Masters of Sex recap: 'Fight'

A boxing match serves as a long, recurring metaphor for Bill and Virginia's relationship and their understanding of strength and power.
Ep. 03 | Aired Jul 27, 2014

A LOT LIKE LOVE: Bill and Virginia pose as Dr. and Mrs. Holden to perform research at their Illinois hotel.

Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME

As Bill was tipping the bellhop for bringing dinner, Virginia overheard him mention they both had long drives in the morning and would not need breakfast. Virginia, intrigued, wonders what story he has made up about their illicit meetings in the guise of being Dr. and Mrs. Holden. She regularly visits her sick mother in Louisville, he is a radiologist who has a medical practice in Kansas City, and when they can, they met in between. Virginia finds his story boring, preferring to pretend that her mother is actually in prison for coming onto a young man at the Piggly Wiggly, while he is a radiologist for the government working on new spy techniques. Bill calls himself Francis, while Virginia… he hasn't given Virginia a name. Virginia pouts: "Are you making fun of me?" she asks.

"Aren't you making fun of us?" Bill wonders. And then she says it: "What are we?" It's a direct question about the state of their relationship, hidden within the role-play. In his imagination, are they that perfect couple on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post? Is that what he wants? Is that what she wants?

Bill reminds her he just had her up against the wall. (Metaphor!) He asks if she liked it, and she says she did. "We might look like white picket fence-types," she says pulling back her robe, "but there's nothing normal about us." And how. Round 2 to Virginia.

Cut, jarringly, to the hospital. The baby Bill delivered earlier in the day is screaming, being held upright in a kind of oversize test tube so X-rays can be taken. It's a harrowing image; you know what's inevitably going to happen to that baby before the unwitting, otherwise occupied Bill can intervene.

Back at the hotel, Bill marvels at the sexual appetite of Mrs. Holden—Lydia, he calls her, giving her a name. Oh, there were other boys before him, Lydia/Virginia teases, but only one man. She launches into a story about how she was "a girl with sass" when she was younger, one who snagged a military man. The first time they made love was in a field of honeysuckles; her story plays out like erotic fantasy. She remembers thinking, "This is what it is to be in love." And then the man left her to get married to his fiancee.

Moral of the story: Enjoy sex, but keep your heart out of it. Virginia may have a wild imagination, but this story wasn't made up, and Bill realizes the truth in her words. "What's that say about us?" he asks, and when she repeats the "us" part, surprised, "Dr. Holden" clarifies: "About our marriage?"

"Oh, darling," Virginia says. "I would never marry a man who I don't both love and desire." (Metaphor!)

Cut back to hospital, where the baby is laid on an operating table. And cue the terrible knot in the viewers' stomach.

Post-dinner, post-fantasy, Bill's attention is back on the fight. Virginia says it's boring when the competitors just eyeball each other; Bill says that unspoken conversation is the best part. (Metaphor!) When Virginia says she doesn't understand (like a silly, dumb girl) Bill tells her to put her dukes up. (Metaphor!) They play-fight, but the more frustrated Virginia gets as Bill bests her and laughs about it, the more serious she becomes, until she actually does wallop him—and gets her bracelet stuck in his hair.

She saws it out with a steak knife and scolds him: "You enjoyed that, making me feel weak." He retorts: "You are weak… weaker." (Metaphor!) And then Bill launches into his own story of a scarring incident from his past, which is basically what this whole episode is about. Bill's dad would've been a good boxer, he says: He was a master at the fake. He could act like a doting father, treating his son to a fancy shave and haircut in New York City, but then he'd drop him off at boarding school… and basically tell his 14-year-old kid, "It's time you took care of yourself. Don't come home again." Bill says it's a good thing his dad treated him that way because it made him completely self-reliant.

"We both got left," Virginia says.

"But he didn't break my heart," Bill replies. "Just my nose, once." Bill says his father did him a favor in making him the man he is today: a Kansas City radiologist. And there is Bill, just like Virginia, once again masking the truth in the guise of a fairy tale. He reaches for Virginia's belt; the robe slips, and she tries to cover herself. Did his story make her feel vulnerable, like she was standing in front of a stranger?

Bill instructs her to takes her hands away. "I want to see you," he says, circling her, studying her. Virginia meekly asks if he is going to touch her, and Bill asks if that's what she wants. She shakes her head yes, and Bill demands she tell him how much she wants him to make her feel good. (Metaphor!) Virginia, proving exactly how non-weak she is, says she can make herself feel good, and begins to touch herself. Bill backs away and watches her masturbate. The sexually charged power struggles of this couple make every other will they-won't they storyline on television seem boring in comparison. Round 3 to Virginia.

NEXT: "I want to see how it ends"

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