TV Review: Showtime’s “Masters Of Sex” Makes A Welcome Return

I kind of fell off the Masters of Sex bandwagon late in the first season.

It’s nothing to do with the show itself. I’ll chime in with all the reviewers that it’s a smartly written, well acted and directed, engaging and interesting show, possibly the best thing Showtime has to offer in terms of original programming at the moment. My problem was Bill Masters. Essentially the main character of Masters of Sex, unless you count the survey or discount Virginia completely, Bill Masters is the driving force and idea man behind the famous study of how our bodies respond to sex.

My problem was that he’s an ass. By that, I don’t mean he’s a character with flaws. He is. All fictional characters, if they’re to be interesting and compelling, are flawed. It just became too hard for me to watch this ego driven ass discount the people around him for his pride and ambition. I think it was the episode where he and his wife get out of town, only Bill can’t relax, instead timing the nocturnal practices of the hotel room next to theirs and ignoring his wife. He eventually heads back home to work and I disconnected with the show. I know that’s on me.

So, with this past Sunday bringing Masters of Sex back for its second season, I took the plunge, skipping the episodes I missed and jumped back on. I’m glad I did. Last season wrapped up with Bill getting “fired” by Provost Scully after a disastrous presentation of the sex study that played out more like a porn film than a lecture. Jane felt betrayed, Virginia gets a proposal from Ethan and had to take a job with Dr, DuPaul’s office, and Bill ended up on Virginia’s doorstep in the rain. “Parallax,” the second season premiere takes that porch moment and its aftermath, showing us the same moments from both Virginia and Bill’s perspectives. It’s a great move, one that takes us deeper into both of these characters at a crucial moment in their lives. Bill says he can’t live without Virginia, and she turns down Ethan, choosing to see Bill in secret at a hotel under fake names.

I can’t speak to whether this shift happened on the show, but I thoroughly enjoyed this hour, even with Bill still being just a horrible person. Within the episode, he continues to cheat on Libby, who obviously has issues with him even being close ti Virginia, he berates his mother, and is the best candidate for world’s worst babysitter. For me, it’s the moments with the other characters, where we zero in on their worlds and the stakes in them that hooked me in again. Scully has his first electroshock aversion therapy treatments to combat his homosexuality and it’s nearly unbearable to watch. Beau Bridges is so heartbreaking as he tries to make things work in the bedroom with Margaret and then tries to just end it all later. Scully’s scenes are the only ones where Bill even seems human, so that adds another layer that pulls me in.

I cannot say enough about the stellar job Lizzy Caplan is doing on Masters of Sex. She brings such a complexity to the character of Virginia Johnson. Caplan manages to be both extremely vulnerable, like when she confides in the need to supplement her dropping income, and assertive when fending off the zealous advances of her hospital coworkers. By the end of the hour, I was ecstatic that someone sought her out, not to come on to her, but to seek her professional input. She sees that others recognize her value beyond and away from Bill and the sex study. The only moments I wasn’t particularly interested in were Virginia’s scenes with DuPaul, who seems stuck in surly, downtrodden mode.

So, as of now, I’m back on board with Masters of Sex and will continue to be as the show allows its characters to do more than just exist in Bill’s world.

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