In a surprise change of pace, Masters of Sex jumps forward with “Asterion” as we see how Bill and Virginia try to make it on their own, not under the thumb of hospital rules. However, things prove difficult not just for them but, as always, for the people around them.
The episode begins five months after “Blackbird” and we revisit Lester Linden as he enters a building in search of the Masters and Johnson clinic. The date is October 15, 1958. He sets up patient Clyde, played by David Lengel, before having some not so nice words to say to Virginia regarding Jane. After the preliminary work is done, Lester prepares the shoot on ejaculation trajectory.
Bill and Virginia realize that they’re going to need more space for the results, at least 12 more bulletin boards. Though the two may be more than halfway complete with their results, Bill won’t publish the work without at least 100 observations of each individual phenomena, 10,000 observed sex acts in total to ensure the data is ironclad. That could be an issue since Bill and Virginia aren’t in the best shape financially. Only 23 of Bill’s hundreds of fertility cases followed him from Maternity.
Luckily, Betty’s only half an hour late to fill the position of secretary- something Bill decided upon without telling Virginia, along with the move or lease. Betty’s here to help with the books since she managed her own at her brothel.
At the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel, while Bill watches news reports about racial tension in Little Rock, Arkansas, Elliot asks Mr. Holden why his wife is not with him. Holden tells Elliot that he and Mrs. Holden just weren’t compatible anymore. What’s worse is that he should have seen it coming. After taking a vow with a wife, you enter a covenant with her and stand exposed, showing her what no one else ever sees. She isn’t repulsed by what she sees, but one day, Mrs. Holden just up and left. Such a sin cannot be forgiven. Once Bill’s done spewing his venom, he goes home to celebrate Baby John’s birthday.
Austin and Virginia watch their significant others dance, though Austin grills Virginia about Shelley and how Bill took the reveal. Virginia responds that Bill has nothing to do with her personal life. Huh. We then meet Austin’s new lady friend, Holly, played by Nicole Steinwedell, who has great assets and wants to go into lingerie modeling. She’d be a perfect fit for Shelley, who sells girders. Also, a modeling agency is going in the building where Virginia works, so she has options.
At House Masters, Libby talks of wanting a garden and how envious she is of Bill having his own clinic. Libby’s goal is to have a family even though, as Bill says, they already have “the boy.” But Libby wants more than one. Bill isn’t enthused about the idea since it could mean more fertility treatments, disappointment and maybe even more heartbreak. However, this is what she needs.
The next day, Betty once again catches up to Bill when he arrives, but she tells him that he won’t regret hiring her. He could, given their history, but Bill acknowledges that Betty has helped him twice before, so a Masters must repay his debt.
Bill then meets with Simon of Walcohl Bank regarding a loan. Simon tells Bill that he has no credit history, but because of that, he’s a credit risk since he used to draw regular paychecks. That’s changed since Bill became his own man. Simon can approve the loan, but the bank will use all of Bill’s assets- including his house, cars, savings- so that if he does, the bank will eventually get its money back.
After watching a man orgasm in five seconds, Virginia proposes to Bill that the questionnaire be expanded in order to weed out people who would not be suitable. Bill concurs, but focuses on his work. Virginia tells him that she recently drove past the Park Plaza and almost went in, but still, Bill gives her little to no response. That’s it. Virginia tells Bill that this sort of punishment is unreasonable. Bill goes home to Libby every night. Virginia shouldn’t have to keep going home alone. Despite Virginia’s many apologies, Bill has refused to listen to her. Even though Bill is upset about what he saw, he’s more upset about seeing Tessa wrapped around a stranger’s leg- just one of men that she met while he made his way in and out of Virginia’s bed. Bill won’t allow himself to become just another man that parades through her life. The two are work colleagues. Nothing more.
I would think Bill was more upset that Tessa forgot who he was, but whatever.
Sometime later, Bill has a prostitute named Yvette, played by Jo Galloway, try to suck him off, but nothing happens. Regardless, Bill gives her the money and leaves.
The next day, Betty gives Libby and Baby John a tour of the building. The neighborhood is in transition.
And through a sort of, but not so clever transition, we cut to a later period as Betty, Libby, Baby John and another child head upstairs. The date is September 2, 1959. Betty has been telling Bill to just rent the space since it would look better for their end of the year report. When did Betty become so much more knowledgeable on the subject? Well, she recently finished her real estate tax class and is close to receiving her accounting degree.
At the same time, Lester conducts a background interview with Virginia, who talks about the questionnaire and sexual dysfunctions. She asks why Lester needs to film this, and he tells us: his current inspiration is Windjammer, a real life documentary about a 17,000 nautical mile journey of a Norwegian Sailing Ship. The movie changed his life because it was about risk and danger, similar to the work Bill and Virginia take part in.
Libby confronts Bill about spotting Simon in their yard, reassessing the property. Yup. Bill never told Libby about the loan that still isn’t paid back yet. He tells Libby that he’s not going to sell the house or uproot the family just to subsidize his work. When Libby heads back home, she gets a phone call.
That evening, Bill receives a surprise visit from Mama Masters. Yes, Ann Dowd has returned and it turns out that Essie has been speaking to Libby for over a year. She’s seen the kids regularly and even though she was told to stay away, she couldn’t. She would have told Libby everything, but after one look, she couldn’t hurt them. So Bill’s secrets are safe. She won’t judge Bill, she just wants another chance. And she wants to help.
Later on, at House Masters, Libby and Bill argue about a sum of money that Essie wants to give them- all tied to her husband’s estate. Bill’s just incensed that Libby deceived him about seeing his mother in Indiana, but Libby responds that she needed Essie and won’t deprive the kids from seeing their grandmother. Also, deceived is laying it on a bit too thick, isn’t it, Bill? Bill refuses to take the money since Essie can’t be counted on for anything and he already puts a roof over the family’s head, anyway. The matter is closed.
But Libby’s not taking that. She calls Bill out for nursing a wound when everyone in the world suffers at some point. He’s just the only one that she knows of that spreads his torment around to make others suffer.
At a birthday celebration for Austin, Holly pops out of a birthday cake, which is just beautiful. She doesn’t sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him, though. He thanks everyone for showing up to celebrate while Bill eyes Virginia and a new man with obvious loathing in his eyes.
By the bar, Virginia introduces Bill to Kenny Hitchens, played by Jeff Schine. Kenny has heard quite a bit about Bill from Virginia, but maybe not everything. Bill is quite blunt in telling Kenny about the work he and Virginia do: you know, watching people have sex, occasionally in a hotel. And even when he offers a demonstration, Bill still promises to pair Kenny with Virginia. Well, that should scare him off.
In the powder room, Virginia smokes as Libby enters. None for Libby, though. She quit. Both agree that Bill’s lost his ever-loving mind. However, Bill wouldn’t apologize for his actions because it would make him look weak. What’s worse, Bill and Libby haven’t had sex in over a year. He says that he’s too wiped by work. Virginia concurs that he is under pressure. Libby talks about a time when, in California, she was thrown from her bed due to moving plates that pushed against each other until they broke away with a jolt.
Virginia later spots Bill and will wait for an apology, but he tells her to look down at the partygoers. They exist in their world while the two of them exist in their own. Bill toys around with Virginia’s lady parts for a bit before she leaves in a huff.
Bill tries his luck with another prostitute, this one named Sandra, played by Autumn Withers. Again, nothing’s happening, but Sandra refuses to take Bill’s money because he’s not getting anything out of it. How nice of her. I mean that, really.
And now we get a series of introductions. Betty first enters the building with Don, played by Nick Smoke, and shows him around the various offices, including the new C.O.R.E. office. We then jump forward to the next person: foot doctor Stan, and finally, Flo. Oh, and Betty aced her CPA exams. You go, Ms. DiMello!
The date is October 11, 1960. Lester is recording B-roll footage while Betty and Bill discuss how Flo must start paying with a check. Well, Lester stops recording, anyway, as Bill doesn’t want him getting footage when they’re talking about money. There’s good news from Betty, though: the fertility patient numbers are up. She raised the fees by 20 percent, which led to an increase in revenue from last month.
Downstairs, Virginia runs into Shelley, who is still a girdle salesman and none too happy that he didn’t land Ms. Johnson.
After a brief look at some of the footage Lester cataloged from Maternity, Virginia gives Bill a key for Room 412 at the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel. She will wait for him. Outside of Henry and Tessa, much of what Virginia has is tied to the work and, by extension, Bill. She sometimes felt sick at the unfairness of Bill going home to his wife, while she went home alone. True, she can’t remember any of their names. Bill has more of Virginia than he realizes, but he focuses on the fact that she spent time with other men. At least Bill had Libby. But, Bill counters, just because you go home to someone doesn’t mean you’re not alone. Does this mean that the two are fellow sufferers? Maybe yes, maybe no, but the two cannot undo what has happened. What they have comes first, but Bill must allow Virginia to have someone else in her life. That’s not asking too much.
Lester’s not too keen on filming a bachelor party for Austin’s friend, Hank, played by Mark Parrish. Heck, Lester and Austin don’t even have that much in common…except for Jane, as Austin easily points out. Sort of a dick thing to say, Austin.
At the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel, Bill and Virginia discuss how to go about having sex. They won’t take their clothes off. Bill needs to get reacquainted with her body, so he’ll kiss her and basically use his mouth all over her until she climaxes.
Once they’ve finished, it’s official that the work has resumed. According to Virginia, Betty believes that there’s a janitor who has been stealing from petty cash. Oh, and since the finances aren’t that good, Bill and Virginia will need to find a cheaper place, or even free.
Back at the bachelor party, the boys watch some smut and its all fun and games until Lester tells Austin that one of the women in the film is Holly. Whoops.
So Austin turns to someone who will hear him out: Elise. For a moment, he just wants her to hear him out. He wants the two to reunite. The bachelor life is hollow and now Austin is adrift without an anchor. It helps that Elise knows him so well, but he also still loves their kids. Elise isn’t convinced. She knows that if they get back together, it’s only a matter of time before he screws up again. They can’t go back to the way things were. She’s moved on. It’s time for him to do the same.
Mr. Holden speaks with Elliot, who is now a night manager. He’s glad that the Holdens are back together, but Mr. Holden is in need of a favor. The hotel has an on-call doctor in case of medical emergencies and Elliot is responsible for scheduling them. Holden asks if he could do it in exchange for the room charge being waived. It sounds enticing, but Elliot has to inform the visitors of who is examining them, and they probably wouldn’t be comfortable being seen by a radiologist. What would be preferable is a general practitioner, a surgeon or obstetrician. For example, Elliot’s sister recently had her baby delivered by a Dr. Masters. If he met a man like that, he’d have a hard time saying no.
The next day, Betty informs Virginia that Barbara is in for a visit. She wants to participate in the study since she knows that Bill is a good doctor. She also wanted to learn about the body since hers doesn’t work too well. Nothing has been able to penetrate her vaginal opening since it’s closed. However, because the study requires normal sexual procedures, Barbara unfortunately does not qualify for the study.
At House Masters during a party, Virginia tells Bill about having to turn Barbara away. It’s a shame because that’s another sexual history gone, which is true of every rejection. It’s possible, however, that people look at the study less for the sex and more for Bill to help them.
Libby sends Bill out so she can talk to Virginia about a lake house she’s been offered. It’s enticing, but she’d also like to go to Paris one day. It’d be better if Virginia could come, too, since she feels Bill is more pleasant when she’s around.
While Bill works on the grill, Libby is surprised to see Essie with gifts. He invited her because it meant a lot to Libby, but he brings up the supposed increase in revenue that Betty spoke of. He doesn’t know how Essie, Libby and Betty made that money land in his pocket without him knowing. He won’t make a fuss out of it because then they’d be back at square one. Plus, it just leaves him tired. That’s the first step. Essie admits that she had to help. She’s proud of all that Bill has managed to do on his own.
After last week’s episode filled with fractured bonds, we see characters trying to strengthen their relationships as the series jumps forward in time. “Asteroin” still had serious themes and messages, no doubt, but overall, this episode felt more light-hearted and cheerier than the previous one. Here, characters once again found themselves in troubling dilemmas when making decisions without consulting others. But they also realize that while some sins can be forgiven, others are too big to forget. You can let go of your grudge, hold it over someone until they break or just accept it and move on with your life. We see all three take place here.
Trust was once again a prevalent message of the episode, particularly with one special person. Whether it’s a parent, friend, spouse, lover and so on, you have one unique bond with a person to the point where you can share anything with them since, obviously, we don’t go blabbing all of our personal secrets and information to everyone. The special bond doesn’t have to be emotional, but close enough to the point where they see all of your attributes and vulnerabilities without thinking less of you. When that covenant is broken, we feel hollow and incomplete because we bore our soul to someone who lost interest for any particular reason. In those instances, we can try and go back to the way things were or rise above it and keep forward.
It’s true what Libby said about suffering: we all do and grieve in our own ways. But we have the choice of keeping it to ourselves or dragging people down with our unhappiness. How much we suffer doesn’t make us special and we don’t get extra points for prolonged torment. Rather, we prove our worth by rising above our problems. Spreading torment just poisons others around you, unless you happen to find someone who is also suffering, as Bill and Virginia are when they aren’t together. They find solace in one another while slowly distancing themselves from their families.
And as Virginia once said that the only person you can depend on is yourself, we see what happens when people try to take matters in their own hands. Ultimately, we do need help from the people in our lives, but making choices on our own helps us shape our own destinies. We want people to grow, but this should not be done by pushing people away, especially if the decisions made will have a negative impact, like Bill’s financial decisions.
As far as the direction goes, I enjoyed Michael Dinner’s use of transitions from one period of time to another. While, at times, it seemed like things moved a bit too fast, particularly when we were with Betty and various clients, I enjoyed the switches. Similar to how the Bombeck baby was used as a transition between each round of Bill versus Virginia during “Fight,” Lester’s filming helped indicate where exactly where we were. Betty’s line about the neighborhood in transition applied to the world around them.
Actually, sticking with Betty, I’m surprised by the giant turnaround that she’s done, given where we know she ended up. She’s been so dependent on Gene, but now she’s doing for herself and has come a long way. I can see Bill bringing her along as a secretary, but from a practical point of view, it makes sense given her work on numbers when she ran a brothel. In conjunction with working on her education, we know that Betty is able to manage money in ways that Bill and Virginia cannot. Betty is essentially taking on the role of Jane: she’s witty, smarter than men would give her credit for and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. However, I’d say that Betty has a bit more of a commanding presence than Betty, as she’s dealt with sleazy men in her life and knows how to work her way around them by any means. Here, she’s more essential to the study.
The same can be said for Lester. I am glad he’s back and this also makes sense: he knows about the study and has worked with Bill and Virginia before. His talk about movies that inspire him build on his talk of the auteur theory from Season One, so it doesn’t seem like he’s just been given movie talk for the sake of making him a token nerd. In addition, Bill and Virginia would want to preserve their work now that they’re on their own, so I can understand why they would recruit Lester. That said, what in the hell happened with him and Jane? Bitch Town? Last I checked, they were doing pretty well, so I do hope this is explained.
Austin is almost going through a retread of his pep talk with Bill about the bachelor life. We already know that he’s sick of the bachelor life, even if he wants to pretend that he enjoys it. Even though he wants to go back to the way things were, Elise made it pretty clear that it’s time to move on. Langham may love his kids, but they shouldn’t be used as a crutch.
With Coral gone and two kids in her home, Libby seems to have softened back to her Season One persona. Her problems have shifted back to her relationship with Bill, however. She got what she wanted with a second child: the family she yearned for. Even though she has her home life back, her relationship is still fractured.
If there’s one thing I like about Libby this season compared to the previous one, it’s how much more willing she is to challenge Bill. Fitzgerald showed real anger during the argument scene Libby won’t just sit back and let Bill say that a matter is closed: she’s endured so much and won’t have Bill yell her down. And she’s right: everyone suffers. That doesn’t make Bill any more special just because he’s holding onto so much anger. After all Libby has endured, she still has to fight against her husband and they haven’t grown any closer. Plus, they still sleep in separate beds. Her line about plates pressing against one another and breaking apart is a great representation of her marriage, really.
Bill’s in no position to judge Libby for ‘deceiving’ her, given all he’s done. He acts as if nothing is ever his fault. He has to realize that other people have problems. Most, if not all, of the time, he acts self-centered, as if everything hinges on his decision and no one else’s. After starting his own business, maybe he feels everything does depend on him. After all, he’s been booted from three hospitals and concluded that he wanted to do everything on his own, but he’s realizing how hard that is without a steady cash flow.
And he’s still bitter over Virginia finding a man that isn’t him. And he didn’t want to have another child. Honestly, Bill just needs to suck it up sometimes. He knew what he was getting into. It’s not easy to just start your own business. Ultimately, he got what he wanted, but now must work to keep it, and he does, given by the fact that he must put up all of his assets as collateral.
Sheen was in top form this episode, with his two best performances coming during the argument with Libby and his description to Virginia on how he’ll make her climax. Much of Sheen’s performance on the show is very subdued, but when he turns on the rage, whether silent or apparent, he turns in a great performance. Bill also must learn that his word is not law. He can’t always be the breadwinner, even if he’d like to be. And I liked that he’s slowly softening to Essie, even if there’s still conflict between them.
Oh, and I loved the absolutely ridiculous reason for Essie’s sudden return. It would be easy to accept that Essie chose to return at this exact moment if we didn’t know that Ann Dowd is no longer on The Leftovers, so she’s able to come back to Masters of Sex.
Then we have Virginia, who finds herself in a giant grudge match with Bill. Virginia wants to do for herself, but she acknowledges that he essentially completes her. She has every right to be with someone just as Bill does, but the problem is that none of those other men are as memorable as Bill, even if they turn out to be nicer. Like Libby, Virginia endures a lot of verbal abuse from Bill and I was surprised she didn’t have a stronger response to Bill’s patronizing comment about him taking the higher road and not being another man on Virginia’s list of lovers.
Even if she doesn’t want to admit it, Virginia’s progress is linked to Bill because of what they have, which made it strange for her to say that Bill shouldn’t be a factor on her personal life. I am glad that, like Libby, she’s willing to fight against his crap. We’ve seen her take control of a situation before and no doubt she can do it again. It is unfortunate that she doesn’t have a lasting bond with any of the other men since they seemed to be genuinely interested in her. Luckily, she did seem to be excited at resuming her work with Bill.
“Asterion” took a chance by leaping forward in time, but I think it worked for the best. It advanced the character’s storylines in an ever-transforming world. The stakes feel bigger than before as Bill and Virginia set out to do the work without the boundaries of a hospital’s rules. With this episode came a lot of questions that I hope are addressed in future episodes: Will Barbara return for another shot at the study? What really happened with Jane and Lester? Is Coral completely out of the picture? Is Betty still pursuing Helen? When did Bill’s impotence issue start? How come Dr. DePaul’s death isn’t addressed at all? So there’s a lot to ponder, but overall, a great episode.