Masters of Sex: “Standard Deviation” Season 1 Episode 3 Review

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This week’s episode proved that sometimes you have to bend the rules if you want to win.

For those still curious about William Masters’ true intentions behind his sex study, there were several flashbacks this week that proved just how little the man knows about fornication.  Before he becomes the brilliant doctor that he is, he’s a lowly laboratory worker, studying the mating patterns of small rabbits.  He confesses to Scully, who has yet to go on to his future position as provost, that he doesn’t understand why humans have to go through so much pretense–romance, chivalry, dating, etc.–in order to get to their basic animalistic desire.  Scully writes off his curiosity as nothing more than relationship troubles, but its more than that.  People really don’t know anything about human sexuality.

Jump forward to 1956, and people are still mostly in the dark.  As Masters advises Parenthood‘s Mae Whitman on various contraceptive methods, she looks as though she’s seen a ghost.  Watching her bewilderment at the sight of a condom really shows just how uneducated the general public was.  It’s not for lack of technological advancement, though.  Masters certainly has the tool to study what happens to the body during sex.  It’s more of a societal consensus that these things are better left untouched.  As we learn through the flashbacks, this isn’t the first time Scully has rebuffed Masters’ idealistic efforts.  He was gentler about it then, probably because he never assumed Masters would actually go through with his plan.  Still, telling your colleague he should “hide in the shadows” if he wants to do something unconventional isn’t exactly encouraging.

This brings up the ideas behind the episode’s title: “Standard Deviation.”  Literally, it relates to the gay prostitutes Masters meets who want to help him out with his study.  This being the 1950s, Masters isn’t too keen on the idea and tells them they wouldn’t make good subjects because their lifestyle “deviates from the norm.”  There is, however, a larger significance that the title holds in relation to Masters and his work as a whole.  He is curious about something that would technically make him a sexual deviant if it were made public.  Yet his feelings of desire are quite normal, so its more of a standard deviation that we all share.

Virginia is somewhat of a deviant as well.  As an ambitious working woman, she constantly tries to rise above the errand-filled secretarial duties of her female counterparts.  This becomes quite difficult, as Masters often uses her for things like dry cleaning and coffee during the day, but treats her as more of a colleague when they’re conducting the study at night.  The dichotomy is very confusing.  When a new female OBGYN comes to work at the hospital, she treats Virginia as her inferior, instead of offering some girl-to-girl career advice.  Even Betty, who’s quickly becoming the show’s most intriguing character, tells her that if you’ve got to “hitch your ride to a man” if you want to get somewhere in life.  All Virginia wants is to make something for herself in the world, and her struggle to fight against societal norms is truly stirring.

I really hope we see more of Virginia in the coming weeks.  She plays a big part in Masters’ study, but we don’t really know that much about her. How did she become to be the headstrong woman she is today?  With Masters, we’ve gotten to see a lot of his personal life, especially through his wife Libby.  I’m excited to see where their storyline will go now that she’s finally pregnant AND knows the truth about Masters’ low sperm count.

The only thing that really worries me is that the show is dangerously close to becoming a medical procedural. This episode in particular spent way too much time in the hospital.  I hate to compare Masters of Sex to a certain other baby boomer era drama, but although Mad Men takes place in the world of advertising, it isn’t necessarily about advertising.  Sure, Masters is about a specific study done by a specific person, but it has the potential to be a lot more than that.

I’ll end this review on a bad note and a good note.  The bad is that I’m really not sure what they’re doing with Ethan Haas’ character anymore.  His quadruplet storyline felt totally useless.  I can see him eventually becoming an enemy of Masters, but I can also see him becoming incredibly annoying.  The good note, however, is that the final scene in which Masters essentially blackmails Scully with the information that he might be gay was utterly compelling.  Masters’ line about not wanting to hide in the shadows was a perfect way to round out the episode’s themes.  Cut from this to a final flashback that shows just how good of friends the two used to be, and you have yourselves a very sticky situation.  Sometimes you have to play dirty to get what you want. Grade: B+


By Mike Papirmeister

One Response to Masters of Sex: “Standard Deviation” Season 1 Episode 3 Review

  1. Thomas Maier says:

    If you’d like to know more about Masters and Johnson — or my book “Masters of Sex” which is the basis for the television series — please contact ThomasMaierBooks [dot] com. On this website, there is a lot of material about the making of this new show from my biography. You can also obtain the book “Masters of Sex” at the Showtime website.

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