'Masters of Sex' Delivers Us Three Years of Bill Being an Asshole in "Asterion," But Hey, Maybe He's Learning?

We've all been long awaiting the promised Masters of Sex time jump and this week's episode "Asterion" delivered not just one big jump, but several smaller ones taking us from 1958 to 1961. Arguably this was a great narrative choice, but unfortunately Bill managed to be fairly insufferable in just about every point on the timeline, which means we basically got to watch roughly three years of Bill being an asshole. I got annoyed just watching it, so I can't imagine how it was for all the women in his life who had to live through the whole thing. Yikes!

Most of the characters in the three years actually made the most of their time. Virginia and Bill started their own practice so the study can finally run without interference. Libby successfully lobbied Bill for a new baby — a girl this time — and kept up a relationship with Bill's mother behind his back because poor Libby doesn't have a mom and needs people to talk to.

Virginia meanwhile may have been dropped by Bill but kept up a string of very nice boyfriends whose hearts she seems to always break. Langham starts dating a hand model who becomes a burlesque girl who becomes a porn star. And our old friend Lester the filmmaker returned from California after Jane dumped him and has started, in between filming people masturbating, to document the behind-the-scenes operations at the Masters and Johnson Clinic. Which as the show itself proves, are fairly fascinating.

But the award for most personal growth goes to Betty. Last week I was hoping her relationship problems with the Pretzel Man would push her back into the main plot lines, and so it has. After getting a divorce (which means I don't need to keep trying to remember Pretzel Man's name), Betty is hired on as Bill and Virginia's secretary, bookkeeper, and resident tough girl. She starts studying accounting, aces her CPA exam, and throws herself into making the clinic financially solid, renting out office space in the building, corralling unruly tenants, and generally being awesome.

But while everyone else is busy with personal development and new life events, Bill manages to spend nearly two full years being a mopey ass. After discovering that he isn't the only man in Virginia's life he breaks things off with her in a fit of married man hypocrisy, and then childishly lashes out by cutting her out of decisions at work and talking down to her all the time.

During one confrontation, he essentially calls her a slut who is clearly a bad mother since her promiscuous behavior is surely scarring her children for life. During another, he makes it clear he expects her to apologize to him for dating other people — this immediately after he drunkenly tries to interfere with her current relationship by telling her boyfriend she has sex for the study.

And Bill isn't just an ass to Virginia, either. Libby has to deal with his attitude as well. Bill takes out a loan for the clinic using his and Libby's house and savings as collateral, unbeknownst to her, and he refuses to accept help from his mother. In fact after learning that Libby has been in contact with his mother, Bill orders her to stay away permanently this time, and to keep her money away, too, even though it means risking his and Libby's house.

It's clear that Bill is in a lot of pain, but as Libby accurately points out to him, everyone in the world is suffering for some reason or another. It doesn't give Bill the right to behave like a child and risk his family's future or to make people around him miserable just because he is.

By the end of the episode, Bill seems to be growing, though it's mostly because Virginia offers him a lifeline in the form of a hotel key. But hey, if resuming their affair is what it takes for him to stop being so annoying, I'll take it (even though Virginia continues to be too good for him). Thanks to the wonders of Virginia sex, Bill finally stops being a mopey jerk to everyone, starts actually smiling on occasion, and accepts his mother's money. Is it character development? Who knows.

Overall the decision to structure an episode around so many jumps in time was probably a good one, and the episode plays with these skips brilliantly — storefronts come and go in the clinic's building, characters quit smoking then start again, relationships flower and fade — and the whole effect is only enhanced by Lester in the background, documenting with his camera for posterity. Still, watching a character like Bill (who does have lots of redeeming qualities) spend two years being an asshole is enough to make anyone want to shake their TV screen to pieces.

Image: Showtime