A review of tonight’s “Masters of Sex” coming up just as soon as I find you a secretary who knows the difference between “I” and “me”…
“I am not discussing my sex life with you.” -Bill
Through the young life of this series, we’ve seen that Dr. Masters and Mrs. Johnson have each found ways to separate sex from emotion. Virginia has never confused sexual satisfaction with the romantic kind, and though Bill sees more of a tie between the two, he positions himself as a cold, clinical scientist – that he and Virginia are now having regular intercourse with each other is just continuing in the tradition of Jonas Salk and other great researchers who used themselves and their loved ones as test subjects.
But what we see throughout “All Together Now” is that that kind of sexual separation of church and state is much easier in theory and in practice. What we have here is a messy, emotionally fraught, fascinating tangle that involves, among other things:
* Bill Masters paying (or, technically, being responsible for the employment of) the woman he has sex with;
* Virginia’s boss having the ability to dictate when, how often, and in what positions they should be having sex;
* Bill’s wife coming to Virginia to lament that he isn’t having sex with her, which in turn leads to…
* The woman Bill is cheating on his wife with – albeit for scientific reasons – having to convince Bill to keep having sex with his wife;
* Bill and Virginia at different times suggesting dinner after sex, giving the whole thing even more of the structure of a date;
* Bill declaring his home sex life to be off-limits to Virginia, even though they give each other the questionnaires – and even though Bill previously interrogated Virginia’s ex without her knowledge;
* Bill being unquestionably attracted to his research assistant, and Virginia – whom, as she admits to Bill during the questionnaire, is without a(nother) regular sex partner at the moment – beginning to feel some attachment to him.
When work and sex and personal feelings and pre-existing relationships are all jumbled up like this, there is no way to keep things as clean and tidy as Bill Masters tries to maintain everything about his life. As I worked my way through “All Together Now,” I kept getting a queasy filling in the pit of my stomach at the many ways in which this new arrangement was already going awry, and the many more in which it can and will go awry. Seeing the unexpected look of longing on Virginia’s face when her lover goes home to sleep with his wife again – an activity she demanded that he do, in part to maintain the phony-baloney barriers of this project – was the perfect close to another complicated, fun, emotional installment of this show.
And as we watched Bill and Virginia try to establish the rules for their own unusual sexual arrangement, we watched a somewhat parallel situation play out between Margaret Scully and Dr. Langham. Both Bill and Barton Scully are having sex outside their marriage, yet Bill feels able to take the morally superior position in scolding his mentor about it, because A)Scully doesn’t know what Bill is up to with Virginia, B)Bill feels this isn’t cheating because it’s for science, and C)Scully’s lover is a man. But when you come down to it, we have two respected doctors who aren’t inclined to have sex with their wives. One happens to be gay, while the other has certain madonna-whore issues that I’m sure Dr. Alan Ruck would be happy to work with him on.
And as the two husbands struggle, we get a sense of just how desperate their wives are. Libby is less interested in the sexual experience than she is in having cover in case Dr. Haas can impregnate her with Bill’s frozen sperm, but she’s lonely, and feels shut out of Bill’s work life – even as Ethan insists, “Bill is not going to run off with Virginia” – and at one point tells Ethan that he’s saving her life with this secret fertility project.
Margaret uses the same phrasing when she thanks Langham for all that he’s given her – not just the orgasms, but the massive self-esteem boost that’s come with them – and those words not unsurprisingly freak out our favorite strapping blonde doctor, who was looking for some fun and happy to find a woman for whom his dick would, in fact, work. Was that one exchange enough to scare him away altogether? Now that Jane is working directly for Dr. Masters, what will that mean for her, Langham and their participation in the study? And if Langham walks away from her, will Mrs. Scully attempt to re-enroll in the study, now that she meets its minimal qualification?
That situation, like the triangle with the Masters and Mrs. Johnson (and the intersecting one with Virginia, Ethan and Vivian Scully), has a high potential to combust. And that makes life potentially terrible for any and all of these characters, but it also makes “Masters of Sex” damned fascinating to watch.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org