Masters of Sex spent two seasons building the Masters and Johnson relationship, and the first nine episodes of the third season testing what might break it. Unhappy children? Unexpected pregnancies? Johnson sleeping with other men? Unexpected fame? Flashing a gorilla? Starting projects without your partner’s approval?

So as we enter the final four episodes of the season, the question is whether their personal and scientific partnership will fracture or metamorphose into a new kind of relationship.

To an outside observer it might look like Virginia Johnson is keeping things cool and professional in the office, but God only knows what she’s really thinking right now. The scent study is going nowhere fast–and since their data suggests there’s no easy way to bottle (or even find) a chemical that will evoke desire in humans, Dan Logan is ready to close down the study and head back to New York. From a business standpoint, he should. But when he tells Gini that he’s looking for a reason to stay in Saint Louis, saying-without-saying that he wants to be with her, her first reaction is to modify the study to keep him in town longer.

We already know from Gini’s trip to Vegas that she can’t turn off her obsession with her research. Now we see that she no longer knows how to deal with a relationship that’s not tied in some way to her work. So when the new ‘placebo study’ comes up with the same results as the scent study (and really, they should have been working with a placebo control all along), she starts looking for another scientific rationale to keep Logan around. But he points out that there’s no need to come up with ever-flimsier research projects to make that happen: he could keep coming to town just to see her. “What if I keep coming here because we love each other?”, he asks. So far, she doesn’t have an answer for him.

Bill Masters, on the other hand, has relied on a comfortable arrangement of wife at home and mistress at work for years. Now it’s all in upheaval, since Gini has pulled as far away from Bill as she can manage without leaving the institute she helped found, and Libby is taking steps toward starting a new life with the newly-widowed Paul-next-door. Bill doesn’t really spare much of a thought for his loveless marriage–when pressed by Libby for what he’d think about their marriage on his deathbed, the best he can come up with is that “We tried our best.” But he’s getting increasingly frantic about fixing things with Gini.

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Being Bill Masters, his methods leave a lot to be desired. Sitting in the dark in Gini’s house waiting for her to come home? Not helpful, Bill. Actually, kinda creepy. Though the begging for forgiveness about starting the surrogate program behind her back is a good step. Too bad you follow that up by asking Betty to sneak around to find out what’s going on between Gini and Dan Logan. Betty’s right, Bill. Manipulating other people is not the answer to your problems.

It doesn’t help that the early signs suggest Bill’s surrogacy program is not going to be the easy curative he imagined. If it’s going to work, he needs surrogate-volunteers who can combine compassion for others with an ability to stick to the treatment protocols. But people are messy. Some of the surrogate-trainees are too wrapped up in their own emotions to engage with Lester’s hypothetical patient, a situation that disgusts Gini and makes her distance herself even more from the project. And Bill’s star proto-surrogate Nora has too much compassion to stay on the non-genital touching script when faced with the desperate begging of her first patient. Masters is livid when she goes off protocol, but forgives her and gives her a second chance after she pours out a story of physical abuse doled out by her father during her childhood. (Which does explain why she didn’t go stay with her mom after being evicted.) Nora says she’s trying to get past it and live differently. Bill Masters knows–and we’ve seen–exactly how difficult that can be.

By the end of the episode, both Masters and Johnson are trying to wrap their minds around the new state of affairs in their personal and professional lives. They haven’t been this out of sync in years. Still, history tells us they wound up married to each other. We’ll see whether they change enough in the last three episodes of the season to make that possible, or whether that’s a story for the show’s fourth season.

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Contact the author at diane@io9.com.