Ketterman wants to move ahead with publishing, so maybe Virginia’s trip to New York made all the difference.  As for the drinks, it’s lost its appeal for Bill after Alcoholics Anonymous. In fact, he’s headed to a meeting. Sobriety, Bill says, is a journey, not a destination.

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And yet, Bill has a drink at House Masters, where Libby did not expect him to arrive.  He just wants to watch The Tonight Show, which the two haven’t done since before the two filed for divorce.  Bill’s claim for leaving his home is that he felt claustrophobic, or rather, he feels alone. Bill plans to ask Barton to return to the clinic since he’s like family.

But Libby suggests that Bill start dating. After all, she’s dating Bram Keller after asking him out. It’s a healthy next step for Libby, and she feels it will for Bill.

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So Virginia shares her drinks and company with Art instead. She’s glad that Art apparently cleared things up with Nancy, but Art switches gears to Bill instead, calling him inscrutable.  Virginia always understood him up until now.  Divorce doesn’t excuse the behavior.

But even unfulfilling marriages can provide stability.  Art has found that women can establish new routines, but men are used to having certain things done for them.  In Virginia’s mind, she was Bill’s work wife.  That was the true marriage.  Nancy’s dinner date friend, Bruce, by the way, apparently wants Nancy to be involved with him.

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Bill finds an intoxicated Bob Drag waiting for him at his apartment.  He wants to talk about Bill’s court house speech, as he wants to use it for the forward of the book.  Bob tells Bill that he’s lost.  At almost 40 years old, he’s about to lose his one good shot at a family if his fiance leaves him.  She’s the reason he is here and Bob needs Bill to see both him and his fiance.

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The next day, Betty and Helen talk about their upcoming baby. Helen dreamt that her family came to visit, but it wasn’t a sad visit. No one cried, though. The family still rejected her, but when they left, Helen waved goodbye and her parents blew her a kiss. After that, she wasn’t sad because she turned around and saw Betty with their kid. And that makes Helen happy. Oh, and the baby is on the way very soon.

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Art asks Nancy about Bruce, who made tenure.  That was most of their conversation. He even got Art the perfect gift: a tie.  He wants to take Art and Nancy out to dinner so they can catch up.

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While Virginia receives some case files from Guy, Nancy informs Barton that she and Art feel out.  Barton knows that the sessions have been taped, but not that conversations are being recorded.  Nancy feels that something strange has been going on between Bill and Virginia.  Even still, Barton wants Nancy to give it some time.  Just then, Guy alerts Barton that Betty and Helen are on their way to the hospital.

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Bram Keller pays Libby a visit and needs to reschedule, as he has a last second work dinner.  Luckily, Libby is familiar with last second work dinner.  This case in particular involves a client and his wife, who both happen to be nudists.

Like most people, Bram wants a first date to go well, so he doesn’t want it to be potentially ruined by nudists.  Not that Libby is a prude.  In fact, she’s in.  Though if she’s never spent time around nudists, Bram suggests that she bring smelling salts.

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Virginia asks Guy why the initial interview for the Clavermore couple has already been completed by Art and Nancy.  But hey, it was Nancy’s idea, so Virginia wants to find out if Nancy has snatched up any other dates.

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But Nancy is in the middle of a session with Bill, as the two talk with Bob Drag and his fiance, Cherlyn Green, played by Joanna Canton.  Virginia spots this, thinking that it’s a book meeting.  Bob Drag does most of the talking, but Cherlyn says that the two hadn’t made love in months due to Bob’s impotence. But luckily, Bob knows experts in this field. This renewed Bram’s commitment.

Bill is glad that Bob is more hopeful than their last encounter, prompting Cherlyn to wonder where Bob was if he wasn’t at a Little Brown function, as she believed.  Yup.  That’s what happened.

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Barton, meanwhile, is the doctor for Helen and Betty.  The baby is still breach, so there’s a 50/50 chance that doctors will need to perform a C-section.  Routine surgery, but Helen would undergo a longer recovery period.  Betty refuses to leave Helen’s side, but it’s hospital policy, as not even husbands can remain with their wives.  Helen assures Betty that she and the baby have everything under control.

If I were a betting man, I would wager that Helen is going to die giving birth.

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Back at the clinic, Virginia speaks with Bill and Nancy about why she wasn’t present in the meeting with Bob Drag, who Virginia thinks is here because of her New York trip. Rumors are flying in New York that Bob is a homosexual, though Nancy didn’t sense any indication.  Virginia says that’s because Nancy is still learning how to pay attention to details, but that’s what the intake process is all about.

And while Virginia would prefer to do that with Bill, he assures her that Nancy is perfectly capable of running an intake, prompting Virginia to bring up Art and Nancy taking on the Clavermore couple.  But all Bill says in regard to this is that Nancy should have consulted him and Virginia.  Bill needs to think about how to handle the Clavermore couple going forward.

When Nancy leaves, Virginia tells Bill that she wants to double team Bob Drag, but Bill doesn’t want her yanking Nancy off of cases.  After all, she and Art are here to help.  Bob Drag, though, was open with both Bill and Virginia, and she feels that together, the two can coax the truth out of him. Bill agrees, but it’s clear that she disagrees.

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Following this, Nancy has a private conversation with Virginia in the most appropriate location: the ladies’ room.  She wants to know her role if Virginia is going to reassign her. Virginia asks if Nancy ever run her business, but then, there are some technicalities, as Bill is the one who secured the clinic’s current space, not him and Virginia.  But hey, semantics.

Then Nancy plays the gender card: Virginia feels that Nancy is competition.  It’s not an unfair assumption.  Nancy respects Virginia for what she’s done, but apparently, she only stands wherever Bill and Virginia tell her.

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So indeed, Bill and Virginia speak with Bob on their own about when the impotence first began.  It was only in the last few weeks, maybe due to stress.  Never with previous partners, all five of the women. Virginia asks how many men, though, he’s had sexual encounters with in his past.  Boys, even, but when he was a boy as well.  It helps to clarify.

Bob takes offense to this and has nothing to hide, but that one boy was when Bob was 16 at boarding school.  It wasn’t a sexual encounter, just games.  But Bob didn’t have feelings.  He was 16, after all.  Virginia presses the issue, asking if Bob still thinks about this one boy and if doing so helps him achieve an erection.

It does, but Bob finds it nauseating and shameful.  The two recommend that Bob speaks to a psychiatrist. Bob insists that he’s not gay. Impotence is due to many reasons, as per Bill and Virginia’s book.  But homosexuality is wrong and Bob wants the thoughts out of his head.  He asks the two if they’ve ever wanted to stop wanting what they want because they know it will cause them misery.

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Meanwhile, Bram and Libby arrive at Shangri-Lawn, which is full of naked people galore. Full frontal and all.  Well, for all you people who felt that Game of Thrones didn’t have enough full frontal male nudity, here you go.

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Back at the clinic, Nancy tells Art about Virginia learning of the two taking on the Clavermore couple.  She figures that the interview was on tape, and since one’s heard it or the two would be fired, she wants Art to retrieve and destroy the tape, which is in Lester’s office.  Nancy wants to leave the clinic on her terms, not Bill or Virginia’s.

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Meanwhile, Betty worries about Helen’s 50/50 chances of this C-section.  It’s supposedly the best outcome for mother and child, but Betty is still worried and needs to see Helen again.  She ends up instead calling Bill, who tells her that C-sections are routine.

But a fearful Betty frets that nothing is going the way it should for Helen, though.  Despite Bill’s assurance that this is normal, Betty is still worried.  Bill offers to come down, but Betty tells him that she’s fine.  She plans to call Helen’s parents.

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Art listens to and pockets the Clavermore interview when Lester enters the room.  As Art tries to leave, he knocks over some of Lester’s new pictures: this time of Jane in order to prove evidence of an affair.

Lester asks Art how he lets Nancy be with other men and that not eat away at him. Though that’s a private matter, Art tells Lester that it’s an agreed-upon arrangement.  But then Art calls Lester a watcher, as he’s spent 18 months watching Jane. True enough.

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Virginia and Bill discuss whether to take on Bob Drag’s case.  Bill isn’t certain that Bob is a homosexual.  Hell, Bill went to boarding school and knows that it’s common for boys to sexually experiment with other boys.  Most of the boys go on to be normal, heterosexual men.

Virginia doesn’t want to broach the subject of conversion therapy, but Bill fixates on the word desire. Desire means that it brings satisfaction, but in Bob’s case, this has just brought him suffering.

When Nancy finds the door to the ladies’ room locked- because that’s a thing- she interrupts Bill and Virginia’s conversation to apologize for damn near everything, including Art picking Virginia’s coat.  Because ever since the two apparently had sex, Virginia has turned on Nancy.  Rather than own up to anything, Virginia has Nancy fetch Art.  Bill, to put it kindly, is livid.

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Okay, so Art enters and explains that the two went to bed together, but there was no sex or physical contact.  When the two leave, Bill goes to inform Bob of his decision.  He isn’t angry at Virginia since she may have enough guilt on her head right now, but the problem is that she spent the night in a coworker’s bed, regardless of whether anything happened.

She put both her and the clinic’s reputation at risk.  Virginia knows this, and she admits to making some questionable choices.  She lied about Dan not to keep Bill at bay, but because she was just ashamed and had gotten distracted by Dan.  This proved her inability to choose the right thing, even when it’s staring her in the face.

What happened with Art was clarity- the one man who has seen all of her and still loves her despite her flaws is Bill. Bill leaves, still needing to talk with Bob.

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We return to the nudist colony in all its birthday suit glory, with Bram and Libby being the only clothed people.  Bram explains that he’s helping Richard and Kitty due to neighbors bringing suit, claiming a violation of zoning laws based on the sale of food and wine.  Or it’s a case against obscenity due to outdated community standards.  Standard First Amendment case.

But Libby wonders what kind of statement is being made by not wearing clothes. Kitty counters that people are defined by clothing, whereas communal nudity is a declaration of self-respect. Libby brings up her experiences working with CORE and how Negro nightclubs got around being shut down with by implementing a voucher system.

It’s crazy enough idea to work and if the colony institutes such a policy, Bram can get a judgment in the group’s favor.  In return, Richard and Kitty insist that Bram and Libby stay the night.

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Nancy has finally arrived at home, as she disappeared after the meeting at the office.  She tells Art that she had dinner plans with Bruce. Well, they skipped dinner and went straight to Bruce’s hotel room.  Art apologizes, but Nancy is being honest and says that an open marriage can’t work if the two can’t be open with each other.  Nancy wants the truth from Art about Virginia.

So Art tells the truth: the two had sex and Virginia is denying it in front of Bill to save her own ass.  After all, you don’t go to a coat party just to sleep on a bed. Nancy, then, wants to know what happened.  Art tells Nancy that Virginia was uncomfortable at first, so Art got her relaxed by saying that Virginia was the boss.  She then took control and didn’t even let Art touch her.  She was just interested in pleasure.

And so Nancy begins to take control, mimicking everything that Virginia apparently did, even going as far as going down on Art.

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Back at the nudist colony, Libby sees a similarity between Bram and Bill’s pajamas.  Well, he doesn’t have another pair, but there’s a solution.  Libby begins to undress him, but Bram wants to slow down.  He likes her and doesn’t wan to rush this, but Libby doesn’t want to wait until their wedding night to see if the sex between them will be any good.  However, now Libby doesn’t want to have sex. Ha!

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She later awakens and, like anyone would do at a nudist colony, strips down and walks the grounds in nothing but her birthday suit.  And she’s loving every minute of it.  As am I. She later returns from her stroll, with Bram telling her that she always finds a way to surprise him.

Libby doesn’t know what she’s looking for, but she does want it to be passionate and for there to be real sexual chemistry. So Bram strips down and the fun begins.

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Bill tells Virginia that he’s cancelled the rest of the day’s appointments, as he’s about to go check on Betty and Helen.  He opens Virginia’s surprise letter, which contains a key to their old room at the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel.  She hoped that Bill would meet her there, as it was at a time when they were at their best. But Bill can’t because he doesn’t believe that Virginia loves him.

She just wants him today. Maybe because it’s easier with Bill or he’s the only option right now, but what happens tomorrow when Virginia wakes up and wants someone else? Virginia assures Bill that this won’t happen, but Bill doesn’t trust her.  And he doesn’t know if he ever will again.

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Bill joins Betty at the hospital.  She senses that something is off with Bill, but she then tells him that the last update from Barton was an hour ago.  She called Helen’s parents, who think that Betty lured Helen into a life of sin and debauchery.  Betty is willing to take the blame, but Helen shouldn’t take any blame.  Bill says that it’s hard for people to see what Betty and Helen have done by making a family together.

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In the operating room, Helen has given birth to a baby girl.  Barton tells Helen that the baby will be taken to the nursery, and Betty can go there, but Helen wants, nay, pleads that Betty be there to sit with her in the room first.

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Soon, Betty indeed joins Helen, but the joyous moment is replaced with fear when Barton tells the doctors to increase the sedation.  Helen’s pressure is dropping.  Barton instructs Bill to scrub up, as he’s to help with the procedure.  Betty continues to talk with Helen and assures her that nothing is wrong, though Helen worries that she is sick.  Helen’s final words to Betty are a call for her mother.

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With the procedure over, a doctor tells Betty that it’s time to take away Helen’s body. Virginia soon arrives as a somber Bill tells her of D.I.C., which means that the blood would not clot.  They went through 16 bags. No matter how much they transfused, Helen kept bleeding until there was no more blood.

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And just to pour salt in the wound, before Betty can enter the nursery, a nurse informs her that Helen’s parents, who have arrived, only want family inside the nursery.  The episode comes to a close as Betty watches from a distance Helen’s parents embrace her daughter.  Oh, that’s just unfair.

“Family Only” focuses a lot on the importance of stable relationships, more so within the family, whether by blood or close relations.  By episode’s end, we end up with mixed results for some of the pairs, but let’s start with the tragedy of the hour.

Helen’s presence helped show how important it is for Betty to raise a family because, them being a lesbian couple, few, if any people in the 1960s would see them as a legitimate pair.  But despite that, they vowed to make this work not just for themselves, but for their baby.

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Character deaths can provide for great drama when handled well, and while it’s a somber moment for Betty to lose her partner, I don’t think that Helen’s death was handled with the same grace as Libby’s miscarriage in Season One or Lillian DePaul’s death in Season Two.

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Helen’s happy dream about her parents and new family with Betty was one thing, but the moment that Barton mentioned the possibility of performing a C-section, it was clear that Helen was not going to survive this episode.  The longing looks she and Betty share in their final moment and Helen insisting that she’s okay were fine, but didn’t feel as strong as I feel they could have been.

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Part of it is because it’s all so telegraphed, so the moment loses some of its tragedy because we as an audience can gather how this will all end.  That doesn’t make it bad, mind you, as I feel this is one of Annaleigh Ashford’s best performances of the series. There’s nothing but sorrow and loss in Betty’s eyes from her final moments with Helen to watching Helen’s parents hold her daughter.

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So Betty doesn’t get to have that stable family that she’s always wanted, and it’s upsetting because she’s wanted this since the first season.  I’m guessing she’ll fight for custody next, if the system in the 1960s would even allow a single, homosexual woman that right.

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For Betty to call Bill for advice had to be out of desperation, since he’s not the most warming person and the two have had friction in the past.  But we’ve seen Betty reach out to him before when she’s been desperate, and each time, despite his hesitation, Bill has been there for Betty.

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For him to be there at a low moment for Betty showed the lasting strength of their bond, but also the lengths Bill will go, professional or personal, to be there for his friends or coworkers, especially when Barton requires him to suit up and help operate on Helen.

It helps that Bill’s mind is clearer this week that it has been in a long time.  He knows that he and Libby can never be- though I’m glad that they’re at least just friends and on speaking terms- and he’s trying to put Virginia behind him.

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Good for him to point out that Virginia may just want him now, though it’s hypocritical to accuse her of jeopardizing the clinic’s reputation by going to a coat and key party when he’s already hindered the clinic’s name.  Hell, did we not just go through a trial on this? Seems unfair for Bill to take the moral high ground on Virginia when he’s made just as many errors.

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And I wasn’t a fan of Bob Drag spelling out the notion of wanting to stop desiring what you want because we already know that Bill is trying to wean himself off of Virginia.

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As for Virginia, who now has clarity and wants some stability through Bill, some of her decisions still rub me the wrong way.  Yes, she has been in this business much longer than Art and Nancy, but she does come off as if Nancy is competition instead of a coworker.  And as Bill mentioned, Art and Nancy are here to help, so Virginia shouldn’t try to stand in Nancy’s way just because she’s decided that she wants to be with Bill.

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Plus, only when pressured by Bill does she own up to her faults, but rather than just tell Bill that she didn’t sleep with Art, she has Art do it for her, thus putting him on the spot. She calls herself Bill’s work wife when he’s pushing her away, and rather than work with or advise Nancy, she comes off as condescending.

It’s telling that we don’t see much of Virginia’s home life, as she’s poured everything into her work.  We at least see Bill conversing with Libby, but Virginia is trying to guide Bill into every facet of her life, including work.  But that’s hard to do when she’s making moves that call her character into question.

I wouldn’t hold going to the coat party against her because she was invited, but at least just be honest.  She has to know by now, given Bill knowing about Dan, that hiding the truth will just make it worse when it finally comes out.  And trying to be involved in every aspect of Bill’s life is futile when he’s trying to move past her.

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Plus, there are parts of Bill’s life where Virginia just would not fit.  Remember that we haven’t seen Virginia perform on patients.  She’s an observer during the sex sessions and is great at evaluations, but Bill is a practiced doctor.  Virginia isn’t.  Had she been called to help with Helen, I doubt she would be of much good since she doesn’t have the on-hands experience that Bill and Barton have.

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I’m not sure what’s going on with Art and Nancy.  Is Art really trying to save face in front of his wife?  Seems like it, when he shifts the blame to Virginia, but only once he’s at home and not facing Bill and Virginia.

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And if he didn’t sleep with Virginia, is he just creating that scenario for Nancy to mimic in retaliation for her sleeping around with other men?  It’s possible, given how we’ve seen that the arrangements of this open marriage do bother him at times.

I think Nancy might have overplayed her hand when she told off Virginia about possibly sleeping with Art.  It put her in hot water and while she’s got every right to be angry at Virginia cutting into her work, bringing up the coat and key party just adds more drama to an already tense relationship.  I’m curious why the two haven’t told Bill and Virginia that they know about the recordings, though, but maybe they’re saving that card for later.

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I’m glad Libby remains as outgoing and open as possible, and in a nice nod to her past employment, her work at the CORE office proved useful to the nudist colony and helped bring her closer to Bram.  Their relationship is inching at a slow pace now, and I’m fine with that because they’re still getting to know each other and neither of them seems 100 percent sure on what they want.

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Right now, I just appreciate that Libby is with someone who appreciates her on a physical level and that Bram isn’t just going in headfirst with this relationship.  He likes Libby, but he won’t jeopardize things by going all out when they’re still feeling out one another.  And feeling out one another, too.  And side-note, I can do without the swelling music accompanying Libby’s nude walk.  We get the point of the scene without that.

With so much focus on the importance of family and bonds, “Family Only” ended on a tragic note with Helen’s death and Betty having her family ripped away from her.  I would wager that this isn’t the last we will see her clash with Helen’s parents, though.  Tensions are high not just there, but at work between Bill, Virginia, Art, and Nancy.  Virginia knows that she wants Bill, but he’s put her behind him.  The question, though, is for how long?

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