Masters of Sex continued to give itself over to the weepies this week, with its particular focus on sadness. Did anyone, save for that hospital worker changing the light bulb, escape with a shred of positivity this week? This isn’t a sudden shift — the show has always had a dour pall to it. Still, a few small triumphs along the way have helped temper the gloom in the past. No such luck in “Involuntary,” though, where hard truths were faced with difficult decisions. But, uh, hey! Naked, masturbating Lizzy Caplan! Hit the jump for more.
Masters of Sex‘s biggest problem has always been that Masters himself is an unlikable and non-compelling character. Very little changed this week. The show’s big irony of course is that for all of this talk of openness and breaking down walls about discussions of the physiology of sex, there is no one more repressed than Bill. He’s sexually frigid with his with, but emotionally frigid with Ginny (and just about everyone else). He was confronted in “Involuntary” by the three most important women in his life — his mother, Libby and Ginny — and cowered before each of them, wrapping himself up in a blanket of petulance and denial. No one wants to see that.
Nor does anyone care to see Libby continuously tortured. As if Bill’s frozen treatment of her wasn’t enough, she apparently has deep internal issues where she constantly fears God’s wrath. On top of this, she had a backstory that would soften the most hardened heart … but then the writers took it too far. Libby’s emotional insecurities and need to cling to Bill stems, it seems, from her father abandoning her and her sisters after their mother’s death. And he left them … for Virginia. The state, but, come on!
Back to God’s wrath — it was on many people’s minds in this hour, including Jane, for whom the video aspect of her performance finally made her rethink her uninhibited devotion to the study. Vivian and Ethan too were pulled apart by thoughts of God, which prompted Ethan’s burgeoning desire to actually have thoughts. Ethan is one of the show’s most interesting characters, because he feels real. Whereas Ginny has not yet had enough flaws to make her anything more than wish fulfillment, Ethan is really a jerk who thinks he’s doing a good job with things, but is really a mess. “The man you are going to marry is nothing,” he tells Vivian. Has anything on the show ever been more true?
What separates Ethan from becoming as big of a pill as Bill though is that Ethan does have compassion, and — despite his faults or because of his embrace of them — is fun to watch. Seeing him realize that he’s never had any agency because he’s never cared was a great moment for his character, even though it was sad for poor Viv. What Vivian doesn’t realize now of course is that she dodged a bullet with him, because he could easily have turned out to be another Langham or even a Bill. But Ethan’s nascent awakenings to his own desires for his life have been interesting to watch unfold, making him a dynamic character viewers can hate one week, tolerate the next, feel sorry for, then identify with, then dislike all over again and again.
Masters of Sex often focuses on characters unwilling to face truths about themselves or about ones they love (or think they love), which is why Ethan’s breakthrough had such resonance. As to how the others obfuscate or distract from their realities differs, and for Bill, it’s about taking emotion out of sex, because he has no emotion about sex (except, he comes to find, with Ginny).
But what is the truth about Bill himself? Is his filming of Ginny for his own pleasure when she thinks it’s anonymous and for science supposed to be romantic? It’s creepy. But Bill has always been creepy, and her attraction to him has never rung true outside of the fact that she saw an opportunity to hitch her wagon to his star. Has she had an integral part in making that star rise? (In all forms …) Absolutely. But is that enough to create a bond of love? It’s the one equation the study can’t solve, and neither, currently, can the show.
Episode Rating: C
Musings and Miscellanea:
— The writing was so heavy handed this week, not only with Libby, but also with Ginny being excluded from the various cliques at the office. She’s a woman apart, we get it …
— Lester is a hidden gem on this show. “Fingers like stalactites,” the “landscape theory” and his discussion of auteurs was great!
— “Without this you are a man alone in space calling out, hoping for a response. We’re your echo” – Libby. Er, sadly, not really.
— Ginny being picked on by her fellow students is unfortunate, but the writers seem desperate to give her character more depth. Having her attacked doesn’t really work. Whatever happened to her friendship with Libby? It would be more interesting to explore how that has changed for her in the wake of the study.
— “Sex has been around for a very long time” – Essie’s frank take on sex was refreshingly different.
— Someone needs to slap Bill.
— “Focus on the work. That’s what endures” – DePaull.