Masters of Sex: “Manhigh” Season 1 Finale Review

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Showtime’s newest drama finished its premiere season with several surprises and some intriguing cliffhangers.

Masters of Sex has never been a show about flare. Though it deals with a truly exorbitant subject matter, it’s never been one to pull fast punches or take sharp turns. Instead, we’ve gotten a season that depicts a group ordinary people embarking on an extraordinary journey. The historical basis for this show certainly adds to the excitement, but on the whole it’s been a leisurely-paced drama that felt grounded in reality.

That being said, this week’s season finale pulled out all the stops in terms of shock value. Normally, this would be cause for concern. The few times in the past that the show has attempted to pull of major plot twists have been pretty unsuccessful. Yet, there was something about the events in “Manhigh” that felt very deserved. All season long we’ve been slowly building towards Masters’ presentation on his findings to his peers at the hospital. The results were certainly more explosive than a lot of what we’ve seen on this show so far, but it made total sense. Masters has been conducting his work in secret until now.  It’s no surprise that he caused an uproar when he made his findings public.

The entire presentation scene was brilliantly done. This show has always had some feminist undertones in its portrayal of the repressed nature of the 1950s. Having the doctors become enraged during the portion of Masters’ presentation on female sexuality–but remain calm and lighthearted during the male portion–was a perfect example of that. Of course, the most interesting thing to watch was Virginia’s reaction to her naked body being shown on film. This, coupled with Masters’ refusal to acknowledge her work in the study, made for some fascinating TV and allowed Lizzy Caplan a chance to truly shine.

Masters and Virginia have arguably the most captivating relationship on the show, but it was nice to see an emphasis on Masters’ relationship with Scully as well. Their friendship has been strained to say the least, which made Masters standing up for Scully, and their conversation at the bar afterward, immensely engrossing. Michael Sheen and Beau Bridges play well off each other, and I’m curious of how their partnership will develop next season.

This was a very busy episode, and aside from Masters’ presentation there were several subplots going on simultaneously. Jane and Lester shared their first kiss, which was cute, but not entirely important to the episode as a whole. Ethan gets a job offer in Los Angeles, and then proposes to Virginia over the phone. Obviously there’s no way she’ll move to California with him, but I appreciate the added tension nonetheless. Libby gives birth to a baby boy, but is forced to deliver at a black hospital because she can’t make it to her regular maternity ward in time. The show has subtly dealt with the racial tensions of the era before, particularly with Libby, and I hope they’re going to find a way to incorporate it more into the mainstream of things come season 2.

Perhaps the most interesting subplot, however, revolves around Margaret confronting Scully about his homosexuality. Allison Janney is unsurprisingly terrific, and the process she goes through in the episode–first anger at Scully, then horror at the supposed treatments he going to go through, then loving acceptance–is excellently developed.

The only scene I really feel conflicted about is the final one, and it’s the one that is the most buzzworthy. Masters professing his love to Virginia both worked and didn’t work for me. On one hand, Sheen gives a very earnest delivery of his lines, and this is something that the show has definitely been building to all season. On the other, the image of Masters standing outside Virginia’s door in the pouring rain saying, “I can’t live without you” rang false to me. This isn’t Notting Hill. I liked the confession itself, but I think it could have been done in a much more organic fashion.

So, at the season’s end we’re left with several cliffhangers. What will Virginia’s response to be Masters? How will Masters react to finding out he’s now a father? What will happen to Scully now that he’s going to start electroshock therapy? And, most importantly, what will happen to the study now that Masters has been fired? I usually wouldn’t expect to have this many questions from a show like Masters of Sex, but the episode did a great job of making sure they all felt very essential. With this much potential to work off of, I have a feeling season 2 is going to hit the ground running. Grade: A-

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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