There are many things that Masters of Sex has in common with Mad Men, but no episode has felt like part of the Mad Men canon more than “Love and Marriage.” Masters of Sex has grown away from its focus on just the physical, toward exploring the emotional (and less scientific) part of sexuality. It was a pivotal point in the series when the characters began to show more signs of life as the camera adjusted its gaze. The physical side of sex — both on the show and in the study itself — is still an integral part of things. But without this expanded time with the characters out of bed, the show would just be the cadaver on the table instead of a living organism. Hit the jump for why “vaginas don’t bite.”
While there were plenty of enjoyable yet saw-that-coming-from-10-miles away moments in “Love and Marriage” (mostly surrounding Ginny excelling in her coursework), its ties to Mad Men are more thematic. “Love and Marriage” explored more deeply the struggle of certain individuals who desire change, but (realistically) don’t achieve it, either because they can’t (Scully) or they don’t want to (Langham). Sometimes, like Ethan, they’re just in deep denial.
“Love and Marriage” was particularly anti-marriage, from Margaret’s diatribe about singledom to Dale, to Langham’s mockery of his own and his advice to Ethan to avoid it. Bill and Libby of course continue to not interact almost at all, despite last week’s suggestion that things for them might be settled for awhile. Bill, Scully, Langham and Ethan are all focused on the idea that they should be married, but they aren’t emotionally committed to it. And what could be more Mad Men-esque than that?
But the episode also pushed the idea that the institution of marriage is one that will ultimately prevail. Jane reminds Ginny that married men almost always take their guilt out on their mistresses, reinforcing the idea that Ginny’s position with Bill is a precarious one (something that is actually true, given his sabotage). Ethan reminds Langham that all but one of the Presidents were married, and that men appear to succeed when they have a loyal and loving wife to be their forever confident and support. Ethan’s suggestion that an ideal marriage is a partnership is completely at odds with his relationship with Vivian, which is built on lust and the lure of tax credits. But even in a marriage like the Scullys, being partners (or best friends, as Barton puts it), isn’t necessarily enough. So what is?
Amid some very heavy emotional scenes (with fantastic dialogue, particularly the Scullys at the drive-in), Masters still managed to include some humor with Lester and the invention of the vagina cam. Male frailty was very much on display this week (as it often is, though not so overtly), with a shaky Lester and a fainting med student, and of course Ethan and Langham’s emotional cowardice. Barton, too, lives in fear of the consequences of his sexual desires, and is unable to please himself, his wife, or even Dale because of his confusion. Bill, afraid of losing Ginny if she gets her degree, even manipulates her into thinking he’s granting her time for her studies, meanwhile going behind her back to sabotage those very studies so he can keep her under his thumb.
Showing (by incorporating into character relationships) and not just telling (by having a character expound or make direct comments) these societal norms — both because of history, place and institution — is a big step up for the show.
There were so many complexities in “Love in Marriage,” and so many new facets added on to the ever-growing cast of characters (DePaull, for instance), making it an engaging hour. It’s getting late into the season, but the show has set up little triumphs and sadnesses along the way, so that it doesn’t feel like we’re marching towards any big season finale arc. This is a good thing. Mad Men would be proud.
Episode Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— “In high school I was voted most likely to be in pictures …” – Jane, a.k.a Bea St. Marie, vagina movie star.
— Not sure what to make of this storyline with Walter. On the one hand, glad to see a black character. On the other hand, is the show trying to make this a romantic thing? Does he really have a dead wife? We’ll see!
— “When the person who knows you best loses interest, that really takes something out of you.” – Margaret. Get your Emmy ballots out now, she is slaying her scenes left and right. Everything with them this week … from the bar scene to Barton not acknowledging her naked, to the talk in the car. And of course their individual scenes: Barton and Dale, and Margaret and Langham … the FEELS!
— So Libby is pregnant again … interesting.
— Ginny and Bill have finally established a believable connection not only through their shared passion, which has been going on for awhile, but also in a pioneering spirit. This was the first time I actually believed Ginny felt something for Bill.
— I like DePaull’s feelings about making a cadaver human for the med students.
— DePaull is hard on Ginny, but I can’t blame her given the circumstances (her ignoring Ginny in class reminded me of Snape and Hermione). DePaull’s six-month deadlines makes a lot of sense now, too. She should not be afraid to make her crusade personal, which I’m sure will be the case (probably through Ginny’s prompting) in weeks to come.
— I guess Ginny’s kids don’t hate her anymore.
— Langham is such a dog.