Masters of Sex returned for its second season without missing a beat from its first. There was no lull to get viewers reoriented slowly — things picked up essentially where they left off, except “Parallax” made the decision to exam some of the events that took place after last season’s finale from different viewpoints. Per usual for the show, how things played out circumvented the expected, and allowed an intimate look into both Ginny (Lizzy Caplan) and Bill’s (Michael Sheen) obsessions and dedications. Hit the jump for why “that study was worse than the Mummy’s Curse.”
At the conclusion of Masters‘ first season, Bill came to Ginny at night, in the rain, and declared his love. It was a strangely romantic (and not fully earned) moment to end the things on, given all that had come before. But “Parallax” showed that the encounter wasn’t all it seemed set up to be. Though Ginny did rebuff Ethan’s proposal in favor of her feelings for Bill, it was clear that the work is the thing that is paramount to her. This played out again in a conversation she had with Jane about following one’s dreams. “It would make me sad to think you were staying here for thestudy,” Jane tells her.
The study, it seemed, was dead. Bill was out of a job, and Ginny was being hit on, followed, and slightly bullied by the staff at the hospital, where she now works for Dr. Lilian DePaull. But the study changed Ginny’s life both in her emotional connection to Bill, but also in how it elevated her status at work, which has always been her passion. Towards the end of the hour, a persistent doctor begs her to take the time to walk him through a procedure that he now has a grant for that she used in the study. He pleads that he’ll work around her schedule. That kind of power is something Ginny has never experienced, and it’s clearly intoxicating.
Despite her emotional connection to Bill, though, she knows he’s unpredictable. What matters the most to her is that they continue with that which supersedes everything (in her mind): the work. Did she fall into bed because she knew her alliance with Bill would guarantee her work? Who is playing who? Those questions became even more muddied with Bill, who we know to be smitten sexually with Ginny, realigns his objectives in the wake of her beginning to carefully redefine their “affair” as something more (i.e., a work partnership). “Parallax” closed with him patronizing her, saying he doesn’t want her to feel led on, but that he feels the work should continue in this new capacity. So now she and Bill are having sex without wires, but still in the name of “science,” so Bill says. Alarm bells are ringing.
Ginny’s stony face after that encounter seems to suggest that she either knows Bill is willfully deluded, and is going along with it, or she was genuinely hurt by his assertion that he never cared for her in that way (“I’m a happily married man!”) Ginny is playing both sides right now, unsure where any might lead. She maintains her friendship with Libby, but doesn’t go so far as to give her marital advice. She engages in this “off-hours” work with Bill, but continues her work with DePaull at the hospital.
As for Bill, there are few characters on television right as easily despicable as he is. To drown out his baby’s cries and then throw his affair (or “regular sex”) in his mother’s face was all cruel. His treatment of Libby, who has her own kind of safely-walled illusions about their marriage and his foul moods, remains deplorable. Bill is not someone to root for, and never has been, as he lacks any pathos that would make his character more complex. Only Ginny can save things, per usual, which puts her character in a tricky position of becoming a Mary Sue trope. Masters of Sex incorporated a lot of elements from last season into this one, but those traits aren’t the best two.
However, the subplots in “Parallax” gave the hope that the supporting acts will continue to give Masters of Sex its most interesting drive, especially regarding the beleaguered Scully family. Was there a more heartbreaking sequence on television this year than Barton’s electroshock followed by his attempted sexual encounter with Margaret, and then his desire to kill himself? And this was only the first episode back.
Episode Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Bill Masters, destroyer of lives, professional scumbag.
— “Frain’s a neurologist, they’re all perverts” – Langham, whose philandering ways are clearly not over.
— Did DePaull ever explain that bruise though?
— Ginny’s hair is a little bit longer, and her choppy bangs have finally been swept to the side. It’s a better look.
— “You girls can panic over fat, I look at it as insurance” – the diet pill lady.
— Poor Ethan. Poor Libby. Is it wrong to want them together?
— Of course Margaret was reading Lolita, of all things.
— I laughed out loud at Libby’s doctor comparing Bill to the “Brooklyn Vampire,” a child-killer.
— Essie needed to call her son’s ass OUT for his bad parenting and general awfulness.
— All hail the pretzel king!
— “One study … Like nuclear fallout raining down on us all” – Ginny.