What is passion and what is simply biology? The study on Masters of Sex continues to progress and “Involuntary” explores a variety of internal and external feelings and factors. It’s an episode that finds several of the characters reaching an impasse and the time for simple compromise is no more. There is also an overarching theme of evaluations and not everyone scores highly, particularly in the perception section. The return of Bill’s mother Essie manages to dredge up some home truths and Libby has her own secret that she is afraid to share.
Jane has provided much of the heart of Masters of Sex and she tends to be the ray of light in both costume color and general attitude. Early in the episode Jane is wearing a less than sunny beige and she is trying to be everything she can so she gets a high score on her evaluation. Bill is still pretty oblivious to how vital Jane has been and it’s Virginia that knows her true value, not just as a secretary but also as a key participant in the study. Virginia has a way of phrasing things so that it makes Jane feel more comfortable with what she will be undertaking and on this occasion another filming session is required. Jane has a list of concerns as it’s her external bodily reactions that are in focus and understandably she doesn’t want anyone recognizing her.
Jane’s signature color returns later in the episode and this dinner sequence includes a lot of Jane’s no nonsense straight talking. Jane responds with “Generally I masturbate” when Essie asks what she does and she’s not shy about discussing her role in the study. Jane does have concerns about who will see the film footage even with the contract and caveats she insisted upon.
Jane, once again in yellow (though this time of the darker mustard variety) is incredibly uncomfortable with watching herself on screen. Despite the notion that like Virginia, Jane is ahead of ‘her time’ in terms of how comfortable she is with her sexuality there is this outward/inward factor that is holding her back. It’s perfectly understandable and Virginia complies with her wish to destroy the footage and Jane explains that up until now it has all been about internal feelings and this is very much an external expression. Jane has done a lot for the study and she’s drawing the line of what she is willing to do here.
Jane and Virginia are similar in a lot of ways and some of this extends to how much we know about their inner lives; Jane is a supporting character and so it’s not vital that we know everything about her just yet, with Virginia it feels like we are still only scratching the surface and this is more problematic. In the scene above we get to see what the social dynamic is like now for Virginia at the hospital as there is a baby shower for one of the secretaries in the cafeteria that she knew nothing about it. It’s awkward and Jane tries to include her, but as Virginia is no longer part of this group there is no seat at this table.
Instead Virginia makes her own excuses to save face and opts to lunch by herself. Up to this point Dr. DePaul has been hostile toward Virginia, but thanks to some good grades in her class it looks like Lillian is warming to her. Lillian talks cafeteria group dynamics and how she had no table to sit at – imagine your own 1950s Mean Girls/Clueless/10 Things I Hate About You like explanation of who all the cliques are. Lillian offers some words of wisdom that Virginia will recite later “The work is what endures.” Virginia’s white and grey ensemble is very much in tune with Lillian’s wardrobe color palette; Virginia’s tailoring is more modern and less severe in style and the bow mimics the other secretaries. In a way she is caught between several different roles and not fitting in with any of them.
This black jacket/dress combo is similar to everything that Virginia has been wearing this season and the neck bow detail is common to female collars from this period. It also adds a splash of color (albeit dark color) and she stands out in the white coats/shirts/ties of her fellow students. Virginia has different priorities than the other students in her class and they’re confused as to why Virginia is even doing this and how she gets such good grades. They assume that the latter is thanks to some sisterhood solidarity and she explains to these bozos that this is far from the case – it’s another reason why Lillian has been so cold to Virginia, so people are incorrect in this helping with grades assumptions. The group which should have been about helping each other ends up heading down a one way street as they just want to borrow Virginia’s notes.
Ah the envelope stuffed full of money is always a good idea, right? Virginia thinks that Bill must be making some kind of joke, but alas Bill’s gesture is a real one. Bill thinks that Virginia should be adequately compensated for her work and when she asks whether he is paying himself he gets the answer wrong by saying no as it is his study. Virginia believed this to be a 50/50 thing since she got her promotion and became a participant along with Bill; instead there is still an issue of power. Bill is struggling after Libby’s reveal and the many stressful conversations with his mother so this move feels like a knee jerk response to these external factors. Virginia, like Jane doesn’t take the money and even though this is for science there is still a seedy association when it comes to taking money for sex. In non-story news this grey double breasted coat is on my ever growing covet list.
Masters of Sex spends a lot of time observing other people and the whole idea of the study is to explore things that have never been scientifically recorded before. This means a lot of observation time and even though you can give a fancy scientific name for those fuzzy feelings, there are things that can’t be measured by science. While they might be able debunk the idea of passion as involuntary bodily reactions can be explained through scientific theory, there are still things that can’t be measured thanks to human emotions. Bill knows that he’s made a mistake trying to give the money to Virginia and by not completing her evaluation – he mentions that he failed the ‘do no harm’ mandate. The evaluation he has half-written starts off as dry as you might expect but then notes how vital she is to both him and the study. We hear her version of this evaluation as Bill is mesmerized by the footage of Virginia, in it she mentions that her passion is both an asset and a weakness and how she needs to not be so attached in the future. There is a constant push/pull with this pair as outward circumstances change and it wouldn’t surprise me if she tries to pull herself back emotionally as Bill tries to open himself up as we enter the last third of this first season.
Bill is impeccably dressed and his power clashing is nothing of the Harrison from Scandal variety, he is still rocking three different patterns between his shirt, bow tie and jacket (check, polka dot, tweed).
One of the external factors that is causing Bill stress this week is his mother and he still isn’t really on speaking terms with her. Bill thinks by revealing what he is actually researching at the moment it will get her out of his hair and it’s quite the opposite as Essie refuses to be shocked by this. Essie’s crime is not protecting Bill from his violent father and her general denial demeanor. Unlike anything else she tackles this problem with her son head on and this includes showing up with a hamper full of food at work. The “E” pin on her coat is very much like Jane’s “J” from earlier this season and the flashes of fur and matching red accessories show that Essie is a woman of means.
Essie decides that the time to stand up and say something is now and tells Bill about his father’s affair with his secretary. This is her not so subtle way of telling him to stop screwing around; in fact she comes right out and says this regardless. Is it too late for her to be laying down the law like this?
Libby hasn’t told Bill that she is pregnant because she knows he will figure out what she has done. Instead she sees meaning in everything including the bird that killed itself by flying into her window. She sees it as a terrible omen and she doesn’t want to say the word pregnant out loud in case she jinxes the whole thing. This is rare Libby wearing pants moment and all of her clothes throughout this episode are devoid of any strong colors. Libby isn’t one for bright attire but there is something a lot more somber about these neutral items that she is wearing this week; it’s as if she doesn’t want to show anything off.
The big moment of truth with the pregnancy reveal has about 10 elephants in the room as Libby talks about her barren condition while hinting that she knows that it is Bill with the infertility issues. Libby gives a bold impassioned speech about the state of things at work vs. at home “This is life. This is love. Without is you’re just a man lost in space calling out hoping to hear something back.”
The late ’50s is all about space imagery and this was used earlier in the season, this is a shot from Henry’s comic book and the idea of Bill as an explorer of new frontiers like space is a comparison I think we will hear again.
Bill is in his very own version of Gravity
Libby wants him understand that his study is cold and clinical; “there’s no humanity in it.” At home she believes that a family is like an echo and they settle back into a routine by the end of the episode. The problem is of course is that this family is the thing that is devoid of humanity and the study is full of life for Bill. The tableau above shows familiarity and little else.
Meanwhile, Vivian is trying to create her own perfect relationship scenario and she has a new mission when stumbles upon the information that Ethan’s parents are Jewish – this conversation starts because she didn’t know that foreskin is a thing that exists, another reason why people need to be better educated about sex. Vivian insists that Ethan pick a religion as she really wants a church wedding and like everything that Vivian does she’s very enthusiastic about the whole thing. Vivian is dressed in her super girly bubblegum and pastel pink throughout the episode (all except for the final scene in which she gets dumped).
More pink and Ethan has a moment that gives him clarity, thanks in a very roundabout way to religion. A discussion leads to him realizing that his whole life has been about floating along, including this relationship. The thing he really wants and has tried to fight for is unobtainable. Yeah he’s talking about Virginia.
In a baby blue version of all of her pink clothes Vivian finds out that not only is Ethan quitting bacon, but he also wants to quit their engagement too. Vivian takes this as best as expected and if I was Ethan I’d be concerned that not only is his immediate boss probably pissed (for helping get Libby pregnant) but so will the Provost as he’s not going to be thrilled that his daughter has been dumped. This is the first time that Ethan is really making his own decision and it’s one that Vivian should be thankful for as this whole relationship was about convenience.