In the first season of Masters of Sex, Libby Masters, Bill's ignored wife, was a largely sympathetic character, one that made audiences question their involvement in Bill and Virginia's relationship. But last night's episode turned Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald) callous.
Coral, the African American nanny hired to help care for the Masters' baby, has brought out Libby's truly insidious side in the second season. Libby has revealed her patronizing form of intolerance, steadily isolating Coral (Keke Palmer) even while professing to take her under her wing. But any sense that Libby was simply misguided and not, on some level, cruel, goes away in "Dirty Jobs." Libby not only embarrasses Coral in front of a group of women, correcting her pronunciation and urging her to be quiet even after she was asked a question. Then, the baby gets lice, and she orders Coral to wash her hair even though Coral explains that she doesn't have lice and that she can't afford to get her hair redone. In a galling scene, Libby washes Coral's hair, not because she necessarily believes Coral had lice, but because she wants Coral to prove her loyalty. Libby sees the hair-washing as a way of asserting herself independent of her husband, who Coral had turned to after Libby blamed her for spreading lice to the baby. But to the audience, Libby now looks villainous.
I want to resist comparing Masters of Sex to Mad Men men too much because the show is much more than a simple copycat, despite some similarities, but what was impressive about the way the show treated Libby last season was that she was an anti-Betty Draper. "Where Betty is often petty and selfish, at times even vindictive, Libby is genuinely decent," Richard Lawson wrote in his review of the show last year. "That might sound tedious, who wants to watch someone be good all the time, but the way FitzGerald and the writers are exploring Libby's emotional landscape thus far makes the character as surprising and engaging as she would be if she was sleeping around or telling other dangerous lies." In the first season, warm feelings toward Libby complicated how an audience viewed Bill and Virginia's relationship. Making Libby cold and unlikable feels ultimately unfair, and allows the audience to do away with some of the moral queasiness associated with rooting for infidelity, even as characters on the show, like Dr. Langham, are challenging Bill's actions.
That's not to say Libby is entirely unappealing in the episode, nor that desperation doesn't color all of her actions. FitzGerald does a wonderful job of conveying her pain in learning that, once again, her husband has kept her in the dark after he was fired from Memorial. It's also clear that the show is not done dealing with race relations, considering the final shot of the episode finds Bill taking his study to a black hospital. Libby's actions in "Dirty Jobs" were inexcusable, but hopefully the show won't forget the Libby we knew in the first season, making her a fuller character rather than a weaker one.