Review: ‘Masters of Sex’ – ‘Love And Marriage’

11.17.13 4 years ago 34 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Masters of Sex” coming up just as soon as I expect you to act like a seismometer…

Even as Dr. Masters and Mrs. Johnson debate how much emotional attachment matters when it comes to sex, the subject of attachment has become one of the most important for “Masters of Sex” itself. In “Love and Marriage,” we find several characters pursuing severe steps to hang onto someone close to them: Bill by sabotaging Virginia’s attempts to get her degree (which, ironically, she pursued to protect herself in case he wanted to sever their connection), Libby by getting pregnant with the help of Bill’s frozen sperm and Dr. Haas (and by getting dance lessons from Walter the friendly widower handyman(*)), Haas by proposing to Vivian Scully (though she winds up pretty much proposing to herself), and Barton Scully pondering a primitive form of gay conversion therapy in the hopes that Margaret will stay with him.

(*) Two quick thoughts on Walter: 1)Flex Alexander was a dancer before he became an actor (and star of the greatest/worst sitcom ever, “Homeboys in Outer Space”), so he works as a guy who could be an amateur dance instructor; and 2)I wish we had seen the moment where Libby and Walter progressed from dancing in parallel to dancing arm in arm. Libby has not come across as a prejudiced person, but this is still the Midwest in the late ’50s, and you could see a wariness on Walter’s face when she suggested he teach her in the first place. Maybe if Walter sticks around, the show will touch on the racial implications for the period, but it felt like a step – even seeing an extra moment of hesitation on his part before taking Libby’s hand – was missed. 

Having spent a lot of time last week talking about the many minefields created by Bill and Virginia becoming subjects in the study, I want to focus this week on the Scully marriage. Allison Janney and Beau Bridges have been so great in these guest roles. Janney got her big moment a couple of weeks ago when Margaret left Bill’s office after being rejected for the study, and Bridges gets several of his here. Just look at the mixture of genuine love and self-loathing on Bridges’ face in the drive-in scene, as Barton tries to express his feelings for Margaret while covering up the reason why his love never turns to lust. The whole thing is just a terrible mess: he doesn’t appreciate how much he’s been hurting her all these years, and she can’t comprehend that he wouldn’t be any more interested in Marilyn Monroe’s naked body if it was standing before him than he was in hers. And given by the cultural mores of the time and his feelings for his wife in every way but physical, you can understand why Barton might be driven to this severe, experimental step, even as you can understand why his frequent companion Dale would be disgusted by the idea.

It’s also interested to see the show dealing with this so early in its run. Gay conversion is a subject that would become part of the Masters and Johnson story many years down the road(**). As “Masters of Sex” author Thomas Maier, who has kindly turned up in the comments each week to offer his insight and answer questions, has noted, the show has already taken some liberties with the real story, whether through composite characters like Barton or tweaking the biographical details of the real characters. (Bill and Libby had two kids by this point in history). I’m wondering if Michelle Ashford and company chose to deal with conversion now because they suspect the show, even in success, won’t be around long enough to get to that topic, or if there’s something about this moment for the other characters (and/or for the culture) where it made thematic sense to talk about it. 

(**) I’m agnostic on the idea of history as a spoiler. That being said, I’d ask those of you who know more about Masters and Johnson beyond what the show has told us so far to be vague about the future. We’ll get to most of it when the show does, and if it winds up having a much shorter run than the partnership did in real life, then we can turn the comments about the series finale into a catch-all discussion of everything Bill and Virginia did in their later years.  

Lots of other things to discuss in the comments, including our first glimpse of Dr. Langham’s poor (but not the least bit oblivious) wife, Haas getting his proposal stolen out from under him, the revelation that Dr. DePaul is so eager to get her pilot program going because she herself is a cancer patient, Bill being a control freak as usual, Libby being pregnant again, etc. But this was another strong hour in a season that’s been full of them.

What did everybody else think?

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