At the start of Masters of Sex‘s second season, Bill and Virginia made a pact to continue their study underneath the guise of their own sexual escapades at a nearby hotel. That game of pretend has remained a constant in their lives even a couple of years later, even if it came with requisite breaks. So, there is a bit of irony watching Bill complain about the presence of actors in a CBS-taped segment about the sex study, which he fears will make their work more crude and superficial than it should be. How dare the director assign actors to play the roles of sexually dysfunctional people, he asserts. It trivializes all that he and Virginia stand for. Yet, haven’t the sexual adventures between him and his lab partner been a kind of performance, as well?
Standing in stark contrast to last week’s dimly lit hour of Masters of Sex, “One for the Money, Two for the Show” is a bright, chipper and often funny episode. (Bright lights are appropriate, given the presence of a TV crew.) It also features some of the best work of the show’s most underrated star, Caitlin Fitzgerald, even if her storyline continues to be a stretch. However, let us chalk up her outstanding turn this week, as well as some appealing bits with the CBS crew, into a victory over some of the more forced elements of the episode that do not work at all.
With Francis and Pauline far away in Kansas City, the focus this week turns back to the study itself. (Unfortunately, the great two-person scenes between Barbara and Lester from “Below the Belt” do not reappear here, as Betsy Brandt gets the week off.) PR specialist Shep (Adam Arkin) has paved his way on his promise to get a CBS crew to give the sex study a face (or two) in a feature news segment. Shep refers to what has since become a classic instance of the medium being the message: Kennedy’s triumph on a televised presidential debate with Nixon due to the former’s gleaming smile. To those who listened to the radio, Nixon was the victor.
To show off the merits of the study in a visual context gives it more credibility with the public, Shep argues. On that account, Virginia is the suave Kennedy, effortlessly charming and conversational to the camera. Bill, meanwhile, is a frosty Nixon (see what I did there?), averting his eyes from the camera and making stiff points about his work. To his chagrin, Bill has to wear concealer (to block out the black eye from his fight with Francis) and lose the bowtie, so as to look less like a medical professional. He also has to use euphemisms. The only time where Bill is excited is when he talks about his sorrow of having to censor his language due to CBS demands; to him, he hopes his study can bring one closer to a time when words like ‘orgasm’ and ‘masturbation’ have a place on primetime television. “Censorship perpetuates shame,” he says, referring to the “danger to shy away from the language of the body.”
As Bill and Virginia make the nightly news and create water-cooler conversation, their partners are taking big leaps of their own. Virginia’s ex-husband, George (Mather Zickel), wants to bring her kids with him and his new wife on a trip to Europe. Unsurprisingly, she initially refuses this call, although he later responds with an argument that she spends a lot of time away from home anyway.
Meanwhile, Libby is trying her best to keep composed after she realizes her husband create rather amazing chemistry with Virginia on camera. She makes a point earlier in the episode that she and Virginia are dressed almost identically, but she then notices that her husband is reacting to only one kind of fit.