Masters of Sex: “Party of Four” Season 3 Episode 11 Review

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Season 3’s penultimate episode is quite a doozy, but does it arrive a little too late?

One thing that struck me throughout “Party of Four” was how focused and tight the episode was. I’m not just referring to the fact that the narrative chose to focus on the core characters—no annoying subplots involving Barton or Austin or Betty and Helen’s baby this week—but also the way the episode was shot, closing in on the characters as we get down to the final hour.

“Party of Four” elicits a sense of claustrophobia throughout, and it’s exciting to watch the various characters squirm under the pressure. The most obvious use of this arrives toward the end of the episode when Bill corners Gini in the cramped coat closet of the restaurant and forces her to listen to his flawed reasoning. It’s an engrossing sequence, because all Gini wants to do is get out of that tight space, and yet there’s something in what Masters is saying that keeps her glued to her spot.

The episode keeps this sort of encroaching nature throughout, especially during all the scenes where Bill and Gini go on the dinner date from hell on their trip to New York. Everything from the too small table where they eat with Dan and his wife Alice (the lovely Judy Greer) to the bathroom where Gini is continually pestered by a clueless attendant feels like its designed to corner these characters until a choice is made. I just wish it were a more profound one.

Setting up Bill and Gini against Dan and Alice was a smart move, as we get to see two toxic relationships unravel side by side. Gini cannot believe the lengths Bill went to in order to gloat in her face, and Bill cannot believe Gini won’t listen to his—deeply flawed and patriarchal—point of view. On the other side of the table, Dan and Alice try to prove why the other is clearly the worst. Does Alice have a choice, but to look the other way while Dan serially cheats on her? Does Dan have a choice, but to pursue extramarital affairs when his wife is an alcoholic? Who can really say for sure who’s more at fault?

So here we get back to the topic of choice, and the one unfortunate bump in the road of an otherwise stellar Masters of Sex episode. The main decision of the week rests with Gini, and it boils down to which man she’ll end up choosing. Will she continue in her “marriage of the minds” with Bill, or pursue something more passionate with Dan?

Virginia Johnson is a complex character, and Lizzy Caplan plays her beautifully, so this plotline feels wholly unworthy of her. Caplan doesn’t get much to do in “Party of Four” besides act pissed, and she should be. When you work your whole life to fight against a misogynistic society and break through the glass ceiling, it’s extremely upsetting to have your future be dumbed down to “which boy should I take home with me?”

Other than this, “Party of Four” is truly a major upswing from the funk Master of Sex‘s third season seems to have fallen into. The writing is sharp this week, and we get some excellent two person scenes with between both Bill and Dan and Dan and Alice. The latter, in particular, becomes poignantly heartbreaking when Alice realizes that Gini isn’t like the other women Dan has had affairs with. Greer delivers a knockout performance in that one brief scene, and the entire plotline works to add layers to Dan besides his usual Prince Charming personality.

Meanwhile, back in St. Louis, Libby and Paul play house in a storyline that doesn’t go as expected. Libby is truly happy with Paul, which means something terrible is right around the corner since this series can’t seem to help but torture poor Libby Masters. Yet, her usual tearful spat of the week isn’t a pitiful cry for help. Instead, she makes a conscious decision to stay with Bill despite of how terrible he is, so that their children can grow up knowing their father. Having this come about through Johnny’s outburst over his father’s absent nature was compelling, and an obvious reason for Libby to want to stay put. Sure, it’s disheartening to realize that she won’t get to ride off into the sunset with Paul, world’s greatest husband and father, but the fact that she’s taking charge of the situation makes her character interesting once again.

Next Sunday, the season 3 finale will air. I’m really not sure how things are going to end, but here’s what I’m hoping for. A better and more fulfilling outcome for Gini, a smack across the face for Bill—preferably from Gini, or Libby, or both at the same time—and more nuanced, informed writing like this week. It’s been sad to see this great show lose it’s way, but hopefully it can return to its greatness for a killer ending. Grade: B+

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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