11/10/13, 10:00PM SHO
Sex is complicated. Its about itself and yet sort of about everything else as well. Its about connection and intimacy, but its also about how much of ourselves we can and should hide. It is one of the most mutual acts we can engage in, and yet it is also possible to approach it incredibly selfishly. Sex changes us, the way we think, the way we behave, who we are and who we pretend to be. In its first season, Masters of Sex has approached this complexity head on, and in “All Together Now,” the ground work it has been laying since the pilot starts to truly pay off.
Bill and Virginia have started “participating” in the study, which is to say sleeping together and trying to pretend they are doing it entirely in the name of science. The episode begins with Masters doing his best to keep a clinical distance, narrating the stages of his sexual response to Virginia even as he goes through them. The sex is unsatisfying for both parties, but neither of them fully admits to why. In their questionnaires, Bill admits that emotional connection and intimacy are important aspects of his sexual connection, while Virginia claims she has always been able to divorce sex and intimacy. The two decide the position was the problem and decide to explore other avenues for maximum clitoral stimulation, but both are overlooking the interpersonal in favor of the empirical. Bill is holding back to keep his feelings for Virginia from becoming clear, and by episode’s end, its obvious Virginia is doing the same. They may be embarking on their sexual relationship in the name of science, but it has very quickly become about something more for both of them.
Neither of them is exactly sure of the contours of their new working relationship, and this complicates matters for both of them. They aren’t exactly sure whether they should be going out to eat after their sessions. They aren’t exactly sure at which point its appropriate to undress. Virginia even finds herself in the position of withholding sex in order to convince Bill to service his wife. She uses the power of sex to manipulate Masters, though it is never clear exactly how conscious she is of what she’s doing. Virginia knows how powerful sex can be, of course. Yet her responses to Bill over the course of the episode make it clear that she may not yet understand just how much that power is a two way street. She pushes Bill away, tries to keep things clinical even as he is humming to himself and counting off her orgasms with pride, but by episode’s end, she finds she is drawn to him in ways she was not prepared for.
Their work together is forcing both Masters and Johnson to evolve their attitudes toward sex. Bill becomes more adventurous with Virginia, talking about the Kama Sutra and trying out positions it is reasonably clear he hadn’t even considered before. Yet Virginia, who thinks she can completely divorce sex and emotions, finds herself attracted to the idea of a partner with whom she can truly communicate. This communication leads the two to achieve mutual orgasm in a phenomenal sequence that manages to use the stars’ bodies to communicate how much this matters, how this is about infinitely more than just two orgasms. Its about two people coming together, and no pun is even needed. Masters points it out to Virginia when he discusses the flowers she sent the Chancellor’s wife for her birthday—she knew his needs and addressed them before he was even conscious of them. He tells her this is a rare thing, and it isn’t an empty compliment or a quiet come on. Its an olive branch from a man who has never truly been able to connect, an admission that she is something special to him in ways he cannot communicate and may not even be able to understand. Masters of Sex has always been great about documenting the magic of a moment, but the mutual orgasm sequence is a tour de force for the series. These two aren’t just developing intimacy; they aren’t just becoming intimate. They are falling in love, even if neither is willing or able to admit this yet.
So far, Masters of Sex has been principally about the growth of several men in the orbit of Virginia, but “All Together Now” takes the important step of showing us that she, too, is growing and changing from her time with Bill. Though Lizzie Caplan is doing excellent work, Virginia remains hard to get a handle on, possibly because we’ve spent roughly six episodes inside Bill’s head and only one (the second episode, “Race to Space”) really dealing with her perspective. The show mines a lot of power from the sequences of Bill and Virginia’s growing intimacy, yet these would ultimately be far more effective if we knew her even nearly as well as we’ve come to know him.
“All Together Now” explores intimacy in several other permutations as well. There’s the intimacy Scully feels with his frequent lover, who saves him from a stabbing he endures while being gay-bashed. There’s the intimacy Margaret feels toward Austin, who she says has “saved her life.” And there is the tragic, warped, beautiful intimacy between Scully and Margaret, who need each other desperately even as each has needs the other can’t fulfill. Each of these pairing has a completely different dynamic, and each, in turn, has its element of tragedy. Scully will never be able to be with his boy toy the way he would like. Margaret will never be loved by her husband the way she needs. And Austin seems unable to form an emotional connection at all, seeing each conquest as a carnival attraction rather than a human being. Finally, there’s the Masters’ marriage, where Libby is forced to manipulate her husband into having sex so she can pretend she got pregnant by a miracle, while Ethan works to make sure she can conceive again. Each of these relationships lack something that Masters and Johnson have found in each other. Each of them has an emptiness where those two are finding ways to fix each other and make themselves whole.
“All Together Now” is a beautiful episode of television, smart, funny, romantic, and tragic. It highlights the show’s central themes by showing us its characters as they deal with all of their hang-ups, all of their messy interactions, and all of the things that let them feel free. It is an hour about connections, missed and found, and about the way we always tend to complicate our associations, simply by being human. We aren’t perfect, not by a long shot. But with the right person, at the right time, with the right ability to share and be shared, we can get closer, closer, closer.
- -“Virginia said I was to encourage you to rely on me for all secretarial matters.” “Alright, then I am relying on you to find Virginia. Now.”
- “She couldn’t spell anesthesia.” “I can’t spell anesthesia.”
- “Bill. You’re humming.” “Am I?”
- “As soon as you and Libby are back to normal…then you and I can continue our work.”
- “You have saved my life, Dr. Langham.”
- “So all of the women in your life have been a type? Have any of them been a person to you?”