How did Showtime’s ‘Masters of Sex’ lose its way?

A few thoughts on the end of “Masters of Sex” season 3 coming up just as soon as the Little Brown man is back…

I had to take a break from reviewing this season's episodes when I went to LA for press tour, fully intending to pick back up with it a few weeks down the road. Sometimes, when I pause regular coverage, all I feel is frustration at not having an outlet to write about each episode of a show. At other times, though, it can be a relief, and I discovered that I not only didn't miss reviewing the show weekly, but was relieved that I no longer had to rush to watch the next episode. When we got up to Virginia trying to jump start a gorilla's libido, I just stopped watching altogether, having lost interest in just about every corner of the series, despite the continued great performances from Sheen, Caplan, et al.

I watched last week's “Party of Four” (written by “Party of Five” creator Amy Lippman) mainly because the structure sounded a bit like “Fight,” which was the last truly great “Masters” episode, and felt the hour got good mileage out of forcing Bill, Virginia, Dan Logan and his wife (played by the always-welcome Judy Greer) into a series of uncomfortable but candid conversations. At the same time, Bill's relentless awfulness – and lack of compensating bits of charisma, or genius, or the other things that make us want to keep watching shows about Don Draper, Walter White, et al – was one of the reasons I had grown tired of watching, and this just felt like the umpteenth episode to ask, without satisfactory answer, why Virginia would want to devote so much of her life to this cold, manipulative man.

That was really the question of the whole season, and one that I don't think Michelle Ashford answered satisfactorily. There's the obvious matter of the historical record and the duration of the Masters and Johnson partnership, but the show has by now fictionalized so much of the story that Ashford could have just gone full “Inglourious Basterds” and rewritten the big details as well as the small. Instead, it stuck to the facts, more or less, in this one area that had made the show monotonous and unpleasant, while deviating wildly elsewhere to generate material for Libby, Betty, and all the supporting characters.

Virginia at least finally accepts in the finale that she needs to get far away from Bill, though I imagine her time with Dan Logan won't last long into season 4. I don't know that I'll be watching at that point, though, because the show has ceased to offer enough dramatic rewards to compensate for sitting through the adventures of a control freak who is consistently wrong about everything in his personal life, and only slightly less wrong at this stage of his work life.

Showtime dramas often run out of steam after their first one or two seasons, but usually because they had premises that weren't sustainable over the long haul. (See “Dexter” and, to a degree, “Homeland.”) Based on how much more of the Masters and Johnson story there is to tell, “Masters of Sex” shouldn't be suffering from that particular problem, but it's been struggling for a while now to generate compelling fictionalized stories out of the complicated facts.

But that's me. For those of you who stuck it all the way through the season, what did you think? And if you, like me, gave up on the show at some point, why?