‘Masters of Sex’ Breakdown: ‘Parallax’

SPOILER ALERT, so don’t screw around…

Season Two, Episode One: “Parallax”

Written by Michelle Ashford; Directed by Michael Apted

When Masters of Sex premiered on Showtime last summer, it surprised audiences and critics with its intriguing look at the groundbreaking real-life sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. The show, which has garnered critical praise and just nabbed three Emmy nominations, returned Sunday night with the first episode of the second season. “Parallax” saw all the characters picking up the pieces from Bill’s disastrous presentation and firing in the season one finale.

Quick Breakdown

The episode opens with a close-up of Bill in the dark staring at the TV. In the distance, we hear the crying of a baby (obviously he is at home with Libby and his new son). We then get the first of many flashbacks to the last scene of season one: Bill arriving at Virginia’s to confess he needed her.

The flashback confirms the two had sex, which is significant in the fact that it was their first time to do so outside the confines of the study. Now they can’t use the study as the excuse. (Or can they?)

The next morning, we see Virginia coming into work at the hospital. A doctor follows her into the bathroom and approaches her about going out with him. She ends up kneeing him in the balls to escape, and Dr. Langham witnesses the encounter.

We learn over breakfast with Dr. Langham that Virginia has been getting approached (or perhaps “harassed” would be a better term) by many doctors as the hospital who are convinced she was the woman in the video that Bill showed at his presentation. She tells Dr. Langham someone even left a dildo on her car.

Virginia is still working for Dr. DePaul, but her funding isn’t as great as Bill’s, which means Virginia’s pay is not enough to support her. Dr. Langham suggests she start selling diet pills, which his wife has taken up doing. He says she’s made enough money to buy new clothes and French lingerie. He also confirms his wandering days are over (but I don’t believe him).

Virginia takes his suggestion and goes to see the diet pill lady. At the “headquarters,” the woman blows smoke in Virginia’s face (literally) and tells her to stick to the script — that she’ll be fine. Virginia isn’t so sure, but she takes the pills anyway.

Meanwhile, Bill is with Barton Scully, who is going through with his first electroshock treatment for his homosexuality (which is as horrible as you might imagine). Bill is there to take him home when he is done. Afterwards, Barton wakes up confused and throws up on Bill. As they leave, Bill tries to convince him not to continue with treatment. He tells him there’s little evidence that it works, but Barton is convinced this is the best choice.

We then get a scene of Bill going into a hotel room (the timeline is a little unclear until the end of the episode). He takes a shower and thinks back to the night he went to Virginia’s.

In this flashback, we get their reactions after having sex. They mention not having the wires on, and Virginia even jokes, “Then how can we possibly interpret what’s happened here?” The phone rings, and she says how it’s Ethan and tells Bill that he asked her to marry him. We hear her answer the phone and say, “things have changed.” But the focus remains on Bill’s face, which shows perhaps a glimmer of regret or sadness or maybe just the realization that things truly have changed.

The next day, Libby brings her baby into the hospital for a three-week checkup and has an awkward interaction with the doctor about Bill. He says he’s surprised she is willing to come back after what happened with Bill and his study. Then he makes a terrible comparison between Bill and a mass-murderer and says, “You never know what will happen after you say, ‘I do.”

Afterward, Libby finds Virginia in the cafeteria, unsuccessfully trying to hock her diet pills. Libby wants Virginia’s advice about how to get Bill back to work. Virginia is always less uncomfortable in these scenes with Libby than you might expect. The only thing she offers is that you can’t force Bill to do anything.


That night, Libby pushes Bill to go to a charity event for measles run by a big wig at Memorial Hospital that could offer Bill a job. Bill is clearly uncomfortable and not one to suck up to people.

While there, he sees Betty (the former prostitute who helped Bill last season) and her new husband (the Pretzel King). They begin talking and Bill mentions his study. The Pretzel King has an idea. He ends up donating a large sum to Memorial Hospital in exchange for them hiring Bill and funding his sex study (never underestimate a pretzel guy).

This later leads to an uncomfortable dinner with the guy from the hospital and Libby, who didn’t fully realize the terms of the job offer. It seems she was hoping the study might be over.

Meanwhile, Barton is eager to prove his electroshock is working, so he goes into the bathroom, looks at gay porn, gets an erection, and then goes to see his wife in bed. He tries to quickly get to it, but Margaret is a little unsure especially when he asks her to turn over (facing away from him). She tells him, “You can’t pretend I’m something else.”

He’s desperate to prove it works and gets frustrated with her, losing his erection. (There’s such a sadness in these scenes and both Janney and Bridges knock them out of the park, which why both earned Emmy nods for season one).

We then see Virginia going to the same hotel that Bill was at earlier. Carrying a suitcase, she goes into the room and says, “Hello, Dr. Holden” to Bill. We then get yet another flashback of the fateful night, but this time more from her perspective. We also hear Ethan’s side of the phone call as she breaks up with him. (Poor Ethan.)

The next morning, Libby asks Bill to stay home with the baby so she can go to a women’s social lunch to help “mend” their status in society. Bill, who is very uncomfortable with the idea of fatherhood, is less than pleased. The baby begins to cry, and Bill responds by putting a record on loudly. (Good parenting tip.)

Unfortunately, his mother stops by and tries to convince him to change, which leads to a blow up between them. Bill confesses he is sleeping with Virginia and has no plans to stop and that he’s become his father — and hers, too.

When Libby returns, the baby is quiet and his mother is gone. He tells her that his mother is going back to Ohio and that’s final — but also that she can hire help. (Oh, wealthy white people.)

At the hospital, Dr. DePaul finds Virginia’s diet pills and doesn’t approve of the idea of her selling them in hospital or at all. Dr. DePaul has a black eye, which Virginia questions, but she gets no answers.

A frantic Dr. Langham, who dives into their office to hide, interrupts their conversation. His wife and kids are coming down the hall, and she’s screaming for him. Virginia goes out to try to calm her down, but his wife grabs the intercom mic and announces that Dr. Langham has been sleeping with her sister. (Well, that’s something.)

Back at the Scully’s, Barton watches out the window as his wife and daughter leave to go shopping. When they return, they find Barton in the basement in the middle of a failed suicide attempt by hanging. They frantically get him down and save his life.

That night Bill goes to see Barton unexpectedly, but Margaret tells him that he’s busy and can’t see him. She clearly doesn’t want anyone to know what happened. Bill tells her that he got a new job.

We then get one last flashback to the hotel, where Bill and Virginia meet to discuss their night together. It’s the night after, and we learn the hotel is a half hour outside of town. Virginia tells him, ““It’s a rare man who can understand a woman who chooses work over love.” Implying that she doesn’t love him, but loves the work?

This clearly isn’t what Bill had in mind, but he quickly readjusts his idea and goes back to the old excuse of the study and how maybe they are missing something psychological about sex with all the wires. He says they should continue having sex, but how it’s not an affair and she needs to understand that. (People can convince themselves of a lot.)

Bill then goes to the hotel desk and requests a room for “Dr. Francis Holden” and his wife, which explains the other hotel scenes. Clearly, they have been using this hotel frequently.



This was a strong opening to the new season and provided plenty of new challenges, but it also helped tie up or reshape storylines from season one (like Barton’s). It will be interesting to see Bill in a new hospital environment and to see Virginia continue to struggle with her multiple duties. It also left lots of good questions: How will the Pretzel King influence the study? Will Libby stand up to Bill or figure out what’s happening? What’s going on with Dr. DePaul’s health? Where do Barton and Margaret go from here?

Now for some random thoughts and my favorite moments of the night…

Wow, those racist jokes at that measles charity were something…

Margaret reading Lolita before Barton comes in for their awkward sexual time.

Dr. DePaul and Virginia’s talk about being “careful” was a great moment.

The final scene with Virginia and Bill was perfectly written and acted.

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