How does time affect our relationships? How does memory alter how we perceive those closest to us in the present?
Masters of Sex episode 7, “Asterion,” uses time jumps and video footage as devices to explore the decline of some relationships and the reconciliation of others—and in some cases, both the ups and downs.
The episode picks up with the first time jump—five months after Bill was canned from Buell Green. He’s opened his own fertility clinic/lab—the Masters and Johnson Clinic (hooray for equality!)—in a building in a “transitional neighborhood” that also houses the Communist Headquarters. (Sometimes a guy pees on the wall outside, too.) He’s hired Lester, back from an unsuccessful attempt at a film career in Hollywood, to document study patients. Lester, throughout the episode, also documents the dynamic within the office and the private lives of a number of his colleagues. But for now, he’s measuring ejaculate. His clapboard tells us it’s Oct. 15, 1958.
Ejaculate distance is one of the 100 different sexual phenomenons Bill wants to include in the study before publishing it. He plans on observing each of those 100 mini-studies 100 times, for a total of 10,000 observed sex acts, just to make sure the data is “ironclad.” When he mentions that means they’re halfway through the study, Virginia balks—at the rate they’re going, there won’t be any funds to get anywhere close to number. Only 23 of his fertility cases followed him to his new practice, and it’s not like they’re having 100 babies each to keep the lights on in the joint. The tension between Bill and Virginia quite intentionally plays out like the argument of a married couple. It’s amplified when Betty shows up—she’s the new help hired by Bill to answer phones, do light paperwork, and take care of the books. (She kept the books at the brothel back in the day.) Two notes: Yay, Betty’s back. And boo, she (unsurprisingly) got divorced from the Pretzel King. Is she still seeing Helen? There’s no word of her lover, but the answer is looking like no.
The Bill-Virginia tension, of course, isn’t just over money. Since Bill discovered Virginia’s “beau” at the end of episode 6 and had a fit because his lover-whom-he-refuses-to-profess-his-love-to is seeing other people, he cut off their participation in the study. That leads Bill back to the old hotel bar, alone, to drunkenly smack talk “Mrs. Holden” to the bellhop. He speaks of Virginia as if they truly were married—he talks of vows and a sacred covenant. When you open yourself, expose yourself to someone like that, and she sees you and she’s not repulsed, Bill says, when she then betrays you, that can never be forgiven. Get off your high horse, Bill. You’re hurt, but you’re doing the same thing to Libby—your real wife. Worse yet, life minus Virginia has sent Bill to seek back alley blowjobs from prostitutes. Thing is, he can’t even get it up. That might cause a problem when Libby tells him she wants another child. It’s more like a demand, really, which is what Libby is good at: getting her way. “This is what I need,” she tells Bill.
Meanwhile, Virginia is dealing with Bill’s rejection by continuing to see the guy who sent Bill into a tailspin in the first place, Shelly. They even go on a double date with Dr. Langham, who’s getting his own “second chance” with a hand model who’s considering getting into lingerie modeling. (How convenient: There’s a modeling agency downstairs from the Masters-Johnson clinic… the status of which helps serve as an indicator whenever time shifts.)
Back in the office, Betty tells Bill he won’t regret hiring her. It’s a sweet moment with Bill saying he’s helping in her time of need (i.e. being broke after getting dumped by a snack mogul) since she helped him out so many times. And he’s gonna need her: The only way he can get a loan to keep the practice afloat, he finds out, is to put all of his assets up as collateral.
The study is looking about as bright as their financial situation—which is to say, it’s pretty grim. They’re stuck paying a participant the $10 fee after he orgasms in less than five seconds, which is useless information. Virginia suggests broadening the questionnaire to screen for sexual dysfunction from the get-go. Bill, all business, agrees. At this, Virginia attempts to clear the air and attempts to alleviate the palpable discomfort that working together now causes. Bill cuts deep with his words, saying Virginia can barely keep clean sheets on her bed with the number of men she welcomes into her home. He doesn’t want to be another one of those “strangers” walking through her kids’ lives. “We’re work colleagues, nothing else,” Bill says, once again deflecting his pain. Cut to Virginia, rattled, lighting up a cigarette in her office. (Smoking, it turns out, becomes a signpost for the changing times in this episode.)
NEXT: What time is it?