Masters Of Sex Is Not So Sexxxy This Week But Is Actually Really Lovely So Deal
We open with Lizzy Caplan/Virginia Johnson – oh god Lizzy Caplan – practicing how she’s going to respond to Masters’ proposal last week that they make the beast with two backs, for science! She doesn’t want to, so she’s having the most boring fantasy ever thinking of all the ways he will be mad when she says no.
Whoops. Way worse convo. Study is DOA because someone snitched about how Masters had progressed to watching people actually do the sexytime. Masters blames Johnson entirely, insisting that her sleeping with the erratic and overinvested Dr. Haas is what tanked the whole thing. Also, too, she’s fired but has to hang about until her replacement arrives, at which point she’s super-duper extra fired from the university entirely.
This is a sort of unexpectedly dickish way for Masters to behave. Sure, he’s sort of autism-spectrum-level committed to his project, but this makes him just look petulant and willing to use his power to slap Johnson around so that he can feel bigger. Right now Masters is the post-9/11 Thomas Friedman, explaining that we could have invaded any goddamn country we wanted, and we hit Iraq because we could. Being on top is awesome, you guys. Fuck you, episode 2 Masters thus far.
In another little power-trip bit, Masters is now taking over the attempt to get Mrs. Masters with child. This allows Masters to remind his wife what a Big Man he is – he’s the best OB/GYN in the Midwest, yo – AND kick Haas in the teeth by pulling him off the case? Project? Babymaking experiment? Whatever doctors call something like this.
Masters’ solution to get around the study being tanked at the hospital is to make his prostitute friend host his studies at her house, which I guess is a brothel, but looks more suburban kitchen than anything else, except for the diaper play happening in the pantry, because of course it is in the pantry, because you have to feed the diaper dude baby food someplace convenient.
There’s a subplot brewing about Johnson’s son and his difficulty functioning at school, including a suspension that results in him having to hang out at the hospital. If the show were less deft, this would be played for humor, or a weird “let’s make Johnson well-rounded so she’s not just secretary/slut” bit, but the show is really really good, you guys, and the whole thing is unexpectedly touching.
Johnson gets to hang out with the people that are going to replace her, in yet another petty power dick move by Masters, and at the same time Masters has hired Betty DeMillo, the prostitute friend, for a front-desk job she seems utterly, comically unsuited for. While DeMillo gets an embarrassment of riches – a pile of equipment moved into the brothel and double pay for letting Masters record lady masturbation, Johnson gets to scramble to find money to pay someone to watch her now-suspended kid.
The show isn’t shying away from how difficult it is for single mother Johnson to juggle having to work and raise the kids – not just the money part, but the social shaming that accompanies being a working single mom. Why won’t she just stay home and take care of her kids? What’s wrong with her? Why won’t she just behave like a woman?
In a nice little bit of comeuppance, Masters gets swept up in a raid at the brothel mid masturbation lesson, and has to be driven home from jail by his icy-yet-sad wife. Wife is getting set up to be Betty Draper-esque. She doesn’t understand what he does or why. She’ll stick by him because that’s what ladies do, but she’s going to ice him out pretty hard in the process.
Johnson has to bring her little kid to the hospital for the day and little kid has the dopest coat imaginable. He also carries a briefcase. And rocks little shrunk-down nerd Buddy Holly glasses.
I love this little kid probably the most of all thus far, and that’s saying something because Lizzy Caplan is in this show and she is Lizzy Caplan. Also retro-dope: doctors smoking in the hospital.
We have to have some repeated interludes of how desperate Haas is to get laid. He fails to talk new pretty Aryan nurse into giving him head, because his world was seriously expanded, his mind totally blown, by Johnson going down on him last episode, so now he’s going completely off the rails and wandering around the cafeteria asking which female hospital worker is the sluttiest. Dude has got to get a blow job and is going to go to any length to do it. Oh, pre-sexual-harassment workplace laws, what a time you must have been!
Johnson has gone rogue and has wandered over to the brothel to conduct the study herself absent Masters, which Masters seems suddenly fine with. We get it, we get it. He’s a mercurial bastard with no regard for anything but the success of his study. I guess there has to be a way she got herself back in the game, though, or we have no Masters and Johnson book someday and no teevee show now.
Wisecracking streetwise lesbian prostitute Betty is a show-stealer and the best foil to Masters’ dickishness and stuffiness, but she might be the character that is drawn too broadly. She’s sassy! She’s unexpectedly smart! She’ll give Masters what for! In a show where everyone has a sad underbelly, she burns a bit too bright and brassy, though her sad underbelly shows up later this episode.
Speaking of sad underbelly. BettyDraperMasters, as I’m going to call her because I don’t actually know her name, is the saddest thing this episode. All she really wants is Masters’ attention, sexual and otherwise, and he’s just pretty much incapable of either. She offers to masturbate for him, asking if, based on his antics in the study, he likes to watch, but he turns her down because he loves her too much and she doesn’t have to do that. Madonna/whore complex much, dude? She also wants to give him a baby, though it appears that Masters, not she, is the problem in that department – except Masters hasn’t bothered to tell her. He also won’t let her go back to seeing Haas because Masters is the best Masters is the best Masters is the best.
Did I mention that Masters knows what is best for everyone with a vagina? Betty wants a tubal ligation reversed because she’s thinking about having kids, but Masters wants her to know that she’s in no way capable of raising a kid. Masters really seems like the best person to hang around with. So supportive. Betty wants the reversal because she’s met a rich person that wants to marry her and make babies, and even though she likes the ladies, this is a chance worth taking – the shot for a normal life.
Johnson explains that having kids is tough, and Betty shoots back, brassy as ever, “Why’d you have ‘em, if they’re such a burden?” Excellent question. Johnson explains that she would have felt like a failure had she not – and there’s the real thread holding the women in the show together right now. Women are for babymaking. If you can’t make a baby, you’re nothing. If you do make a baby but can’t keep your man, you’re nothing and you shouldn’t have made a baby. If you’re a whore, you shouldn’t make a baby, but you should ASPIRE to making a baby. Jesus, the 1950s and early 1960s were terrible.
Johnson finally calls Masters out on his shit and asks him straight up if she has a job anymore or not. Masters tells her that she has a job tomorrow only and then after that, he can’t tell the future. Masters is lucky that women are in desperate need of jobs because otherwise no one would work for him ever.
There’s an ending to this episode that’s a little too … neat. Johnson returns home from a late night of work to find out that SURPRISE the babysitter is connecting better with the awesome-yet-difficult child and Johnson now has deep regret about not being there to read his space comic, which he’s been obsessing about all episode. The space comic is, of course, about being alone, about not knowing what’s ahead, about aspiring to something that may not be worth it. Meanwhile Johnson washes his hands and stares sadly out a window and we fade out.
Takeaway: keep watching, oh dear god do keep watching. We haven’t seen Allison Janney yet, and that alone will be worth everything in the world. Even if CJ weren’t going to show up later in the series, it is still well worth it. The characters are unexpectedly complex and the storyline is really touching. The show has some really good, really sly ways of getting at the fact that in this late-1950s era, women are absolutely fucked. Their world is expanding fast – jobs outside the house, ostensibly greater freedom to date – but they’re still stuck in the same value system where unless you get married and have a baby, you’re nothing. This might be the most surprising show of the season. Not the best, necessarily, but the one that is the best at defying your expectations. Also, Lizzy Caplan.