The strongest episode of Masters of Sex to date is still “Fight” and this messy third season ends with a nod to this magnificent two-hander offering some semblance of hope despite the many missteps. It is far from a perfect finale and suffers from the weight of storylines that have come before it, but it finally feels like there is some forward momentum instead of entertaining the same back and forth dance we are accustomed to.
Due to other work and travel commitments I haven’t reviewed MoS for a few weeks now and my general view of those episodes is the strong (mostly Betty) moments have been overshadowed by the repetitive nature of Bill and Virginia’s disagreements; it’s not only Virginia that feels like she is suffocating.
Bill is controlling and single minded and his recent behavior, particularly during the dinner sequence last week has been hard to justify or even tolerate. Virginia’s decision to flee is one that is easy to understand and yet I can’t help but feel the pull of Bill when he lays it all out to her in his last ditch move to get her to stay. His first attempt comes when Bill tells Virginia he is dropping the MD so they will be equals and this gets a brief consideration before the swirl of everything else going on takes center. Not the reaction Bill was expecting, but the drama levels at the clinic are probably far higher than he was anticipating. This idea of telling Virginia how he really feels came from Virginia’s other suitor and this romantic dilemma is part of what has been bugging me this season; Virginia has essentially become the center point of a love triangle and her role in the work has taken a backseat position.
The love story has always been part of Masters of Sex and I am so here for a good romance and yet it feels like Virginia has been reduced to the love prize between a man who is far too good to be true and the man with many flaws. Charming Dan is in part so charming thanks to the person playing him and Josh Charles has been selling the shit out of the perfume man and yet I can’t trust a character that is this good; Dan is the guy who makes bold gestures and then follows through. When he says he will leave his wife (the always amazing Judy Greer) for Virginia he does leave his wife for Virginia.
He can’t quite compromise with her work situation, but luckily for him everything is imploding and this is the ideal time to sweep Virginia off her feet, but how long can this perfect man act keep up? And if it isn’t just an act, how long will Virginia feel complete? I believe her when she tells Bill that happiness outside of the work is her goal, but her constant checking over her shoulder for Bill at the airport is a telling sign that this is still not enough.
Pieces of Virginia’s past have given further insight into her psyche from her contentious relationship with her mother to the impact of her long ago broken heart which was first alluded to in “Fight.” Dan is the chance to do things right while going against her mother’s desire to see her with Bill and if we’re breaking everything down into their base components then both Virginia and Bill’s behavior goes back to their parents. Bill’s father is the person who informs his desire to rail against authority no matter who else gets hurt in the process. As the not so subtle dream sequence shows at the start of this finale, Bill is incapable of staying down because he doesn’t want to be seen as weak. However weakness can be the inability to admit when a situation has spiraled out of control as this one has.
There are times to fight and times to fall and Bill ends up choosing the latter instead of running through the airport and catching Virginia just in time. Masters of Sex has already done the big rom-com ending back in season 1 when Bill showed up on Virginia’s doorstep in the rain and it is Bill’s decision to stop which gives me hope that this show is not a lost cause. If Bill had made it to the airport and won Virginia’s heart with a flowery speech then the cycle would just be repeating, now there is a chance they can build on the ruins Virginia has left behind. Okay so we don’t see Virginia get on the plane, but every time she looks back it acts as a warning sign to Dan that their union might be less than perfect and it wouldn’t be a shocker if she ditched the Mexico plan.
The status quo has been altered in another much bigger way and the conversation between Libby and Bill is the one which truly excites me because now Bill knows that Libby knows and has known for a very long time. It is scenes like this one which draw me back into MoS and it must be said that for all the bumps and missteps this season, this cast has been doing some incredible things with what they have been given. Caitlin Fitzgerald’s reaction as Bill vomits out his ‘big secret’ is amazing from uncontrollable laughter to her taking no shit as this really is not the time to unburden his soul and feel better in the process. Libby was so close to finding happiness (for a second time) and instead she chose her family (again) and not just because of some ideal image she has cooked up in her mind. Libby is so much more than this and her anger at Bill after he points out how awful this must have been for her and how she deserves something better is justified; “You don’t get to decide.”
Bill is shocked not only in finding out that Libby has known for years, but that Virginia has been in on it. This is where Libby gets to twist the knife telling Bill they have a pact conjuring up images of kitchen table plotting of Virginia agreeing to never taking Bill away from his family. It is all too much for Bill to take in and Libby gets to sashay away leaving him stuck in jail without his bond paid. And she does so in a fabulous camel coat and pants which shows how far Lib has come from pastel dress wearing housewife. See also these sunglasses from earlier in the episode which make her look fierce and like she is on a glamorous mission, even though this is far from the case.
Libby’s reason for breaking things up with Paul last week also go a long way in showing why she is so adamant at keeping her family together; she doesn’t want the cycle of bad father/son relationships to continue forever on but by the end of this finale her usually resolute spirit has been broken. It is like the Virginia secret is the very frayed string that was keeping everything together and she doesn’t even lock the bathroom door to hide her tearful breakdown, which Johnny of course walks in on.
Bill is not a mirror of his father, but he has been so afraid of repeating this pattern that he is not a presence at all; even if they did split up it probably wouldn’t be that different really. I hope next season sticks to this separation because it will allow the show to explore so many more possibilities beyond Poor Libby and this character does deserve more; so does the audience when it comes to seeing this same old storyline on repeat.
Plenty of characters who have hovered on the sidelines are complicit in Bill’s current fate and when Bill threatened Dennis earlier this season he mentioned that everyone trusts doctors, which as it turns out is not always the case. Bill has been backed into a corner by not only Dennis’ mother, but also Nora who is working with religious fanatic and lobby loiter Ronald Sturgis (another person Bill has threatened). Bill has been somewhat naive in both cases and both have come back to destroy his career. He plays the kind card with Libby and instead of telling him what he wants to hear, Libby instead points out that this is indicative of his controlling and reckless behavior.
Early in the episode Ronald tells Virginia to save herself acting as an early warning about what is to come. The only warning Bill gets is rather abstract pointing to the broken nature of things as his suspender snaps and he has to wear Lester’s belt. Bill is very anti-belts which once again goes back to his father and his choice of weapon against him. I don’t know if we needed the beating flashback even if it underscored that it is not a fashion related decision. Virginia gets a sermon from Nora and in return she smacks her with a box. Nora is a character who is clearly deeply troubled, but she definitely deserved that from Virginia and I maybe (okay definitely) cheered.
In happier romance news Barton and Jonathan (Richard from Felicity!) have acted on their feelings and got over their disagreements regarding how they want to present themselves – with a lot of help from magical advice unicorn Betty – and have a romantic birthday meal out. Well it is romantic and then Bill’s in jail predicament briefly interrupts things. When Jonathan mentions he isn’t getting younger it is hard to not picture him in college because he pretty much looks the same as he did almost 15 years ago.
Betty has been a strong presence throughout this season even when she is only there to dish out the advice and it would be remiss if I didn’t mention her conversation with Barton from “Through a Glass, Darkly” when she tells him about her relationship with Helen and how “it makes a difference” to be loved like that. Betty is often used as comic relief, but she is also important when getting to the heart of the emotional moments and I hope there will be far more for her to do next season even if she is very good at running interference. Betty also had another fantastic Twiggy inspired dress and wide tie costume moment this week.
And this look also works when hiding out smoking in a dark office.Troubled teen plots were absent from this finale and Tessa has been one of the many issues this season and I have gone from a position of defending this story to rolling my eyes at how they have made the teen an irritating obstacle. I don’t think they need to be done with Tessa necessarily, but there has to be a way of exploring Virginia’s relationship with her daughter without this many teen cliches particularly when dealing with the work Virginia does.
Masters of Sex works best when it is Masters and Johnson; this is not to say there shouldn’t be conflict but the writers do need to go beyond the same push/pull we have seen for three seasons and hopefully the actions of Bill, Virginia and Libby in this finale will lead a revitalized show that leads to a return to form.