Season Ones can be fascinating to watch, because even the worst, low concept garbage can show glimpses of potential. Masters of Sex is hardly that, as there is a creative vision here that is almost a prerequisite for a show to get greenlit in the 21st century premium cable landscape. Even Hung had enough to get three seasons. Episode 4 seems to be the moment for me where Masters has shown that it has that little something extra that elevates it over some of its more mundane yet glamorous contemporaries.
This episode finally showed some growth for young, up and cumming Dr. Ethan Haas, who heretofore has only been an unrepentant horndog, other than his violent outburst toward and unhealthy obsession with Ginny. Now we see him drunk and acting like a child, until he is rejected for the fifth or sixth time. This seems to bring about some clarity in him, and we get to see his calm inner sociopath. Showing him so absolutely hammered that he pukes outside the operating room, yet presumably still goes through with performing the surgery was a brilliant touch. The 60s, yes they were different, but not all of the differences were as wonderful as some might like to remember. It finally seems to have gotten through to him that Ginny doesn’t want to be in love with him.
But it’s still completely unclear who, if anyone, Ginny does want to be with. It’s certainly the mystery of this first season. Here her ex-husband and father of her children is introduced, and he ends up worming his way not only into her bedroom, but also into the sex study as an “anonymous” participant. Ginny’s still fucking him, but obviously regards him with near the lowest form of distaste. She definitely wants nothing to do with Ethan, but is she enjoying toying with him a little too much? She also seems to have a thing for Bill, but it almost seems to be more of a quest to seek out fatherly affection than anything else. What does this woman want? I have a feeling we might not find out until the final episode of the season.
More importantly, did women and relationships like this actually exist in the 60s? We have a tendency to treat the relatively recent past like it was the stone age. So when a show begins to explore the complexity of sexual relationships, it seems somewhat difficult to believe that people faced many of the same issues and misunderstandings that people do now. Until this episode, I kept thinking that the show was primarily focused on the study of human sexuality. But the show’s actual focus seems to be on the sexual and personal relationships of these five or six people, which seems to be infinitely more interesting.
Bill Masters is equally fascinating in this episode. He’s obviously a sexual deviant, who would be shocked and appalled to be called a sexual deviant. He’s equally enthralled with Ginny, but has the ability to successfully disguise it where Ethan doesn’t. He’s also still very childish when it comes to sex, so when he discovers that Ginny’s ex-husband participated in the study, of course he brings him back in for an interview, in order to get some subtle insight toward eventually pleasing her genitalia. But it’s pretty fucking creepy when he is obviously rewinding and re-listening repeatedly to a dude talking about how he gets his ex-wife off. Bill needs a release, sooner rather than later.
It still isn’t as intriguing as its cousin Mad Men, but few shows in the history of television are. After the barrage of fantastic TV that we’ve been hit with over the past decade and a half, it’s inevitable that we begin comparing each show to the best of the best. Masters will never reach that level. But this week it managed to surprise me and exceed my expectations. I thought that I knew the direction for this show, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find out that I was wrong. It probably doesn’t have enough impact to ever become one of my favorite shows, but there’s enough meat on this bone, enough layers to this onion, to keep me cumming back for more.