Review: ‘Masters of Sex’ – ‘Involuntary’

A review of tonight’s “Masters of Sex” coming up just as soon as I pretend my waffle is the Body of Christ…

“But I don’t know who that girl is. And honestly, I don’t want to know.” -Jane

The very first and last scene of “Involuntary” deal with the matter of Virginia’s performance review, but she and Jane are far from the only characters in the hour whose performance, and character, end up under review – often with the characters judging themselves.

The show has had a lot of fun over the last few weeks with the idea of Jane making the demands a traditional movie star might – here essentially requesting final cut – but when she actually gets a look at the film, she’s horrified, despite her face never being visible. She has been perhaps the study’s most enthusiastic participant other than Bill and Virginia themselves, but those grainy celluloid images take all the enjoyment out of it and leave Jane feeling more like a porn actress or prostitute.

No one else gets the benefit of watching themselves on film – as of now, Bill is the only person who’s seen Virginia’s footage (and therefore the only one who knows he filmed her face without her knowledge or permission, because his obsession(*) runs that deep) – but almost everyone comes to see the way they’ve been behaving and the bad position it’s put them in.

(*) In slight fairness to Bill, who is otherwise being a massive creep with Virginia in every way, that smile that Lizzy Caplan flashes at the very end of the footage is a powerful, powerful thing. I can understand why Bill would have been driven to creep-hood, even if I can’t defend it.

Ethan keeps going along with Vivian’s plans for marriage, even resolving to convert to Christianity since his Jewish heritage means little to him, until a conversation with a patient makes him realize that every major decision in his adult life – save his brief fling with Gini – came from him eagerly doing what someone else had in mind for him.

Bill, unable to curb his fixation on either the study or Gini, gets called to account first by his mom – who has two eyes and therefore can see what is happening between her son and his research assistant – and then by Libby, who calls him out on his lies about their respective fertility in exchange for him accepting the truth of her second pregnancy. He’s so shaken by both confrontations, and by the awareness that he and Gini are getting too close, that he all but slaps her across the face with the envelope of cash he gives her for taking Jane’s place as their filmed subject. He knows the effect it will have on her, and for the moment, it’s the effect that he wants, even though it cuts her to the core.

And even before Bill tries to make her feel like a hooker, Gini finds herself out of place in the world. She’s not a secretary anymore (she’s not unwelcome at the impromptu baby shower, but nor was she invited), she’s much older and more experienced than her fellow students (and the only woman), and even she and Dr. DePaul have at best a polite detente at the moment. And we already know previously how uneasy she feels with her role as a mom. Bill’s office, and the lab where they conduct the study, are the only places she feels entirely at home right now, and Bill tears that feeling away from her to coldly serve his own needs.

Tough stuff, and another fantastic episode. The last few scenes make it a possible candidate for Caplan’s Emmy submission (Sheen’s remains, for now, the episode where Libby miscarries), and the show continues to find fascinating new twists and turns in the Masters and Johnson relationship even this early in what will hopefully be a very long TV team-up.

Some other thoughts:

* Boy, seeing how dismayed Essie got at the thought of Perry Mason doctoring a ballistics test on behalf of an innocent client, I can’t imagine how she would respond to the current Age of the TV Anti-Hero, of which this show is a part.

* The scene where Vivian offers Ethan first bacon, then ham, couldn’t help but bring to mind Homer and Lisa’s discussion of the magical animal that provides both. (Apologies for the quality of that clip; best there is at the moment.) 

* Also, since he’s employed by the same network that produces this show, and since “Masters” was filmed on a very different schedule (hence the inclusion many weeks of Allison Janney and Beau Bridges, who are currently busy with their CBS sitcoms), I’d have loved to have snuck Mandy Patinkin into the Orthodox synagogue scene. He didn’t even need to be the guy who yelled at Vivian to go; maybe just a bearded Jewish gent praying right next to the yeller.

* With the shortened Thanksgiving work week, there’s a chance I may not have time to review the next episode (which I have yet to watch) at all, or that whatever I write may have to be very brief. Due to my other Sunday review commitments, I hadn’t planned to be writing as much about this show as I have the last few episodes, but it’s been too good not to. If the holiday messes things up, rest assured I’ll be back at full length for the season’s home stretch.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at