Previously on Masters of Sex . . . kids are getting crazy, Libby needs to be sedated, Bill loses it, and Virginia just wants to pee alone.
Oh and yeah, Virginia is carrying a potentially career derailing secret. This is not a happy accident but a possible undoing of everything Ginny has tried to accomplish. When the show decided at the end of Season 2 to have Ginny give up custody to her wayward ex, George (all responsible because of new wife), I found it an odd derivation from the real Johnson’s story. Granted, the show has never pretended to be an E! True Hollywood Story, but this particular departure felt unnecessary, almost as if the show runners were like, “How can we avoid having to address those pesky questions about where Ginny’s kids are while she’s in hotels and on the road? Let’s just have her give them away!”
Now it seems they wanted to set us up for the beginning of this season where Virginia will elect to keep her baby as a replacement for those she gave away (yet are still arguing with her, but more on that later) and show that she doesn’t always put career first. The twist in the tale is that Dr. Masters is not the father; it is Ginny’s same wayward ex, divorced and providing solace a few months earlier (or last episode) at the lake when they realized their son was destined for the military. Her decision to maintain the pregnancy leaves Bill working with a new partner while Libby is chain smoking, enraged at the threat to her family.
The scene in Virginia’s house provided a neat flip to the Libby/Ginny dynamic–the usually chic Virginia in frumpy clothes, engaged in domestic work while Libby charges after her all betrayal and Hitchcock blonde. And while the episode would start out having us believe that Virginia is willing to compromise her career for her baby, it shifts to her sham re-marriage to George juxtaposed with their prenuptial agreement which clearly states the nature of their “no expectations” marriage.
At its best, Masters of Sex is a smart look at the evolution of our sexual understanding told through compelling historical fiction and hinging on the chemistry of the show’s leads. Virginia and Bill’s distraction scene toward the episode’s end was the perfect balance of this strength as he segues from talking work to singing to her to becoming her cheerleader. It’s a fantastic scene because it allows Virginia, and the show, to address some of the issues at the core of her character. Is it a little thick with the Feminine Mystique foreshadowing? Sure. But it still works due to the stellar commitment of Sheen and Caplan.
That being said, at its worst, this show employs heavy handed parallels (the barren Shah plot and the dual “babies” closing) and feels like a less subtle shadow of Mad Men. The conflict with Tessa makes me long for the deft craftsmanship lent to Sally Draper’s coming of age story. Tessa’s accusation that she raised herself not only feels after school special, it doesn’t make much sense if she’s been raised by George and Audrey the past few years. Perhaps the greatest weakness of these scenes is that they don’t read as snapshots of a relationship–they read like single scenes where nothing has happened in between, thus rendering them superficial.
On my own completely superficial note, can we just talk about how 1960s Betty is killing it with her mod look? With Sarah Silverman set to return, here’s hoping we will see more screentime for Betty, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters.
Masters of Sex airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on TMN (in Canada) and Showtime (in the States).