'Masters of Sex' season finale: How does it compare to real life?

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Image Credit: Craig Blankenhorn/SHOWTIME

If you haven’t watched the season finale of Masters of Sex yet, go ahead and catch up before this post spoils everything and you’re forced to console yourself with help from Ulysses.

If, however, you saw Dr. Bill Masters (Michael Sheen) profess his love for Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) in the pouring rain, you’re either dying to know what’s going to happen next, or you suddenly have an inexplicable craving to watch a Nicholas Sparks movie.

Me? I wanted to see how much of Masters and Johnson’s real story had been fictionalized in the service of a good cliffhanger. So I went straight to the book that inspired the series, Thomas Maier’s Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love. Okay, so I also used Google. Here’s what I found.

Was Virginia ever conflicted about accepting Bill’s “indecent proposal” in the first place?
Not so much. According to Maier, Bill hired Virginia specifically to be his sexual partner, and Virginia was fully aware of this when she signed on in 1957. “I was not comfortable with it, particularly,” she told Maier in an interview. “I didn’t want him at all, and had no interest in him.” They had sex almost nightly for more than a decade, with Bill instructing Virginia to “remain as professional as possible” so that their encounters would not “venture beyond the scope of scientific inquiry.” Decades later, Virginia claimed that she’d agreed to this simply because, as a single mother, she needed a job.

Did other doctors humiliate Virginia for making “sexy” movies, like they did in the season finale?
Apparently, yes. Maier’s book claims that other medical practitioners slut-shamed Virginia, making inappropriate comments about the movies and photos she appeared in for research purposes. And according to Susan Stiritz, senior lecturer and coordinator of sexuality studies at Washington University’s Brown School, Virginia never quite got over it. She even declined to accept an award at a 2012 ceremony, organized by Stiritz and her colleagues, because of the bad memories. “She told me, ‘I just want to put this whole thing behind me. It’s too painful,’” says Stiritz.

Was university provost Barton Scully actually gay?
Well, Barton (Beau Bridges) didn’t technically exist. Masters of Sex showrunner Michelle Ashford created the TV character as a composite of several men Bill knew. The actual Washington University provost wasn’t gay—at least, not to Ashford’s knowledge. But she recently told The Backlot, “[Bill] did have an opportunity to know a gay man who was in a position of power at the University. When, in fact, Masters realized the guy was gay is open to interpretation, but it’s not completely made up.” Also, much like Barton’s character, Bill and Virginia were interested in learning how to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality. Their later studies about this were controversial, to say the least.

Did Libby have a baby boy in real life, and if so, what became of him?
His name is William Howell Masters III, and being the son of a famous sex researcher couldn’t have been easy on him. Last year, he was arrested for public exposure—twice—once for masturbating in Central Park, and once for exposing himself to a sheriff’s deputy and another woman on a Michigan river.

Will Bill end up leaving Libby next season?
Probably not yet. The couple didn’t divorce until 1971. At that point, Virginia was dating perfume executive Hank Walter, who had collaborated with her and Bill on pheromone research at the hospital. When Hank proposed to Virginia, Bill grew afraid that the relationship would threaten his work. So, not long after publishing their study Human Sexual Inadequacy, he split with Libby and persuaded Virginia to marry him instead. Maier claims that they had less sex as a married couple than they did as coworkers.

Was Bill really in love with Virginia?
It’s complicated. “When they married in 1971, they did so as much for business reasons — keeping their brand-name partnership together — as for love,” Maier wrote earlier this year in London’s Sunday Times. “Twenty years later they divorced, without children. They told friends and family that they had never loved each other, though their close collaboration and fascination with each other belied that claim.” Virginia’s own account of their partnership didn’t stray too far from that assessment. Back in 1994, she told the New York Times, “We kind of belonged to other people, not ourselves. We thought in terms of our work and what we hoped to accomplish, not a private or social life.”

How long did they stay together?
Twenty years passed before Bill left Virginia to reunite with Geraldine Baker Oliver, the sister of his college roommate. Back in college, Maier explains, Bill sent Geraldine two dozen roses and a love note, but she had never acknowledged them. At age 79, he learned that she’d never received the flowers, and he proposed. After the divorce, Virginia told the New York Times that letters poured in from distraught fans, psychoanalyzing the split, which amused her. “There was an assumption we had had a sexual problem,” she said. “It was like, ‘Poor things, can we help you?’”

Did Virginia reunite with any old boyfriends? Whatever happened to that guy she tells Ethan about?
On the show, Virginia tells Ethan (Nicholas D’Agosto) that she lost her virginity to Gordon Garrett, noting that their high school yearbook predicted she would marry him one day, though their relationship didn’t work out. “He was destined to be a farmer and I was destined to be … something else,” she says. In the comments section of this recap, Maier confirms the truth of this story, right down to boyfriend’s real name. (Virginia called him “the boy with the fiery red hair.”) He also told the Sunday Times that Virginia spent her final years in a “Proustian search” for Gordon. Sadly, she was single when she died earlier this year.

More on EW.com
‘Masters of Sex,’ TV review
‘Masters of Sex’ wardrobe designer on the show’s come-hither costumes
Golden Globes: The surprise TV nominations we’d like to see

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