While this episode did not have a lot of action, we get a deeper understanding of Masters and Virginia through veiled comments and allegories.
We start with Masters delivering a baby with adrenogenital hyperplasia, which means the baby was born with ambiguous genitalia. Blood work determines that the baby has XY chromosomes and is therefore a boy. The father, who Masters later refers to as a bully, wants to know if the baby will ever be able to perform like a man. Masters admits that the boy will likely need testosterone shots. The father then refuses to take the baby home unless “it” has surgery to have his penis removed, as the baby wouldn’t be a man if he couldn’t get it up. Masters stands up to the father saying he won’t do the surgery and wishes the father would think about the consequences before running his mouth. The father accuses Masters of being a girl because he won’t perform the surgery, a comment that begins to eat at Masters and ultimately affects his next meeting with Virginia.
Masters is watching a boxing match at the hotel. We can see something is bothering Masters as he watches the match. When Virginia goes to take a bath Masters grabs her and roughly takes her against the wall in the bathroom. He’s trying to show himself that he is a “real man” instead of a girl like the father of the baby accused him. I don’t think there has ever been a character more confusing than Bill Masters. He’s an arrogant asshole one moment and a broken man with an awful childhood the next. He’s sympathetic to his patients but with the women who should matter most in his life he can be completely clueless. I never know if I should hate him or feel sorry for him.
While they are having room service for supper, Virginia asks Masters about their back-story. She’s a little put off that their story is so boring and starts making up a new one. Later she and Masters, pretending to be Mr. and Mrs. Holton, talk about the men she had been with before their marriage. Virginia starts telling Masters about the army captain she had been with before him, a story that starts out as teasing and maybe even a bit fake but quickly becomes a truthful portrayal of how she had her heart broken. It seems role-playing as a married couple allows Masters and Virginia to open up in ways they regularly wouldn’t.
The boxing match continues on the TV and Masters tries to explain it to Virginia. He shows her how small actions can look like weaknesses but actually mean something entirely different. He tells her when the boxer puts his arms down and looks like he’s tired he’s actually telling his opponent that he thinks so little of him that he doesn’t even have to protect himself. Masters then shows Virginia how ineffectively she could block a punch. They pretend to box and Virginia gets angry when she can’t successfully punch Masters. Virginia doesn’t like being weaker than Masters or any man.
Masters has hinted throughout the episode that he needed to learn how to fight when he was young. He admits that boxing is the first thing he wanted to learn at boarding school. He tells Virginia that his father took him for a shave and haircut at the Waldorf Astoria before taking him to boarding school for the first time. His father, who was a huge asshole, made him feel like he actually cared by creating what Masters thought was a bonding experience before he dropped him off at school. In reality his father was faking him out by doing something nice right before he told Masters that he needed to start taking care of himself and that he was no longer going to be coming home. Masters was only fourteen at the time. He compares his father to a great fighter because he could fake you out by making you think he was a “swell guy” then hit you in the gut with news that you were getting kicked out of your home and you’d never see it coming. He admits to his father physically abusing him, as well as the emotional abuse, when he tells Virginia his father broke his nose.
After their talk, you would think Masters would feel vindicated that Virginia thinks his father is a monster — that this admission would somehow alleviate some of his worries about his worth as a man. Instead he tries to humiliate Virginia by telling her to beg him to touch her. It’s a disgusting power play that Virginia refuses. Instead Virginia tells him she doesn’t need him to feel good because she can do it herself. She then masturbates in front of him.
Virginia won’t let Masters’ comment about his father breaking his nose pass. After pressing him for more information Masters admits he doesn’t know what brought his father to punch him as his father beat him many times. Instead of fighting back in the traditional sense Masters would sometimes not even put up his hands in defense — the ultimate insult as he explained to Virginia earlier. His father would only stop if Bill would get down on his knees and beg. (Similar to how Masters wanted Virginia to beg him to have sex with her.) Masters tells her he stood up to his father like a man and never begged. Virginia tries to get Masters to see he was just a boy, not a man, and that he never should have had to deal with such horrific parenting. Though Masters is emotionally moved it’s hard to tell if Virginia’s words had any real affect on him.
As Masters is leaving the hotel he calls the hospital to check on the baby. He learns the child is in surgery and he rushes to the hospital. The father of the child found a surgeon, a general surgeon not even a specialist, who would perform a surgery to remove his son’s penis. Masters is livid. He tries to talk sense to the father but the man is too much of a macho jerk to care about the consequences of his actions. Masters finally begs and pleads with the father, an act he couldn’t do to save himself from his own father but one that he will do for the sake of the child. The father refuses and tells Masters they are finishing the surgery now. It’s heart wrenching that even though Masters finally realizes that begging doesn’t make him less of a man, it will also not save the child from its own father. Tragically Masters is as powerless against this man as he was against his own father.
A native of North Dakota, Meagan Burgad currently resides in North Carolina with her husband. When not traveling the world she is reading a book or blogging for Love Between the Sheets.