Masters of Sex is not going light on the metaphors this season. Episode 3, “Fight,” is a study in masculinity, dissecting what it takes to be a “real man.” As Bill and Virginia verbally dance/spar their way through another one of their hotel trysts, the legendary 1958 boxing match between Archie Moore and Yvon Durelle plays on the television in the background. Couple that with Bill’s heartbreaking case of a child born with ambiguous genitalia, and a more than few times it felt like the viewer was the one getting hit over the head with jabs of double meaning.
The night’s hotel rendezvous kicks off with a preoccupied Bill barely acknowledging Virginia as she enters the room while a handyman fixes the television as the Moore-Durelle bout begins. Virginia, expert at dealing with his moods, waves Bill off and announces she will be taking a bath. Bill—upset and angry about work—enters the bathroom and throws her against the wall, where he pins her for rough-sexy sex.
Afterward, she jokes about his brusque way of saying hello, but realizes something is bothering him. That’s when he explains the difficult, emotionally draining case he had earlier in the day: He delivered a baby born with adrenogenital hyperplasia—in other words, both male and female genitalia. Blood tests revealed the baby was genetically a boy, but the child’s father was furious—he refused to acknowledge the newborn as his son, and kept likening him to a circus freak. Bill, always concerned for the well-being of his patients, tried to talk the man down by telling him the condition can be fixed, though the boy might need hormone treatment. “There’s no advantage to performing surgery on an infant,” he explained, and asked the new parents for patience until an expert could perform the surgery. The man refused to listen to logic: “He’ll never be a man, so cut if off.” (Metaphor!) Bill refused to perform the surgery the father demanded, but promised to make calls to specialists seeking advice.
Virginia, of course, is appalled that, in a case like this, someone would choose convenience—”cutting it off”—over what is physically, psychologically and morally correct. Doesn’t every man want a son? she wonders. Unless they want a certain kind of son. (Metaphor!) Catching a glimpse of the television, she offhandedly makes a comment about the “manliness” of boxing, with all of the violence and aggression that it requires (metaphor!), saying Bill’s not like that. But he is, more than she realizes—at least at this part in the evening.
Throughout the night, Bill attempts to explain boxing to Virginia, a novice to the sport. (Metaphor!) She’s amused by how much he knows about it—he never struck her as the sporting type—but it turns out he was once a fighter himself. The first thing he did after unpacking his suitcase at boarding school was find the boxing coach to teach him how to fight. Why? He wanted to be able to hold his own. When Virginia presses him for a better answer, he gets moody and brushes her off. Round 1 goes to Bill.
NEXT: Round 2