Masters of Sex: “Giants” Season 2 Episode 5 Review

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Getting the study back on track proves to be more difficult than Masters and Virginia imagined.

A great part of Masters of Sex‘s allure derives from the notion of watching people who are trapped in a certain place try and fight their way out of it. It’s utterly captivating to watch people with every disadvantage in life try and claw their way to a better standing. Whether its Virginia fighting to be taken seriously at work, Masters fighting to have his work taken seriously, or Betty and Libby each wanting to be seen as serious people themselves, everyone is seeking a higher opportunity. “Giants” is another fascinating look at how people without power want so badly to obtain it.

Masters and Gini are back together—professionally speaking, of course. After Masters gets a position at the Buell Green Hospital, which caters mostly to black patients, he’s able to bring Gini on-board as his associate. It seems like the solution to all their problems has arrived, but of course nothing on this show is ever so easy. Masters old patients feel uncomfortable being treated at a “negro hospital.” The casual racism amongst his clientele—and even Virginia, at one point—is appalling, but of very par for the course for the 1950s.

Masters doesn’t buy into any of it, but is forced to face the reality of his new life when a fight breaks out in the waiting room. Luckily, he appears to have an ally in Dr. Charles Hendricks (a terrific Courtney B. Vance). Just when Masters and Gini begin to lose hope, he rouses them up with a powerful speech about how worthy causes are worth fighting for. What’s really interesting, though, is the ending shot that reveals Hendricks ripping one of the sex study flyers from the bulletin board and throwing it away. I’m not sure what he has to gain by trying to sabotage their work, but this new adversarial relationship could prove to be quite compelling.

Gini too discovers a hard road ahead when trying to advance her career. She has a devastating argument with Lillian when she realizes that her hotel sessions with Masters are no longer a secret. Julianne Nicholson has been amazing all season, and this episode was no exception. Here Masters of Sex presents an intriguing dichotomy when it comes to women in the workplace. On one hand, Gini makes the point that her, um, extracurricular activities shouldn’t matter as long as she continues to do well at her job. Lillian rebuffs this, saying that Gini knows full-well that her time with Masters goes outside the boundaries of normalcy.

There’s no explicit answer given as to who is in the right, but Lillian’s words certainly have a strong effect on Gini. She fights with Masters over the necessity of their personal participation in the study and, when it becomes clear that there’s no way around it, another role-playing session begins. This time Gini is in control, forcing Masters to strip and masturbate in front of her. When he tells her he’s thinking of her while rubbing one out, she brings him to his knees and allows him to go down on her. The whole scene is eerily fascinating, especially the look on Gini’s face when she realizes she’s in Masters’ fantasy. These two certainly aren’t ready to get together romantically, but each episode brings us one step closer.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Libby’s fight with Coral hits a new low. Coral is in no position to speak out against her employer’s injustices, so her jabs are more subtle. In a truly winning moment, after Libby has condescendingly told her to get rid of her boyfriend, Coral makes a comment about how good he is to her, and then expertly eyes Masters and Libby’s separate beds. This takes a toll on Libby, who later tries to have fun makeup sex with her husband and ends up getting into something painfully unromantic. It’s clear that both these women are second-class citizens, in a way. Coral certainly has a much harder life, and is forced to make a living any way she can, but Libby too is trapped in a role she doesn’t want to be in. It’s heartbreaking to watch her lash out at her nanny, mostly because you know they’d be friends if Libby’s life wasn’t so empty.

The B-plot of this episode was both engrossing and problematic. Now that Betty’s infertility is out in the open, there’s no need for her to visit Masters at the hospital anymore. While it’s true that she was instrumental in getting the study off the ground, her necessity in the world of the show seems to be wearing thin. Masters of Sex strives for a lot of realism, and it just doesn’t make sense to keep cutting back to her when she has no connection to the rest of the narrative.

That being said, I certainly hope the writers find a way to keep her relevant because she’s a thrill to watch. Not only does she provide some of the show’s only comic relief, but she also has some very interesting stories to tell, despite them being unrelated to the central action at-hand. This week we saw her get a blast from the past in the form of an old flame named Helen (Sarah Silverman). Betty decided to hide her lesbianism as a way to get ahead, and in a way it worked. She’s now more financially secure than ever, but is she really happy? The answer is a resounding no, because even as she tries her hardest to shoo Helen away, she gets pulled right back in with a simple kiss. Silverman, by the way, is excellent in a more dramatic role, and anyone looking to see more of her range should check out the brilliant indie Take This Waltz.

Betty’s lack of a connection to the rest of the characters aside, “Giants” was another win in Masters of Sex‘s continually stellar second season. Power dynamics seems to be the name of the game this time around, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to watch these weekly examinations of it. I think the show will certainly become more focused on the study in episodes to come, but these in-depth characterizations have been a welcome replacement. Grade: B+

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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