Women on 'Masters of Sex' Did a Lot Of Scheming and Maneuvering This Week, Showing Even With Limited Social Power, They Can Still Be Power-Players
This week on Masters of Sex we saw a possible teenage sex addict and the return of Ulysses, the giant electric dildo camera, but somehow there was even less actual sex filled than last week's season premiere. But don't worry; there were plenty of dirty dealings of a different sort with most of the characters on the show scheming for something or other. This week we saw Bill trying to learn the ropes at his new job and Dr. Langham steer into the skid that is the train wreck of his personal life, but taking center stage in this episode were all the women on the show, from the great Virginia Johnson to the deadpan and irreverent ex-prostitute Betty.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Masters of Sex has always been its tendency to show the "behind the scenes" world of the women in the show. In 1950s America, women didn't have a lot of power, of course, but that doesn't mean they didn't get creative to get things done, whether in their domestic sphere or outside it. And in this latest episode, there is no shortage of women making strategic moves, from Betty keeping secrets from her husband about her sterility to Libby looking to shore up control over her household.
Virginia, for instance, takes it upon herself to suss out information about Barton's sudden absence from the hospital and to see about ousting the new secretary assigned to Bill now that he's at Memorial. Apparently the Memorial administrators don't consider Virginia qualified as either a research assistant or a secretary, but given that Bill's new secretary seems both easily flustered and slow on the uptake, I am not betting she'll last too long unless she levels up big time. The only reason she isn't gone already is that Vivian called Virginia a terrible person when Virginia went looking for information about Barton, and poor Ginny didn't have the heart to go after anyone after that.
But even more significant in this episode, however, was Rose, Bill's first new patient at Memorial, a teenage girl who might be a sex addict and who nearly dies from a botched abortion. It turns out to be Rose's second abortion, and her mother demands she have hysterectomy — and is willing to dangle her husband's donations in front of the hospital to get it. This doesn't sit well with Bill (who ultimately gives the girl an actually helpful pep talk and an even more helpful IUD) or with Betty, who overhears the story while in Bill's waiting room, keeping up appearances that she's getting fertility treatments. Betty takes it upon herself to sneak into Rose's room and give her her own pep talk about standing up for yourself. Girls have to look out for each other, right? Especially the ones having unmarried sex in the 1950s.
Libby, meanwhile, has hired an 18-year-old black nanny named Coral to help with the housework and the baby now that Bill's mother has left town. At first this seems great; Libby finally has someone to talk to, or at least talk at, about her problems and her worries about Bill. Plus she hired her without consulting Bill in a minor power-play. But when Bill decides to be a bitch and call Coral a better caretaker, Libby starts stressing the importance of presenting a "united front," which she says is "for the baby," but audiences are not fooled. Unfortunately, this united front effort also means being passive aggressive to poor Coral who is way too sweet to need to put up with that.
Masters of Sex has always been pretty good at highlighting the importance of its female characters and their worlds, even though those characters are never as overtly powerful as their male counterparts. But it's also nice to see an episode like this that delves so deeply into those worlds, showing the ways women maneuver to get what they want, to help one another, to shore up their power, or just get some useful intel. Not only is it interesting to watch, it also shows just how vital the women in this show are to the events that unfold. Their contributions are rarely recognized, but they are just as important.
Now if all that scheming could get the ball rolling faster on this whole sex study thing, that would be great. Because other than interesting and dynamic female characters, the thing this show is best at is getting people to have sex in exam rooms!