Masters of Sex recap: 'Blackbird'

Bill betrays the study when a reporter interviews him for an article, while Virginia tends to Lillian, who has decided to stop cancer treatment.
Ep. 06 | Aired Aug 17, 2014

STUDY BUDDIES Bill attempts to console Virginia when Lillian decides to stop cancer treatment.

Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME

So about that lip kiss. It might not have seemed so prominent, such a major detail in the meaningfulness of Virginia and Lillian's relationship, had it not been for the Betty/Pretzel King story line taking place at the same time.

While Betty is planning a big to-do in honor of her husband's pretzel biz going into syndication, Gene takes the time to tell her he doesn't want to adopt kids after all. "As long as I'm yours and you're mine," he says, "that's enough for me."

Except that's not enough for Betty. She's shacking up with her true love, Helen. Betty talks about buying Helen an apartment, maybe one with a balcony over the river. Helen sees that as being relegated to mistress status. Betty thinks the word is silly, but doesn't understand why it's such a bad situation: She's married to Gene, who pays the bills, while she and Helen can continue to see each other. A lesbian couple was never going to have the white picket fence, Betty reasons, but Helen still feels jilted.

So much so, in fact, she attempts to spite Betty by proposing to Al (the Pretzel King's friend) and suggesting they elope right away. Betty flips out when Helen really tries to sell the loving husband-and-wife-to-be shtick by making out with her "fiancé." Betty calls it a night and hits the bottle.

The next morning, Gene mistakes her freakout for having a thing for Al. Betty laughs at the idea she would ever think of Al that way—which is quite true—and says she's sickened by the "freak show" that is the Al and Helen relationship. She insists she never wants to see them again. When Gene tries to break the news to Al, Al says that's insane. How can two women go from kissing on the lips—like real kissing—to hating each other? Gene slowly puts two and two together, and decides to confront Betty right before their big celebration dinner. Gene says he knows for sure that she never loved any of the other men that she slept with… because she was in love with Helen.

"Who are you, Betty?" he demands. She's tried so hard to hide her past from him, and yet every skeleton has been rattled from the closet. He forgave her for lying about being able to have kids, and even for her past as a prostitute. But he cannot stand this lie, knowing that her heart will always belong to Helen. Betty tries to console him by saying she cares for him, but Gene calls her out on this: "Caring" is not the same as love.

Betty and Gene serve as a mirror to the relationship of Bill and Libby: The Masters may care for one another, but their marriage appears to hold little love, and zero passion. There is also the mistress element—Betty has Helen while Bill has Virginia—and the argument that those relationships are more bound in true love than their marriages. And there's the taboo factor: the lesbian couple and the couple who studies human sexuality.

But where Gene tries to mend things because he truly loves Betty, Libby is spiteful and mean because Bill can't/won't give her what she wants. And once again, she takes this anger out on Coral.

Libby is still wondering why a young girl like Coral can have a happy, fulfilling relationship with a man while Bill remains so distant and cold toward her. Every day she watches Coral and Robert and the way they interact when he picks her up. Bill comments that she watches them like a "peeping Tom," which she takes offense to, considering they were in the middle of a conversation about his study… that involves watching people having sex. Libby says she doesn't feel safe knowing Robert is around after he "threatened" her. Bill, exasperated, tells her to do something about the situation or shut up, basically.

So Libby does do something: She has someone in the police department run a check on Robert. When she discovers he has multiple arrests, she tells Coral she doesn't want him anywhere near her and the baby and demands Coral find another way home each day. Coral says she'll have her aunt pick her up, but she lied—later in the day Robert parks down the street, out of sight from the house, to get her. Libby, paranoid, follows Coral and discovers the truth. She's so incensed by the act, she packs up the baby and follows them home.

It's there that Robert finds Libby rooting through the mail, trying to figure out Coral's apartment number. It's there that Robert tells her the truth: He's Coral's brother, not lover. (Different last names = different fathers). So why did Coral lie? He's not sure. But hey, Mrs. Masters—your leg is bleeding. (She cut it in her mad dash from the car to their apartment building.) Robert bends down to try to stop the bleeding and all of Coral's words come drifting back to her—all of those words about his soft touch and gentle nature when it's just the two of them… Libby jerks to her senses and tells him to stop. She's throws cash at him and calls it Coral's severance. "Tell her she's fired," Libby says before bursting into tears. Later, at home alone, she caresses that cut again, softly…

So what's the difference between "love" and love? Well, once again we see how both kinds of love—and jealousy, and infatuation—drive people to do stupid things. And caring for someone—really caring about someone—sometimes means letting go, no matter how scary or painful. As for forbidden love... well, Betty and Helen proved that if it's true, it can't stay hidden forever. And neither can a comfortable existence masquerading as real love.

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