At the end of “Giants,” Courtney B. Vance’s Dr. Hendricks makes an impassioned speech to Bill and Virginia. He voices his disappointment that two iconoclasts who steered a sex study at a renowned hospital are doing such a pat job at getting patients to simply come in to Buell Green, a hospital that serves a mainly African-American crowd, for consultation. By showing a girl having an orgasm on film, Bill and Virginia were trying to get an audience of doctors and scientists to realize that sex may be a taboo subject but it is a pertinent thing to understand. It may be uncomfortable, Hendricks reminds them, but it is important. Similarly, as racial tensions heat up at Buell Green with their arrival on staff, Bill and Virginia have to remember that there is still significant work to do. There are social obstacles, but they are small in comparison to struggles they have seen before.
There are moments in “Giants” that are among some of the most potent commentaries about race and gender that Masters of Sex has ever explored. Even if we do not like how all of the characters respond to confronting the changing social mores of the time (i.e. the integration of women into the workplace and African-Americans into a more dominant position in society), the series continues to be some compelling television.
This week, Bill and Virginia are beginning to work from Buell Green. They are in a minority of whites who work at this institution. Regardless, there is a bit of reluctance for Bill to embrace his new position, no matter how much he grits his teeth to say how pleased he is with the job. He can hardly make eye contact with Hendricks or Dr. Franklin, the latter whom sacrificed his office to ensure that Bill had a working operating room. Predictably, some of Bill’s old patients are not thrilled to park their car in such a “troubling” neighborhood, and decide to cancel their appointments. Bill’s stellar reputation in the field is worth little if the place he works in is one of ill repute.
Meanwhile, Libby is having a difficult time accepting her own mistakes. After forcing Coral under a faucet in “Dirty Jobs” last week, she has a tense encounter with Coral’s boyfriend, Robert. He tells Libby, sweetly and sternly, not to treat his girl badly ever again. It is a serious conversation and Libby may understand that his approach was reasonable. However, she is not willing to accept that her behavior was unfounded; instead of acknowledging her error, she exaggerates to Bill the extent that Robert pushed her around at the front door.
Other culture writers, such as this one, have spoken about the strange characterization of Libby this season. After being one of the most undeservedly under-developed portions of season one, the way that she social climbs, tries to assert power and holds Coral and her boyfriend to a lower value is both fitting and strange. She wants to wield power, but she should also sympathize with a young woman who feels pushed around by patriarchal forces. Now that Libby realizes she needs to let her fragility go, there certainly is room for the character to misplace her level of control and power, though.
In the meantime, Caitlin Fitzgerald continues to do ace work, although as an increasingly difficult character to like. Her power trip over Coral felt unreasonably over-the-top; in retrospect, her snide remarks about grammar were more in character. (Remember: she had a small Douglas Sirk-ian friendship with an African-American handyman, Walter, last season.) One wishes Masters of Sex’s writing staff would do a finer job at outlining the tensions within the character that is causing her to react in such an overwrought way.