Masters of Sex 1.03 “Standard Deviation” Recapon October 13, 2013
1945, University of Rochester: A young Bill Masters and (soon-to-be Provost) Scully observe two cottontail rabbits mating, with the former explaining that the female spontaneously goes into ovulation when mounted by the male, who bites her on the neck during the act and passes out when the act is completed. Following a one-month gestation, she’ll birth 4-6 kits, but Bill’s mind has turned to human sexuality and stripping away the veneer of romance and chivalry to better understand the physiological aspects of sex. In his mind, humans complicate sex and since he knows nothing about the act itself, he wants to learn; Scully, though, implies that it won’t be possible. Not at this time.
February, 1957: Masters sees a religious young woman whose wedding is approaching. Nervously talking about how much weight she’d like to lose before the big day, she’s worried about having only three semesters left of school and the idea of starting a family so soon, before she even begins her career. He gives her a brief demonstration of how to put on a condom and mentions the existence of creams and jellies before showing her different sizes of diaphragms. She wants to use one as her form of birth control, but he has to measure her cervix to find the right size to fit, which mortifies her.
After he gets done with the patient, he reminds Virginia about getting the intake forms done and picking up a lab coat for Dr. Depaul. However, Masters soon runs into Betty, still pressing the issue of her tubal ligation reversal, and again questions why she would want the operation done, considering that he doesn’t believe she even has a man waiting for her. She begins yelling details about the study, including electric dildos and hookers connected to wires, and gets him to agree to do the procedure. That evening, Virginia and Masters head to the brothel to do interview the girls and have their first trials. The forms are decidedly more clinical and impersonal than the girls were comfortable with, as they included questions about marital status, whether one was sexually active, age, etc. Soon, though, they get acquainted with Ulysses and while Maureen puts on an impressive 4 minute performance that turns out to be an elaborately faked orgasm, Ginger has to be spanked by Masters in order to finish and Dottie spends 20 minutes trying to climax before telling Masters she can’t remember what one feels like.
At the hospital, Ethan runs into a woman in the hallway who had gone into labor and after he helps her into one of the rooms, finds out she’s pregnant with quadruplets. He pitches the quad story to Provost Scully in the cafeteria, thinking that this could be the high profile case that gets him on the map and brings a lot of positive attention to the hospital, only to be told that it’s too risky for a fellow to undertake on his own. Being that Ethan wants to be considered for a staff job, he says that he’s learned everything that he can from Masters, which helps him get the case – only if he takes Masters on as his second. Meanwhile, Virginia meets Cornell’s own Dr. Lillian Depaul and shows her around the hospital. However, she soon learns that Depaul doesn’t see her as an equal when the doctor asks her for a cup of coffee.
That night, Virginia and Masters return to the brothel, albeit with an altered intake form better suited to their study subjects. Rather than being asked if they’re sexually active or married, the girls get to talk about whether they get pleasure from sex and what association they have with the act itself. Masters and Virginia interview a 19-year-old girl whose only sexual pleasure comes from the money she receives for her participation in the act, who doesn’t climax, and who associates anchors with sex. The reasoning? From the time she filled out, she was molested by her uncle in a room with baby blue anchors on the wallpaper and she used to dream of joining the navy before learning that they didn’t take women. Masters is obviously shaken by talking to someone with such a heartbreaking background and sits at the kitchen table while a girl does her toenails and another girl (loudly) entertains a john upstairs. Not a single prostitute in the brothel has a clean bill of health and since there’s also no men in the study, he claims that their subject base isn’t broad enough for the study to be legitimate.
While Ethan is forced to deal with a reporter sniffing around the quadruplets story, Masters gets Betty to agree to find him some average guys for the study before taking her into surgery. Once in the operating room, he discovers that she has pelvic inflammatory disease and kicks out two doctors who made fun of her for it. Four hours into what should have been a fairly quick surgery, Virginia visits Libby, who is trying to figure out floral arrangements for the Trinity deacon’s lunch in a nearby exam room. The two share a laugh or two about Bill and Libby mentions how while she may not have babies, she does have flowers.
Masters is forced to close Betty up before he’s ready. After running into her fiancée Gene in the hallway, who thinks she’s here for an appendectomy, he waits for Betty to wake up and informs her that there’s no chance of her ever getting pregnant. Her fallopian tubes are inflamed and there’s too much tissue damage from the PID for it to happen for her. Masters and Virginia make it to the brothel for their first night of male subjects and it turns out that Betty got them a group of gay prostitutes. While Virginia doesn’t seem to mind, Masters is at first curious, asking one if he gets stimulation from a passive sexual role, and then annoyed when two have sex in front of him. His main problem? That Betty got him subjects who are at least three standard deviations from the norm – all outliers and misfits way too removed from the bell curve, making the sample biased.
1945: Masters and Scully are at a barbecue and the former reveals that he still wants to do research into human sexuality. However, Scully tells him that a 20-something doing this will come off like a pervert and that he needs to wait until he’s at least 40 and has a practice in a respectable teaching hospital. Helping matters would be choosing a field like obstetrics and presenting the image of a perfect family man, although Bill claims to be waiting for the right girl.
Back at the hospital, Masters begins drawing up a list of men who owe him favors for his work with their wives, but he learns of the quad case when he sees Ethan have a confrontation with the reporter in the hallway. He goes to Scully and gets control of the case, much to Ethan’s chagrin, while Virginia gets wind that the other secretaries don’t take kindly to Lillian’s presence and wouldn’t let her examine them, despite her Ivy League education and stunning letters of recommendation. She goes to Libby’s house that evening and brings food from Masters, who will be working late and doesn’t want her to starve. Libby gets Virginia to grab a green box from the closet that has baby clothes and suggests that she bring it down to the ward, citing the fact that other women could get use out of them. Libby found her file and now knows that there’s only an 8% chance of her ever conceiving due to her condition. Not being able to contain the secret anymore, Virginia confesses that it’s not Libby’s fault, that it’s Bill’s low sperm count that has been hindering their conception. However, she makes Libby promise not to mention it to her husband.
As Masters prepares to leave that evening, he gets pulled aside by one of the male prostitutes he saw at the brothel, who offers to bring him more guys for the study. He never thought he would be important enough for someone to scientifically study and wants to be a part of the research, only Masters informs him that people like him deviate too much from the statistical norm to be of any use to him scientifically. Masters makes it home to find that Libby had stopped crying and was watching television, though she’s decidedly distant when he walks in the door. The next day, he has to do the PR circuit for the successful quadruplet delivery he performed, with Ethan bitterly watching on after being forced to observe the surgery that he wanted so badly to perform himself. However, despite the drama, all the quadruplets made it out healthy and happy .
Virginia runs into Betty right before she’s set to leave with Gene. The latter woman mentions that Gene wants to name their first son after Bill and that she won’t be telling him that she’s unable to get pregnant. Despite Virginia’s insistence that he’ll understand, Betty wants to have her white dress moment unencumbered by the weight of infertility and says that the only way a woman can make it in this world is to hitch herself to a man, which she thinks that Virginia is doing by becoming Masters’ lapdog. In her mind, Virginia knows Masters is in love with her and that she can get anything she wants from him as a result, something Virginia fervently denies. Virginia gets introduced to Gene before he and Betty, who called her a hard-working girl doing the best she can, leave the hospital.
That evening, Virginia tries to talk to Masters about the study and what her role in it will be, as there’s a cognitive dissonance in her being a colleague at night and an errand girl during the day. He tells her that when she has the 20 years experience that he does, she can tell him what to do, but until then, it’s her job to wash the lab coats and make the phone calls they need to continue the study. Masters then goes and confronts Scully, this time offering to blackmail him into letting them move the study back to the hospital. His leverage? The fact that Scully put a fellow on a risky surgery and Scully’s experiences with the male prostitute that Masters had talked to. Masters says that he wants to do this study for the men on the margins, those who are forced to hide in the shadows, because that’s who pays for sex. Not all degenerates, not all criminals, not all deviants – family men who silently suffer.
1945: Scully has been named Provost at Washington University, the place where Masters had applied for a residency. However, he learns they thought he was endlessly arrogant and self-serving and that the only way he got into the program was Scully threatening to walk unless they took him on.
Masters informs Virginia that the study will be resuming tomorrow in the hospital and goes home to find out that Libby is pregnant.
Additional thoughts and observations:
-”Mount Everest doesn’t ejaculate, Bill.”
-”Maybe you can count the rings on my hoo-ha.”
-”I only come for the coffee.”
-”You want me to cum, I can blow the doors off.”
-”The world isn’t kind to mavericks, Bill.”
-The song that played at the end of the episode was “Chances Are” by Johnny Mathis.
-Mae Whitman! Greg Grunberg! Surprising that two pretty well-known TV people made such brief cameos, but always good to see the both of them.
-Also, I can now say that I watched Maggie Sheffield from The Nanny fake an orgasm. So, that’s something.
-Really good use of flashbacks. On some shows, they can be a crutch, but here, they added to the narrative and gave Masters’ relationship with Scully a lot more dimension than it previously had.
-While I don’t really consider myself a prude, I might have got the giggles during the masturbation supercut (a phrase I never thought I’d use), particularly when Masters started spanking Ginger to completion. Props to this show for being unafraid to go there, though. (See also: gay prostitutes performing in front of Masters)
-I liked how they delayed the impending showdown between Libby and Masters and that we’ll get to see how Masters will act to expecting a child, something he’s obviously been longing for. The argument just feels like something that should happen much further down the line than the third episode and the longer that it builds up, the better it’ll be.
-Dr. Depaul: sympathy for having to deal with sexism from her own gender or annoyance at treating Virginia like the help? Or both?
-I’m assuming this means we’re done with both Betty and the brothel, which is just depressing. Betty brought a hell of a lot of spark to the show and while her exit was quite heartrending, in that you know exactly how her story will end, I’ll miss her quite a bit. The brothel itself was both full of life and the type of stories (see: the girl who wanted to join the navy) that could provide the show with material for quite a while. However, I’m interested to see just why they moved on from it so quickly.
-Good for the show for not dragging out the “Virginia knows about Masters’ low sperm and can’t tell Libby” thing for an eternity. It’s out there in the universe and we’re all better for it.
-Do you sympathize with Ethan for having his case pulled out from under him? Or was he wrong for wanting to use the woman pregnant with quadruplets as a stepping stone for his own career without taking into account the risk of the surgery?
-Just when they make Masters more likable through the flashbacks and sticking up for Betty in surgery, they have him act like he did toward Virginia when she questioned the study.
-Here’s an article on male prostitution from The Daily Beast that I found interesting. Also: a New York Times article from 2009 about risky parenthood; the American Pregnancy Association on complications from multiple births; some facts on pelvic inflammatory disease via the CDC; and milestones of women in naval history.
-Next week on Masters of Sex: Virginia’s ex-husband wants to sign up for the study, while Bill’s mother’s visit stirs up painful memories and Libby’s attempt at playing matchmaker flops.