“Masters of Sex” has a lot of ground to cover in telling the story of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, whose real-life working and personal relationship spanned more than 30 years. So it’s a bit of a surprise to see the show’s second season open just a couple weeks after the end of Season 1.
A big time jump is coming, but even with things picking up right where we left off, so much is going on that it’s a little disorienting — in a wonderful way. “Masters of Sex” ran at a very high level throughout its first season, and there is no evidence of a letdown in the premiere, “Parallax.”
Despite the short time lapse between seasons, a lot has changed in those few weeks: Bill is adrift, having been fired from Washington University and reluctant to take a meeting with a potential new boss. Things are even worse for Virginia, who’s still working with Dr. DePaul but has to endure endless (and gross) propositions from the men at the hospital — who assume she was the woman in the film Masters presented with their study — and the cold stares of many of her female co-workers.
Meanwhile, Barton is unsuccessfully trying to shock the gay out of himself, while using gay porn to get himself aroused so he can have sex with Margaret and push it further away. It culminates with a horrific scene in which he tries to hang himself and Margaret and Vivian try desperately to save him. The dictates of the story this season (and of the CBS sitcoms Beau Bridges and Allison Janney work on) mean we won’t see as much of the Scullys, which is a shame, because their tragic story and the way Bridges and Janney play it makes for riveting TV.
Fortunately, the show around them is really, really good too. Bill’s inability and unwillingness to acknowledge his newborn son, for fear he’s just brought another one of his dad or himself into the world, is heartbreaking and, like so many of his issues with himself and his parents, lands on Libby when he sends his mother back home.
Most remarkable, though, is the way the show deals with Bill’s doorstep declaration at the end of last season that he can’t live without Virginia. We see them having passionate sex immediately after — and see and hear Virginia turning away Ethan’s marriage proposal over the phone. But later, when “Dr. and Mrs. Holden” are meeting at the hotel, all they talk about is the study.
“What we have is so much more than a simple affair,” Virginia says. “We have the work.” Bill then says he doesn’t want to lead her on, and she barely blinks. Whether they genuinely believe that or they’re both doing some high-level rationalization — or, especially, some of both — it’s fascinating to watch.
A couple other notes from the premiere:
- Dr. Langham is having a rough go as well, but his predicament is played much more for laughs when his wife storms in and broadcasts to the entire hospital that he slept with her sister. “You’ve done our profession proud,” DePaul tells him.
- Annaleigh Ashford has been made a series regular this season, which means we’ll get to see much more of Betty and her brilliant one-liners. Helene Yorke, however, is doing a Broadway show, hence her telling Virginia she’s moving to California with Lester.
- Hands up, everyone skeeved out by Doug Greathouse’s (Danny Huston) fervent interest in the sex study. [Raises hand]
What did you think of the “Masters of Sex” premiere?