This week, watching Masters of Sex reminded me a lot of the classic 1933 movie Dinner at Eight, in which not-yet-Glinda-of-Oz Billie Burke spends the entire film freaking out as her dinner guests slide further and further out of control. I kind of wished that proto-Glinda would show up and give everyone a good slap.
Masters and Johnson have been largely estranged this season, and each episode has danced a ton of subplots around their inability to talk to one another. Would Barton learn to live with his homosexuality and find happiness with Dr. Hotness? Would Betty and Helen figure out a way to become parents? Would Libby ever stop making dramatic self-sacrificing speeches? Who would win the grand title for Worst Child on Earth: Johnny Masters or Tessa Johnson?
This week, the show stripped all the subplots away to concentrate on just two stories: a disastrous dinner party in New York City and domestic life with Libby and her next-door-lover Paul back in St. Louis. Watching it was a bit like flipping channels between a romantic comedy right at the point where everything starts to go wrong, and a Lifetime drama.
The “romantic comedy” plotline plays out inside a fancy restaurant in New York City, immediately after Masters and Johnson have won the contract for their second book. Masters has dragged an openly hostile Johnson to the restaurant, for a fancy celebratory dinner that only he wants to have. And he’s invited both Dan Logan, Gini’s lover, and Logan’s wife, Alice.
The party goes about as well as you’d expect. Virginia snipes at Bill because he told their publishers about the work with surrogates that she thought they were phasing out. Bill and Dan use their projects at the clinic as proxies for clashing over Virginia. Alice turns out to be an alcoholic who, faced with her husband’s latest lover, happily falls off the wagon and blabs about all of his previous conquests.
Eventually Gini and Bill are having a shouting match in the coat closet, and Dan and Alice are left at the table to sadly assess the state of their marriage.
If there were doors in this restaurant, there would be slamming.
Meanwhile in St. Louis, Paul is hanging around the Masters household fixing everything from burned out lightbulbs to clogged drains and pulling spider-killing duty in Johnny’s bedroom. He’s kind, affectionate, and wants to be the perfect dad–he even likes the baby’s lisp! But while he’s coaching Libby through her ‘how to leave your husband’ speech, the doorbell rings and things start getting strange.
It’s a detective from the St. Louis Police, and they want to interview Johnny. Seems that John’s choice words on the playground about his dad showing Dennis-the-junior-football-bully “how to fix his broken penis” have gotten repeated. Bill Masters was trying to be kind to the kid and let him know his wet dreams were normal. Now someone’s parents are alarmed enough to call the police.
And I just don’t believe it. It’s 1966. Who would have paid attention to second-hand talk from a bunch of kids, much less call the cops? It’s nothing more than an excuse to sling more pathos at Libby, since now she can’t leave Bill without making it look like she believes what they’re saying.
There’s one episode left to aim for maximum unhappiness. Will they get there?
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image from Showtime