While Virginia's new job as DePaul's assistant is, of course, working out splendidly, it's another story over in the Masters office, where the Friday presentation of the study's findings hangs heavy over Bill's head. From the ghostly apparitions of Virginia that haunt him, to the suspenseful vinyl-record sounds at the end of the episode, it's an altogether dreamier outing than we're used to: Bill in particular is coming apart at the seams without her, his reality as loosely edited as the episode itself. It's a successful experiment (although we're left wondering where all this directorial exuberance was during the season's middle act), and in the end no matter how many decisions are made, or advanced, it still feels like exactly the limbo it means to portray.
A road trip to a medical convention -- hamstrung by DePaul's necessarily tight budgeting -- finally convinces the good doctor that Virginia is exactly the angel everybody else thinks she is, once she turns lemons into her usual lemonade and gets several doctors' wives on board with the wonders of the pap smear. So much, in fact, that during the return trip DePaul comes clean about her own cancer, and offers Virginia the chance to be her partner and successor in a way Bill still doesn't even have words for.
Meanwhile, Ethan and the kids form a perfect unit back home, which causes ex-hubby George to lose his damned mind for a night or two before abruptly getting down with Ethan's vision of their future. George's bitchy parting shot -- a reference to the younger, wilder Virginia -- shakes some things loose in Ethan's head, and when she gets home she's presented with yet another courtship. Specifically, that Ethan will provide Virginia with any identity she likes -- SAHM, full-time student, nightclub singer, future gynecologist -- as long as they are a team.
And yet no matter who keeps trying to acquire her for their "team" -- and the shifting way they present their cases, and her choices -- all she really seems to be thinking about is Bill. Specifically the "Masters & Johnson" team that we'll come to know, a team that represents not just a unified view of her life as a scientist and a woman, but possible also a more circumspect union of the sex/love dichotomies that brought her into his orbit in the first place: For an episode that pointedly puts them in the same geographical locations, never allowing them to speak, it's pretty characteristic of this show that it's in many ways their most intimate.
Libby offers herself as a temp while Masters runs Jane ragged, just as excited about the project as anyone else he's let back behind the curtain so far. A cute doctor (the reliably weird and wonderful Michael Cassidy) shows up, catching Jane's eye, but Libby's all about the work: Particularly the anonymous adventures of one very specific female subject, about whom she can't stop asking her husband as he slowly drowns. Libby's the show's heart, as usual, but even better when she's its rudder: By the episode's end, when Ethan and the kids adoringly watch Virginia singing for the first time in years, it's Eddy Arnold's "You Don't Know Me" that she chooses: A powerful indictment of the Bill who isn't there, and a tacit warning to the Ethan that is.
For all of that dreamlike subjectivity -- especially powerful when it's Bill, of course, whose internal life can be hard to imagine -- it's still a very verbal, not to say cerebral but definitely philosophical hour, insistent on making two more points a myriad of ways: One is thematic, relating men's conflation of penis size with personal excellence (and where that leaves women), and the other a very interesting parallel of Ethan's concept identity alongside Virginia's, the ways in which their freedom (from Bill) is what's now making them feel trapped: Everyone keeps asking her (or discussing behind her back) exactly what she is -- wife, mother, student, researcher -- while Ethan keeps explaining to anyone who will listen that he is, even jobless, still very much a doctor.
These two ideas -- virility uber alles, and the way their very next choices will define them forever -- meet in the jokey, trite, sad competition between hirsute George and baby-faced Ethan, of course, but set up echoes that stretch across the breadth of the episode, and the season: Masters imagines Virginia comparing his and Ethan's penises (and souls), DePaul's "penis envy" is related directly back to betrayal by her own reproductive organs... Even the size of their two programs' budgets is compared to their relative importance (sex vs. death), and reversed. It's some tricksy shit, almost too clever in places -- the ludicrous title, for one -- but brings a real feeling of momentum to the show's overall concerns.
Heading into the finale next week: Virginia makes her choices, Scully scares even Margaret with how far he wants to go for a "cure," and the Friday presentation -- which as Bill presented to Libby this week, seems like a much bigger deal than he has been letting on -- finally goes down. We know eventually it works out, they do change the world, because we're all standing here in 2013 and we know what a clitoris is, but that doesn't mean this first presentation isn't going to be a shitshow. How could it not be, with the two of them so far apart?
Once Bill attacked Ethan over Libby's pregnancy, Virginia understood the part she'd been overlooking, which just how attached he was getting to her. She tried to be above it, and help him get over it too, but he doesn't work like that, so before either of them knew what was happening, he'd forced her to resign from her job, the study, and pretty much his life. Now she's cozier than ever with Ethan 2.0, and taking over Lillian DePaul's life with the same vigor and foresight as she did Bill Masters... Who is, of course, utterly drowning without her.
He bellows for Virginia, and for a moment that's who she is: Then she resolves herself into Jane, his secretary, and he comes back to us for a moment.
Masters: "Vir-Jane! Where's the data for the nulliparous study?"
Jane: "I have no idea what you just said."
Masters: "The subjects who've never given birth! Everybody knows that."
Jane: "Right, right. Why don't I just go down the hall and ask Virginia."
Masters: "No! Dramatically!"
Jane: "Then maybe stop being an ass to me.? J/K, I know you can't."
Virginia: "Dr. DePaul, how quickly can you make your case for standardizing pap smears in every gyno exam? Future women will thank the hell out of you."
DePaul: "So far it's taking about three years."
Virginia: "I mean, in minutes. I just got you into this pharm-rep conference..."
DePaul: "One of those medical boondoggles!?"
Virginia: "It's all-expenses and there's golf, so yes. There's also drinking, schmoozing, and other things you are dismal at. But they've just lost their comedian, and I got you his fifteen minutes."
DePaul: "I don't know any jokes. Or what jokes are."
Q: "How does a man save a woman from drowning?"
A: "He takes his foot off her head."
Virginia: "Wow, you were not fucking kidding. Okay, so no jokes. I feel like you're not getting what I'm saying. You can show up, try to change their minds..."
DePaul: "Men! Easier to change their diapers! Haha, that was another joke."
Virginia: "That was a lot closer to a joke but it still wasn't an actual joke. Stop trying to tell jokes, it's creepin' me out."
DePaul: "Fine. I'm not going without you, though."