While Season 2 of “Masters of Sex” has done a capable job of moving the story’s lengthy timeline
forward efficiently and creatively, the depth of the narrative has suffered as
a result. Even with multiple guest stars putting in awards-worthy work all
season long, for many episodes the plot has seemed thin at best and entirely
forgettable at worst.
For weeks the show seemed like it was working up to
something more, something with the same level of emotional punch as the death
of Lillian, which actually occurred almost three years earlier in the show’s
timeline even though it was only a few episodes ago for the audience. In tonight’s ninth episode, every character for some forward momentum no matter how small.
With Season 2, episode 8’s double dose of jaw dropping moments last week, both
for Virginia and Bill as well as the audience, the season got a necessary jolt
of importance and direction. Rather than going through the motions of an
historical account, the show found a pressure point long needing to be pushed
in what Virginia and Bill are really doing with each other and how that effects
their working relationship and those they have with others.
Most importantly, the revelation that what they are doing
can only be defined as cheating at this point and that it may still be of some
good to both of them was not the result of long work hours with each other but
by focusing on healing important patient cases independently for the most part.
Both Virginia’s work with Betsy Brandt’s Barbara (magnetic as always) and
Bill’s work with Lester began as a coordinated effort to fix the problems at
hand the same way they would tackle any other facet of the sex study, only to
realize more care would be necessary than if these were any two people off the
street instead of closer acquaintances. As ever, the realization that a
solution is not as easy as possible brought a familiar edge to Bill and
Virginia’s demeanors, except with the addition of a look inward at their own
emotional states as well.
In Season 2, episode 9, “Story of My Life,” Virginia’s time with Barbara leading her to a psychiatrist
should have been an obvious sign that her own problems and insecurities were
about to be analyzed as well, but Lizzy Caplan’s focused performance sold the
shock in her face when she realized her plan to exploit the doctor’s expertise
had backfired. Likewise, the moments between Caplan and Brandt in the exam room
were so tangibly fraught with pain and fear it made sense that they helped
Barbara to confront her own sexual past as much as it forced Virginia to at least
attempt make some sort of peace with her present situation.
Similarly, Bill’s relationship with his brother may be new
to the audience but is something that has caused him great pain and guilt for
most of his adult life. The surprise addition of a brother would be soap-level
material for most shows on television but here the transition is made with
aplomb. Despite the sensitive subject matter, many of the conversations between
Frank and Bill or Libby and Pauline were as natural as if they had all inhabited
the same social circles for the entire life of the show rather than only a few
Libby’s seemingly sudden transformation from racist housewife to
helpful community member was too compact by far but if the show had to choose
between drawing out her storyline with Coral and her interactions with CORE, they
made the correct choice in shortening this side of her arc and using her chat with Pauline as an exposition-heavy motivation.
It was to be expected
that Virginia would take a step forward as a person by the end of the episode,
but Bill’s effort to confess even a few feelings to his brother and finally
admit to Virginia what he is trying to get out of their arrangement besides sex
came as a surprise. Their closing conversation in their usual hotel room, bordering on
an outright fight without quite tipping that scale, was the first time in a
while that the show felt like it was finding a direction based on its own voice
and objectives instead of only following the history books.