A one-two punch staggers Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) professionally and personally on “Blackbird,” Episode 206 of Showtime’s “Masters of Sex.”
Bill’s medical career nosedives when he’s fired for the third time in as many months. This latest dismissal occurs at Buell Green, a predominantly black hospital headed by Dr. Charles Hendricks (Courtney B. Vance).
Trouble begins when Charles bars his staff from joining a human sexual response study conducted by Bill and his colleague Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan).
“You promised me our study had your full backing and support,” Bill angrily says.
“I did allow your study to come to this hospital,” Charles testily responds. “But I assumed you’d bring your own subjects — white subjects. White subjects only!”
Given the history of African-Americans being abused in unethical experiments, Charles fears the repercussions of allowing black volunteers to have sex in front of white researchers.
Trying to pressure Charles, Bill seeks out journalist Morgan Hogue (Renee Elise Goldsberry) so she’ll write about the study’s potential for disproving racial stereotypes.
But when Morgan depicts Bill as a “revolutionary of sorts estranged from the white community,” he scrambles to kill the story. Charles hears about the incident and orders Bill to clear out his office.
“I can’t work in a hospital anymore. I can’t be beholden to others’ rules,” Bill admits, lamenting that his distinguished career as an obstetrician is over.
Bill’s personal life sustains a sharp blow when he goes to tell his research partner/lover Virginia about the setback and is shocked to see a young man, Shelley Decklin (Barry Watson), open the door. He’s Virginia’s secret beau — secret to Bill, at least.
“Virginia and I work together, that’s all,” Bill awkwardly says, hurrying to leave as a panic attack strikes.
In other developments, Betty Moretti (Annaleigh Ashford) reignites her lesbian love affair with Helen (Sarah Silverman). Betty offers to set up Helen in an apartment. And she urges Helen to stop dating Al (Johnny Sneed), a friend of Betty’s wealthy husband, Gene (Greg Grunberg).
“So you can stay married and I’m your what?” Helen warily asks. “Your mistress?”
Helen’s determination to wed Al for his money sends Betty into a jealous rage. She tells her husband she never wants to see the couple again — especially Helen.
Al knows the truth, however, and tells Gene about spotting Betty and Helen in a passionate lip lock.
“Who are you, Betty? Just tell me,” Gene demands. While he forgives his wife for once being a prostitute and for lying about her ability to bear children, he can’t accept her love for Helen. But Betty deeply cares for her husband, she insists.
“Care is what you have for a stray dog you find on the road,” Gene furiously responds. “Love is what you have with someone you share your bed with. I cannot sell myself this cheap!”
Lastly, Dr. Lillian DePaul (Julianne Nicholson) makes a fateful decision to end her cancer treatments. She figures a prolonged life is not worth the debilitating side effects.
“You can’t just give up,” Virginia pleads. “There could be a new trial a month from now, a new course of treatment!”
“I don’t want to spend what time I have left fighting a battle that I certainly will lose,” Lillian says resignedly. “And mostly, I don’t want to fight with you.”
Virginia gradually accepts this sad situation, but death comes much sooner than expected when Lillian intentionally overdoses on sleeping pills. Horrified at the discovery, Virginia calls for an ambulance then suddenly changes her mind.
She lets Lillian die on her own terms, gently hugging her friend until the final breath.