Masters of Sex 1.11 “Phallic Victories” Costume Review: Are You Good Enough?

9 Dec

Virginia Johnson pulls many people into her orbit; some describe her as being like “Technicolor” and with others there is a rapport through a conflicting personality type. Bill Masters and Lillian DePaul are part of the latter group and Virginia enhances their work by focusing on personal aspects beyond just science. It’s perhaps fitting then, that the episode closes with Virginia singing you “Don’t Know Me” (and yes that is Lizzy Caplan singing) as we still have barely scratched the surface with who Virginia really is, while closed off characters have revealed their innermost secrets and fears. We know what other people think of her and yet the inner life of Virginia Johnson is still a mystery.

Masters of Sex 1.11 Masters' version of VirginiaBill has his own fantasy version of Virginia in this episode, as he no longer has the real one to talk to after she quit last week and Bill is not the kind of person who will make the first move towards a reconciliation. Instead he has these imaginary chats where ‘Virginia’ points out the missteps that he is taking with this new presentation idea. She also reminds him that she was more than just a secretary; this is his projection of guilt. The lighting is dimmer in these moments and in the scene above her posture is emphasizing her chest and there’s a sultry, but disdainful quality to this look.

Masters of Sex 1.11 VirginiaIn reality this is how Virginia looks in the same attire, in Lillian’s office instead and it’s a lot less pouty and perky. There’s a relaxed quality to the Johnson/DePaul relationship even if Lillian is just as prickly as Bill ever was; it helps that there is no sexual tension.

Masters of Sex 1.11 fantasy VirginiaBill’s version of Virginia works on several levels; she acts as the voice of reason and she imparts a much needed confidence boost. ‘Virginia’ challenges his new presentation idea as he’s going to make a bold statement that he can’t back up with sufficient evidence and it’s a big claim; he’s going to state that size doesn’t matter. Bill’s reasoning is that he needs to keep people in the room so they hear the actual discoveries they have made and he’s afraid that if the work isn’t a success then he will have lost everything. ‘Virginia’ tells him that he is a “bigger man” than all of this and the real fear isn’t to do with size, “the fear is are you good enough?” Bill doesn’t think he is a bigger man and this loops back to his earlier comment to Libby that there is always something to prove.

Fantasy Virginia wears a variety of outfits including the grey that matches what the actual Virginia is wearing, the blue bathrobe of their most intimate moments and the green that Virginia wore a lot at the start of the season and then stopped doing so once they started sleeping together. The green sweater in the scene above was last worn in episode 3 “Standard Deviation,” the first episode Virginia wore a lab coat in. This was also the first time Virginia met Lillian and Lillian essentially gave her the brush off.

Masters of Sex 1.11 Bill and VirginiaThe only shared scene between the real Virginia and Bill happens in the last sequence of the episode as Virginia is singing “You Don’t Know Me” and the pair share an elevator ride as if they are strangers. Both make sly glances at the other while waiting in a big crowd, but other than that there is nothing.

Masters of Sex 1.11 together but separateBill is isolated in all aspects of his life and this is no more apparent than at home. The shot prior to this one made it seem like Libby and Bill are in the same bed together as Libby asks questions about the mystery 23 times couple, a couple who we know to be Bill and Virginia. As with Margaret and Barton’s secret all the clues are there for Libby to work out who this really is and yet she seems blissfully unaware at this point as she poses the question of whether this couple fell in love. Bill’s only response is that this is outside the area of inquiry. We don’t do emotions here, even though we do really. Bill and Libby are worlds apart despite their close-ish proximity and Libby is trying to do everything in her power to make herself a valued part of Bill’s life.

Masters of Sex 1.11 LibbyThis includes an offer of help at work and she can be his new “Virginia.” There is so much awkwardness in this episode between Libby and Bill as Libby tries everything to reach out to him. Libby tells him that he takes care of me followed by the super cringe line of “you feel good inside me.” Yep, that happens and I really feel for her. As with Margaret there’s only so much she can do for her husband as he’s thinking about someone else. The whole pregnancy is still not sitting well between them and they trade passive aggressive statements back and forth.

Libby’s character trajectory has been impressive; at first it seemed like she was going to be a simpering housewife who called her husband ‘Daddy’ and instead she has become so much more than that. Ultimately is it a fool’s errand that she keeps attempting to crack Bill? Possibly, but at least she isn’t passive. This episode also produced yet another female friendship to warm my heart with Jane and Libby hitting it off instantly.

Masters of Sex 1.11 secretary LibbyThe maternity wear is beautiful once again and while the peach attire is new, the outfit above is a repeat costume. Libby is luminescent in these scenes and it might be a kiss ass comment from the new wannabe Ethan, but she does have a smile in her voice. If I was Tyra I would call this ‘smalking.’

Masters of Sex 1.11 Libby at workMore maternity wear and as with a lot of the late 50s/early 60s women’s clothes a detailed collar is everything. Libby’s choice of office wear is less colorful than what we usually see her in (the peach was intended for a lunch date, not work) as if she is trying to tone down her look and not stand out.

Masters of Sex 1.11 Jane in yellowJane or VirJane as she is now known whenever Bill yells for her (and it’s a lot) is still rocking her ever present sunny shade of yellow.

Masters of Sex 1.11 Jane at workAnd more yellow. Jane’s disposition is still upbeat despite Bill’s constant yelling and put downs because she doesn’t have every single one of his medical filing terms remembered. Jane is still seeking out Virginia’s advice in secret and while she’s not Virginia, Bill has lucked out getting Jane as his secretary and she has also been so vital to his study. Bill wants to show some of the film they shot, a factor that Jane isn’t all that comfortable with and she refers to as the “mine shaft footage.” The other film has of course been destroyed so there is no way Bill could use that.

Masters of Sex 1.11 JaneThis is the first episode in which Libby and Jane have shared a scene and I hope we will get to see this friendship blossom; both Caitlin Fitzgerald and Helén Yorke have been standouts this season so I’m glad to see them together. The pair go through the files to find viable candidates and it’s here they unknowingly stumble upon the Bill and Virginia’s data – it’s lucky that no names are included, but personal details like how many children they have and marital status could hint at who it was if they dug deep enough. Jane’s not all about yellow, her other color is blue and she tends to wear something with a darker hue when the stakes are higher and Bill’s presentation is incredibly important. It’s a dress with little to distract except for the collar detail and Jane’s costuming tends to have a feminine flourish even when it’s a slightly more reserved outfit.

Masters of Sex 1.11 Lillian“Well, having a dick doesn’t hurt.” Lillian utters this declaration after a disastrous 17-hour trip and a conference that is over by the time she arrives with Virginia. Lillian rails against the system and the Bill Masters of the world and believes she would be in a much better position if she had the right anatomy. Virginia argues that Bill only has the “rainmaker prerogative” not because he is a man, but because he is excellent at his job and has learned how to work the system. I mean it’s hard to argue that his gender hasn’t opened doors for him, and yet what I think Virginia is trying to tell Lillian is she has to work the angles and not look at the things that are holding her research back. Lillian has softened her appearance for the conference with her hair down, but her suit is still the stiff grey and it’s important on occasions like this to be comfortable in personal presentation.

Masters of Sex 1.11 sororitySo while they can’t schmooze out on the golf course there is an entirely different set of influential ears they can bend. Virginia knows how to work a room, she’s been in plenty of different social situations and her time on stage gives her confidence and presence. Virginia is essentially Lillian’s hype man, she does the intro and knows which buttons to press in terms of ego stroking and lets Lillian do the science part. This is Virginia’s “size doesn’t matter” speech, but instead of using false data she uses life experience. White gloves, pretty dresses and pearls give off an air of ‘ladies who lunch’ and yet their influence gives Lillian six advocates in six states, probably more than her presentation would have garnered. Especially if she opened with her gags.

Masters of Sex 1.11 something of your ownUnlike the instant friendships between any of the Libby/Jane/Virginia combinations, the road to Virginia and Lillian has almost been as long as their 17-hour trip. It’s now hit a point where Lillian shares her deepest, darkest secret – she has cancer. Julianne Nicholson is devastating in her performance as she tells Virginia in a rather matter of fact way about her cancer history and the end that is closer than it should be at this age. Virginia at first mistakes Lillian’s wonder at the doctor’s wives as sadness that she hasn’t her own family; it’s quite the opposite as she ponders what could be achieved if all of those women pursued careers instead. Lillian is desperate for someone to continue her work and while this work is just hers, she needs someone who can take the reins from her when she falls. Lillian has been going at it alone and now she has a partner of sorts, Virginia has already been part of a team but her name will no longer be on that work. I wonder if this is sly nod to the title of this show which thanks to the pun only references one half of the partnership, but it is Virginia who is on everyone’s mind.

Masters of Sex 1.11 EthanThis includes the metaphorical dick measuring contest between Virginia’s current beau Ethan and her former husband George, who shows up just when it’s only Ethan looking after the kids. Like Libby, Ethan is a character that I dismissed in the first episode and his violent actions and jealous streak made him incredibly unappealing and he felt like another version of Joan’s husband Greg in Mad Men. I’m still wary of him and even though Virginia is making a go of it this time, I’m worried that if/when it goes sour he will lash out again. Ethan does handle himself with George though, he plays the doctor card and yes he does shave. We measure ourselves in a variety of ways and this competitive banter between George and Ethan is just another version of that. It’s not just the ladies that get fancy neck details and Ethan’s casual wear features a rather bold red, white and blue collar.

Masters of Sex 1.11 singingAll George has is this past version of Virginia that he can brag about knowing and yet he has no access to her, yes he has memories but how much can memories get you? He brags about her singing and how she never does it anymore, as the last sequence proves this isn’t the case. It’s just a singing booth at the fair, but to Ethan and her kids it’s the world. This is a different version of Virginia and once again it does feel like we don’t know her. Lizzy Caplan is excellent in this role but it still feels like we are getting Virginia through the eyes of everyone else. Virginia is essentially the Masters of Sex hype man, she gets us in the tent and we get to learn about the inner lives of everyone else. What happens when we get to see who Virginia really is?

2 Responses to “Masters of Sex 1.11 “Phallic Victories” Costume Review: Are You Good Enough?”


  1. Masters of Sex 1.12 “Manhigh” Costume Review: | TV Ate My Wardrobe -

    […] In an ugly exchange one of the male doctors (the same doctor who raised his Martini glass to the notion that size doesn’t matter) tells Virginia that it was more of her than he needed to see in the presentation.  Both Jane and Virginia are appalled at this accusation and it doesn’t matter that we know it was Virginia, what matters is that as soon as it turned to female sexuality the attitude changed from frat house to nunnery. Jane is in the bold yellow we have come to associate her with and despite the reception to the study, she isn’t going to change who she is nor fade into the background in muted tones. Virginia has favored dark colors throughout the season, but color has all but disappeared since the time she started sleeping with Bill (except in his fantasy version of her last week). […]

  2. Masters of Sex 2.04 “Dirty Jobs” Review: “Is It Worth It?” | TV Ate My Wardrobe -

    […] about this relationship. Virginia has been Lillian’s confidant since they bonded on a bus trip last season and Lillian disclosed her cancer secret; now it feels like Lillian has shared everything and has […]

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