Masters of Sex: “Asterion” Season 2 Episode 7 Review

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Masters of Sex had outdone itself once again, with a mesmerizing journey through the study’s timeline.

Time-jump episodes are tricky feats to pull off. A gap in a show’s narrative can either be a very good or a very bad thing. On one hand, it allows for a fresh start. Characters can change, new plot points can be conceived, and flashback sequences can be used to fill in the blanks. On the other, it could just amount to a confusing mess. Anyone looking for an excellent use of this device should certainly check out the season 2 finale of Alias, which sees Jennifer Garner’s Sydney Bristow realizing that she’s lost two years of her life. Conversely, anyone looking for how not to employ a time-jump should just look at the aftermath of True Blood‘s season 6 ending.

This week, Masters of Sex tried their hand at time-jumping and the results are neither as sensational as Alias, nor as nonsensical as True Blood. Instead, we’ve gotten a highly original episode that doesn’t so much advance the plot several years as it does allow us glimpses into the lives of these fascinating characters at a much faster pace than we’re used to. Season 2 has been a bit of a slow-burner, so the change is initially startling. Yet, seeing the detail in the execution—everything from the businesses in Masters’ new office building to the women’s clothing and hairstyles is subtly updated throughout the episode—makes this new speed feel very believable.

What’s really incredible to watch, however, is the progression of the characters. This show has shown us that a lot can happen over the course of a single night in a hotel, but a whole lot more can happen when a few years whiz by. We start with Masters and Virginia opening their own clinic; worrying about money and trying to get the study back off the ground. Betty is hired to do bookkeeping, which is a smart move because Annaleigh Ashford whipsmart demeanor provides the perfect comic relief.

During the jumps, we see developments even in the show’s ancillary characters. Betty gets an accounting degree and aces her CPA exam. Austin begins dating a model, and eventually realizes the bachelor life isn’t for him (too bad his wife isn’t on the same page). Lester returns to help film more of the study’s experiments. The background on which the episode is established effectively ties the cast of this show together, instead of having them pop in and out of each other’s lives.

Of course, things can’t really continue onward and upward while Masters is still resentful towards Gini for seeing other men. It’s awful and hypocritical, of course, but we’ve already seen that Masters is a man who lashes out when he feels most vulnerable. The truth is he needs Gini, and the fact that she won’t give herself over to him completely is terribly upsetting to him.

I talk a lot about the amazing performances of the women on this show, and with good reason. Masters of Sex is superb at using its premise to highlight the inequalities and double standards women faced in the 50s, and how they were able to occasionally triumph despite these roadblocks. To express all of this, you need a group of talented actresses, which the show certainly has. This week, however, I have to give credit to Michael Sheen. The actor has played Masters’ bottled-up personality to a tee this season, but he’s most impressive when his character is allowed to break down.

The further Masters slips down this rabbit hole of depression, the more monstrous he becomes. In one truly disturbing sequence, he pleasures Gini on a balcony while overlooking several party guests, one of whom is his wife. He’s drunk and angry, and owes Gini an apology, but instead viciously turns the tables on her and her slew of gentleman callers. It’s shocking to see him act this way, and Sheen delivers an expertly cruel performance. I’m hesitant to label Masters as an antihero, but he certainly fits the bill of characters with good intentions that go dangerously awry.

Eventually, the two are able to patch things up. After a year or so of keeping things strictly business, Gini is able to admit the one thing Masters cannot: they need each other. So, the two resume their hotel meet-ups, but it seems the guise of sleeping together “for the work,” is wearing very thin.

It’s infuriating to hear Masters, at one point, tell Gini she’s a poor parent, especially since he’s hardly involved in his own children’s lives. Still, it becomes clear that his fixation on the impressions of early childhood stem more from his own upbringing. The wonderful Ann Dowd returns as Masters’ mother Essie, who’s apparently been meeting with Libby in secret despite Masters insistence that she stay away.

What’s interesting, though, is that after Masters is reunited with Gini romantically he’s able to open up his heart a little bit more to let his mother back in. He discovers Essie has been secretly funneling money to him–something he initially refused from her—and instead of getting mad, he just lets it go. I’m not sure if this is means he’s on the road to recovery for his suffering, but it’s definitely a positive start. Gini is obviously a positive influence in his life, so much so that Libby even invites her to come on vacation with them because “things are better” when she’s around.

Speaking of Libby, this is perhaps her most tragic episode yet. While Masters and Gini progress in an ultimately positive direction, Libby continues to remain an unfortunate consequence to the show’s budding central relationship. All of the characters on the show go through some sort of change, but the saddest thing for Libby is that she really just remains in the same place. Sure, she has another baby now, and Masters has allowed Essie to resume contact with her, but she’s still trapped in a loveless marriage. It’s a testament to how great the writing is on this show, that it’s easy to sympathize with both her and Gini, when normally you’d be picking sides.

One of the more exciting aspect of Masters of Sex has been its examination of those that deviate from the norm. The Scully’s have been noticeably absent this season, which hasn’t been bad, but has also deprived the show of an entryway into a meditation on deviance. It seems things might be heading back in this direction, however, with the return of Betsy Brandt’s Barbara, who applies to the study in the hopes of getting some answers about her lack of a vaginal opening. I’m excited to see where this goes, and if it means more of Brandt every week then who can really complain?

“Asterion” ends on somewhat of a happy note. Masters and Gini appear to be on good terms. Essie has been reunited with her grandkids, and the study is in full swing. On a show like Masters of Sex, I’m fully aware that these good times probably mean that something bad is right around the corner. With episodes this consistently good, however, I can’t wait to see what happens. Even if its terrible for the characters onscreen, it will probably be thrilling to watch. Grade: A

 

By Mike Papirmeister

 

 

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