A Look at Masters of Sex- Season 4, Episode 8: “Topeka”

So Bill has an old friend who is living in Topeka, which is just where he and Virginia happen to be headed to look up a clinic with a program similar to theirs.  Surely nothing can go wrong here.

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The episode begins with Virginia telling Guy to bill hers and Bill’s appointments, but he didn’t get that far, even though the appointments are in the morning.  Bill, meanwhile, apologizes to Dody for causing her stress because of the letter.  However, because of a last minute business trip, he hopes that he can meet Dody in Topeka.  The husband can come along, too, in order for Bill to put his mind at ease about his intentions.

Virginia tells Bill that the clinics only take married couples, which is why Guy couldn’t get far.  As such, Bill suggests that they just go to Topeka together.  Virginia is surprised, but agrees.

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The next day, Virginia and Bill give Nancy, Art, and Guy some last minute instructions.  In private, Virginia apologizes for crossing the line and talking about Nancy’s marriage, but Nancy is glad to know how Art really feels.

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Once Bill and Virginia leave, Nancy and Art enjoy a breath of fresh air with the others gone.  Art figures that Virginia is going to take advantage of this trip and hopes the Masters and Johnson method will work on them.

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At the diner, Libby tells Bram about her observing a divorce case where she nearly went mad.  She’s surprised to learn that Bram is still married, but only on a paper that remains unsigned.  He has a great lawyer who puts his divorce at the bottom of his list of priorities.  And then Bram breaks a crown due to a walnut shell in his food.  Libby offers to drive him to a doctor.

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On the road, Virginia preps a tape record to tape their conversations as she and Bill go over their cover stories.  English nobility is out of the question, so Bill goes with the name Earl.  Virginia, meanwhile, is Ingrid Swanson.  They bicker about who has the fake sexual problem and use the Clavermore story as their backstory.  Virginia, by the way, isn’t a fan of Bill’s southern accent.

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Austin, now officially Betty’s husband, arrives at the clinic and tells Guy that Betty will be fine when she gets the baby.  Between now and a few weeks when the two file for custody, Austin needs to prove that he’s capable of financially supporting a baby, so he’s here to pick up Betty’s paycheck and present the Virility Vacuum.  Or, as Lester bluntly calls it, a penis pump.

But Austin calls it a cure for impotence and still hard science.  Lester cautions Guy against falling for Austin’s ruse, but even though Austin wants to make his case, neither Bill nor Virginia are at the clinic.  Well, he goes to get some pamphlets and paperwork instead.

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Libby returns to the diner with a dental bill due to Bram being accosted by a stray walnut.  The manager isn’t interested since he hears many of these situations, but Libby says that due to Bram breaking a crown, he lost wages from not being in court.

The manager isn’t interested in hearing Libby’s case, given how she’s been to the diner before because she got an order wrong.  She’s a secretary, not a lawyer, so the manager tells Libby to leave lawsuits to those with the degrees.

Well, that sounds like a Gribble of an idea.

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Back in Topeka, Bill and Virginia sit with their doctors: Marcia and Harvey Toplin, played by actual married couple Rosy Rosemont and Stephen Root.  The Toplins want their clients to see this as a holiday and opportunity to fall in love all over again.

Parts of the process are more productive when there’s division among gender lines.  It’s not standard, though.  Years of working with couples and their intake method- a questionnaire- allows couples to learn things about themselves that they never knew.

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Art and Nancy speak with the Clavermore couple about the incident when Mr. Clavermore first realized that he could not ejaculate.  Just before he could climax, he heard a noise and the door opened.  He saw their daughter in the doorway.

At the same time, Bill and Virginia present their case to Marcia and Harvey.  Bill couldn’t stop.  He had to finish.  Since the male can manipulate himself, it’s time for the female to learn about stimulating the husband.

It’s a nice juxtaposition, I will admit.  Anyway, a man may feel too shame, which is a powerful inhibitor.  Bill is asked when he previously experienced shame.  To that Bill says he never experienced that feeling before.  Marcia and Harvey don’t buy that, so they press Bill to give an actual answer.

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Virginia jumps in, telling Marcia and Harvey that she’s had a very satisfying sex life with her husband.  The two have been open with their desires and willing to express themselves.  As such, nothing is off limits between the two, even things like roleplay and toys.  Marcia and Harvey ask if either Bill or Virginia were involved with other people when they met.  There’s a long pause, but Bill admits that he was married.

Perhaps the disapproval from Bill’s son is really what he feels from his former life had she walked in and witnessed Bill having sex with Virginia.  Or maybe Bill is just condemning himself and feels that he can’t have a happily ever after, undeserving of finishing what he started.  The boy watching at the door could be Bill.

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The Clavermore couple tells Art and Nancy that they’d prefer to experiment in the privacy of their hotel room, though before leaving, Charles would like to see the rest of the clinic.  As Nancy shows Charles around, Nina tells Art that Charles isn’t interested in the treatment.

He’s falling in love with other businesses.  The asbestos business belongs to his father’s, but to Charles, it’s a path to other businesses.  Hmm.  For example, Charles once bought an ice cream parlor.  He’s even interested in the clinic.

Nancy tells the couple that Bill and Virginia are in Topeka to investigate copycat clinics, but Nancy wants to open her own clinic since she and Art have been trained.  Charles is in favor of them going ahead with that plan.  And wouldn’t you know it?  Art and Nancy charming the Clavermore couple earns them a double dinner date with them.  Now that’s business.

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Back to Bill and Virginia, who are reviewing the clinic’s information.  It’s far too similar to theirs, but Bill believes that Marcia and Harvey aren’t 100 percent quacks.  The undeserving notion is at least interesting, but Virginia is against it altogether.  As Virginia reviews how the two will speak tomorrow, hunger gets the best of her.  She’s interested in going out, but Bill is ready to call it a night.

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Libby hopes that she and Bram will win their court case against the diner.  Bram doesn’t see it as negligence, though.  And Libby can’t prove what happened was the court’s fault.  Libby goes back to Bram’s divorce, and it’s here that she learns that Bram’s wife doesn’t want to negotiate.

This is a black-and-white case, even though it’s just over a pair of jade earrings.  It’s about principle, but at least Bram has the law on his side.  Less so for the diner case.

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Later that evening, Bill receives a visit from Dody and just her.  Nathan isn’t coming, as he felt it would be awkward.  Apparently, Bill asking him to attend made him feel a bit more comfortable.  Bill finds that, even after 30 years, Dody still looks beautiful.  I would agree.

As Bill searches for a tie, Dody suggests that they go to a friend chicken spot across the street, but since that’s where Virginia is right now, Bill suggests they talk in the hotel room to get some things out of the way.  For starters, Bill brings up what Nathan said about Bill breaking Dody’s heart.  He asks if Dody thought the note was a joke, but it turns out that there weren’t any roses or note.

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Bill is certain, as he left the flowers and note with a nurse.  Dody, though, never received it.  And she never understood what Bill had done or why he pulled away.  Bill was just waiting for Dody to say anything.  He thought Dody said something with his silence, but Dody tells Bill that she loved him.  Bill admits that he had a hard time believing that a girl like Dody would see anything worthwhile in him.

Dody asks what the note said, as she might have had an entirely different life had she known what the note said.  Had she seen it, she admits that she would have said yes.

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Outside, Virginia has trouble getting the ice box open when she gets help from, of all people, Dody’s husband, Nathan.  He tells Virginia that he’s here to see his wife, who doesn’t know that he’s here.  She said she was going one place, but Nathan saw her try on two different dresses.  Not very typical, especially if the supposed book drive takes place in room 211.

This gets Virginia’s attention.  Nathan continues, telling Dody that her supposed boyfriend is the love of her life.  Nathan is upset.  He tried his best, but now his wife is off meeting this doctor.  Virginia is livid and tells Nathan that he should storm in and cause some trouble.  Well, that’s not gonna be good for business.  That’s not gonna be good for anybody.

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On the drive home, Art gives Nancy some silent treatment until he pulls over the car and tells her that by agreeing to dinner with the Clavermore couple, she overstepped her boundaries.  More than that, she talked about how the clinic could be better managed.  Art calls it indecent and shameful, though Nancy feels that the two had to agree to dinner.  Saying no would have been unprofessional.

Art accuses Nancy of trying to impress Charles and talks about their past ski trip during med school when Nancy was about to be evicted.  She ended up with a two year lease due to taking a lift with a nice couple that needed a house sitter.

Nancy calls this mutually beneficial, as is this.  Nancy is tired of the bullshit.  She and Art have been treated terribly at the clinic and they’ve been overlooked.  Nancy wants her and Art’s names to stand on their own.  But despite the idea of running their own clinic, Art doesn’t see himself as a liar or thieve.  He’s not ready to leave the clinic yet since they’ve barely begun their tenure.

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Back in Topeka, Dody asks Bill if he’s had a happy life.  To be honest, Bill doesn’t know how to be happy, but he’s trying to learn.  One thing is clear: he needs to stop falling in love with women who don’t love him back.  That’s not the story of his marriage, though.  There was someone else who Bill thought didn’t love him, but maybe the problem is Bill thought how could she possibly love him?

Dody takes Bill’s hand and offers to make it up to him, but Bill didn’t come here for that.  Dody, now embarrassed, apologizes and prepares to take her leave.  She wishes Bill good luck and hopes that Bill will be brave enough to let the next woman love him.  With that, Dody leaves.

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The next day, as Bill goes over the script, Virginia asks Bill if he stayed in all night and acknowledges that he wasn’t alone.  Bill doesn’t deny it, but he doesn’t think much of it.  Virginia sticks to Dody, though, and asks if Dody and Bill were lovers.  They were, a long time ago.  Nothing happened last night, but Virginia doesn’t believe it, even though that’s the truth.

Virginia is livid that Bill kept this from her and asks if Dody is the reason that the two came to Topeka.  She demands to know if Bill has feelings for her, but she realizes that this is what it’s like to be petty and jealous.  She asks Bill how many times she made him feel this way, but it’s far too many to count.  Virginia apologizes for that at least.

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Libby is a very proactive woman indeed, as we that she went to Bram’s wife, pretending to be his lawyer.  Libby thinks that Bram’s strategy is to punish his wife, and she knows about that all too well.  Knowing that you were right is the worst argument to have in an argument, which is why you hire an attorney.  Libby advised that the wife give up the Cadillac and jade earrings.  So Libby has negotiation skills.

And Libby has now fantasized being in a court room after seeing wives get taken in their court rooms.  It’s intoxicating.  Next step is for Libby to start looking into classes.

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Austin stops by the clinic again and learns that Lester has thrown out his earlier batch of pamphlets.  He feels that a penis pump is just a temporary solution.  Lester doesn’t believe that Bill and Virginia would agree with Austin, but Austin reminds Lester that he was part of the study before Lester entered the picture, so he has an idea of how Bill and Virginia think.

Guy has been thinking of volunteering, in fact, so Austin tells Guy that he won’t regret it.  It’s about meeting and connecting with someone.  To Austin, it was the best sex of his life, especially with his first blonde partner.  Austin, you might want to stop talking about Jane with Lester a few feet away from you.  But too late, as Lester gives him a slug across the face.  It’s not even a very good punch.

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As Art reviews the data on homosexuals, Nancy pops in to tell him that she’s leaving early to meet Charles Clavermore.  The recording equipment is off in the room, as the two could be fired if Bill and Virginia learned of this.  Charles has found a building for Art and Nancy and he’s brought his lawyer to talk about terms in regards to a partnership.

Nancy knows that Art doesn’t want to leave since he feels valued, and she wants him to be happy.  However, Nancy still wants to take this opportunity.  Maybe it’s time that they let each other go.  As is, Nancy isn’t happy and hasn’t been for a long time.  She’s tired of pretending that she can continue to stomach their arrangement.  She insisted on this setup, but she wants to be monogamous.

Art insists that he loves Nancy and is willing to give up being with other women.  Nancy insists that this deal could be perfect for them.  The two can go to a place where no one knows them and they aren’t judged as being swingers.  They can make a fresh start at their own clinic in New York.

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We return to Bill and Virginia, nay, Earl and Ingrid, talking to Marcia and Harvey about their improvement and how they feel encouraged about moving forward.  The doctors would like to observe Bill and Virginia having intercourse.  Bill isn’t ready to take this next step, but Marcia and Harvey insists that he is.  This is how they’ve yielded results in a short amount of time.

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Marcia and Harvey won’t force Bill and Virginia into this, but they do ask why the two came in the first place if they aren’t open to their methods?  When the two have a moment to themselves, Bill tells Virginia that these doctors shouldn’t have couples engaging in intercourse so soon.  Virginia reminds him that they aren’t here to critique, but Bill wants to walk away right now.

But then Virginia wonders why the two came here, if not to protect their legacy?  It’s just sex, after all.

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Nancy, meanwhile, meets up with a neighbor for some swinger action.  Of course.

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Back at the clinic, Lester gloats about his so-called punch to Guy.  He hopes that Guy doesn’t volunteer for the study.  Having seen so many couples have sex, Lester knows what comes next for many of the people.  Austin, for example, lost his wife and kids.  Guy, though, isn’t married, but it’s more than that- since Jane was in the study, she treats sex like a performance.  Lester, though, is the audience to Jane’s affairs.

Lester believes in the science, but he tells Guy that he doesn’t know what’s real and what a performance is when someone is watching.  Doing it behind the glass changes you.

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Bill and Virginia, meanwhile, connect behind said glass while Marcia and Harvey instruct them.  As Virginia moves into female superior, she begins to stimulate Bill even further.  The coupling intensifies and the episode come to a close with Virginia whispering to Bill that she loves him.

You know, as we approach the season finale, something about this episode struck me: for all of Bill and Virginia’s smarts and ability to help people, the environment in which they work isn’t very welcoming.  Whether at Washington Hospital or their own clinic, their base of operation is very cold and sterile with very little heart.

And while the two have every reason to investigate potential copycat clinics, I think part of them should be flattered that someone wants to emulate their work.  As Bill told Virginia in the previous episode, the two didn’t invent sexual dysfunctions, and I would wager that most doctors don’t make sure that any diagnosis or recommendation they make hasn’t been said by someone else.

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Sometimes there are going to be similarities with how doctors approach their patients, and the study of sex is no exception.  If anything, Bill and Virginia could stand to be a bit more inviting in dealing with patients.   That’s part of why Virginia comes off as more approachable than Bill, but even combined, the two don’t come off with the same openness as Marcia and Harvey.  There’s always room to learn from others.

So while it’s good for Bill and Virginia to see if their work is being plagiarized, what’s their end game?  They may be the most recognizable, but like Bram cautioning Libby against taking on the diner, I’m not sure how far Bill and Virginia can take this.  More so because they just overcame one legal ordeal and I doubt they want to go through another.

Same goes with where we end up as the episode closes.  Though undercover, Bill and Virginia are still discussing their sexual history.  Given what they’ve done through their own study, wouldn’t it make sense that Marcia and Harvey would want to observe them as well?

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I get that Bill is trying to wean himself off of Virginia, but he’s in a hard place between fending off Virginia and his meeting with Dody.  Unfortunate that the two ended up left in the dark, as it seems like, based off of their respective marriages, the two would have been happy together.  But crossing that line into sex was never Bill’s intention, even though it may have been Dody’s.

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If this is the last time the two see each other for awhile, it’s unfortunate that it ends on a down note, but it’s a sign of what kind of life Bill and Dody could have had if they were more open with each other.  But miscommunication kept them both without an answer for 30 years.

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Virginia, meanwhile, finds herself in Bill’s shoes when she becomes so infuriated with the thought of Bill being with another woman, which is a huge splash of cold water when she realizes that this is what Bill has often thought of her all along.  He used to be the jealous, accusatory type, but when the script flips, Virginia realizes how horrible it is to obsess over what your partner may be doing.

And with her telling Bill that she loves him, we’ll have to see whether she’ll continue her advances or if Bill will push her away in order to prove that he’s over her.

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Back at the clinic, Nancy is in the right and wrong.  Yes, she’s been treated terribly at the clinic, but that’s come more from Virginia than Bill.  And maybe she and Art are capable of standing their own, but they haven’t been at the clinic for long and it’s too soon to jump ship and start your own business.  Ambitious, yes, but risky.

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But given how much Nancy loves the swinger lifestyle, of course she’d want to stick with taking risks.  And it’s unfortunate that she’s roping Art into this because not only is he unhappy with this arrangement, but Bill has seen promise in him with getting the homosexuality study started.  He has potential at the clinic, but not Nancy.

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I’m sure that Nancy would have left the clinic anyway, but Virginia’s shitty attitude only hastened her desire to leave.  And hey, she’s overstepping her boundaries and being unprofessional, but she made connections and established a solid rapport with Mr. Clavermore.  That’s gotta count for something at least.

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As for Lester, I get his frustration about Jane’s behavior, but like their issues last season, he should just sit down and talk with her.  That and it’d be nice to get Jane’s perspective on things, since Lester has been so fed up with her behavior for most of the season.

Yes, participating in the study changes you, but Lester was willing to participate just to get back at Jane.  He’s just as susceptible to change as anyone else involved.  I don’t see why he needs to try and dissuade Guy from taking part.

Brand New World- Jane tells Austin that the problem isn't in his pants, it's in his head

Oh, and given how much Austin pined for Jane in the first season, I’m surprised that he didn’t remember her name, but that’s minor.

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I’m glad that Libby’s relationship with Bram is moving along at a good pace and how ambitious she is with wanting to study law.  Again, since being on her own, she’s become a much more daring and outgoing individual.  And given her relationship with Bill and seeing how wives are swindled during their marriages, her studying law is a way to help other women avoid the trials that she endured.

“Topeka” leaves us in a complicated spot.  Art and Nancy look to be on their way out, which will be a nasty surprise for Bill and Virginia once they return.  Bill wants to be over Virginia, who still loves him and holds out hope that he loves her back.  And while they spent the bulk of the episode learning how others are copying them, it’s clear that there’s still much they can stand to learn about their own work.

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