Just when I think I have certainly had my fill of Bill’s arrogance, his detachment and his outright disregard for the women in his life, along comes an episode like Involuntary to keep me on the bubble. I constantly wrestle with myself over the very complex issues of whether I like Bill or not; whether I find him sympathetic, or whether I should root for him and Ginny. But this week showed a different side to Bill as his masculinity overtakes his logic, proving Bill’s more primitive instincts are far more interesting than the prim, overly-composed jerk he’s been thus far in the season.
As a subplot-turned-theme, the episode opens with Bill and Virginia discussing her performance review. Bill refuses to complete it, and is putting it off until later. This discussion follows a “session” between the two in which Libby scratched his back in an uncontrolled moment. Just as you are feeling compelled to insert a joke about performance, so did the writers, and Ginny and Bill both make awkward puns about the marks serving as a glowing review. Blech. It is so hard for me to view Bill as a sexual being, especially a competent one. He is so reserved and buttoned down, that it is antithetical to his character to imagine him invoking such passion in anyone, especially Libby. But leave it to Dr. Masters to drain the passion out of sex, as he realizes that what we think of as passion, is really just involuntary muscle contractions.
But even as I feel a little uneasy about Bill’s prowess, this scene sows the seeds for later; revealing the evolution of Bill’s feelings for Ginny as they grow into something deeper, even as the study a becomes more and more complex part of their relationship. As a way to record the above-mentioned involuntary contractions, they decide to film the subjects, specifically Jane, throughout the process, but Jane is not as committed to the science as she thought, or as Bill and Ginny, and quickly changes her mind after watching herself on film. Even though her face is not shown, they must have the film developed outside of the hospital because it is the 1950s and this is about as close to pornography as you can get. Once they are in the smut shop, Bill gets badass with the attendant, and manhandles him for making an untoward comment about Ginny. It’s surprising to see Bill lose his cool in that way, and that scene made me like him even more, because he seems more man than machine. His protective nature shows a side to Bill that is capable of being good for Ginny. But then he acts like a tool to his mother; giving her salacious details about his work, trying to shock her with vivid descriptions. It seemed unnecessarily mean, and made me like him less. Then he filmed Ginny, showing her face in the film for the study (which he wasn’t supposed to do) and watched it again later with both arousal and tenderness This seemed both gross and sweet, and it makes me feel mixed up about how I feel. Like I said, my feelings are complicated.
My feelings for Ethan are complicated as well, but not in the way you may think. I really, really want to like him and root for him and Ginny. However, I am still holding a grudge from the first episode in which he slapped her. Are we supposed to overlook that? The writers sure make it seem like they belong together, at least for a little while (even though we know the real William Masters and Virginia Johnson end up together in real life). Ethan’s engagement fell apart just as quickly as it fell together, as he used his Jewishness to break up with Vivian. But I say, “good riddance” to Vivian. He didn’t love her and it wasn’t their religious differences that made him say goodbye to her, but an old man in the hospital warning him that he better care about something before he wastes his life “floating.” He decides that something is Ginny, and coincidentally he finds her crying in her car after Bill offers her an envelope full of cash for her participation in the study. We don’t see what happens between the two of them in the moments directly after he finds her, but the episode ends with Ginny finishing her won performance review, essentially saying she cares too much for her job. Cryptic, I know. The earlier exchange between her and Bill smacks of his pervasive misogyny, and belittles her efforts to the study, reducing her to the role of the prostitutes he used in earlier episodes (and I am back to hating Bill). She even gives him a chance to take it back, but he insists, knowing he will hurt her. I guess this is all in reaction to his mother’s story about his father’s mistress, and that he assumes he is doing the right thing by Ginny, protecting her from him as he always knows best for everyone.
Meanwhile, as Bill and Ginny and Ethan are all orbiting around each other, Libby is stuck completely on the outside, and relies on Bill’s mother to act as liaison between them. Libby begs her to keep trying with Bill because she needs this to be a family. This seems like a weak plot device, but it provides a reason for Essie (as Libby called her) to turns up at the hospital one evening to bring dinner. While she’s there, she notices the chemistry between the two, and after hearing Bill’s review of her, she believes they are having an affair and she confronts him in his office later. This exchange provides just a tiny bit of insight into Bill’s father and he loses it a little as she compares him to his father. She sets up the confrontation between Bill and Libby when it is revealed she is pregnant. Good for Libby for standing her ground, but I can’t tell what deception Bill is mad at; that she went behind his back and used the cervical cap, or that she went against his wishes about starting a family. We should know soon enough.
This show has always taken its tone from the time period in which it is set: conservative, thinly veiled volatility, and repression bursting at the scenes. However, if the scenes from next week are any indication, we are about to get some explosive resolution to a very successful first season.