Early in Masters of Sex episode 3.05, Matters of Gravity, Obnoxious Washington University Guy talked about his son needing to get his wife pregnant in order to be eligible for a draft deferment. At this point, I hit pause and Professor Spouse proceeded to research deferments during the Vietnam War. In 1965, as the war ramped up and more troops were needed, the deferment for married men without children was cancelled. That deferment played a role in the Mad Men episode Seven Twenty Three–the hitchhikers who robbed Don were getting married so the guy could beat the draft. But that was 1963, and Matters of Gravity takes place in 1966. We do this for you, Basketcases. Out of love.
Matters of Gravity was a tour de force. It was as if the writers have been listening to fan complaints this season. Of course, that’s not true, this episode was surely filmed before the season premiere, but it feels like a response to the idea that the show, or at least the season, has become too disconnected from the actual work of sex research. Indeed, the episode was still very much family-focused, what with Bill’s son and Ginny’s parents and CAN WE JUST HIT TESSA REALLY HARD WITH A BOOK OR SOMETHING?, but everything tied into the central story about Masters & Johnson and their work. Work that was kicked out of Washington University, that left Bill with his tail between his legs and Ginny slut-shamed.
The centerpiece of the episode was Bill’s speech at Washington University. We saw only the beginning and end, but it was impressive. I’m ambivalent–was it out of character for Bill to speak so well? But it was so great to hear, and what he said about love was so extraordinary, that if you, Basketcases, think it was out of character, well, I’ll forgive it.
And then to have Bill turn around and convey that Skinny Nameless Son’s bullying is, in his own mind, Bill’s bullying, well that was just great. It wasn’t Freudian in that conventional, “TV Explains Therapy” way, it was Bill. Bill who brings everything back to an anguish he cannot name, and now visits that anguish upon his son.
The best story, as always, is the story of Margaret and Barton Scully. I’ve written so much about them in the past, but it’s worth reiterating. Barton really, truly loves Margaret, he really wants nothing but the best for her. He married a woman who filled his heart and hoped that would make the desire for men go away, and only reluctantly let her go. It’s important to have that character context when we watch him call her out. He knows her. And he knows he owes her big time.
So, yes, totally choked up when he made the call in the illustration, turning the last 3 minutes of the episode into an ode to acceptance. Moreover, it returns the episode to Bill’s speech–it shows that learning about sex and discussing sex honestly can have a profound impact on quality of life, and one the love that interconnects it all.
Polyamory people might have cause to complain about the way that the Jo-Margaret-Graham triangle was painted as fundamentally unworkable, but what we saw was exactly how a poly triangle often breaks apart.
It wasn’t a perfect episode, and Sullen Boy With Head Trauma was overplayed, but more of this please.