After an era-spanning season that abandoned as many old characters as it introduced new ones, Masters of Sex offered up their best episode to date. The season two finale had everything: Betrayal, bruised egos, custody battles, sexual dysfunction, taboo love, hopeful lust, “having it all,” a dream sequence, network news, and the Kennedys. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” even had some answers to big questions, though ultimately the two biggest ones — Will Libby leave Bill? Will Virginia and Bill get together for real? — were left hanging, the first question seemingly leading to a positive outcome to the latter. But there were resolutions offered up for problems we barely realized were issues, specifically Virginia’s so-called “unfit” parenting, Lester’s desire to work through his impotence (one of my favorite scenes of the episode), and Flo being embarrassed of dumb blonde Dr. Langham (greatest line of the episode: “Austin, please, women pay a lot of money for that color in a hair salon”). While I don’t agree with some of the decisions made here— like Virginia having give up her kids — I’m left feeling satisfied. A Kennedy and a dream sequence will do that, I suppose.
Masters of Sex has never gone surreal with fantasy scenes, but I was a fan of the Six Feet Under-esque dream sequence in which Bill imagines he’s JFK and Virginia is Jackie O. As they ride down his block in a convertible, a marching band and a crowd celebrate boisterously — until they reach a stone-faced Libby standing in the middle of the road. Quite literally, it’s Libby halting his parade, which has always sort of being the subtext behind Bill’s selfishness. He wakes up bothered, seeming to have realized what viewers did long ago: maybe he should leave Libby. Bill’s lack of self-awareness will come to a head later on, when Barton (Beau Bridges) reappears for the first time in ten episodes. Having helped Bill kill CBS’s piece highlighting the study, Barton is entitled to a nugget of real talk: “Always the one-man show, always your terms and your terms only — well, it’s hell for the people around you and no picnic for you either, as far as I can tell.”
(Provided photo via Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME)
In a move that will inevitably come out in future seasons, Masters used Barton’s connections to get the study “scooped” by another network — using the research of Joseph Kaufman (and Ethan Haas, their former colleague who wanted to marry Virginia) instead of the Masters and Johnson study. After reading Kaufman’s forthcoming consumer-facing book, Bill knew his research would blow Kaufman’s out of the water upon publication. He just wasn’t ready to publish. Instead of articulating any of this to Virginia, whom he knows has planned to use the CBS publicity as an atempt at professional credibility in her messy custody battle, Bill fucks up it all up for her. She’s agreed to see her children only once or twice each week, in what she thought would be a temporary solution for her affair with Bill being highlighted in court. (Yes, her ex-husband knew about it. Even Libby knows about it.) When Virginia’s high-wire act falls apart spectacularly, Bill comforts her like he’s innocent; it frankly made me sick, the way you could practically see the wheels turning in his head. “Virginia will have more time for me and for the study,” he almost seems to be thinking. And yet, he doesn’t seem to be seriously considering leaving Libby.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that Libby isn’t thinking about leaving him. The first time she slept with Robert, I was moved more by the taboo nature of it all more than their chemistry. The numerous times she sleeps with him in the finale showed a more viable future. I still think it’s an unwise (albeit romantic) move, but Libby makes a case for herself in yet another stunning monologue: “What if you just let go of everything you thought your life would be?” she asks Virginia, later suggesting that they should “live the life that [they] have instead of the one [they] thought [they’d] have.” Knowing that Libby is aware of Virginia’s affair with Bill, I’m left wondering if this is a plea to Virginia as much as it is a moment to convince herself. Bill must know something is up, based on the furrowed brow and confused look he shoots Libby when she gives her children the sort of speech parents make when they’re walking out. Those last scenes take place in one day, meaning we will have to wait until season three to find out if Libby left Bill. It’s not the obvious cliffhanger the show’s writers pulled last season then quickly shied away from, realizing that ending the charade of “will they, won’t they?” after one season is a death wish for a sexy drama.
(Provided photo via Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME)
Bill deserves to be left, but I’m more interested in the conversation this stirs about women “having it all” and how that’s evolved over the last 50 years. Only in recent seasons has Mad Men delved into the topic via Peggy and Joan, and for the most part, they seem to make peace with the choices they make in order to make it work. Virginia Johnson is based on a real-life character who clearly went through these struggles at a time when career-oriented working mothers were not all that common, especially in scientific fields. For this reason, I’m perhaps more inclined to take interest in what I know is a dramatization of her story. Her choices seen obvious at times, but throughout this episode, it becomes clear that Virginia is there for the work more than she’s there for Bill. Yet we’re reminded of the year constantly, with the episode ending with footage of Kennedy’s inauguration. It’s a new era, the showrunners suggest in an obvious way, and it’s hard not to feel a little hopeful.