Masters of Sex: “Love and Marriage” Season 1 Episode 8 Review

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As characters fall in and out of love, the study progresses and this show continues to give us excellence each week.

Masters of Sex struggled to mold its characters during the beginning few episodes, but now that it has it’s gotten to a point where it can take them almost anywhere. This episode didn’t seem to be a progression toward anything–save for a few choice scenes involving the study–but was more of a pitstop to check in on how everyone’s lives are going. Still, it was a marvelously executed and just as entertaining as some of the more climactic episodes.

A couple of things circled around Virginia this week to show just how complex her life has gotten since joining Masters’ study. She butts heads again with Dr. DePaul in trying to balance her work and earning a degree. DePaul takes a roundabout route to eventually appreciating Virginia, but it’s fascinating to watch these two women try to thrive on their own merit and achieve success in a time when they were typically more dormant. DePaul clearly has a large chip on her shoulder and, as we later find out, some personal demons she is battling. Watching her begin to antagonize Virginia less and less over the course of the episode is heartwarming, and I only hope the two can become allies before the season’s end.

In another facet of Virginia’s life, we see Masters’ attraction to her continue to grow. What started out as something plainly physical seems to have developed into a romance of sorts. Masters encourages Virginia to pursue a degree, even if her classes get in the way of the study. Since he spends no time with Libby this week, this a very interesting development. Masters cares about Virginia’s personal happiness, and shows interest in her life outside work. He slightly undermines himself when he makes a deal with Dr. DePaul at the end, but I’d like to think it’s because he wants to spend more time with her.

This, of course, is bad news for his wife who spends most of the episode in a somewhat dull sublplot involving her African American handyman. Should this progress, I hope it’s used to explore race relations in the 1950s, and not as just another tawdry affair. The most important part of this story is obviously Libby discovering that she’s pregnant again. Given that she’s been keeping her meetings with Ethan a secret, I’m anticipating some great scenes between her and her husband as this plays out.

Another subplot I didn’t quite care about was Ethan proposing to Vivian. It seems to have been done purely for the episode’s comic relief, and not for the benefit of either character. I will admit to laughing, especially since Vivian appears to be–to borrow a term from Wedding Crashers–a “stage 5 clinger,” but I think there could have been some interesting exploration here that the show missed out on. Of all the reasons Ethan gives Austin for wanting to marry, none of them is love. That, in and of itself, speaks volumes and I hope it is addressed in the coming weeks.

The real draw of this episode, however, was once again the complex saga of the Scully marriage. Allison Janney goes above and beyond this week, and that’s saying something because I’ve been praising her ever since she first appeared onscreen. I’m not sure if she’s still considered a recurring character or has been bumped up to a series regular at this point, but either way I see Emmy gold in her future. Margaret’s scene at the bar with Barton and his escort went from shrewd, to painfully uncomfortable, to hauntingly dynamic during the couple’s bathroom argument.

Her loneliness and disillusionment with her own marriage has maintained itself as a gripping subplot, while also making the characters around her feel more essential. I probably wouldn’t care about Austin and his commitment issues had he not been the one to first make Margaret feel alive. Similarly, Barton’s struggles with his homosexuality are amplified by the fact that he keeps his true self a secret from his family. While I’m sure this whole ordeal is largely fictionalized in regards to the actual Masters and Johnson study, I’m so glad they decided to make it a central part of the show. It’s the perfect example of how love and sex can affect our daily lives so strongly, and only another reminder of why the study was so groundbreaking.

Weak subplots aside, this was another solid entry in Masters of Sex‘s debut season. Each week I seem to be more and more amazed by this whipsmart little show. Grade: A-

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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