Masters of Sex: “Parallax” Season 2 Premiere Review

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Season 2 of Showtime’s dynamic period piece returns with triumphant energy.

As Frank Underwood so aptly stated in the first season of House of Cards, “Everything is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power.”

These words couldn’t ring truer in the premiere of Showtime’s steamiest drama. As much as Masters of Sex likes to document the physical conduct of its characters, its focus is entirely more concerned with the ramifications of personal choices made in an era where outright compliancy was considered normal behavior.

Yet, even in the confines of their restricted roles, the women in this episode are given much to do in terms of controlling their own environment. Libby (the always excellent Caitlin Fitzgerald) takes it upon herself to procure her husband a new position after his unceremonious firing from the hospital. Though Masters is eventually able to secure a new position at Memorial Hospital with Dr. Douglas Greathouse (Danny Huston), it’s thanks in no small part to his wife’s persistence on his attendance at fundraising events, and a chance run in with Betty and her wealthy Pretzel King husband.

Elsewhere, Margaret Scully continues to take the reigns on an unpleasant situation, even as her husband attempts to restore balance to their lives. During a particularly poignant scene, in which Allison Janney is naturally amazing, she rebuffs Barton’s attempts to make love to her. It’s clear that he can’t perform unless he pretends she’s someone else. Her act of supremacy is important, because it displays the exact expectations she has going forward. The relationship between Margaret and her husband is fascinating, because she seems simultaneously sympathetic towards him, and supportive of his risky—electroshock treatment is always startlingly ineffective—therapy methods. The fact that Barton attempts suicide towards the end of the episode is unsettling, but it feels right at home in a marriage that struggles so hard to maintain a shred of normalcy.

Of course, the real relationship that most viewers are concerned about is that of Masters and Virginia. Things ended on a rather melodramatic note last season, as Masters made a rain-soaked declaration for his co-worker’s love at her doorstep…after neglecting to credit her work in the study. Luckily, this is one romantic conflict that isn’t easily solved with some smiles and a Taylor Swift song. The most interesting part about Bill and Gini’s reunion is their combined determination to remain so detached from each other, even when their mutual attraction is so obvious.

We see that the two have been meeting in secret at a hotel to continue an unscientific portion of their study. After all, not everything about sex can be quantified or measured with wires. Still, it’s almost laughable when Bill suggests they aren’t having an affair. From the fake names they use with the bellhop, to the passion they exhibit in the bedroom, the nature of their study falls in a grey area that will provide for some compelling conflict as the season progresses.

For a show that posits its sexual encounters as power struggles, Masters of Sex certainly knows how to offer a complex argument for what it means to give yourself over to someone. The potential romance between Bill and Gini is alluring, but even more exhilarating is the separate lives they try to lead during their illicit activities.

Gini works hard to fight off the stigma of her naked exposure from Bill’s study; focusing on helping Dr. DePaul—who has a mysterious black eye—while trying to sell diet pills to supplement her income. Though she seems to truly enjoy her time with Bill, it’s very apparent that she’s solely focused on her work. Take, for example, the postcoital  scene in the hotel where he reaches for her hand, but is forced to limply grab onto her wrist. It’s a small moment, but it speaks volumes about the dilemma Gini is facing. She’s willing to subject herself to very unconventional practices, as long as she can receive some sort of personal advancement. What’ll be exciting to see, is how she’ll react to her strict conditions once it becomes harder to ignore her emotions.

Bill, on the other hand, seems to be using the study as an escape from reality. He’s so desperate to continue his work, that he takes on the first benefactor he sees in Betty’s husband. Moreover, the decidedly dark scene, in which he ignores his newborn baby’s cries in favor of his work, proves just how unhappy he is in his current situation. Libby and his son provide him with the facade of a traditional life, but it’s clear that his ambitions far outweigh the pleasantness of his family’s suburban dreams. His home is an environment where he feels without control, so it’s no wonder he’s resorted to secret hotel visits.

Masters of Sex‘s return was exciting, especially given the polarizing ending of last season’s finale episode. I’m sure there are many people watching the show with a will-they-or-won’t-they anticipation for Bill and Gini, but I have to say I’m extremely pleased with the expertly subtle way in which the show is allowing their relationship to unfold. Conducting a study on the science of something so intimate can be confusing, which is why it’s a smart choice for the writers to keep everyone’s feelings in the dark for now. I look forward to the rest of this season, particularly as it reveals who really has the upper hand. Grade: A-

 

By Mike Papirmeister

 

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