Dec 18, 2013

TV Recap: Masters of Sex - "Manhigh"

Left to right: Michael Sheen and Beau Bridges
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: With the study winding down, Masters prepares to present his findings to the board and hopefully earn their respect. Meanwhile, Virginia and Dr. Haas (Nicholas D'Agosto) are becoming more intimate and earning the approval of her children. Margaret (Allison Janney) looks into shock therapy to hopefully cure Barton (Beau Bridges) of his homosexuality, which she doesn't feel like she could live with. When Haas goes out of town to visit California, he discovers how nice it is out there and proposes to Virginia over the phone. Libby (Caitlin Fitzgerald) goes into labor one day and tries to call Masters to help. Masters is busy talking to Barton about his problematic presentation in which it only upset the audience for being pornographic. Using footage that he's shot of Virginia and Jane (Helene York), the two women become self conscious of their bodies. While Barton is fine with Masters doing the study, is appalled to discover that he has been doing it in the hospital without his permission, which causes Barton to fire him. Virginia talks to Dr. DePaul (Julianne Nicholson) about her study, which has made contraceptives that could be marketed. Libby gives birth to a baby. Virginia feels enthused to find out that her name was put on Masters' study. As things come to a close, Masters comes to Virginia's house, claiming that he can live without the studying, but not without her.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

In a way that seems highly unlikely, the show managed to tie together nicely while leaving plenty of cliffhangers. The most apparent is the correlation between sex studies and space, which was presented in "Race to Space." With Virginia's son (Cole Sand) obsessed with astronomy, he had a big moment in this episode when a man went into space, only to come back enthused by his discoveries at the end of the episode. Even if the Masters studies are in jeopardy, there is this sense of exhilaration that comes from the metaphor. If you look at these characters back in the "Pilot," they almost seemed shy and timid compared to now. They embrace the unknown and while it cost Masters his job, the ride was wonderful and full of life changing discoveries.
Another is the long going realization that Barton was gay. Along with his desire to take treatment, this episode feels like the intimate farewell. Even if the doctor in the episode did say that cases of studies going wrong was low, it does feel like a scary thing to do. It is a strange time to live in for gays and Barton is definitely entering a strange period, provided that he makes it out alive. Maybe we'll see him come out in one piece. Maybe he'll be a vegetable. However, I do feel like despite Masters' big reveal to him being a large draw, that Barton uses his repressed drama as an excuse to fire people. After all, he fired Haas on the grounds that he dumped his daughter after proposing.
Of course, Haas has only recently begun to feel like a realized character. His parallels lie in how he has related to the Johnson family. He has always seemed like as positive role model for the children and even helped save her son when he attempted to run away. Haas is very much capable of playing the father figure. However, he has another issue coming his way. He is accepted to UCLA and may have to move down there, possibly with the Johnsons. The cliffhanger that we leave him on is a marriage proposal. Just a few episodes back, he was unceremoniously incapable of marrying Barton's daughter because he couldn't cope with the inter-religious relations. It is tough to say, but with Virginia and her strong independence, is this really going to be different? While plenty of time has passed since those two met compared to the quick fling comparatively to his last fiance, it does seem like he is doomed just to end up a lonely bachelor, even if he does like the children.
And of course, there is Masters. He almost seems to reset himself by the end of the episode, True, he is deep into a study that he took more interest in than his marriage, but he isn't anymore respected. In fact, he has lost the condolence of Barton, which is a great loss on the show's behalf. In fact, if Barton's electroshock therapy does damage, there's no chance of them rekindling their partnership. He is back out there, probably having to work in whore houses and in unpleasant places. It isn't entirely sure if Virginia is coming back on board, but with the recent revelation that her name is on the study, it might very well be the case.
Left to right: Kevin Christy and
Helene York
But what is to happen to the relationships here? As seen, Masters cares more about the study than his wife. While the phone calls could be seen as mistakes and missed moments, it does reflect just how much more Masters wants to be accepted by the scientific community than his own family. While it is a relief that Libby gets her due after the traumatic miscarriage, is Masters going to be a better husband? Not likely. In fact, he seems to be entering the Johnson territory yet again. We're left with a cliffhanger and don't know Virginia's answer. Is she going to help him out and are they going to be a couple now that his studies reveal his intimate desires for her? Also, what conflict is going to rise between him and Haas? Even if you consider Virginia's ex to be out of the picture, this is turning into a messy situation.
The show has been a fantastic study not just of science and how it was perceived even a few decades ago, but on how sex defines who we are. These characters are complicated and don't quite deal with emotional responses in simplistic ways. There's taboos that are broken and a sense of pride in being a pariah. However, there's still that sense that acceptance is all that they are looking for. Nobody is getting it and with DePaul also on her last stretch of life (supposedly), what will her great scientific achievement be? 
There are numerous questions that are left open for next season. I am so excited now that the show has been picked up, as the ability to weave overarching plots and themes for the entire season managed to pay off so subtly. Even if this doesn't answer all of the questions that were raised throughout the season, its reflection of social interaction is superb. We care for these people and groan whenever they have conflicts come up. Masters of Sex is one of the most humanistic shows that aired this year, and much like life itself, its ending was full of mystery and lost opportunities by the characters. Here's hoping for more greatness in 2014.

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