Consequences and Regrets in This Week’s Masters of Sex

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At the end of the last episode, Bill Masters added up Virginia’s moodiness, thickening waistline, and tasteful vomiting and deduced that she was pregnant. This week picks up right where we left off, as Virginia confirms the diagnosis.

Masters is stunned and upset. And although he says he’s concerned about how it’s going to affect their book launch, he’s smart enough to work through the personal and biological ramifications. In short, since he’s infertile, she’s slept with another man.

That’s true, too. Turns out the pregnancy is yet more fallout from the awful lake vacation four months earlier: the consequence of comfort sex between Virginia and her ex-husband George after they found out their son had decided to enlist in the Army just as the Vietnam War started escalating. Jaw firmly set, Virginia declares that she’s made an appointment with the only doctor in St. Louis who does abortions, and she’s fine with it.


It all seems simple when they’re in Boston, but complications mount as soon as Masters and Johnson get home. They’re complications fueled by regret. Libby Masters’ regrets about her marriage makes her start pushing Bill to spend more time with his family so the new neighbors will stop thinking she’s a single mom. And Virginia’s regrets about not being there for her kids (and her daughter’s full-volume teenage all-about-me shrieking certainly isn’t helping) move her to go through with the pregnancy.

That’s the setup. The rest of the episode addresses ways that pregnancy affects and complicates adult relationships, following Virginia’s made-for-TV out-of-wedlock pregnancy and Masters’ real-life fertility work with the Shah of Iran and his then-wife Princess Soraya (which really happened in the mid-1950s rather than the mid-60s), and drawing parallels between the two.

The stakes are high for the Shah and his wife: they genuinely care for one another, but need to produce an heir. Without a pregnancy, their marriage is doomed.

The stakes are high for Masters and Johnson. Masters is (rightly) afraid that people will react badly to an unmarried pregnant woman championing a book called Human Sexual Response. Libby Masters is afraid that people will assume the baby is Bill’s, and worse, that Bill will act as if the baby is his and continue to neglect his own children. Virginia’s first solution–staying home on a leave of absence until the baby is born–soon produces problems of its own, as Bill struggles to become comfortable working with the gynecologist that he hired as a replacement. And after a disastrous solo interview, he realizes that Virginia is critical to their success. He has to get her back at the institute and in front of the press, in a way that keeps tongues from wagging. They go to George Johnson and propose a marriage of convenience to make his child legitimate.


Ultimately, George agrees. But his decision is fueled by regret, too–he wants to rebuild his family, even as he signs the prenuptial agreement that outlines the “no expectations” conditions of the marriage. Libby is delighted by that development, thinking that this could be the end of the Masters and Johnson affair. But we know that’s magical thinking on her part: we’ve seen Bill’s conversation with Princess Soraya, and know that the thing he values most in a relationship is desire, respect, and “a sense that your partner is truly your other half”, not children. That’s what Virginia gives him, not Libby.

But the princess thinks that when there are three adults in a relationship, and two have a child together, that becomes the stronger tie. It looks as if we’ll that idea tested over the rest of this season. Although the band-aid on Johnson’s reputation works, and at the book’s launch party, a heavily pregnant Johnson openly stands next to Masters to toast the support of their spouses, when Johnson goes into labor it’s Bill that she calls first to talk her through her contractions.


That pep talk winds up being about much more than breathing. All Johnson’s insecurities about her abilities as a mother come flooding back, and she insists that this time she needs to spend more time at home with her kid. Masters points out that having a mother at home all the time isn’t always a party for a child. He uses his own mother as an example, but he could just as well have used his own wife. Virginia, he says, is leading the way in showing that there’s more than one way to be a good mother.

I think I see what’s going on–Virginia has two babies right now, a book with Bill, and an infant with George. And this season we’ll get to watch her balancing her attention between both relationships. The world of the working mother–the world we live in now–is about to go through its birthing pains.


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