Masters of Sex: “Race to Space” Season 1 Episode 2 Review

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The second episode of Showtime’s intriguing new drama is little scattershot, but lands some solid moments.

This week’s episode didn’t leave as strong of an impression on me as the breakout pilot did, but there were enough decent scenes to hold me over until next week.  Masters tries to play a balancing act between all of the characters it introduced to us in the pilot, to some mixed results.

As I said last week, William Masters is clearly a layered character.  We got to see more sides to him in this episode, and lot of it was quite interesting.  It appears the doctor who is perilously determined to study human sexuality is, himself, pretty repressed.  In one scene his wife, now fully aware of his new endeavor, offers to pleasure herself in front of him.  He makes her stop rather quickly, saying he can’t watch because he loves her too much.  This is a funny contradiction, and it made me think that Masters’ repression is probably the driving force behind his studies.  He’s not just trying to make a sexual guidebook for future generations.  He truly doesn’t understand sex, and is both curious and fearful of the unknown.

Unfortunately, this leads to some disjointed moments that are a bit frustrating to watch.  Masters’ repression often gets in the way of his work and in the way of sexual progress.  He lashes out at Virginia when he believes she’s the reason the Provost found out about their couples sessions, causing them to lose funding for their project.  It’s soon made evident, however, that his rage might actually be stemming from a jealousy of sorts of his protégée Ethan, who got to sleep with Virginia.  It’s realistic for him to fight his physical attraction to her, or to the prostitutes who now serve as his subjects when he’s forced to move his work to a brothel.  Still, it’s disheartening to see him alienate the one woman who can truly help him out.  Surely he must know that he can’t do this without her.

Speaking of Virginia, her character was once again one of the episode’s highlights as she continued to struggle with being a modern woman in a more archaic world.  As a single mother, she tries to give 100% to both her kids and her job, but it just doesn’t always work out.  Today, this is a common dilemma and the reason that nanny’s, au pairs, and daycare centers have become so popular.  In Virginia’s time, people can’t understand why she doesn’t want to always be with her children, and deem her an unfit mother.  It’s not that Virginia doesn’t love her kids, it’s just that she wants to be part of something bigger as well.

Aside from all of this, the rest of the episode delves into the lives of the smaller characters who are all affected by the study in some way.  Some of this is interesting, like with the prostitute Betty who wants to marry a wealthy man and have his children, despite being a lesbian.  She knows it’s not what she really wants, but she’d rather have a shot a “normal life.”  Her character is  a very honest portrayal of women during this time period.  Unlike Masters’ doting wife Libby, Better speaks her mind.  Yet, when it comes to the bigger picture, she still feels like she has to abide by society’s rules to get ahead.

Other subplots didn’t work out so well.  The two subjects of the couples study, Austin and Jane, try to move on after their work in the hospital is shut down.  Austin wants to keep “studying” in private, but Jane isn’t willing to help out unless it’s truly for science.  This could go somewhere exciting, but for now it just seems like a clichéd will-they-or-won’t-they story. Additionally, Ethan is still reeling from his altercation with Virginia.  Though she made it clear that she doesn’t want to see him anymore, he still pines for her, even when with other women.  Again, this feels a little overdone, and I hope they do more with his character than just make him fall for the first sexually adventurous girl he ever met.

In the end, though, things really do come together.  As Virginia looks at the comic book she neglected to read with her son, she likens the story’s hero–an astronaut–to Masters; floating between two worlds and unsure of where to go.  Virginia seems unsure herself, but I have a feeling that watching these two wayward souls navigate a new world will be very captivating.  Grade: B+

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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