|Scene from Masters of Sex|
It has been an interesting trajectory for Showtime series Masters of Sex. After a phenomenal debut, the series has fallen into a familiar series of highs and lows in subsequent seasons, including the much maligned third season that many predicted was the permanent shift from good to bad. Still, the show that focuses on the careers of Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) and Bill Masters (Michael Sheen) has prevailed with a season that may not reach the heights of its early days, but definitely shows that there's still some energy left in the story. By focusing on legacy and change, season four managed to revitalize the central cast and make the show fun again. It may not be its best, but it's the best that it has been in quite some time.
Over the course of one season, one thing has been apparent: things haven't been going well. It is likely part of the reason that the past two seasons have hit lulls. The chemistry between Bill and ex-wife Libby (Caitlin Fitzgerald) has reached an all time low, and Virginia is also having trouble finding another commendable relationship. Their studies have inspired change, but what is there left to achieve? Over the course of the season, they explore a variety of subjects that include the impact of making a homosexual straight. The show also decides to get more intimate by exploring the relationship of Virginia and Bill, of whom experience their own personal battles over the season. Bill struggles with a personal understanding that he gets through by studying alcohol rehab clinics. Still, there has to be a deeper purpose.
This is how the show breaks through and finds its deeper successes. In the fourth episode "Coats and Keys," the characters are shifted into new dynamics after a party throws them in contact with different people. Their intimate conversations lead to new understandings, and soon a new happiness. Some of it doesn't last. Others, as is the case with Libby, leads to new awakenings that were invisible to the previously conservative views that they held in their youthful 1950's life. Now that they're in the 60's, the peace and love movement is upon them and it's time to love your fellow man. For Libby, it reflects a new direction in life that wasn't so obvious before that moment.
On another front, Bill and Libby discover that the sex research has improved the world almost too well. They discover that imitators have borrowed their research to do their own studies. It leads them in "Topeka" to discover how faithful these imitators truly are. The impact of Masters and Johnson is something that cannot be understated, even as the duo try to make sense of their own credibility by hiring additional researchers who try and do their own unauthorized studies in the process. The world is beyond the buttoned-up mindset that was shared at the start of the series. Now everyone is cool with sex, and it's time to figure out what the next frontier is going to be.
Like the show has teased in the past, this in part focuses on their own lives. Bill and Virginia fall in love this season. As the real life counterparts would suggest, this isn't simply convenient melodrama. This actually did happen. The final stretch of episodes show their literal sexual awakening and their realization that they were meant for each other. In fairness, Libby has moved on and Virginia isn't happy with any facet of her previous life. Everything is moving in the direction for her to end up with Bill. As the episode ends, they're married and presenting themselves as newlyweds before a paparazzi. The Rolling Stones play, and the potential for their future has become optimistic and free of any hang-ups. The only question now is whether or not certain supporting cast players will be around for season five.
Still, it was a harrowing season full of intriguing plot developments. Betty (Annaleigh Ashford) and Helen (Sarah Silverman) have had a child, but with tragic outcomes. Helen's death leads to Betty becoming an outcast from her daughter's life. It's a small moment that plays towards the middle of the season and reflects the strengths of the series. It is still capable of being emotional and effective in understanding how characters relate to each other. It also is able to take the novelty subject of sex and explore it in captivating fashion. Even the return of Barton Scully (Beau Bridges) leads to a finale highlight in which he decries Masters' research. As a whole, not all stories had a worthwhile arch. However, it was still stronger than it had been in quite some time.
Masters of Sex may not quite be the runaway hit that it once was, but it still has plenty of heart left in it. With the Bill and Virginia now both Masters, the question now becomes what is there to study? There's no personal hurdles in their lives to pull from. Maybe it won't be entirely clear skies ahead, but there's likely to be some struggles. Whatever the case may be, season four has shown an improvement in overall quality and drama that is at very least unexpected. One can only hope that the show continues to surprise in the years ahead and maybe reach its former glory. If nothing else, it still occasionally produces great episodes, and that's enough to keep watching.
OVERALL RATING: 3.5 out of 5