Striking out on his own after being fired from three hospitals in quick succession, Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) opens a clinic in a seedy St. Louis neighborhood on “Asterion,” Episode 207 of Showtime’s “Masters of Sex.”
Bill is finally free to conduct his controversial research on human sexual response without interference from hospital administrators. But if he doesn’t repay a hefty bank loan, his house is gone.
Wife Libby (Caitlin Fitzgerald), who just gave birth to a second child, learns about the loan when someone from the bank shows up to reassess the property.
“I didn’t realize it had been assessed in the first place,” Libby says, refusing to sell her home so the clinic can stay afloat. “If sacrifices have to be made, they’ll be made here, at work.”
Offering a solution to Bill’s cash-flow problem is his estranged mom, Estabrooks (Ann Dowd), who’s secretly spending time with Libby and the grandkids.
But mother and son haven’t spoken since Bill defiantly announced that he’s having sex with colleague Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) and has no intention of stopping. Bill also has no intention of accepting his mom’s financial aid, sparking a terrible fight with Libby.
“We are taking that money,” insists Libby, who vows to continue seeing her mother-in-law regardless of Bill’s admonitions.
“You deceived me! You went behind my back!” Bill angrily replies, still blaming Estabrooks for not protecting him many years ago from his abusive father. “The matter’s closed. You will not take that money!”
Adding to Bill’s stress is his questionable belief that Virginia betrayed him by taking up with a series of boyfriends. This emotional turmoil renders Bill impotent and vindictive.
“I suppose you could punish me forever, but it’s unreasonable. You go home to someone every night,” Virginia says, pointing out Bill’s hypocrisy.
Their undeclared war heats up when Bill has too much to drink at a party and insults Virginia’s latest beau, Kenny (Jeff Schine).
“I can wait here all night until you apologize,” Virginia says, confronting Bill with a steely glare.
Initially it appears Bill is sorry for his mean-spirited behavior. But soon it’s obvious that he’s cruelly mocking Virginia, accusing her of having a “faithless and fickle heart.”
Virginia tries to end the longstanding hostilities by emphasizing her deep attachment to Bill, saying it’s “hard to tell where you stop and I begin.”
“Aside from my children, everything I have is permanently, inexorably tied to this work, our work, to you,” Virginia says, adding that she almost felt sick when Bill departed after their sexual encounters and went home to his wife.
“Just because one goes home to someone, it doesn’t mean they’re not alone,” Bill sadly admits.
This candid talk begins to thaw Bill and Virginia’s icy relationship, for they promptly resume their affair-like participation in the sex study.
Bill’s relationship with his mother also thaws when he invites her to a barbecue celebrating the fiscal turnaround of the Masters and Johnson Clinic.
More patients are receiving fertility treatments, thus improving the bottom line. But Bill suspects his mom is quietly pitching in, although he’s not willing to closely examine the ledger.
“If I really looked at that,” Bill tells Estabrooks, “we’d be back at square one, wouldn’t we?”
“I had to help you, son,” she replies, tacitly expressing her remorse for not defending Bill during his traumatic childhood.
But there’s another reason Estabrooks provides assistance. She’s impressed with Bill’s pioneering research as he boldly flaunts societal taboos in the mid-20th century.
“I am so very proud of my son,” she says with a loving smile.