Masters of Sex Season 3 Review: Quite A Boring Revolution

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Masters of Sex entered the swinging 60s with such promise…which is why season 3’s utter lack of sizzle was such a letdown.

Perhaps my hopes were just too high. Masters of Sex second season was a marvel of television storytelling; an intricate portrait of two flawed people trying to do right in the world despite insurmountable odds. Bill Masters was selfish, arrogant, and often blind to what was right in front him, but he was also a genius. Gini balanced out his weaker aspects with a quick wit and a head for business. Still, she was often hindered by her own blind ambition, making her character all the more human.

Season 3 should have continued in this spirit, watching as Bill and Gini ushered in a new era of sexual liberation. Instead, it fell flat on its face, with no real goals for the season, and several plotlines that ended up being nonstarters. The finale proved to be enticing enough, but it doesn’t make up for the overall mess that came before it.

Not everything was outright terrible, however. Episodes like “Matters of Gravity” and the truly stellar “Party of Four” were showcases for all the greatness this series has to offer. It’s a shame that these episodes were surrounded by half-baked attempts to create the same kind of magic. “Party of Four,” in particular, makes excellent use of the Bill-Gini dynamic…something that needed a lot more development this season.

There was also Josh Charles, who played Gini’s new beau Dan Logan with perfect charm. “Party of Four” does well to add layers to his character, but up until then he’s mostly just a white knight in the face of Bill’s desperate, domineering nature. Dan’s relationship with Gini is exciting, as it’s the first serious blow to whatever it is that she and Bill share. It’s unfortunate that the show boiled down her narrative to a who-will-she-choose plotline, but I can’t say I wasn’t impressed with the direction she went in at the end. Also, Josh Charles is just the greatest.

Now I need to discuss the real root of this season’s troubles: Tessa Johnson. I initially thought her character had promise, despite the fact that she’s entirely fictional. Allowing Gini’s complicated relationship with sex to be filtered through a younger, much more impressionable version of herself seemed like a fascinating idea. Instead, Tessa constantly switched between playing a whiney teenager and a mustache-twirling antagonist to her mother’s relationships with both Bill and Dan.

I’m not sure which is worse, but on top of this two-dimensional characterization, the show also gave her a rape narrative that was eventually swept under the rug. Tessa’s assailant ends up becoming her boyfriend and everyone—including her—is completely fine with it. Gini’s home life often suffered at the expense of her work, so having it play a larger role in the series makes sense. Still, this was far from the way to go about it.

The worst episode of the season was easily “Monkey Business,” which, on top of its terrible title, features a scene in which Gini exposes her breasts to a gorilla. I don’t want to get too into the nitty gritty of its problems—that is what this review is for—but it was a true low point Bill and Gini, who spent most of the season doing an awkward tug-of-war around Gini’s new relationship.

Standing by the sidelines, of course, was Libby, whose narrative arc transformed into weekly cry sessions about how unfair her life is. The series seems intent on making her miserable, as it constantly takes any happiness she has away from her.

A number of other plotlines popped in and out of the show like guests stopping by for a quick visit. Helen and Betty decide to have a baby. Barton steps in and out of the closet several times. Austin’s life is a hot mess. Oh, and Lester’s marriage takes a dark turn when his wife signs up to be a sex surrogate. Honestly, none of these stories made a lasting impression.

What was so frustrating about this season was that it seemed to squander all of its potential. Gini having a teenage daughter and a serious relationship other than Bill could have led to some of Masters of Sex best work. Yet, nothing ever seemed to go anywhere. The show kept coming up with new ideas for its characters, but never let any of them develop.

The finale ended up being a bit of a saving grace for the show, as it kicked things into just a high enough of a gear to get me interested in what might happen next season. Just as Bill and Gini are about to have a press conference on their new book, all hell breaks loose. Now, there are some concrete plots to sort out moving forward. What will Gini be like when she returns from Vegas with Dan? What will Bill be like now that he’s lost his wife, his lover, and potentially his job? Where will the study go from here? These are all things that excite me, and that I want to see the show explore. I’m just nervous that, once again, my hopes might be too high. Grade: C

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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