“Masters Of Sex” Kills A Lesbian Character, Can Somebody Pass The Potatoes

This week on Showtime’s very upsetting show Masters of Sex, we revisited the only lesbian couple, office assistant Betty Moretti (Annaleigh Ashford) and her pregnant girlfriend Helen (Sarah Silverman). Are you still watching Masters of Sex? Is anyone? I feel like the only person who can’t stop watching this show, even though every week it makes me want to throw myself off the Park Chancery Hotel. Our girl Betty’s been through a lot on this show, first introduced as the madam of a brothel Dr. Masters conducted research in, then as the plucky secretary of the clinic, and more recently as Helen’s devoted girlfriend. Ever since she was first introduced, it’s been obvious that Betty can’t catch a break, but she’s clever, funny and resourceful – easily one of the most endearing characters in the show’s repertoire.

Masters of Sex has followed Betty and Helen through the trials and tribulations that ostensibly would plague a lesbian couple during the time period of the show (are we still in the 1960s? Hard to say!). Unable to commit to each other in any kind of legal or even particularly public way, Betty and Helen attempted to forge relationships of convenience with men, with heart-wrenching results. Ultimately, the pair ended up living together and fellow homosexual Dr. Scully even helped Helen become pregnant! These guys were really defying the odds! Last week, Helen came clean to her parents about her relationship with Betty and although her parents didn’t take the news well, it seemed enormously ambitious for a show about queer people in such a conservative landscape. I don’t know why I thought this might end well.

When we meet Betty and Helen this week, they’re having a tender moment in bed as they adorably fake-argue about the gender of their imminent new addition. Helen had a dream about her now-estranged parents and she’s feeling oddly optimistic about the whole thing! “They still rejected me, rejected us… but when they left, I waved goodbye and they blew me a kiss! And it was really OK, and it wasn’t sad anymore, ’cause when I turned around, you and our baby girl were standing there and that’s when I knew how happy I was, how happy I’m gonna be – just you and me and Sweet Pea. A family. Aren’t we lucky?” It’s very dreamy and very obviously a setup for everything to be terrible forever.


“Oh shit, I just remembered – we’re two women in love on a television show.”

When Helen finally goes into labor, they go to none other than esteemed Dr. Scully, who is much more understanding of Helen and Betty’s situation than any other doctor would be, but Betty still isn’t allowed in the delivery room. It’s mentioned a couple of times that Helen had quite a lot of blood when her water broke, but all the (male) doctors are like, “LOL that could be anything, probably everything’s fine. Why don’t you have a seat and read a ladies’ magazine and we’ll come get you if anything changes?” To his credit, Dr. Scully is charming and reassuring when he informs Helen that the baby is breech and odds are good he’ll need to perform a C-section. Betty hovers nervously in the waiting room, in no way comforted by the fact that her partner is being operated on by one of the best doctors in the business, a close family friend who has her best interests at heart. She knows she is a queer woman on television. She knows what’s coming.

Dr. Scully brings Betty and Dr. Masters in just as the baby is born, and congratulations – it’s a girl, and she’s healthy and fine! However, Helen is SHOCKINGLY in bad shape, and even though Dr. Masters scrubs up to help out, even the two best doctors in the entire known universe could not save her. Helen dies of disseminated intravascular coagulation; she bleeds out on the operating table despite her doctors’ best efforts. While still reeling from this news, Betty visits the nursery in order to finally hold the daughter that she’s been kept from through antiquated laws and red tape. Instead, she sees Helen’s estranged parents holding her child, and a nurse sternly tells her that the family have made it very clear that she is not welcome. After struggling constantly to create a family for herself and Helen, Betty is left with no girlfriend, no daughter and seemingly no hope. It’s a devastating turn for a beloved character.



According to Masters of Sex creator Michelle Ashford (via Entertainment Weekly), the character of Helen existed mainly so that Betty (a former sex worker) would have a stable relationship. “What we wanted to show is ultimately that Betty and Helen were women of substance and commitment to one another,” she explained, “They were trying to do something in an age when there was hardly any roadmap for this.” Apparently, Betty will have a much more involved story going forwards in season four, though it won’t all be tears and misery (just mostly that!): “So what we’re going to watch is how she [Betty] actually subverts a system that has nothing but roadblocks and actually finds a way to end up with the most bizarre family imaginable.” Sounds fun!

Showtime, you did not have to kill Helen in order to give Betty substance. This was cruel.

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Stef Schwartz is a founding member and the self-appointed Vapid Fluff Editor at Autostraddle.com. She currently resides in New York City, where she spends her days writing songs nobody will ever hear and her nights telling much more successful musicians what to do. Follow her on twitter and/or instagram.

Stef has written 464 articles for us.


  1. It’s most painful when you don’t expect it. I don’t want to go into any queer female relationship on TV believing that one or the other will die, but then I get angry at myself for not expecting it. And the cycle continues.

    How about Helen goes into a coma, and the family won’t let Betty see her, and also takes the baby? Not much better, but still the character impetus they’re presumably looking for in order for Betty to “subvert the system”, or whatever.

    • honestly even when they mentioned the blood thirty thousand times i was still surprised and FURIOUS with myself for not catching it earlier. that fucking dream description scene is gut-wrenching when you know it’s coming.

      • Like it would be perfectly easy to illustrate the issues with 1960/70s custody laws etc without either woman dying or even getting sick

  2. This is fucking appalling. I really, REALLY loved this show in season 1, but have sadly fallen WAAAAAY behind, but I’ve been meaning to catch up. Now it looks like I probably don’t have to bother. This is seriously so disappointing.

  3. These writers are lazy, lazy lazy. There is no excuse for this at this point.

    Also can we talk about how many years have passed on this show? It seems to have been like at least fifteen? Betty and Virginia look GREAT for their age.

  4. I would like to say that I’m shocked by this, but I’m not, and that’s the sad part. I think Queer women everywhere go into these shows assuming at least one of the queer women (if there is even more than one!) is going to die. The lazy writing just needs to stop.

  5. The writers on this show pull out the big book of lesbian clichés constantly. They have no clue what to do without it. Lesbian couple who’s major plot is to have a baby? Cliche. They have to sleep with a man to do it? Cliche. Now this. Unimaginative hacks.

  6. well i can’t blame of who they are what they feel they are also human,each of us has a different feelings what to do is just “respect”

  7. why can’t they do a TG M to F where it is not a reality show but a fictional BUT uses a real TS that plays the part. Ok , and the TG in the show ia staying married to her female wife. ??? Sorry i have a lot of time to think about this.

  8. I love Lizzy Caplan so much that I overlooked the growing problematic issues and lazy writing on this show for the first two seasons before checking out. I’m glad I did, so as to avoid this shit show of a plot line.

    Has Dr. Masters gotten any more redeemable as a main character? My biggest issue with the show was that he never seemed to grow or change at all, and was just consistently a garbage human that somehow still managed to keep two incredible women in his life.

    • he has grown and changed, though not in particularly believable ways. he did get the kids a dog. libby has gotten about 1000% more likable although also not necessarily in ways that made sense for her character.

      • the funny thing is that MOS has basically made me hate Bill’s guts, when it turns out that in real life Michael Sheen seems like a cool co-parent with Kate Beckinsale and partner of Sarah Silverman and just generally nice smiling person but I am like YOU ARE OBSESSED WITH YOUR WORK! YOU ARE REMOTE AND EVERYONE YOU ARE CLOSE TO WILL SPEND THE REST OF THEIR LIVES FILLING THE CRATER OF YOUR RELATIONSHIPS oh wait he’s an actor playing a part.

    • I spent the first 3 seasons yelling at the TV a lot because Bill is just The Worst, but he’s actually been getting more likable this season. I mean, he’s no Virginia or anything, but I find myself feeling for him now and then. According to the showrunner, this mirrors the real life Masters who I guess grew to be less of an asshole as time went on.

  9. Raise your hand if you have been watching this show from day 1 just to watch Janis Ian look gorgeous in period clothing

      • me, watching masters of sex, eating some kind of heavy carby snack, watching naked lizzy caplan writhe around: “oh, that’s what i’d look like if i exercised.”

        • YES Stef. I mean, you are basically Janis Ian after she grew up and moved to the big city and embraced her amorphous weirdoness.

          Come to think of it, I’ve never seen you and Lizzy Caplan in the same room.

  10. “ehi.. let’s kill a lesbian and be the other one be rejected so that Bill and Virginia can hold hands!”

  11. It’s probably time someone started handing out fresh buckets of sand for TV writers to bury their heads in. I was planning on catching up with this season, now I don’t have to bother.

  12. The fact that “..it seemed enormously ambitious for a show about queer people in such a conservative landscape. I don’t know why I thought this might end well.” – is such a recurring sentiment, is so fricking sad. The details vary here and there but it just keeps happening in the exact same arcs. It’s just really sad that once you see a queer couple/character achieve any sliver of happiness, you just know dead is around the corner.

  13. It’s got to the point now where I’m now actively avoiding any TV show with queer female characters in it until the entire series has finished so I don’t have to go through this anymore.

    Except for the Walking Dead because we already know anyone who isn’t Rick or Carl will die at some point.

    • it’s chill, all the queer women who ever lived already died so only tara exists and she can’t get a date ever again now that denise is dead so she may as well get turned into a walker in the premiere, yeah?

  14. Arghh! They love the narrative where us lessees are never happy.
    This is why we need to make our own films!

  15. I am so done with watching my representation die. There’s almost none let? Lgbt-fans deserve better indeed

  16. Michelle Ashford saying this worries me tbh: “So what we’re going to watch is how she [Betty] actually subverts a system that has nothing but roadblocks and actually finds a way to end up with the most bizarre family imaginable.”

    I only imagine what that bizarre family is going to be and I bet my own first born it involves a man(again!). A recurrring theme in Betty storylines.

    Honestly, the only reasons I tried to stick it out with Masters of Sex were the Betty and Gini characters but they ran the latter’s characterization into the fucking ground and consistently give Betty these “wasn’t being a homosexual just awful back then” storylines. Every single one of her storylines is exactly that. Betty exists to suffer. We get it Michelle Ashford. Yet somehow I expect an interview any day now about how this totally doesn’t fall into the Bury Your Gays trope using the same excuses every single one of these showrunners have used this past year because their killing their lesbian and bi women is “different” this time.

  17. Ugh I knew the second she described that way-too-happy dream that something completely horrible was going to happen. I had really been liking this season too, thought it was their best yet with Bill becoming slightly less of a douche, Libby becoming a badass feminist, and the team dealing with more interesting sexual issues.

    Poor Betty. She deserves happiness! (With Virginia.) (Yeah I ship it.)

  18. “And to add insult to injury they styled her like Jerri Blank.” Haha that was perfect! Also, this show, why? Just… ugh.

  19. Holy shitballs, that is depressing… Now I’m really, really glad I never started watching this show, I toyed with the thought a few times… But damn, just imagining her standing there having just lost her girlfriend and watching her parents take the child I legitimately, physically felt that sinking sensation in my gut (you know which one I’m talking about) and I had zero connection to these characters, zero knowledge about their relationship, didn’t watch a single second of the show, not even a trailer, didn’t see the scene in question and this piece was literally my only exposure to these women… and it still hit me like a truck, go figure… Really didn’t need this news today, but oh well, what’re ya gonna do, huh? Let them be happy? Oh, please… /s

  20. Heart wrenchingly disappointing, indeed. But this felt like honest storytelling to me and that’s my hope is for all queer stories (even in this post-apocalyptic clexaverse). I hope the difficult realities faced by women like Betty are given voice in honest non-gratuitous ways for generations to come so that generations will know and learn. At the same time, I will also be advocating for plucky romantic comedies and melodramas where queer characters getting their happily ever after endings just like all those brainwashed heteros do. There is a time and place for all of it. The time is now, but this show is not the place for happily ever afters, if anyone’s actually been watching.

    • True, and I for one am actually a big fan of tragic stories in general, what can I say, I enjoy having my heart torn out and stomped on for a few hours (case in point Life is Strange, loved it, wouldn’t have it any other way)… If there actually was a decent amount of fun, lighthearted queer stories and happily ever afters and a plethora of queer characters for us to identify with and see ourselves in then I would have absolutely no issues with even the most tragic of stories, in fact I’d celebrate them. Buuut, there isn’t. I’ve actually been looking for ages for just that one funny yet heartfelt, light, rom-com-esque thing where a bunch of queer women just get to be super gay together and it doesn’t have to be any more than that. Just one (and a good one), please. Still looking…

  21. So happy I quit my cable plan! I am never subscribing to or paying for cable again. It is so toxic to queer women, and I am relieved I am no longer paying for the privilege of constantly being discrimnated against by this parade of unthinking assholes, I mean “writers.”


  22. Thank you for writing this. I saw what was coming from the start and I’m angry. From Tara on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to Shay on “Chicago Fire,” lesbians are routinely and alarmingly killed off, when, I guess, the writers run out of daring things to do with them. Bullshit!!!

  23. AHHHHHHHH! WHOA, SPOLIERS!!!!! Seriously, I was just scrolling the homepage and the headline and photo totally spoied me and ruined my day. Can I suggest that maybe a day later not everyone has seen it yet, and perhaps to edit to reflect that? People who have already viewed can engage in the article itself.

  24. AHHHHHHHH! WHOA, SPOLIERS!!!!! Seriously, I was just scrolling the homepage and the headline and photo totally spoiled me and ruined my day. Can I suggest that maybe a day later not everyone has seen it yet, and perhaps to edit to reflect that? People who have already viewed can engage in the article itself.

  25. So Betty’s going to end up in “the most bizarre family imaginable”? Are we really pretending we don’t know it’s somehow going to involve Austin, the “real” parent in this scenario? Given that Helen’s now dead he is the only actual person who can claim the child, besides the grandparents that is.

    • I thought about that too. They will probably have her marry Austin so she can be in her daughter’s life. That would be her second marriage to a man on this show.

      • There’s already so many bogus marriages on this show you’d hardly even notice yet another one :P This new family could have something to do with Guy though, he did sort of pop out from nowhere without much of a purpose, this show usually doesn’t introduce new characters without them having a purpose.

  26. Where’s our light-hearted romcom starring two out women where the whole point of the movie isn’t just that Oh My God They’re Lesbians!?!??! Can’t stand all this tragedy anymore. We need a break!

  27. So there couldn’t have been a fight for the baby with the grandparents WITHOUT having to kill Helen? This is just ridiculous..as is every other killing of lesbian characters throughout TV history. I realize it’s a male dominated industry but come on..these characters are important to us but they are FICTIONAL…come on boys..stop being so threatened..and did your really have to shoot the lesbian through the head with an arrow on the walking dead..really enough!

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