I am officially rooting against Bill and Ginny and for Ethan and Ginny. Because I am such a teacher’s pet, I have been wrestling with the show’s intentions of setting the two main characters together, but last night’s episode, Fallout, sealed the deal… for now. The episode is set weeks after we left Ginny and Ethan in the parking lot, and plays out against the backdrop of the Civil Defense drill (for those of you too young to know this reference, America once thought it was going to get nuclear-bombed by Russia and that we could hide under our desks to protect ourselves – look it up), which serves as a pretty unambiguous symbol for lives of the characters – waiting for terrible things to happen.
Ginny and Bill are at odds and bickering mean spiritedly after Bill insulted Ginny by offering her the money. This is a stark contrast to the burgeoning relationship between Ethan and Ginny. Since the timeline has moved us ahead a few weeks, we were robbed of the chance to see Ethan get right with Ginny (hence robbed of the opportunity for us to get right with Ethan). However, I quickly forgave the writers that after seeing the sweet scene between the two in her bedroom after a particularly nasty exchange Ginny had with Bill. Ethan was understanding and tender and the turnaround seems almost idyllic, which makes me highly suspicious that something terrible is coming, especially with only two episodes left. This scene also reveals that Ethan has been denied a permanent position at Washington University, and he thinks it’s because he broke up with Vivian Scully, which Barton denies, saying it was his performance review that caused the firing. Later, in a scene with a testosterone-fueled fight between Bill and Ethan we learn that it is not directly about Ginny this time, that it’s about Libby’s pregnancy, which I guess really IS about Ginny since Bill is mad he has to end the affair because of the baby.
But speaking of pregnancies, one of the volunteers of the study has turned up three months later pregnant and wants help from Bill, which, predictably he denies. He huffs and puffs about anonymity, proselytizing about the sacred understanding between them and the subjects…..blah blah blah. Of course, Ginny intervenes and finds the girl’s partner, which turns out to be Dr. Langam, the would-be sex-addict. Ginny goes against Bill’s direct order (which I am LOVING about her these days) and confronts Austin with the news, offering him the girl’s information and the chance to do the right thing; which he doesn’t, because it’s the 1950s and abortion wasn’t widely available and feminism was yet to be named (although Ginny makes a pretty good model for third-wave in her scenes with Dr. DePaul). Ginny comes around to Bill’s way of thinking by the end of the episode after his impassioned speech about how she trapped Austin, betrayed the work, and lots more about accountability and responsibility. But Bill’s reaction to the pregnancy matter is a thinly veiled metaphor for his anger about Libby’s pregnancy, and we are meant to process the Austin storyline through the context of Bill’s feelings and reactions about his new baby and what that means for the affair with Ginny. Ginny lets Bill off the hook far too easily by the end of the episode. She acknowledges his feelings for her and reveals his motives for giving her the money as being far more personal and emotional than Bill will admit. She responds by quitting the study to go work for Dr. DePaul to help secure funding for her research. They make an unlikely pair, but I like them together. Frankly, Dr. DePaul needs a little Ginny in her life, and the converse is true as well.
Unlikely pairs were the subtext of the night as some of the satellite characters start to come closer to the center. Margaret approaches a call girl in a hotel to ask for sexual advice about husbands who stray. I can’t sing Allison Janney’s praises enough as she plays the naïve wife receiving news that would be so obvious to her if this scenario were playing out fifty years in the future. Her realization that Barton is gay is such a relief to her (and to us) that her first reaction is to laugh, but that quickly fades as the weight of the information settles on her. If she doesn’t receive an Emmy nomination for role here (especially that heart-breaking moment when she goes to his room and lies down with his robe….come on!!!!) something is not right with the world. She is as brilliant as she is poised, and as wide-eyed as she is seasoned (if you can make sense of that) and the relationship between her and Austin has yet to be fully mined. Also, Jane and Lester (the cameraman) share a moment after the drill that was sweet yet superfluous, and they are going to have to work pretty hard to be heard over the din of the remaining two episodes.
Set against the silly backdrop of the Civil Defense Drill, this episode needed the levity to balance out the intense moments of emotion and intimacy. Even when Ginny and Bill aren’t onscreen together, you can feel them tugging at one another and it serves to give the show a tautness that is both maddening and so very entertaining. As a TV writer, I know I shouldn’t be so ambivalent about a show that I love so much, but I think it’s just (further) proof how amazing it is, and illustrates its durability for the long haul.