Masters of Sex’s second episode is a step back from the great pilot as it’s expected to expand its world and it has a hard time making that terribly interesting.
The pilot worked so well due to the fantastic chemistry between Masters and Virginia and the second episode sadly keeps them mostly apart. For a show to exist in this day and age the studios seem to want a large ensemble to fill out the program, but based on what we have seen so far from Masters of Sex I’m not sure that is the best idea.
The character of Ethan has been just problematic at every turn and this has more to do with the writing than the actor. The last time we saw Ethan he was smacking Virginia for not wanting to be with him, yet this week they want us to sympathize with him because he can’t sleep with anyone else but Virginia. Huh? I know they have real life to contend with, and I don’t know how much creative license is being taken, but the won’t they/won’t they of their relationship is dead on arrival. The fact that they are painting him as the “look how awesome I am with the ladies” guy, while also always hanging his character with the sexual “shock” of the period is a combo that isn’t playing that well either. I don’t know if he is supposed to be funny or serious, and if they are playing him for laughs they remember he just smacked out awesome, strong female lead character and then proceeded to choke her last week? Flowers aren't going to win us over, I don’t care if it is of the times.
Less of a problem, but still with nowhere to go, is the potential coupling of the now former sex study subjects of Dr. Austin and Jane. Heléne Yorke is great as Jane and I am really enjoying Teddy Sears as Austin, but the episode was supposed to expand its world this week and it only seemed to get smaller between these two. They have a great chemistry between them, but the show is already driving them apart and it seems like we missed all of the fun between them. Regressing Austin to cheap pick up lines trying to keep the “experimenting” alive is another cliched trope of the time period and I would much rather prefer they continued to make these two characters feel fresh in a show that feels too urgent to really show off just how twisted the 50’s were from our times today. At least give us more Jane, Yorke is great and brings a ton of energy to the show.
Betty the prostitute is also front and center this week, and while I could do without all the innuendo her story showed a bit of promise. Masters is forced to move his research to the brothel after a mystery man rats his research out to the board, and the setting finds humor and heart for Masters and Virginia. Betty’s blackmail of Masters seems to be a bit too convenient to try and cut him down to size a little bit, but it least it leads us to a character moment that is worthwhile; if only they would give us less of her sass and more about what she is all about. Annaleigh Ashford is solid as Betty, but it wasn’t till she and Virginia were able to relate to one another on the pros and cons of having a baby that I really cared about her. How can you not get sucked into the story of a prostitute trying to break away from her life and settle down? Ashford gives Betty just enough of a twinge of sadness without losing any of her strength. Sadly, I can’t see Betty staying on the show much longer though. Rae Foster gets an even better moment as another prostitute that is dealing with her own mortality while also serving as another opportunity for Masters to show how great a doctor he can be. This was the happy storyline of the night and both Sheen and Foster were able to sell it without ever feeling cheesy.
Virginia also seemed rather left out to dry this week as we were forced to painfully watch the show try to show us her home life. None of it worked for me, but it doesn’t really matter I guess since the whole point of her arc this week was so that we can know just how dedicated she is to the study and helping Masters every step of the way. The pilot ended with that great cliffhanger of Masters proposing he and Virginia sleep together to diffuse the sexual energy of the experiments and while the episodes best moments were when it showed the two dealing with their expectations for that impending conversation I was a bit bummed that they kicked the can down the road on a resolution. Yes, I get that the show feels that they have to draw out that sexual tension as long as possible, but we know they are going to make it happen sooner or later so why tease us for so long.
I mentioned Masters getting cut down to size a bit by Betty, but his wife is the only one that catches him off guard over the course of the episode. I still wish Caitlin Fitzgerald had more to do as Libby Masters, but this week’s episode was a start as they get to show just how open and progressive she can be towards Masters and his work. Her picking him up after being raided out of the brothel was a good bit of comedy, but what worked even better was letting us see just how much she understands her husband. She trusts him that he isn’t a perv and is doing all of this for science and she is even willing to indulge in a little fantasy.. As much as this reveals about Libby it affirms even more about Masters as we see he can’t even come close to doing with his wife what he hopes to expose with his studies; unless maybe it was with Virginia. It seems like it is going to be a sad road for Libby proceeding forward and I do hope Fitzgerald gets plenty to work with as she slowly loses her husband to Virginia.
This weeks episode of Masters of Sex seemed to be deliberately stopping to expand the world, but for all the avenues they tried to take they weren’t all that successful. Instead of forcing episode two to try and flesh things out I would have preferred a more natural roll out through the season, especially when parts of the episode were so poorly executed. Ethan isn’t going anywhere, much to my disappointment, but neither is the nearly fired Virginia. Let’s just hope that we get more of Masters and Virginia together next week as that is the shows strength at this moment and everything should be coming out of that.