This week’s episode of Masters of Sex should have been called “[almost] A Brave New World,” since most of the scenes work to set us up for next week’s big action. However, this episode has its fair share of shocking moments, and pulls it weight in furthering the plot arcs of most of the main players, facilitating some pretty interesting cross-overs. So far, the pacing of this show has suffered at the hands of exposition and character development, but now that we know everybody pretty well, “New World” is segueing into what looks like a pretty amazing back nine.
As expected, Libby is struggling with her loss, looking the picture of pretty fragility and quiet grief. Bill arranges for them to spend a week in Miami to help her move on from the miscarriage, but it quickly turns uneventful as he is more interested in phoning Virginia to check in and in the elderly couple having sex next door. These scenes are pretty typical of what we know about their relationship, and just when I was beginning to wonder how long this show expects us to put up with her silent petulance, she insists Bill return home without her. This marks a turning point for Libby, and the ensuing scenes demonstrate she is a much more multifaceted character than I had originally given her credit for. Even as she sucks down daiquiris and meaningfully lies about a dead husband lost in a plane crash, we see a different Libby emerge; one that is not long for Bill Masters.
Bill, in the meantime, returns home to an excited Ginny, eager to dispel the antiquated and misogynist theories of Dr. Freud. One of the running subplots of “New World” is the masturbation competition between the vaginal and clitoral orgasm and when Jane declares, “My clitoris beat my vagina,” Ginny is inspired to prove that men are completely unnecessary for women to enjoy sex. This is also a running theme throughout the episode as well, as more and more of the male characters become accessories to the women. As a result of her hypothesis, Bill promotes her to research assistant, and their relationship deepens into that of respect and admiration on both parts. Dr. DePaul is the vehicle that drives this point home, as Bill reacts to her jealousy and catty accusations concerning her motives in hiring Ginny, taking up for her when Dr. DePaul acts outs the stereotype the show debunks in every episode. Dr. DePaul works as a contrast for all the complex female characters, although I suspect we’ll see more evolution in her character later.
Speaking of complex female characters, this episode also could have been called “Allison Janney Deserves an Emmy” because she delivers a highly nuanced and relatable performance as the sexually-starved Margaret Scully. The surprise I felt when she approached Ginny about being a part of the study quickly gave way to compassion as she confesses she and Barton only have sex once a year, “maybe less.” The pity then quickly turns to admiration for the actress playing this character, as Janney gracefully executes what could have been an awkward and pitiful performance. Margaret, along with the rest of the female characters in the episode are learning how to help themselves (so to speak), upending the dynamics of the characters at every turn.
The last few moments left me with my mouth hanging open: Margaret and Austin have sex in the backseat of her car after a tender exchange following a chance encounter, and Ginny unbuttons her shirt and places Bill’s hand on her breast in the name of science, leaving me wishing the episode was sixty minutes longer. Masters of Sex is picking up speed, and if the scenes from next week are any indication, there is still more to come.