Goddamn, this show has some gut-wrenching emotional moments!
After the first few episodes, it was already becoming clear that we weren’t dealing with a show that was only going to point out sexual absurdities and chronicle the scientific component of the sexual revolution. While both of those elements are certainly present in the overall makeup of the show, it’s been clear since early on that the real meat of the show comes from the interpersonal relationships constantly evolving between Bill-Ginny-Libby-Ethan. And holy fuck did that shit blow up this week.
First, the big shit. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more emotionally jarring moment on TV than when Bill Masters had to deliver his own stillborn baby. Of course there have been more impactful moments on other shows, but those involved characters that the audience had invested several years in. And not only is it completely fucked up that he had to do it, but his personality doesn’t allow him to ever show any sign of weakness or vulnerability. So here is Bill Masters, who by all rights should be completely devastated, but instead is bottling up everything, so much so that his wreck of a wife wants nothing to do with him. Yes, he’s behaving completely like a child by the end of the episode when he asks Ginny to close her eyes so that he can cry. But this is obviously a dude who has been so fucked up by his parents that he almost never allows himself any type of release, and the pressure that builds up in someone who is confronted with losing a child that he seems to believe he was indirectly responsible for killing is almost unimaginable. I feels for the guy.
I also loved the visual stimuli provided by blood in this episode. We first see blood on the sheets after Ethan realizes that he has inadvertently taken gayboy-soliciting provost Beau Bridges’ daughter’s virginity. I’d like to know who in society is continuing to perpetuate the myth that men want to take a girl’s virginity, and it was nice to see Ethan’s realistic reaction when confronted with the situation. This blood serves as a counterpoint to the blood that Bill is shocked to see on the back of Libby’s dress when it becomes clear that she’s likely having a miscarriage. The way that the blood was used to tie in sex with life, death, innocence and loss was at once very obvious and at the same time sublime. I don’t think it was an accident that the stains were roughly the same size.
I was less than thrilled with the treatment of Ginny in this episode. Children can be beyond cruel and by their very nature are capable of doing far more damage to someone’s psyche than any adult can do, and Ginny’s son drops some fucking bombs on her with his apparent hatred of her and his desire to go live with his dad. But my interest in Ginny isn’t to see her as the Damsel waiting to be rescued by Ethan’s White Knight. That’s a story that’s been told far too many times, and I know we haven’t seen a lot of her yet, but I just don’t believe that Virginia Johnson is the type of woman that would cry on the shoulder of a man that punched her in the face because she refused to fall in love with him. I’m far more interested in seeing a Ginny that is dealing with the taboo of being a divorced single mother during a time when that stigma was far more troublesome than it is now, and I want to see her thrive in the role. TV’s historical representation of prominent women can only really be described as shameful, and I just don’t need to see another broken woman scooped up and saved by a troubled but persistent and faux-courageous man.
I certainly feel that over the next couple of weeks we will be seeing further into Bill’s past, since his relationship with his mother is so obviously destructive and is causing the deep rift between him and Libby. The sleepwalking was a nice touch, especially since the first time Bill was shown doing it the audience had no clue what was going on. I do feel that while what Libby was going through and has gone through over the course of the series has been hideous, her treatment of Bill has been altogether unfair, especially in this episode. It’s clear that this is who Bill is, and who he’s been for all of his adult life. To expect him to change is a mistake many women would make, but it’s still a mistake. Crises rarely bring about drastic changes in people, they instead usually serve to drive people back to who they really are. Bill Masters is emotionally repressed and underdeveloped, with a massive comfort zone in the rigid formality of science. To expect a different response from him when confronted with terrible circumstances is more than a bit foolish. It does beg the question, why are these two married to begin with? It’s a question that I’m reasonably confident we’ll get an answer to over the coming seasons.
This episode only served to strengthen my affection for this show. It’s progressing at a fairly deliberate pace, but everything doesn’t have to sprint headlong into the future to have merit. There are some tweaks that need to be made, and at least one potential show killer that needs to be addressed as described above. But the first five chapters of what on a few different levels feels like a visual novel have given me faith that there’s real quality on the horizon here, and I’m excited for next week.