Lizzie Caplan

You know that friend who is always full of ideas and suggestions for your life? Maybe you have a vitamin deficiency, maybe you should try for this new job, maybe there’s someone you should be fixed up with. The problem with these usually well-meaning friends is that most of us believe that we are capable of running our own lives without outside coaching, so after a certain point, the suggestions can go past “helpful” to “overbearing.”

Ginny (okay, Gini) Johnson is this kind of friend, and this week on Masters Of Sex, she is one of many who think they know what’s best for other people. “Whose life is it anyway?” is the recurring subtext here, as Gini railroads Lillian onto some paths she doesn’t wish to take; Masters keeps trying to push his study forward for the good of humanity; Libby and her new nanny Coral have a power struggle over swaddling; and everyone fights over a new patient’s uterus.

On his very first day at Gateway Memorial Hospital, Masters is trying to help Rose, a young girl with nymphomania, whose mother wants her sterilized after her second abortion (that they know of). Masters outright refuses to do the hysterectomy, immediately getting into hot water with his new bosses. He cites the Hippocratic Oath to Rose, telling her that he couldn’t live with himself if he’d done the procedure. Rose points out, quite rightly: “Who cares about you?” But as Bill unravels after he finds out about Scully’s suicide attempt, he knows how important his work is, as he tries to bring sexuality to the forefront, to “put the truth center stage, no matter how uncomfortable.” So he tells Rose that he knows what’s wrong with her (and you can see the relief on her face), then follows with, “There’s such promise of hope ahead.” We can only hope that also means that he will able to be return to his study soon.

On the home front, we see a dark (and unwelcome) side of Libby, as she hires young Coral to help with new baby Johnny. She’s desperately trying to rule over her own domestic domain, but can’t even find Bill’s shirt on a door. Then she loses the great swaddling battle to Coral, to which Bill snidely replies: “She does seem…competent,” implying that Libby is not. Libby retaliates by nastily trying to correct the poor girl’s diction the next day, pointedly commenting, “I’m always grateful when someone points something out I could do better,” and referring to their need to operate as a team. Libby feels threatened, and insecure, and so lashes out at the only person she can lash out at. But we haven’t seen any petty side of Libby before this, so the scene is not only painful, but unfortunate, especially when compared to the light bonding over laundry folding we see between the two earlier.

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Gini and Lillian are also in a power play: First Gini forces Lillian to film a public service announcement about pap smears that she doesn’t want to do, then drags her to the oncologist to confirm what Lillian already knows: Her cancer is metastasized and terminal. Gini, like Bill, aims to uncover the truth, but what about when that’s not the best option? Gini is so ambitious—driven, we find out this week, by a mother who had big dreams for both of them—that Lillian tells her, “Nothing is ever big enough for you; your eye is always on some other prize.” When Lillian receives the devastating diagnosis, Gini still wants to fight (“What are our options?”), but Lillian suspects an effort will be futile, adding, “Virginia, what good did this do?”

The problem with thinking we know better than other people how to fix their lives is that we really don’t; we have no idea what’s actually going through their minds. Lillian arguably would have been better off without Gini’s interference. Rose’s mother’s solution to her daughter’s problem would have possibly devastated the girl years later if she wanted to become a mother herself. Coral’s expert swaddling helped the baby, but hurt her employer, and all Libby’s commentary did was to hurt her back in return.

I agree with comments that the break in the study has taken some life out of this show: Season one was so filled with excitement and promise at every sneaky little finding Masters and Johnson managed to pull off, from the brothel to the lab. Without it, our two leads are lost without each other: After a few brief scenes in which they fail to reach a professional understanding, but still manage one about the non-affair (“Ready, Dr. Holden?”), they spend the episode confronting all of their various job-related trials solo, then gratefully reunite at the end for the tryst at their hotel in Alton.

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In one scene they’re not together, but mirrored, as they each explain the study to two listeners who get too into it to be comfortable: Drs. Greathouse and Ditmer. Greathouse wants the study to get even more graphic (citing “different kinds of sex, points of entry”). I was as disappointed as Gini that she wasn’t actually going to be helping Ditmer adapt Ulysses for the esophagus; instead he turned out to be just another in the long line of doctors who kept accosting her at the hospital for his own sexual purposes. I guess it was supposed to be amusing, but I just found it creepy, followed by Greathouse’s figurative post-coital cigarette, and scored by Michael Penn’s frantic guitar strumming: didn’t work for me.

And the scene just highlights how stuck both our leads seem to be. Masters’ hands are tied by the amusing and welcome Betty and the Pretzel King, but they’re still tied (although the duo adds a dose of levity that this show sorely needs). Gini can’t find anyone to take her seriously at the hospital (or even hold the elevator for her), discovering her only ally in Langham, who’s even more of an outcast than she is. I did love his office party, though, and his pointing out that even though lone wolves like Gini and himself may be lonely, they’re still not as bad off as the people in the morgue basement. Yes, his family has left him, and she doesn’t even know when she’ll be back on the study again, but let’s keep dancing. Let’s break out the booze, and have a ball. 

The only person who receives any actual valuable advice is Rose, from two unlikely sources: Masters and Betty. (Betty is as shocked as anyone: “He said something useful?”) Bill talks Rose out of her hysterectomy and offers her an IUD instead, while Betty tells Rose about her similar childhood, with a mother who kept calling her a tramp until she stuck up for herself.  What’s lovely about the scene is (like last week) Michael Apted’s direction, with Betty in the doorway and Rose appearing in a mirror, suggesting that by trying to help Rose, Betty is also offering advice to the younger version of herself.

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But I believe Masters’ offscreen advice is the winner here. Rose’s life changes when he tells her: “You’re not your worst part.” None of us are, even when we’re insultingly condescending to our new nanny, or sleep with our own sister-in-law, or force our friend into a discovery she didn’t want. These kinds of character explorations are the most valuable parts of Masters Of Sex, showing interiors that go even further than sexual desire.

Stray observations:

  • Betty, aghast at being mistaken for Mrs. Masters: “Mrs. Masters is some other lady that drew the short straw.”
  • Betty also admits in the story about her mother, “Not that blinding people’s the best way…”
  • Since Langham’s wife took the kids back to her mother in Alton, I’m predicting that he will run into Masters and Johnson in that same hotel lobby pretty soon.
  • The episode title “Kyrie Eleison” translates to “Lord, have mercy,” which seems a bit heavy-handed.
  • Rose McIver had some nice scenes this week: Loved her scathing dismissive glare at Langham (and his weak excuse for his behavior) and her genuine confusion over her parents’ behavior.
  • I am staying as unspoiled as all of you (limiting myself to one episode per week, despite screeners) but according to various early season reviews, next week’s “Fight” is an unmissable episode.

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