This week, Masters of Sex races recklessly towards the end of its second season with a slew of deep-seeded issues that will not resolve themselves in the next two episodes. (Then again, I guess anything’s possible if they can solve Bill’s impotence in three episodes.) “Below the Belt” tees up sexual chemistry among four different couples, half of which no one saw coming (Lester and Barb, Dr. Langham and his Cal-o-Metric boss Flo) and the other two taking shape in new ways (Libby and Robert, Masters and Johnson). Bill brings in a PR man and pushes out his brother once and for all, bonding with his mother and Virginia in the process. Libby uses Virginia to deceive Bill in order to canvass with CORE. The entire episode feels on brink of something: Bill leaving Libby for Virginia, Libby leaving Bill for Robert, and the study making national TV news. Can’t wait for those finale cliffhangers.
Bill can’t hide his annoyance as the episode begins; another researcher has published his own sexual research in an obstetrics journal, in the process relegating Masters and Johnson to the footnotes. Despite not being able to keep the electricity on, Bill hires the same public relations executive who helped Dr. John Rock get credit for the invention of The Pill. (This made me laugh, since biologist Gregory Pincus, activist Margaret Sanger, and philanthropist Katharine McCormick deserve more credit for The Pill than Rock, but I suppose that only demonstrates the power of PR.) An idea is proposed that would not only win Masters and Johnson “the race to publish” in the obstetrics community, it would blow their study wide open to the public: a CBS news report on the duo and their work. If you know anything about the real-life Masters and Johnson, who appeared on the cover of TIME in 1970, then you know that this is the path they ultimately go down. Hell, the fact that they have a semi-autobiographic TV show 50 years later shows you that they went public. But right now, Bill is scared. In addition to being impotent, he doesn’t want to be perceived as a social pariah or a pervert. Virginia knows she could win them over together, though. The PR man is certain that America would relate to Masters and Johnson’s marital bickering, paying no mind to the caveat that they are not married… yet.
In other venues, Masters and Johnson finally break through with regards to Bill’s impotence. In one of the show’s sexiest scenes ever, Virginia ties Bill up and dominates him (!!!) until the teasing becomes too much. Even then he can’t keep it up. It takes emotional clarity and vulnerability for Bill to overcome his performance issues. The episode’s closing scene — one of the show’s most moving and complicated to date — finds Bill branding Virginia his blood brother, his family, his tribe.
A nasty fight with his brother forces Bill to confront what he did to Frances: he left him behind with an abusive father. Though Bill picks the fight with a lengthy monologue in which he deems his younger brother a coward, it’s almost as if he does so in order to let Frances win. We know by now that Bill is quite the boxer, but he barely fights back. Rather, Bill lets Frances play the role of their father — something he fears becoming above all else. Perhaps this fight was the purpose of Frances’ appearance on Masters of Sex in the first place, but it’s clear that Bill walks away feeling immense guilt for how he’s treated Frances. Suddenly this is a character we can root for. Covered in blood, Bill meets Virginia at the hotel. “I give up,” he says before touching the wound on his face and drawing two red lines across Virginia’s cheek. They start kissing and quickly escalate without problems.
Artemis Pebdani as Flo and Teddy Sears as Dr. Austin Langham. (Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME)
The psychology behind sex is the most fascinating part of this show, and we see it in other ways in “Below the Belt” as well. Despite a rocky “meet-cute” moment, I can see what the writers were going for the minute the put Lester and Barb in a scene together. It was way too easy, pairing off the two sexual dysfunction patients, but I can’t help rooting for them anyway. Flo and Dr. Langham wasn’t an easy pairing at all, and though I find the ongoing presence of both of these bit characters mostly unnecessary, this new plotline is creative. It’s a bit stereotypical that they’ve made plus-sized Flo a total business bitch, but her sexual demands for Langham — and how much he enjoys them — are a welcome turn of events. I expect it’ll go sideaways and the conventionally attractive Langham will have to “let her down easy” (again), but how great would it be if these two had a real relationship together and defied societal expectations?
I’ve been saying it for weeks now, but Robert and Libby is going to happen. Now that we’re getting closer to it, I’m sort of bothered by the idea that Libby’s racial activism will be written off as impure. She does seem to care for the cause in a real way, but it may be moot anyway. Will Libby even be in the picture a season from now?