The theme of “Through A Glass, Darkly” is articulated by a nice, bow-wrapped line from a character as Masters of Sex is prone to doing, although this time around, it’s a little more subtle: after Barton agrees to take Helen on as a patient and allow Betty into all the appointments, Betty gently implies she knows he’s gay and gives him a speech about what it’s like when you finally find love, about how wonderful it is when you “see yourself from someone else’s perspective.”
Of course, the self-awareness that comes from seeing yourself from another’s point-of-view isn’t always a walk in the park, as evidenced by Virginia’s storylines this week. Apparently her tryst with Bill last week wasn’t an isolated incident, as he once again convinces her to get busy in the name of science, this time to “develop a protocol” for the male surrogates in the program (i.e. Lester) to use on female patients. But it’s not until later in the episode, when Dan confronts her about Bill by revealing Tessa was the one who told him about it, that Virginia really takes a step back to reflect on the fact that she’s currently in a sham marriage to her ex-husband and sleeping with two different married men. “It’s like I’m seeing myself for the first time,” she says, as Dan (who, despite it being implied for three or so episodes now that he’s leaving, is still here) consoles her. We get the idea that this was supposed to be a big bombshell, but Masters of Sex has never really figured out how to use Tessa as a character, and as a result, her relationship with her mother has always felt a little predictable and cliched.
The effect that knowledge of Virginia’s sex life has on Bill is far more interesting, as he continues to completely lose his mind without her. He’s been getting pep talks from his dead, abusive dad in his dreams, telling him to “lure her in” by complimenting her and being nice, and so that’s what he does, agreeing with just about everything she says this week—even the shutting down of the surrogate program. And when he sees her leaving in Dan’s car in the parking garage, it almost destroys him, to the point where he returns to the office drunk and stumbling and starts to fool around with young Nora before she kills the mood by demanding he tell her he loves her and he comes to his senses. He can’t sleep with her, he explains, because loving someone as completely as he does Virginia is his only saving grace, and he can’t give up on it yet. It’s incredibly well-acted by Michael Sheen; he does a great job of selling some dialogue that, in lesser hands, could have been incredibly cheesy. And when we get a final glimpse of him at the end of the episode, listening to an endless ringing as he waits for Virginia to pick up her phone, twitching a little bit and generally looking straight-up crazy, it feels like we’re on the verge of something big with Virginia and Bill’s relationship.
He’s still got absolutely zero interest in maintaining any sort of real relationship with poor Libby, even going as far as buying her a vacation for one for her birthday. But things are starting to look up a bit for the most miserable character on Masters of Sex. Paul sends her on some errands, and at first she’s upset, but it turns out to be a way to get her out of the house while he prepares a birthday surprise for her with her kids. They perform a play for her about a Princess Libby who’s stuck up in a lonely tower (again, subtlety is not this show’s strong suit), and she loves it, but the next day Paul gives her his real gift—a marriage proposal and a ring. “A lot of things would have to happen to make that possible,” she says, but it seems like she’s willing to get the ball rolling and finally find her happiness. The whole thing really raises the question of why Libby is still married to Bill in the first place. Thanks to a few time jumps, we’re already in the late ‘60s, and while divorce is still not as accepted as it is today, it’s certainly less taboo than it was in the ‘50s when we first met the Masters. The fact that it’s taken her this long to consider leaving a marriage to a man who doesn’t sleep with her, spend time with her or even really talk to her is pretty inconceivable. Here’s hoping this Paul thing sticks and he doesn’t meet the same fate as Robert. Miserable Libby is getting tiresome.
So while “Through A Glass, Darkly” laid the groundwork for some interesting developments and featured characters looking at themselves through others’ eyes (Virginia through Tessa’s, Bill through Virginia’s, Libby through Paul’s, Nora through Bill’s), the show still could stand a dose of that outside perspective when it comes to its writing. If Masters of Sex could take a look at itself through our eyes, perhaps it could trim a little of the fat storywise and we’d really be getting somewhere.
—So Nora’s in cahoots with the evangelical guy who harasses Bill and Virginia’s patients in the lobby? Again, I get the feeling this is supposed to be some sort of big twist, but it just seems like another extraneous plot to give us some non-romantic conflict.
—Also, can we talk about how messed up it is that Nora wants to sleep with Bill when last episode she was basically outlining how much he reminded her of her own abusive father? Those pleas of “tell me you love me” are wayyyy more creepy and sad when you take that into consideration.
—Is Tessa having sex on her mother’s bed her messed-up way of getting back at her? Again, creepy.
—Barton’s still not comfortable enough with himself to truly be open about his sexuality. Can dealing with Betty and Helen on a regular basis be the push he really needs?