Nov 27, 2013

TV Recap: Masters of Sex - "Involuntary"

Left to right: Kevin Christy and Helene York
Welcome to the weekly recaps of the new Showtime series Masters of Sex that follows the history of Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson's (Lizzy Caplan) actual studies of sex. Make sure to tune in every Wednesday for a dissection of the week's episode as well as thoughts of the show in general as well as potential thoughts of where things are headed. Also, please feel free to check out my recaps on Bob's Burgers every Tuesday and Brooklyn Nine-Nine every Thursday.

Plot: Masters and Virginia continue to do their studies with the assistance of Lester (Kevin Christy) filming Jane (Helene York). Jane is a peculiar person who only wants to be shot from a certain angle and to have her face construed. Meanwhile, Masters' mom (Ann Dowd) discovers what it is that her son does and immediately begins supporting him on it. Libby (Caitlin Fitzgerald) reveals that she is pregnant to Masters' mom, which causes her to come forward with other knowledge about Masters' real father. After developing the film, Masters and Virginia review it and things begin to become uncomfortable with Jane. Dr. Haas (Nicholas D'Agosto) and Vivian (Rose McIver) begin to take religion seriously and wonder if they should go Catholic of Jewish. When Haas agrees to become Catholic, he does it mostly to please her. Virginia also is still taking her exams and getting a degree at the top of her class. The teacher (Julianne Nicholson) confides in her that the only way to be taken seriously is to study and be at the top of the class. Libby confronts Masters about their lack of chemistry and it starts hostile feelings between each other. Haas accidentally runs over a religious man and while in the hospital, realizes that Catholicism isn't for him. When Jane comes forth with the knowledge that she doesn't want the video of her masturbating to be released, Virginia decides to take over. When Masters tries to pay either of them for their time, they both feel used and like prostitutes. It is clear that Masters admires Virginia's work, though is still having trouble expressing it properly.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Lizzy Caplan
While it feels weird that after an impressive run of episodes between the Scullys to have them missing, it almost feels like it gave me the moment to finally appreciate the Haas and Vivian story line that has felt inessential so far in the series. Even if it isn't diving into sexual studies with them, it is exploring the grander theme of religion in a relationship. Haas is Jewish and Vivian is Catholic, which means that something is going to have to change. Their story this week seems to be about trying to fix that and while it appears optimistically at first, it becomes harder to understand and quickly turns into moral decisions. 
More than the idea of them eventually having sex or doing something integral to the other characters, it is fascinating to see how the Scully family has all had problems. Barton is a homosexual and his wife is cheating on him. Vivian is dating a Jew, which is not perceived well in the community. If the show managed to drop the Masters story, there would still be plenty of weight in focusing on how the Scully family is problematic. Their material is ripe with drama, and their whole subplot this week almost feels like it does more than make up for practically spending most of the season just being placement holders. We are beginning to understand them on a more vulnerable level and can appreciate their existence. While Vivian's conflict lacks the strength of Barton's, it still has some weight that I am sure when all of these plots intersect eventually, we'll have one massive amazing moment of dramatic clarity.
The other astigmatism with the episode is that it explores what exactly sex is to people. To Libby, it is creating life. She is again pregnant from an affair, most likely her house cleaner from last week. She is desperate for excitement and can't stand Masters' casual perspective on sex as a study and not passion. On the flip side, Jane and Virginia are fine with sex until it begins feeling like exploitation. They will contribute to the study, but when cameras get involved and potential distribution that damns their reputation, it becomes more of a whoring act. They can't accept money on the grounds of feeling like they were used. Masters' noble deed is quickly seen as a grey area and things quickly fall apart.
Caitlin Fitzgerald

There is that sense that Masters wants the best for Virginia, who has been crucial in getting the studies to where they are now. His evaluation of her almost seems hyperbolic with endearment. From criticizing each other's sexual performance to questioning the logistics of everything, they have chemistry there that is beginning to morally hurt Masters. While his mother is supportive, he also discovers that his father isn't the one he thinks it is and there is a need for acceptance from somebody. He seeks it, but all of his actions are now being seen more as turning people away and paying them for smutty actions. Even his wife is beginning to feel used and probably won't stick around for long.
The involuntary action that describes the title is again a universal theme. The Haas/Vivian plot is about involuntarily converting to please their partner. Jane feels involuntarily used by being filmed and not recognizing who she is. Virginia feels involuntarily used as well when she is attempted to be paid on top of also having conflicts being accepted at the college she attends by her male peers. There is struggle throughout and Masters' quest to solve his inner demon seems to be in the early stages that will probably come into play as the episodes roll along.
It is a powerful episode not only because it continues to look at the social nature of how others perceive sex, notably the way that film is reproduced, but also gender, sexuality, and creeds in the era. They are all essentially a form of life that build upon each other. Masters is starting to feel less and less like the interesting character in the show and more like he has desire to be the hero to people that seem to be superior to him on a confidence level. Things can crumble at any moment and it is up to him to resolve things. Even if Virginia stays on board, how will the rest of the studies go if he cannot feel comfortable paying her money for something she deserves it for? Things are starting to turn grey on the show, and that is only making the conflicts more and more interesting.

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