‘Masters of Sex’ Season 2 Episode 11 Recap: “One for the Money, Two for the Show”


Was last night’s Masters of Sex nothing more than a set-up for next week’s season finale? I sure hope there’s a strategy behind “One for the Money, Two for the Show,” because it was a struggle to pay attention until the episode’s final five minutes. This exercise in frustration reiterated a few points in the process: Bill is bad — really bad — with people! Libby is sick of being ignored by her husband! Virginia works a lot! The only difference this time around is that the characters finally acknowledge what they know to be true, and even start to make changes. The pacing is off, but there are the makings of a tense finale episode here.

The majority of the episode takes place in the clinic, where CBS News crews have started filming a segment on Bill and Virginia. A man lacking any flexibility, Bill is deeply unnerved by the the demands of the news crew. Moreover, he lacks the conversational charm necessary for TV. His quirks, like wearing a bow tie, are no longer charming. Even the very language used in the study is unacceptable to network censors — an issue CBS producers treat with matter-of-fact indifference. “The vocabulary of sex, words this broadcast won’t permit, should be commonplace,” Bill says. “Censorship perpetuates shame, which in turn fosters ignorance and ignorance prevents change. So you see it’s a dangerous trajectory to shy away from the language of the body.”

It’s a powerful moment that takes some working-up on Bill’s part, but the result is a breakdown we’ve seen a few times in him this past season. It starts the same: Bill has realized one of his weaknesses, becomes crippled by it, and brings his self-loathing to Virginia, who in turn takes the role of the mother figure Bill never trusted. (This is particularly sticky, as Virginia is accused throughout the episode of being a bad working mother to Tessa and Henry, whose father shows up with an offer to take them on a six-week European adventure.) As the episode ends, Bill sobs to Virginia, “How can you possibly want to be with me? I’m the guy who doesn’t smile. I can’t twinkle.” She tells him it’s all right and holds him close, the kind of simple wifely duty rarely asked of Libby.

Meanwhile, Libby is off getting her marital duties fulfilled by someone other than Bill (finally). After sitting around waiting for her cameo in the broadcast, Libby feels heartened by a conversation with Virginia’s ex-husband, who essentially tells her, “You’re too much of a babe to be ignored.” “They wanted a few words with the woman behind the man,” she explains. “Well, the woman behind the man, behind the woman behind the man.” Libby returns to the CORE office with an eye on Robert, but it’s not until a police officer corners the pair outside her house that she notes a sense of duty to defend him, perhaps convincing herself of her growing feelings. I knew this was coming since Robert’s first appearance on Masters of Sex, but all that racial tension mixed with Libby’s brilliant monologue beforehand made their sex scene even more complex.

She starts by explaining that her whole life has been dedicated to being polite, that as a child she was called “the little adult.” Robert thinking she was an ignorant housewife was unnerving yet important. “Someone thinking ill of you, it is almost a relief,” she says, “because at least someone is seeing you, that you are not invisible.” She begs for his kiss — so she can understand — but he hesitates. He does hear her, and takes offense to her enjoyment of invisibility: their work at CORE rails against that kind of disregard among people of color. Still, they get swept up in the passion and make love on the kitchen floor (damn Libby wears a lot of girdles for such a slender woman). By the smile on her face afterwards, it was good — but will it stick? Was this a fling that makes leaving Bill (or him leaving her) easier? I think the twist here is that Libby, newly empowered by her racial activism and her hot “forbidden” sex, will leave Bill. Maybe not in next week’s finale, but something’s gotta break.