Bill Masters has a woman problem. Specifically, all the women in his life are doing things their own way in “Kyrie Eleison,” despite his need to control every situation. The reason the episode works well is because its structure is clear: there are new scenarios that invite Masters’ disapproval, and there are resolutions by the closing credits. Not every episode will work be this satisfying — because big questions need answers in the long view of the series — but the writers camouflage the immediacy with a few dilemmas that serve as overarching signs of the time.
First there’s Libby, who hires an 18-year-old black girl named Coral as their housekeeper and nurse. Bill barely disguises his skepticism, even disdain, at her age… and though he doesn’t say it, likely her race too. (Later, in the episode’s more cringe-worthy scene, Libby corrects Coral’s pronunciation of the word “ask” and demands that she says it right, for John’s sake. The subtle racism of even kind and perhaps progressive white people of that era becomes clear.) But Libby does not budge to Bill’s criticism: this is her household, she runs it as she sees fit.
At one point while training Coral, Libby wonders aloud why Bill has such little interest in his son: “Who heard of a grown man being afraid of his own child?” The answer seems clear: Masters of afraid of truly loving anyone. There’s no control in that, they could walk away at any point.
Then Virginia pitches a fit over not being hired at Memorial Hospital to assist Masters with their sex study. There’s no budget beyond a secretary, and the hospital already hired him one: the scatterbrained Barbara, played by Breaking Bad alum Betsy Brandt. (In her first appearance, Brandt’s character receives neither backstory nor much else beyond a one-note write-off as being disorganized and overwhelmed. I’m hopeful for more, given Brandt’s abilities.) “Secretaries come and go,” Virginia protests. “I’ll simply come by tomorrow and help this one on her way.” Bill seems concerned, as if he doesn’t want Virginia back in his secretarial role so he feels little need to fight for her. (No, they’re not completely in love with each other or anything.) Virginia does not budge: this is her study too, she’ll deal with budget restraints as she sees fit.
Betty Moretti, i.e. the ex-call girl who bumps up to series regular this season, camps out in Masters’ office pretending to undergo fertility treatments despite having had her tubes tied (unbeknownst to her husband). It’s the one caveat of her powerful husband Gene, i.e. the Pretzel King, getting Masters hired at Memorial: Betty must be treated by Masters. He protests her presence, but she does not budge: this is her marriage on the line, so she won’t hesitate to blackmail Masters into keeping up the charade. This scenario seems to particularly unnerve Bill; his control issues are even more prevalent when it comes to his work… which we see in the next situation.
For being set in a hospital, Masters of Sex is far from a medical procedural. In fact, it’s rare to see patients lying horizontal unless they’re trying to get off. In this week’s episode, the most powerful scene came from an 18-year-old girl with a perforated uterus. This being Rose’s third abortion, her V.I.P. hospital donor parents have demanded Bill perform a hysterectomy on their daughter. Despite this taking place in Masters’ first week at Memorial Hospital, Bill fights the parents, pleading with them to consider her future. Her promiscuity sickens them, but Bill can see the cause is perhaps medical, not a lack of self-control: Rose may be a sex addict, though the condition has not yet been discovered. (Finally, a dilemma that proves why he must continue his smutty study.) The parents do not budge: this is their daughter, they will deal with her moral shortcomings as they see fit.
“There’s this dark thing inside of me, starving,” Rose tells Masters. “Every time I think about a boy or a man, I can’t stop until I have him. No matter what my brain says, this other part is against me. It just wants and wants, and everything else just falls away. If it makes these thoughts go away, cut it out.”
There are resolutions with these women. Masters gives Rose an IUD instead of a hysterectomy, explaining to her that she is not defined by “her worst part.” He gives Libby a rare compliment, praising Coral as a good hire due to her ability to quiet baby John. Even Betty comes around, moving from blackmail to bedside real talk with Rose.
Virginia, of course, is harder for Bill to wrangle, but as the episode ends, she assumes her usual role with Masters: walking into a hotel, pretending to be his wife. Virginia gave up the fight with Barbara before it even began. Vivian Scully’s barbs weakened her: “You may get away with this now, but you won’t forever,” Vivian tells Virginia regarding Ethan. “People will catch on, and you will just be old and ugly and alone.”
Instead of fighting Bill’s battles, Virginia focuses on her actual job for the majority of the episode. She pushes Dr. DePaul into recording a pap smear PSA. When it comes time to film, Lillian’s words are coming out sideways, but she doesn’t realize it. She breaks down in her office. Her cancer is worsening, confirmed by a trip to the oncologist. Though viewers may find themselves more invested in DePaul, it’s best not to get attached: her death could likely serve as a fork-in-the-road decision for Virginia, who may not want to play second fiddle to Masters soon enough.