Masters of Sex: Thank You For Coming Review
All the Boys Love Virginia Johnson. Too bad none of them know who she is in this very blunt 1950s-set hour.
Despite the inviting title, this episode marked the first downer of the season, likely because it was the most self-aware of its era yet. With its feet now squarely planted in the 1950s, Masters of Sex took a page from Mad Men this evening and focused on the true repression of Virginia Johnson. It is evident that Virginia is the dream girl for every man in her life. Too bad none can notice that her very real nightmares. The true meaning of this episode’s intentionally sophomoric title lies in the return of testing on hospital grounds. After blackmailing Sculley, who is suspiciously absent this week, Bill and Virginia can at least watch test subjects auto-stimulate (masturbate) for their studies. More realistically than in the pilot, these tests come in all shapes and sizes, but one is of a particularly obtuse nature: Virginia’s ex-husband (No. 3). Changing his names several times, he endangers her position with Dr. Masters again, by having her lie about knowing him as he literally pleases himself to her face right in her place of work. It is almost a metaphor for male entitlement over the last several millenniums. Besides risking her job, Virginia must allow this because this freeloader can only support his kids some if he has this wee bit of income, and also because she still seems to have a thing for the schmuck who still talked his way into yet another sleepover. However, it seems all men get kind of icky around her, as again this week attempts to make us feel sympathy for Dr. Ethan Haas. He too is back to pining away for Virginia and is constantly asking the audience to pity his infatuation with Virginia, but like her daughter we see through his whining. In a page right out of AMC’s playbook, it all comes to a head at a dinner party thrown by Bill’s very pregnant wife, who naively thinks she is playing matchmaker between Ethan and Virginia. Fortunately, Bill is able to show some decency by driving Virginia away from Ethan (who reminds us all of his smarminess when he then “seduces” the provost’s 19-year-old daughter during a private after-party). However, this is not a fairy tale and there is no white knight for a single mother with a career on her mind in the 1950s. This week actually somewhat suffers from the lack of inherent comedy derived by stuffy Bill Masters doing his research in a whorehouse. As the first fully controlled week of experimentation, the sight of Michael Sheen watching people self-pleasure is losing its deadpan charm and is increasingly becoming creepy, in part because of Bill’s covetousness for Virginia. He is given some real pathos this episode as well when his mother has come in town to help the nervous wife with her pregnancy (Bill is too busy projecting frustration at Virginia’s kids). It is delicately and nicely played through like an unraveling mystery with the payoff being that his mother turned a blind eye to Bill’s father beating him as a young child. Yet, this new depth does not really excuse the way he reacts to learning that Virginia’s ex was a test subject. He immediately deduces who that is and brings him back for a “tell-all” interview about sex life, particularly with “the woman.” Like a Victorian literary hero, Bill Masters, Ethan Haas and Failed Husband III all worship at the alter of “THE woman,” but she is no idol. None seem to think twice of her sitting alone at a bus stop with no help that night or of how her livelihood and intelligence is treated as second-rate and subservient to their luscious desires. After all, she is described as a fantasy unto herself by one admirer to a complicit, agreeing witness. But all this does is remind us of the troubling world in which this story is set, one that seems a little darker and less friendly in its fourth week. This is probably truer to life, however some of that off-kilter humor would be very welcomed in the next episode, if for no other reason than we can all return to that thin fantasy established so well in previous weeks. Den of Geek Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars