Whoever thought we would come across a “Masters of Sex” bottle episode? Here, we finally get to see what goes on inside that hotel room Bill and Virginia have been retreating to together. And then we stay with them the entire time. Now, I’m all about style experimentation, but here I couldn’t escape a feeling of restlessness and claustrophobia. Besides, a full 58 minutes is a LONG time for an episode that read, for the sake of comparison, similar to “Looking”‘s Patrick and Richie date episode.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say I disliked the episode, but I definitely appreciated its ambition more than actively enjoyed watching it. It was well-written, thoughtful and entered some interesting metaphorical territory, even if it came off way too on the nose. Take, for example, the boxing match that plays in their hotel room in the background, which served as a (not subtle) metaphor to the passive-aggressive dance Bill and Virginia are playing with their relationship, like two boxers in a ring. They role-play, discuss their made-up marriage backstory, order room service, reveal some heavy stuff about themselves and, of course, have sex.
We learn Virginia had a serious relationship with a man who ended up having a fiancé the entire time, which brings up her major sensitivity to being the other woman, as she is in this current arrangement with Bill. And then we learn about Bill’s ambiguous daddy issues, which are now finally made crystal clear. His father beat him as a kid, broke his nose and kicked him out at age 14. This paints him as a bit more of a sympathetic character than he has been, opening us up to his very troubling past. It also explains Bill’s obsession with feeling the need to be an alpha male and affirm his masculinity (the way he basically assaults Virginia at the start of the evening, yeesh), considering he had to deal with a father who viewed him as a sissy all his life.
This brings us to the minor subplot of the episode, about Bill delivering an infant born with adrenogenital hyperplasia, a baby caught in middlesex having developed both a penis and a vagina. The father demands to have a surgery done immediately, even though it’s risky and better to wait. There’s a whole issue with feminine masculinity here, and even though the father’s baby has been deemed a son, it isn’t enough for him. He’s disgusted, and while Bill is away at the hotel, he goes forward with the surgery with a general surgeon. The episode cuts to upsetting scenes with this poor baby, most disturbing of which is the surgeon literally reading out of a book on how to do the procedure while the baby lies on the operating table.
At the end of their hotel stay, Bill rushes back to the hospital to find out the surgery has already been completed. And worse, it was easier to give the baby a vagina than a penis, so an infant’s entire gender identity was ruined, going from being a boy to a girl, all for the sake of convenience. So much for Bill’s advice on making sure the baby’s outsides match who he is inside. Now here’s a child who will grow up feeling like, while a girl, she identifies more as a boy. It’s also something that loosely ties in with the larger conversations we’ve been having now about trans in the media.
This episode brought a magnifying glass up to Bill and Virginia’s relationship, and it was overall NOT that pretty. Sure, they bonded and got to know each other more and are understanding each other as individuals and together as a couple, but it’s still dysfunctional beyond all belief. As much talking as they did this episode, the most important thing is still not being said, and there was a gargantuan elephant in that hotel room. The show has gone to a dark place, and I wonder when we’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. As Virginia says at the episode’s end, watching the boxing match come to a close: “I want to see how it ends.”