If Masters of Sex hasn’t answered all the naysayers that initially accused the drama of being an hour-long peep show, then episode four, “Thanks for coming,” is the definitive end to that nonsense. If you can pardon the off-color pun, this fourth installment goes the farthest in terms of character development, even though it does so at the expense of plot momentum. This episode relies pretty heavily on the pathos of the main characters, focusing mainly on Ginny’s effect on the people around her, specifically the men.
Picking up four months later, we meet George, Ginny’s deadbeat, musician husband, who has emerged after a few failed gigs and an impending eviction. While Ginny is obviously exasperated with his sudden reappearance, she nonetheless sleeps with him, proving once again how out of her own time she is. He is hard up for money, asking Ginny to pay him for babysitting their children. As a result, George volunteers for the study under a false name, and we get to act as fourth party in a very awkward masturbation scene in which both Ginny and Bill are observers to his, ummm…. contribution. George is there mainly as vehicle to drive home Bill’s feelings of attraction for Ginny. Once she comes clean about her husband’s participation, Bill does a little detective work to find out who he is and calls him in for a second interview, where we learn some very intimate details about Ginny’s sexual habits; Bill’s attempts at learning to please Ginny.
While George functions to teach us more about Ginny, the appearance of Bill’s mother, Essie is meant to teach us about Bill. Ostensibly there to visit with a-now-five-months-pregnant Libby, his mother is not how Bill expects, and he is interminably cross with her, blaming her for his father’s mistreatment of him as a young boy. These new characters work towards a greater theme concerning fathers as well. With Bill’s impending fatherhood, we see him as a potential son would, through his two (very different) interactions with two young boys. He treats the son of a patient with an abusive husband with compassion and sympathy, yet he cruelly scolds Ginny’s son for making a mess in the bathroom. These images of Bill as a father are adroitly fixed next to his memories of abuse at the hands of his father, and his mother’s apathy toward him.
The scene with Ginny’s son Henry occurs at a dinner party hosted by Bill and Libby with Ginny, her two children, and Ethan in attendance. Libby hopes to set the two up after a conversation transpires between her and Ethan, in which Ethan moons over Ginny to Libby (without her knowing its Ginny), telling her Ginny is the Technicolor Oz compared to the black-and-white-Kansases he’s been dating since she broke it off. His attempts to get her attention are rebuffed so consistently that we are no longer enjoying his humiliation. Ethan’s love sickness serves double duty here. For one, we see how Ginny is a sexual siren, drawing to her every man in her radius. She is such a dynamic, magnanimous character, that every other character seems to orbit around her. This seems like a lot of pressure to put on one actress, but Lizzie Caplan does not disappoint as she works the nuances of this character. Two, it humanizes Ethan into a tolerable character that we don’t actively hate. We understand his feelings for Ginny because we love her too, and while we still hold a grudge against him for slapping her, we aren’t meant to see him as an aggressive beast like we did in the first episode.
Another new, albeit less interesting, character is that of Vivian Scully, the Provost’s young daughter. She spends the episode throwing herself at Ethan, which makes her an entirely moot and doomed plot point. She doesn’t stand a chance against Ginny. However, I have my concerns if the show can sustain this currently trajectory. Ginny is only one character, and the other character arcs will have to find their own autonomy soon enough, less we burn through our affections for them in the first season. Even though “Thanks for Coming” offers us a much needed look backward, I am anxious to see the storylines, specifically the sexual relationship between Bill and Ginny, develop real momentum.