Masters of Sex 1.12 “Manhigh” Recap

by Shilo Adams / December 16, 2013

masters of sexThe night before Bill is scheduled to do his presentation, Ethan is planning a trip to Anaheim for an interview with UCLA’s hospital. Virginia tells him that if they make him an offer, he can use it as leverage with other hospitals and get himself an even better situation. The following morning, Henry watches the launch of Project Manhigh, a space mission with Major Davis Simons, on television, just as the anxiety from Bill, Libby, and Jane over the presentation builds. Every seat may be accounted for (and then some), but Bill still feels the need to serve martinis at the presentation, which he says broadcasts the significance of the study. The drink will also loosen up the audience and make them more receptive to the material he’s presenting; Bill then orders 100 bound copies of the statistics he and Virginia collected over the course of the study, which will be distributed to the audience rather than presented.

Over at the Scully home, Margaret reads a story in the paper about Charles Rutledge, a man in Missouri who was sentenced to life in prison for having sex with a male teenager. Thinking that he could have been her husband, she asks him to explain that part of himself, whether he slept with the boy she saw him with at the hotel, whether Barton had feelings for him, and if the men he had been with in his life were all for hire. While he doesn’t answer on whether he had feelings for Dale, he admits to being ashamed of who he is and that he could never stop; although he won’t give an exact number in terms of the men he’s been with, not all have been for hire and he only loved one – James Davenport. The summer before college, the two of them became involved, even with his sexuality not that clear cut, and Margaret takes this as a slight against her. In her mind, he already knew that he could never want her and yet he still wasted the past 30 years of her life on a lie. She was never given a choice in the matter, but Barton has made a choice of his own to go for electro-shock therapy with Dr. Ellenberg in a bid to rid himself of his homosexuality.

Virginia comes into Lillian’s office with big ideas about bigger projects that Dr. DePaul can undertake, bringing up Robert Egan’s work with breast cancer. However, despite it not being as glamorous or as fast-moving as one would like it, Lillian is more focused on her work with Pap smears, considering her attachment to the issue, and has pledged to become more like Bill in how she handles herself around the hospital. While Bill hears of the anticipation for his presentation and hurries to the elevator to avoid speaking with Virginia, he meets up with Barton and invites him to a dinner that evening to celebrate the presentation. Though Barton brings up the personal issues he’s dealing with at the moment as a reason for not going, he does agree to at least go to the presentation, where the work will be center stage and he’ll be credited at some point. Meanwhile, Margaret goes to meet with Dr. Ellenberg and learns about electro-shock, whose side effects include seizures, memory loss, and a 4/100,000 chance of dying. Although “head zapping,” as she and her friend Joan call it, may be intimidating for her, the doctor brings up shock aversion therapy (which includes electrodes on the genitalia), psychotropic drugs, and chemical castration as alternatives, further worrying her.

As Bill rehearses in his office, Jane comes in and inquires about whether Virginia had been invited yet. Since she gave so much of herself to the study, Jane argues that she should be allowed to at least watch, but Bill claims that it’s not an area of concern for him. However, he does start down the hall and run into Virginia, who had seen a flier for the presentation and was going to sneak down to the auditorium anyway. She wishes him luck before Libby comes over and invites her to come to the presentation, which she politely declines. Lillian goes out to lunch with the Chancellor and tries to get the same arrangement going for herself that Bill does, i.e. having the patients directly pay her vs. getting paid by the hospital. However, the Chancellor reminds her that Bill has brought thousands of patients to the hospital and that she, well, hasn’t, as she’s 12th on the referral list in the obstetrics department and has only 16 patients to her name. And even then, many women have been recommended to Dr. DePaul and declined, since they don’t want another women looking up their skirt, so to speak. Before he leaves, the Chancellor suggests that Dr. DePaul do something to grab the attention of those in the hospital like Bill did with his sexuality presentation.

Speaking of, the presentation begins promptly at 3:00 and Bill seems fairly comfortable on stage, drawing some laughs and proclaiming that his work will open up exam room 5 once and for all. As you can’t necessarily take people’s word on their sex lives, he wired 186 volunteers up for 458 individual sexual acts over the past 12 months, though when Lillian asks who the “we” he mentions in the presentation is, he fails to name Virginia, citing that it was the royal we. Among the sexual myths that Bill disproved were that circumcision has an impact on impotency, ejaculation depletes a male’s physical strength, and larger penises were better for female satisfaction. He then shows the video taken of Jane’s vaginal walls, pointing out the color, fluid, and contractions, before showing the video of Virginia’s external orgasmic reactions – flushed skin, sweat, contractions in the extremities. Bill then says that he found that women are superior in terms of sexual satisfaction, as they can have multiple orgasms, they can orgasm after menopause, and it doesn’t take a man to give them sexual satisfaction. With the last part, the room clears and the presentation is declared to be smutty by Bill’s colleagues.

Bill thinks it got such a negative reaction because of their jealousy toward him, so he claims to Barton that he’s going to publish his findings in a journal. However, Barton says to not care what the rest of the hospital says about him. The packet masters of sexof information about the study wasn’t distributed and Lester is freaking out about the possibility of those in his department piecing together that he filmed the first video, since it was in his signature style and all. Jane ended up thinking that the video of her was pretty and that she was proud it was being used for scientific purposes, but Bill comes into the office, compares his “persecution” to that which faced Charles Darwin, and sends everyone, including Libby, home for the day. While Virginia watches the news of the space launch with Henry, reminding him that it takes helpers to do great things, nobody ends up showing for Bill’s dinner. Libby thinks that he should have shown her the videos beforehand so that she could have warned him against using them, as he’s too used to having sexual, naked bodies around him and doesn’t realize that everyone else finds things like that to be shocking. She then inquires about the identity of the women in the second video, who two men next to her thought was Virginia, and Bill says that it wasn’t and that he can’t confirm her identity anyway.

Margaret confronts Barton about her trip to Dr. Ellenberg and he thinks he’s doing the right thing, as ECT has been recognized as a valid medical practice for 20 years. However, Margaret’s friend Joan’s mother doesn’t remember that she has a granddaughter after going through several rounds of ECT and Margaret doesn’t want her husband to forget the small stuff about their life together, to become a person that she doesn’t recognize. Even though she doesn’t have the life that she thought she did, she still has a life with a man that she loves and she doesn’t want to give that up, no matter if the ECT could “fix” him or not. She doesn’t want him to do the ECT and he agrees. At the hospital, there’s a petition going around to get Bill’s study stopped and Bill learns from Barton that the Chancellor is going to let them both go after feeling blindsided by the presentation. Barton confesses to being envious of his protégé’s talent and vision, of having taken the easy way out and thus, not being able to land on his feet like Bill after being fired. Elsewhere, Virginia gets harassed about being in the video and brings more medical news to Lillian, this time about Margaret Sanger’s work with a pill that causes irregular menstruation and acts as something of a birth control. However, Lillian has no interest in pursuing any other cause but Pap smears.

Ethan calls Virginia from a payphone by the ocean and lets her know that UCLA made him an offer. As such, he proposes to her, telling her that wherever he goes, he wants her and the kids to be with him. She hesitates and he says that she can answer him when he returns home. Bill and Barton meet with the Chancellor, who is angry about the presentation, calling it pornographic and claiming that he gave Bill too much rope. However, Bill ends up falling on the grenade and taking the full blame, having an “argument” where he confesses to going around Barton on the presentation and using the infertility money for sex research. As such, Barton gets to fire him and keep his job at the hospital. When Libby donates the food from the botched dinner, she goes into labor and can’t get ahold of Bill when she calls him, as he’s at the bar commiserating with Barton. Elsewhere, the hospital is abuzz with the news of Bill’s firing, as Jane has become ashamed of the video and doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do – close up the office? When Virginia comes in to see Bill, she gives her a copy of the information packet and Barton confesses to Bill that he’s still going through with the ECT, as he wants to do right by his family and that the reward is worth the risk to his health.

Bill tries to go to his office, only to find out the lock has changed, while Virginia reads the study and sees that she’s been credited, which she doubted she would be. She then watches the Major coming home with Henry, while Libby’s baby boy is born without Bill’s knowledge and Bill shows up at Virginia’s door, claiming that he can’t live without her.

Additional thoughts and observations:
-“Then who tucks you in?”
-“God help me. You could always bend the universe to your will.”
-“Down with sonnets!”
-“Fuck ’em.” “Yes, exactly. Fuck them.”
-“It takes helpers to do great things.”
-“Man can go anywhere. He just has to take his own atmosphere with him.”
-The only real criticism I have about the episode is that it didn’t feel like a season finale other than Bill giving his presentation and professing his feelings for Virginia. Obviously, this is a world much less plot-lenient than, say, Homeland, so I completely get why there wasn’t more feeling of finality/closure, but “Manhigh” was a really good episode that didn’t make for a great conclusion to a great season of television. In that way, I think the show’s most akin to HBO’s Treme, in that both shows are framed by real life events and seem more focused on showing people living their lives vs. putting plot before character.
-Bill confessing to Virginia in the middle of a rainstorm was very cliché (and very Taylor Swift), but I think it’s something that happened organically and something that could make the second season all the more emotionally complex. Bill had been outwardly denying his feelings for Virginia for much of this season, so for him to make the step in acknowledging them to get while he’s still married to Libby should significantly wrinkle the dynamic between them in season two.
-Everything with Barton and Margaret was extraordinary, so I didn’t mind that there was no real closure for them, as theirs is an important part of the series and highlights every episode it appears in. Janney has, of course, been amazing throughout the season, heartbreaking in her coming to terms with living a lie and what this means for her as a woman as well as her love for her husband, but Bridges was heartbreakingly exceptional tonight, especially during the scene with Bill at the bar where he stood firm in his desire to be the man society expected him to be.
-I like how the show has incorporated space into its episodes, with the comic earlier in the season and the launch here. It’s both a nifty metaphor for the uncharted territory Bill and Virginia were entering into, in their feelings for one another and the research, as well as a time signifier and small (but effective) era detail.
–The shot of Ethan on the phone with the ocean in the background was gorgeous.
-Devastating moment when the Chancellor said that Lillian should do something to grab everybody’s attention like Bill, since she was doing the type of research that should have gotten her the same type of attention that Masters was getting. Also devastating: Bill not publicly admitting that Virginia helped him with the study, though that was somewhat understandable, since people already had the wrong idea about the two of them anyway.
-I kind of love Jane and Lester together. But will she stand Lester up and go back to Langham after his invitation at the presentation? Langham is the type of guy she thinks she should be with, but is he who she really wants? Also, what about the new fellow?
-The most I’ve ever respected Bill this season, despite his immense talent and ambition, is when he falls on the collective grenade for Barton and allows his mentor to keep his job. He seems to be a very self-interested person who puts the inhuman (numbers, funding, accolades) above the humane in his life, so to have him take a huge blow to his career in the name of someone he loves was a wonderfully humanizing moment for him.
-We made it through an entire season of a premium cable drama centered on sex without any full-frontal male nudity and with not a lot of rear male nudity. Something something the state of television something something.
-Thank you guys for reading my coverage of Masters of Sex this season. It had the occasional bump, but when it was working well, there was nothing like it on television and I’m excited to see the type of territory it covers during season two.

Shilo Adams is a contributing editor for ScreenFad whose work has appeared on TVOvermind, TVHackr, and KSiteTV. You can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @shilo_adams.