MASTERS OF SEX 1.03 ‘Standard Deviation’

Episode Title: “Standard Deviation” 

Writer: Sam Shaw

Director: Lawrence Trilling

Previously on “Masters of Sex:”

Episode 1.02 “Race to Space” 

For a show about sex, everyone’s pretty miserable. But by the end of this week’s episode at least a few folks get what they want, however questionable the means. 

Still insistent upon marrying the “Pretzel King” (Greg Grunberg does make a great pretzel king), Betty (Annaleigh Ashford) demands Bill (Michael Sheen) reverse her tubal ligation per their agreement. He reluctantly performs the operation but learns that Betty has Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, which means she won’t be able to have children. Virginia (Lizzy Caplan) advices her to consider her options, but Betty is set on “hitching (her) wagon” to a man and suggests Virginia is doing the same with Bill, whom Betty believes is in love with her. Virginia takes offense at the notion, but at the same time, can’t argue with it. 

The oppressiveness of the times is clearly felt in this episode what with Betty believing her only “out” is to marry a man she doesn’t love while leading him on about the children she can’t give him. At the same time, Libby (Caitlin Fitzgerald) continues to agonize over the fact that she can’t give her “brilliant surgeon” husband kids. Virginia decides to tell Libby the truth about Bill, but makes her promise not to tell anyone and poor Libby goes from one from lousy situation to another, unable to confront her husband about what he’s put her through. It’s still unclear why Bill hasn’t told Libby the truth. As Scully (Beau Bridges) points out in a flashback to their early days working together, Bill is smug and egotistical, but we’ve only seen his ego manifest at work. We’ve yet to see a side of Bill that would explain why he’s choosing to put his wife through such a traumatic ordeal. 

It’s no matter, however, as according to Ethan (Nicholas D’Agosto), Libby is miraculously pregnant. After watching her beat herself up for three episodes, the news is a relief. And how Bill takes it should tell us a lot more about him. Libby’s pregnancy is also a major victory for Ethan, who was pulled off a patient about to give birth to quadruplets in favor of Bill. We still don’t know much about Ethan, aside from the fact that like Bill, he’s ego-driven and obsessed with Virginia. So far, he exists only to provide conflict and the question of how exactly Libby got pregnant might have something to do with that.

As for the study, things aren’t working out at the brothel, what with all the prostitutes who fake orgasms, homosexuals and other “outliers” that keep showing up. But Bill’s time spent watching two men have sex isn’t all for nothing. One of the men shows up at the hospital to ask Bill about the status of the study and ends up giving him blackmail material to use on Scully. Watching Bill let Scully, whom we learn in a flashback went to bat for Bill back in the day, know that he knows about his homosexual tendencies makes him that much more dislikable. Especially considering how he admonished Betty for using similar tactics to get an operation she has every right to get. 

However sleazy the method, Bill considers it a “necessary evil” that gets his study back in the hospital. Virginia, whom he treats like a lowly secretary during the day and a colleague at night, is out of the loop but onboard, it seems, for whatever Bill wants to do. And the arrival of the frigid Dr. DePaul (Julianne Nicholson), a pioneering female OB, doesn’t amount to much in this episode. Virginia admires Dr. DePaul while the other secretaries find the idea of going to a female OB “revolting,” lest we forget this show is set in 1956. 

Like the previous two episodes, “Standard Deviations” is a challenging, confounding but not at all unenjoyable hour of television. The show’s tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the times and a cast of characters that aren’t easily embraceable sets “Masters of Sex” apart. And sometimes uniqueness alone is enough to make a show a worth watching.