Three episodes into Masters of Sex and I finally feel like I am starting to know these characters as well as I should for a show I love this much. Up until now it has been a silly crush, but I am definitely starting to fall in love with this beautifully rich drama that makes me feel like I was born fifty years too late. The exposition is finally over as we start to see the plot arc take off for the respective characters. Although this show is most assuredly character-driven , the storylines are starting to coalesce into an articulate mosaic that is capable of sustaining the necessary amount of intrigue.
This episode is peppered with flashbacks that reveal an intimate and sweet past between Scully and Bill (although even with the filter and creative lighting, I’m not buying Michael Sheen as a twenty-five year old Bill). All the exposition has finally given way to the momentum of the season, and it is starting to pick up as we see seeds earlier sewn seeds start to sprout. Betty’s request to Dr. Masters to reverse her tubal ligation is met with a mean-spirited rejection, but she is undeterred. Betty is a force to be reckoned with in this series. She doesn’t shrink away from Dr. Masters or feel obligated to please him like Ginny and Libby, so when Bill doesn’t believe her, and belittles her dream of a new life, it reads gutless and mean.In these scenes, she serves as the protagnoist to Bill’s antagonism; standing up to him and manipulating him for her needs is a subversion of the other relationship paradigms for Dr. Masters. Perhaps this is why he is so sad for her when her surgery gets complicated and it is revealed she can’t have children, and why we feel so vindicated when he meets the finance, the pretzel king, Gene. Take that, Bill.
As much as Betty and Bill work well together on-screen, Michael Sheen is becoming adept at telegraphing the growing instead of waning social awkwardness in his character. This is especially true in the scenes set in the brothel. From the strange and oblique questions asked of the prostitutes, (“Are you sexually active?” “Are you married?) to the floundering observations during using of the intimidatingly named Ulysses. This tension becomes even more palpable when male prostitutes are introduced – especially when it is discovered they are homosexual. Dr. Masters watches two men have sex, but his reaction quickly reveals how out of his depth he feels, and this unease grows into contempt as he tells one of the men that he can’t study him because he “deviates from the norm.” All this adds up to what we think is going to be the beginning of us hating him, but we see glimmers of humanity in him when the prostitute shares her story about her abuse at the hands of an uncle. He reels it in pretty quickly, but it’s enough so that we don’t actively hate him, and we can still feel good about rooting for him.
But as this show is constantly revealing new and stunning new aspects to the characters, we are constantly reminded of Dr. Masters’ gross ambition. This episode took some (what seemed like) tangential turns with the gay prostitutes, and the delivery of quads, but it was all building to the pivotal scene in which Bill blackmails Scully in the final moments of the episode. It seems Scully paid the male prostitute for sex, and Bill uses that knowledge as leverage to regain access to the hospital for his study. The flashbacks and Scully’s adulation over the quad birth all served as vehicle to demonstrate the magnitude of Bill’s betrayal.
So what are we to feel about Bill now? Especially now that Libby is pregnant? Its hard to say, but this episode was careful to rule out any hard lines we are taking about Bill; however we ARE firmly invested in him and his relationships with the other characters, that’s for sure.