Bill was at his emotionally distant, pigheaded, egotistical best—and by that, we mean worst—last week. He had lost his job, his study, and his patience—particularly with Libby and the baby—and was lashing out because of it. This week, the focus is on Bill, the Best Damn Baby Doctor in St. Louis. And viewers are reminded exactly why and how he has earned so much prestige and has been given so much power: He's an excellent doctor who puts his patients first. He refuses to sterilize an 18-year-old girl who has other options. Though he's terse with Betty for pretending he can help her, they have a long history and he sincerely cares about her well-being. Without these very important character traits, it's very difficult to view this man as any sort of hero.
But he's not a hero—not in the typical sense. His research is heroic, yes; in the pursuit of understanding the human body, more than once he was forced to perform his research in secret and was ostracized. But this guy can still be a real jerk, which is why he doesn't get away with looking like a white knight in this episode.
His favorite targets are Libby and the baby. Scenes with the three of them are excruciating to watch; whenever Bill is in their presence, he's agitated and snide. Whatever love he once had for this woman is gone. Things may have been going downhill for the couple before the sex study began in earnest, but once Virginia entered Bill's life, that crumbling quickly escalated. A child has only made the situation worse, as Bill's son is a reminder of his own terrible upbringing, something that haunts him deeply, despite all of his successes. And there's the rub: The man who makes miracle babies for other couples received one of his own, and yet has no ability to love the child. And so he continues his non-affair affair—ahem, research—with Virginia in a hotel one state away.
Virginia and Bill share a number of tender, non-sexual moments in this episode, which is thrilling to watch. (That's the beauty of this show—some of the most scintillating content doesn't take place between the sheets.) When they're not talking about their research, or what the research means for their relationship, or, um, are actively involved in their research, Virginia and Bill let down their guard, and the chemistry and love they have for one another shines through. This happens in episode 2 in scenes revolving around a mutual concern for Barton Scully, who has seemingly gone M.I.A.
They first realize something may be up with Scully while making small talk in their hotel lobby over cocktails. This precedes a discussion about Virginia's future with Bill and their research; she assumes she'll be joining him at some point at Memorial. Bill, for once, is actually rather meek in breaking the news that he's been given a new secretary and they don't view Virginia as qualified enough to be brought on as a research assistant. That's a terrible insult, and Virginia takes it as such; her name was on the study, and who could possibly be more qualified in this work? As always, she doesn't let this faze her—at least not long-term. She's going to handle this new secretary situation herself and make sure she's hired in Masters' office ASAP.
It's when Virginia goes to enact her secretary-scaring scheme that she and Bill decide something is definitely wrong on the Scully front. She had a run-in with Scully's daughter—more on that later—that leads Virginia to believe he's not really on some fun, spur-of-the-moment holiday in Europe. Virginia turns to leave, but what about getting rid of the secretary? Her plan was going well—she was cozying up to the overwhelmed Barbara and about to make her move—but she had a change of heart. She's got her work with Dr. DePaul back at Maternity, and she'll be starting to help another doctor with his gastro study. Could she turn her back on the research so easily? Has she decided DePaul needs her more? Or perhaps it's just another play to momentarily exert power over Bill, as they so love to do to one another.
That kind of plotting and emotional tug-of-war is not Virginia at her best. Like Bill, she has an unrivaled passion for their work, which is why she is so likable. (Add to that the fact that she's a woman trying to be taken seriously in a male-dominated field in a male-centric era.) Also like Bill, this episode makes a point of highlighting her compassion—in this case, with Dr. DePaul.
Virginia pushes DePaul into creating a video for the pap smear campaign, the mere thought of which terrifies the stoic Lillian. DePaul is slowly warming up to her secretary, and they almost share a kind of shorthand. Their conversations have become easy; you might even think they're becoming friends.
At the video shoot, DePaul is garbling her words; she's not making sense… and she doesn't even realize it. She storms out, nearly in tears, and Virginia follows. DePaul's condition is worsening—that would explain the mystery black eye last week—though she refuses to acknowledge it. It's Virginia's turn to play doctor, demanding Lillian give her the number for her oncologist. They go to the appointment together, and when the doctor reveals DePaul's terminal cancer is worsening, Virginia asks, "What are our options," which gives Lillian whiplash. It's doubtful she has ever given anyone permission to get this close to her, and she's having a hard time understanding why Virginia is so invested in her well-being. It's because Virginia will always fight for the important people in her life. And Lillian—and her own groundbreaking studies on women's health—is very important to Virginia.
But which doctor will Virginia ultimately choose to stand by? At Maternity, DePaul can't pay her enough to support her two kids as a secretary. Masters doesn't seem willing to fight for a job for her at Memorial. And that gastro doc who was going to pay for her expertise using the technology behind "Ulysses"—turns out he just wanted to meet Virginia's magic camera and get his rocks off. (Cutting between the scenes with Virginia and the doctor and Masters and Greathouse—both explaining their sex study to men who may be a little more randy than they're willing to let on—offered some of the episode's funniest moments.) If the episode's final scene detailing the lies and lengths to which Virginia and Bill go to meet for their elicit "research" is any indication, it's going to be Masters. The most telling line: Virginia's babysitter saying, "You do what you need to do," as she leaves for her late-night rendezvous.
NEXT: Breaking down Betty, Vivian, Dr. Langham, and Libby