When a television series tries to do something a bit more unconventional and inventive, such as stop for a bottle episode like in last week’s “Fight,” it runs the risk of sputtering when it finally returns to its regular pace. Masters of Sex, however, does that and then rushes ahead with forced or uncharacteristic moments that feel like they could have used another episode to fully reinforce. In an attempt to push the drama forward, “Dirty Jobs” tries to balance an array of subplots and get them to a certain end point, but it does not hold together quite as tightly as episode scribe Steven Levenson probably hoped for.
There are a lot of characters that appear prominently in “Dirty Jobs,” many of whom are trying to set a path that they can be proud of and happy with. Virginia is still nagging Bill to ensure that she can be his research assistant so that she can stop pushing diet pills. Bill is trying to convince Greathouse of this, as well, but to less success. Betty wants Bill to do something so that she can have a happy life with her new husband, and not admit that she has had her tubes tied. DePaul wants her work to go places and help out the women who can use it. Libby wants her son to grow up happy and healthy.
Of course, very little of this goes according to plan, and so much of “Dirty Jobs” is watching these characters react to bad news and spiral out of control. Bill is disgruntled that Greathouse and his board of doctors did not even consider Virginia to help out with his study, and enraged, he punches the head of his hospital and stuffs egg rolls in his staff’s faces. When Johnny gets lice, Libby becomes cruel, degrading Coral into putting the shampoo to treat the little bugs into her hair by pushing her against the sink. DePaul leaves her work in the hands of Dr. Papanikolaou (René Auberjonois), a rash decision likely spawned by how she cannot trust Virginia to reveal her affair with Bill, in confidence.
DePaul’s stubborn head is not much of a surprise, but Bill’s sudden violence feels more symbolic – he foreshadowed by his monologue about boxing from last week’s episode – than convincing. Meanwhile, Libby’s continued cruelty to Coral feels overwhelming. The character has shown coldness and disgust before, but never with such a venomous rage. It felt like both Masters needed more scenes of despair and disgust before they unleashed their wrath at unsuspecting victims. While Masters of Sex does not spiral out of control completely, this fourth episode feels like an attempt to mix two episodes worth of exposition and character development into one stew that is overwrought and undercooked.
Even if some of the characters’ actions were contrived, there were enough lovely moments to ensure that the hour was not a complete waste. Considering how so much of Masters of Sex’s drama relies on secrets and lies, it was fascinating to watch how Langham’s recognition of Bill and Virginia’s relationship – he sees them at the hotel, one he conveniently stayed in with his kids – had an effect on three different characters.
When he mentions it to Virginia the next day, she denies the affair with such ease, it is as if she knew in her head exactly how to shove it aside in conversation if anyone asked. When he mentions it to DePaul, she gives him a stone face. (One really cunning high point of the episode: he asks her about how long she knew about the relationship, but she mishears the question as how long she knew about her disease. It’s a very clever way of letting DePaul hear the reveal.) When he mentions it to Bill, the sex doctor stands like a statue, trying to figure out how to move along with things now that his “affair” is exposed.