'Masters of Sex' recap: What's a man? Bill reveals traumatic past

'You think I wanted that? Something you'd pay a nickel to see on the boardwalk in Atlantic City?'

The question of what it means to be a man -- or a boy -- dramatically plays out in a hotel suite, operating room and boxing ring on “Fight,” Episode 203 of Showtime’s “Masters of Sex.”

When he’s not researching human sexual response, Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) delivers babies. All goes well initially as he helps Francine Bombeck (Sarah Sido) give birth. Then a nurse makes a startling discovery.

Although genetically a boy, the child has male and female genitalia.

Francine remains positive, saying she and her husband, Nate (Josh Randall), always wanted a boy. But Nate is embarrassed and mad about his son’s rare condition.

“You think I wanted that?” he angrily asks. “Something you’d pay a nickel to see on the boardwalk in Atlantic City?”

Scorning Bill’s advice to contact a specialist, Nate jumps to a rash conclusion.

“He’ll never be a man,” the father insists. “So cut it off!”

“You’re going to take some time to become informed -- let your mouth catch up with your mind,” Bill sternly responds. “And you will come to accept that your son -- your son -- has a condition that can and will be corrected.”

When Bill meets his colleague/lover Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) at a posh hotel, he’s still fuming about the day’s events. Taking out his frustration on Virginia, he presses her hard against the bathroom wall during sex.

Airing on TV during their tryst is the classic 1958 boxing match between champion Archie Moore and Yvon Durelle. The French-Canadian challenger topples Moore three times in the first round, much to Bill’s chagrin. But Moore somehow withstands the pummeling and triumphs in the 11th round.

Emotion generated by this bloody bout prompts Bill and Virginia to open up about traumatic experiences. They don’t do so directly, preferring role play instead.

Virginia goes first, concocting a story -- or maybe it’s the truth -- about her first romance. She fell for an Army captain, made love in a honeysuckle grove and thought she’d found the man of her dreams. Virginia learned a painful lesson, however, when he jilted her to marry another woman.

“Sex is fine,” she summarizes. “Enjoy it if and when you can. It’s a biological function. But play it safe. Keep your heart out of it, locked away someplace safe -- like a bank vault.”

Then it’s Bill’s turn. Previously tight-lipped about his upbringing, he tells of being abandoned at a boarding school by his bullying father. At the tender age of 14, Bill had to fend for himself.

Tough as that was, perhaps it was better than the mistreatment Bill endured at home. He could have stopped the beatings by begging for mercy but never did. He “took it like a man.”

But you were just a boy, Virginia protests, and there’s “no shame in saying you’ve had enough.”

“I don’t want my son to be a boxer,” she says. “When he’s hurt, I don’t want him to act like he’s not.” Physical abuse, Virginia adds, is not the kind of suffering that’s “going to make him a man.”

Bill tearfully nods in agreement.

Before leaving the hotel, Bill calls to check on the Bombeck baby. Shocked to hear the newborn is undergoing genital surgery, Bill rushes to stop it.

“Think it through,” Bill pleads with the father. “This is irreversible. You have a son. I’m begging you. Let him be who he is -- a boy!”

But it’s too late. A general surgeon reading a medical text performed the life-changing procedure. The baby boy is now a girl.

“We’re naming her Sarah,” the dad haughtily says. “Better a tomboy than a sissy.”

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