Masters of Sex: “Thank You For Coming” Season 1 Episode 4 Review


A peek behind the curtain of both Masters’ and Virginia’s lives proves to be quite the compelling hour of television.

When the lead characters of your show can be described as “complex” or “layered,” this is often a good thing. It means you have the opportunity to unveil their multiple dimensions over the course of a season, giving them plenty of interesting facets to make them truly unique.  Though it’s never good to give all your secrets away at once, you don’t want to keep things under wraps for too long either.  Otherwise, your characters will remain elusive and out of touch with viewers.

On Masters of Sex, we’ve gotten glimpses into the lives of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, but never enough to fully understand their behavior.  Why is Masters so reserved and uptight, especially when it comes to his home life?  Why is Virginia so strong-willed and independent?  We know she used to be a nightclub singer and had two previous marriages, but not much else.  The vagueness has been intriguing thus far, but it blocks us from really understanding how these characters came to be who they are, and why they’re participating in their particular line of work.  For a show about a very specific study during a very specific time period, this can ultimately be very hindering.

This week we were allowed to glimpse into each of their lives yet again, but these glimpses were much more intimate, and provided a framework for the characters’ true motivations.  During a truly excellent dinner party scene, Masters remained as tense as ever as guests arrived at his house to celebrate his Libby’s pregnancy.  When his mother (the wonderful Ann Dowd) brings up a story from his childhood, he becomes so tightlipped that it startles everyone around him.  As it turns out, Masters suffered at the hands of an abusive father while his mother looked the other way.  The process by which this information is brought about is ingeniously subtle, weaving its way through his work and home life so that you hardly see it coming.  It sheds light on his apprehensiveness towards his impending child, and his obsessive need for control when it comes to his project.

Meanwhile, Virginia worries a line has been crossed when her ex-husband George volunteers to be a part of the study.  He’s a real piece of work, and it makes you wonder why she ever chose to be with him in the first place.  Then, the ending scene brings everything together.  Other than permanently squashing any notion that Masters isn’t attracted to Virginia, George’s interview serves as the perfect illustration for just how flawed her character is.  Sure, it’s a little cheesy when he calls her a “magic” woman, but overt romanticism aside, the juxtaposition of his voiceover against the image of her blearily waiting at the bus stop was rather dazzling.  Virginia might seem like a headstrong woman who really knows herself, but perhaps she’s overcompensating for the struggles she faces elsewhere.  She even admits to Masters that she’s unsure of her qualities as a mother, and seems to be having a difficult time trying to balance work and family.  To Masters, and to us, she becomes perfectly imperfect.  In other words, she’s very, very human.

Even Ethan, who’s usually relegated to filling extra time with an annoying subplot, does some interesting work this week.  His scene with Scully’s daughter Vivian showed him being both vulnerable and aggressive, and really drove home just how much he felt for Virginia.  I’m unsure of where this new relationship will lead, but the fact Vivian seems willing to be more adventurous with him could make for some promising storylines.

As per usual, both Caplan and Sheen turn in some truly stellar performances.  With new urgency placed behind each of their characters, I’m anxious to see where their stories take them next.  At several points during this week’s episode, it felt as though both Masters and Virginia were standing on the tipping point of something very big.  I have a feeling push will come to shove very soon.  Grade: A-


By Mike Papirmeister

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