Masters of Sex: “Parliament of Owls” Season 3 Premiere Review

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Showtime’s steamy period drama returns, somewhat confusingly.

The personal lives of William Masters and Virginia Johnson have always been excellent foils to the professional strides they make with their study. Seeing as how their work involves the science behind sexuality, it makes sense that we’d get to see how their own love lives effect what they do.

That being said, I found the season three premiere to be perplexing. It opens on a pivotal moment in Bill and Gini’s careers; the release of their book Human Sexual Response. This, in and of itself, is a momentous narrative and an excellent way to catapult the show into the swinging 60s. At one point during their official press conference, Gini slyly responds to a reporter’s snarky comment that their book is merely riding on the coattails of the sexual revolution by saying, “we are the sexual revolution.” It’s a great line, and it feels as though it will set the tone for a new season in a new decade.

So why is so much time spent going backward? “Parliament of Owls” jumps between the aforementioned conference and a Masters/Johnson family vacation four months prior.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of meaty material to work with here. Gini’s children are at peak adolescent stages, Bill continues to fight against turning into his own father, and Libby struggles to keep it all together. In a way, these scenes illustrate just how removed these two have become since diving into their work. Bill can’t hold a simple conversation with his son Johnny (St. Vincent‘s Jaeden Lieberher), and Gini is so worried about her son joining the army that she isn’t even aware of her daughter’s drunken impulses.

All of this is vastly interesting, but—as the end credits reveal—its also entirely fictional. Masters of Sex has always done a good job of straddling the line between historical accuracy and dramatic embellishment, but this is the most creative license they’ve ever taken with the story so far. There’s nothing wrong with exaggerating the truth for storytelling purposes, but why do so when the truth is so much more exciting? Bill and Gini are on the precipice of changing the way people talk about sex, but instead of diving straight into this, we get to watch a hula dancing by the lake and trips to the local market.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, though. This is only the premiere and there’s a chance we’ll start to see the effect of Bill and Gini’s work next week. Besides, despite its shortcomings, the flashbacks do have one important narrative to establish. Libby’s pill popping initially seems like an unimportant subplot, but her bedside conversation with Gini is effectively jarring. Caitlin Fitzgerald is terrific as her character desperately tries to grasp at the last shreds of her former life. Libby’s knowledge of the affair—and, in turn, Gini’s knowledge of Libby’s knowledge—could end up causing a seismic shift in Bill and Gini’s relationship going forward.

This was certainly an event premiere, despite its lack of focus. Michelle Ashford and her team have such a strong handle on their characters that this season is sure to be full of powerful moments. They just need to remember that the truth is often stranger than fiction. Grade: B+

 

Some Other Notes:

– So, first thing’s first. Gini is pregnant. I kind of feel like ending the episode on this note was a little cheesy, but I’m also very excited to see how this effects Libby and the study moving forward.

– Good to see Betty, even if it was only for a brief scene. Annaleigh Ashford nails it, as per usual.

– Lester and Barbara got married? Yay!

– Am I reading too much into this, or are the episode’s title and the owl pictures in Bill’s study a reference to Owl-Eyes in The Great Gatsby? He’s the only character at the party who’s more interested in reading books, which is pretty much Bill during the entire vacation.

– The reporter who continually critiqued the work during the press conference turned out to like it most of all. Surprise, surprise.

 

By Mike Papirmeister

 

 

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