“The greatest sin is despair.”
That’s Lester and Barbara talking about their respective sexual dysfunctions over lunch at the diner, after Lester apologizes for criticizing Barbara’s belief in God. After they put their theological differences aside, they agree that the worst sin of all is to just give up, to stop trying to achieve happiness.
But sometimes, giving up is exactly what needs to happen. Sometimes it’s necessary to give up that despair—to let go of any anger or pain you’ve been holding onto—before you can move on to contentment.
That’s perhaps the biggest message of Masters of Sex, after all. None of the show’s characters are happy, and most of them have been unhappy for quite some time. Bill’s still carrying around a lifetime of baggage related to the abuse he suffered as a child, and this week it came to a head with a violent confrontation with his brother. After their mother gets into a car accident (in which the other driver was apparently at fault), Frank accuses her of being an alcoholic because she’d had one Tom Collins before getting behind the wheel. This angers Bill—who had just been talking with Essie about how Frank’s apologies feel more like accusations and how “everyone has their own version of everything that’s ever happened”—and after he accuses Frank (who in turn accuses Bill of being an alcoholic as well) of lying “because you’re needy,” he goads him into a fight by bragging that he never begged their father to stop his beatings and calling Frank weak. They tussle, blood is shed, and we get the first f-bomb of the series as Bill spits, “Fuck you, Frank, you weak fuck.”
It’s an intense scene to say the least, one that lifts up an otherwise mediocre episode and sets up another excellent Bill/Virginia interaction. Too ashamed to go home to Libby bloody and disheveled, Bill meets Virginia at the hotel, where he admits he abandoned Frank and, too tired to fight anymore or hang onto decades-old grievances, he mutters “I give up.” Then in a kind-of-gross-but-weirdly-compelling scene, he rubs some of the blood from his face onto Virginia’s cheek and makes out with her before finally getting over his impotence troubles. That’s the main lesson this week: the best way to get over sexual dysfunction like Bill’s is to stop thinking about it, stop trying to fix it and just let it happen naturally. Give up the emotional baggage that feeds the problem, and the rest will come easily.
It’s advice I wish Masters of Sex would heed itself, as this week saw the show once again cramming in goofy, unnecessary storylines in order to get its tertiary characters some screen time. The show really should have given up on Dr. Langham a while ago, but here he is again, being forced to sleep with Flo to keep his job. It feels a little icky that much of their scenes this week were played for comic effect (almost as if the thought process behind this storyline was, “A doctor being forced to sleep with an overweight woman? How hilarious”). Libby’s interactions with Robert these days—while far more serious and important than anything going on with Langham and Flo—are also feeling a little forced, as if the work at the civil rights center is just a way to give Libby something to do.
On a show that reminds us that the greatest sin is despair, all of our major characters are despairing, and with just two episodes remaining in the season, perhaps it’s time to stop trying and let a few of them stumble upon happiness.
—It was good to get a hint of the success Masters and Johnson will eventually enjoy when they hire a PR rep to help ensure they beat Joseph Kaufman in the sex research race. The PR man thinks they’re suited for TV because they’re like a married couple, and as you may have guessed, he’s right.
— “That’s your real affliction: cowardice.”
— “I wanna win a Nobel Prize. I don’t want my work reduced to the warm-up hour before Mr. Magoo.”
—That divorce lawyer looking to rent office space has to be some sort of Chekhov’s gun, right?