The best three minutes on “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” the season finale of Masters of Sex, features last season’s Barton Scully (Beau Bridges) drinking with Bill Masters. The second best scene is when Ethan, Virginia Johnson’s ex from the first season, flashes on a TV as part of a competing sex study.
This probably says something about this season. Sure, there were some really great highlights: Betsy, Sarah Silverman, and the Pretzel King’s twisted love triangle, Lester the Impotent Filmmaker, and Flo before she became a creepy sexual harasser. But there were a whole lot of rocky bits: Lester and Barbara, Bill Masters crying, Virginia Johnson crying, Libby.
All were on grand display this episode, too. Let’s start with Libby, who has now entered a full-on relationship with Robert, because she wants something in her life that is not her “perfect” children. There were a handful of scenes with them together, but now that they’re just regular having an affair it’s gone from being a complicated study in racism (refresher: is Libby racist, is the show racist, are both racist?) to some standard-Masters-of-Sex-Nudity.
Lester and Barbara. Huh. I don’t really get this relationship, except that they both have sexual disfunction. Barbara is really literal, uncurious, sweet, and clearly deeply screwed up emotionally. She likes romantic comedies like Pillow Talk. He likes Antonioni, various other films, “the truth,” is an atheist, etc. It’s a soap-opera habit of the show — to make sure everyone is paired up — but this one just doesn’t feel necessary, however likable the individual characters are. Since they’re supposed to be proxies of a sort for Bill and Virginia, they get a lot of screentime and significance, too, that don’t work very well for the characters. They even got the end scene — how Barb and Lester should trust Bill and Virginia to teach them how to have sex. But it feels contrived.
The study, of course, was the real star of this episode. Bill and Virginia have been making real headway into treating sexual dysfunction, through steps of non-sexy sexy touching, sexy non-sex touching, and eventually sex touching. It’s all very scientific and was nothing at all like the classic Red Shoe Diaries, especially not the soft jazz in the background. It has been successful: Bill has maintained a boner all the way through on a number of occasions. He’s cautiously optimistic about the success, and thinks it’s time to do more research (wink wink, etc.).
Bill is distracted, though, by the rough cut of the documentary. Any mention of sex, or sexual disfunction, or anything that isn’t innuendo has been eliminated from their interview. So even though Bill’s getting calls from the likes of Hugh Heffner, he’s reluctant to let it air. Virginia, on the other hand, wants to get ahead of Kaufman, who is about to publish a book called Men and Sex.
Virginia, while focused on the drama of the study, and the documentary, is, for once, more concerned about her family. George, her ex-husband, has a new, super-involved wife. She (and George) want the kids to come over a few more times a week. Virginia doesn’t want it and tries to scare George with a lawyer, but Virgina never got the original custody agreement signed. Instead of backing down, George lawyers up — he’s going for full custody, and to do so, he’s going to have to prove that Virginia is an unfit mom. His evidence is going to be the sketchiness of the study, and the fact that Virginia’s been banging Bill for years. Virginia totally freaks out, and George accuses her of caring more about the study than her kids, which is probably true. She threw a martini in his face, which was exciting.
Virginia and Libby have a talk about kids that was a little hard to follow, but involved a lot of wisdom. Libby wants a life outside of her kids, and asks Virginia what she really wants for her kids, and then Virginia has an epiphany: she’s going to give in to George for now, and use the documentary to prove that what she does isn’t gross and pervy, and she’ll get her kids back that way. She tells Bill, but he’s just read Kaufman’s study and is behaving strangely. Bill think’s Virginia’s plan is stupid and tries to convince her not to do it, even though going to court would mean outing both of them, but it’s too late
The next morning, she tells the kids that they’re going to be staying more with their father. She comes to work, they turn on the TV, and Kaufman — and his assistant Ethan! — have made a TV show, too, and it’s going to air before Master and Johnson’s show. CBS is cutting the special. The documentary won’t be on the air! When she realizes she won’t be able to fight back by showing how respectable the study is, she collapses in tears. Bill holds her and hugs her and says that all they can do now is focus on the work, because he’s an asshole.
There are a whole bunch of shows where a male and female team up to dedicate themselves to some kind of work that takes all their time and makes other, normal relationships seem impossible, but this is the first one where it’s clear just how contrived that is. Masters and Johnson are not saving the world from aliens or anything, they can chill out a bit.
Meanwhile, JFK is about to be sworn in and that is a metaphor for something because both Bill and Austin imagine themselves as JFK and involved with Jackie Kennedy. It turns out that Flo comes from a politically-connected, rich family, and will be going to the inauguration and also a fancy party in Missouri. Austin wants to go, but Flo is embarrassed by his blond stupidity. Austin is offended by this, because the Austin/Flo relationship is supposed to be the reversal of gender-roles, so he doesn’t get to go to the party or the inauguration which makes him angry.
The show ends with a double reveal. Libby confesses to Robert that she doesn’t feel bad about their affair because Bill has been cheating on her forever — so, she knows, because she is not stupid. The second is that Bill is the one who had a copy of Kaufman’s book sent to a rival TV station, resulting in Bill and Virginia’s CBS documentary getting cut.
He’s the one who made it so Virginia lost her kids. Which we all already know, but now he feels guilty about it.
At least he’s getting laid, right?