Pleasure and pain. Punishment and danger. Episode 4.05 of Masters of Sex, The Pleasure Protocol, digs into some previously unexplored territory. It’s excellent material, and suitable not just to the show but to these characters, at this point in their lives. The juxtapositions all work, and this is something the series has sometimes struggled with. Self-punishment mixed with pleasure as a conversation that arises after an AA meeting? That makes sense. Working with sexually dysfunctional couples and uncovering hidden rage that is painful and triggering for Bill? Of course.
I’m going to say that it’s more than a little ridiculous to present us with Masters and Johnson’s very first woman interested in some fairly mild BDSM when they’ve been doing this for more than ten years. The shock and surprise that there’s such a thing as a woman who wants a little aggression? Seriously?
By the time they’re here, they’re usually past murderous rage.
That said, a new voice can bring new experiences into the lab, and Nancy saying, yeah, sure, people do that, makes sense (although, of course, she painted it in the language of gender essentialism). And none of them actually being psychologists, they all missed the fact that the person openly expressing the desire for a little roughness is not the one with buried pools of rage and pain. That’s the person absolutely rejecting roughness—because he has something to fear.
Sex and love, a mysterious thing.
While pain and pleasure mix, we see over and over that sex and love do not. Virginia, hilariously, has sex with an absolute non-entity whose name she can’t remember, more interested in timing her plateau period than in him. Note the parallel name-forgetting. Virginia sleeps with Lou/Lee to develop the “protocol”*, then her patient sleeps with Scott/Steve while successfully using it. Betty, former prostitute, is expert on the separation of sex and love.
*Sorry, but it’s hard to take seriously as science after exactly one experiment.
Professor Spouse is still complaining that Virginia is a bitch, but I think we’re getting a bit closer to seeing it from her point of view. Virginia is lonely and lost, and at the same time, constantly judged. She’s sexualized by Hugh Hefner against her wishes, judged when she is sexual, and, even after becoming famous as half of Masters and Johnson, is treated like a secretary. That’s a lot to fight back against.
Finally, she’s brought in on the BDSM case. Look at her face at that last moment—in helping Bill, she’s reaching to the only thing she can do. She can’t reach Dan, she can’t soothe herself, but she can help Bill.
Meanwhile, Libby, zzzzzzzz.
Checking against the real world:
- Playboy After Dark ran for two season, 1969 and 1970. I can’t find any evidence that Masters and Johnson ever appeared on the show, but Sammy Davis Jr. appeared several times.
- The Defilers is a 1965 “roughie”—it’s plausible enough that it would play in a cheap theater some years later.
- I thought “work wife” sounded too early. The phrase was first coined in the 1930s but wasn’t commonly used in the US until 1987.