Masters of Sex: “Matters of Gravity” Season 3 Episode 5 Review

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A stunning resurgence of the show’s usual caliber couldn’t have been a more welcome surprise.

It’s a little hard to believe that Bill Masters—who found it so difficult to master basic human interaction that he bought a book on it—had an amazing speech at the ready when he made his triumphant return to WashU.

Still, this grievance does very little to detract from how great his speech, and the episode as a whole, is. Much of “Matters of Gravity” deals with the idea that there’s an immeasurable force when it comes to matters of the heart—a powerful pull that causes men and women to act illogically. It’s not something that can be quantified through any of Bill and Gini’s tests, but it’s something that everyone is itching to understand.

Dan is the most literal iteration of this, as he desperately seeks to put this kind of intoxication into his perfume bottles. The episode proves, however, that this force pertains to a lot more than just sex.

Gini’s parents come to town—at Tessa’s behest—and their insertion into her daily life does well to further color her character. A mother with refined viewpoints meddling with her daughter’s more modern sensibilities is nothing new, but what’s fascinating about this narrative is how a maternal nuisance causes Gini to take a hard look at her own life choices.

I especially liked the detail that it was she who enrolled herself in beauty pageants as a child, instead of her mother forcing her to go through with them. Gini has always been ambitious to a fault, but her need for approval is something that could eventually hinder her. It’s heartbreaking to watch as her brief moment of happiness is squashed when her mother reveals that she thinks her greatest accomplishment is getting a married man to fall in love with her. So, naturally, she immediately asks a different married man out to dinner. Gini is better than her mother. She knows this. Yet, she still allows her to get under her skin. The pull is undeniable.

Bill, meanwhile, faces his own familial demons as he discovers his youngest son has been beat up at school. We know from episodes like “Fight” that Bill’s own father was a monster, and despite his best efforts, Bill can’t seem to fully shake him. The groundwork that has been laid for his character makes his reaction—scaring the living sh*t out of the bully—very believable, but no less shocking.

The best part of this plot thread, though, arrives after Bill’s rousing speech. He’s driving home in the car with Libby, when he realizes that the vanquishing of his enemies is all for nothing. He knows that spending time terrorizing small children or showing up everyone at the university that kicked him to the curb might make him feel good, but it does nothing in the way of advancing his scientific pursuits. It’s a fleeting feeling of satisfaction, but it’s one he can’t seem to stop chasing.

I’m probably a bit biased when it comes to Alison Janney, but Margaret and Barton’s plotline is easily the episode’s best—illustrating the positive potential of fighting back against the immeasurable pull. Margaret realizes that her new relationship might be different sexually, but it’s still the same sort of unhealthy interaction that will leave her lonely.

Her conversation with Graham is refreshingly frank—with perfect line delivery, as always—but even better is her conversation with Barton in which he’s able to help her see how strong she really is. Yes, she entered another doomed relationship, but this time she’s the one who got up and left. She knows she deserves better, and now she’s going to fight for it.

Masters of Sex has had a rough start to its third season, but with more episodes like this one, it could easily return to its former greatness. An interesting moment occurs at the beginning of the episode that sees religious fanatics publicly shaming Bill and Gini outside their office. It isn’t brought up again, but it is very intriguing. Watching the success of Masters and Johnson is stirring, but watching them face adversity could be even more engrossing. After all, you can’t have a revolution without a good fight. Grade: A-

 

Some Other Notes:

– Betty cracking Bill’s back is the greatest thing ever.

– So Tessa bought a bow tie and stuffed it in the laundry so her grandma would find it in the hopes that it would expose Bill and Gini’s affair. That is some advanced level trickery, young lady.

– “That’s not the point!” “It couldn’t be more the point!” Seriously, amazing work from Janney and Tate Donovan.

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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