Dec 11, 2013

TV Recap: Masters of Sex - "Phallic Victories"

Lizzy Caplan
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 Virginia working with Dr. DePaul (Julianne Nicholson), Masters attempts to move his career forward by having his secretary (Helene York) and Libby (Caitlin Fitzgerald) more involved in the procedures. As he does a study on the impact of penis size, he quickly discovers that they are not quite as fulfilling as Virginia, whom he hallucinates about frequently. While Virginia is on the road with DePaul, Dr. Haas (Nicholas D'Agosto) is in charge of watching the children. While it would have seemed taboo in the past, Haas' recent transfer to another hospital has made Virginia feel more comfortable with starting a relationship. During this time, ex-husband George (Mather Zickel) comes by and gets jealous of Haas' place in the children's lives as he feels usurped as a father figure. During their bus ride, DePaul goes on about her jealousy over Masters' "waste" of money funded towards his projects and how she has limited funds that force her to take a bus that breaks down. Virginia reassures her that he is a good man and that she should be more open to embracing her female colleagues. Masters' studies prove to be complicated, though it has given Jane and Libby some time to talk about their lives and bond. At one point during the bus ride, DePaul reveals that her biggest reason for doing the study revolved around her discovery of cervical cancer and inevitable death that is motivating her to work hard and fast before passing it off to another deserving party. While Haas and George have disagreements on what a father figure is, they agree to disagree with George giving up and stating that Haas will never know the joys he gave Virginia. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Left to right: Caplan and Julianne Nicholson
With one episode to go, the reveals are coming quick and hard. Fascinating as they are, the biggest revelation is probably the title "Phallic Victories." Leading up to it, it did feel like it would just be just an update of their famed "Look out for the dildo" joke by making a lot of penis jokes regarding size. However, it was so much more than that. This is mostly in relation to the men in Virgnia's life: Haas and George. While we haven't seen George for quite some time and in any significant way, we have seen Haas attempt to be in Virginia's life, but failed. Probably due to Barton's request to have him fired, he transferred and it almost made things more acceptable for them to start a relationship.
It also makes him feel like a more significant character. I have had trouble sympathizing or even understanding the purposes of Haas for most of the season. Sure, his relationship and failed marriage were intriguing counterparts, but it felt anticlimactic to the initial story. Much like it took awhile for the Scully family to come into play, it feels like Haas has finally revealed his true intent: Virginia's boyfriend. I feel more than anything, this is a representation on Haas as an individual more than a professional. We don't really see him at his job, but more defending his habits in front of George and the kids. The conversation about shaving may sum up rather well their positions on the world: Haas is more eloquent and well-mannered where George is simplistic and masculine. George feels like the dominant male defending his coop. Haas just wants what's best. Since we know how many episodes Haas has been in compared to George, it is obvious who deserved to win the battle.
The episode seems to juxtapose how most of the season has gone. Where almost every episode in the past has delved into how the sexes cooperate together, this is one in which we split everyone up and begin to see how they tick. We get a more personal look into each of their psyche, as it seems implied that neither is comfortable opening up to the opposite sex, even if they are a  beloved. The Haas and George interactions throughout the episode represent a strong look at how the male has become complicated and almost poses a threat just by being smarter. Much like the penis study that is alluded to though never explored, this victory was about male dominance and how they make their woman feel. As a whole, the penis is a metaphor for masculinity and it's either Haas or George here. As much as penises are not brought up here, there is little doubt that this came into play when naming the episode.
On the flip side, the fascinating revelations between DePaul and Virginia gave the episode more weight. Virginia has always seemed defensive of Masters' motives. Here, she is no different. However, the big revelation came with DePaul. She has always seemed stingy and closeted on why her projects are so intricate. Even her nagging felt like an attempt to get ahead in a male dominated world despite Virginia reassuring here. In this episode, it all comes out in a long bus ride. She has cancer and wants to get it passed before she dies. It is a shocking, fascinating detail that adds weight to the character and makes her immediately sympathetic. Even if she still needs to embrace those around her, the cancer as a motivation technique is something that gives the show weight and urgency.
Whatever happens next week is sure to be great stuff. The show has only progressed into a fascinating character study on everyone. Even Masters, whose plot is rather thin this week, has merit in his brooding and desire to be with Virginia. It does beg questions however on where the finale will go. With everything set into place, what will be resolved and what will be held off? Will DePaul essentially be killed off, despite the technique being too urgent? Will Barton be revealed as a homosexual, or even show up in the episode? What will be the big breakthrough for Masters, and will it involve a fisticuffs with Haas? 
There is so much territory in this show that has gone beyond the sexual study of the pilot. Now we are invested in characters and root for them. There are stakes present and while the fascinating thing is how sex plays into the human psyche, we are beyond this show just being an excuse for softcore sex scenes. We have intimacy and other problematic features to deal with. It is so close to being campy, but it still has some dignity to make the drama work. I am not entirely sure how this is accurate to the real events, but what has been crafted here has become an intriguing look into this group of characters' lives and while some seem to rotate weekly, most have become admirable over time and even the highlight to most weeks of watching TV.
I cannot even guess what next week's title "Manhigh" refers to, but it may be the goofiest title yet. Whether or not like this week with "Phallic Victories" they can subvert that to insightful commentary is yet to be seen. Any way it goes, there needs to be a big breakthrough in the finale next week and with all of pieces in motion, it is going to be massively intense and fun to find out what they are.

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