Masters of Sex: “The Excitement of Release” Season 3 Episode 3 Review

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It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

Josh Charles appears onscreen for less than 10 minutes in this episode, but the actor is so captivating that his brief presence is instantly memorable. Even more interesting is the fact that he’s one of several new faces to appear this week, as Bill and Gini’s book begins to make waves throughout the community.

This is the Masters of Sex that I love. After two weeks of a more aimless narrative, it’s encouraging to see the series head back to its tried and true formula; using its subplots as powerful reflections to the work Bill and Gini have conducted. “The Excitement of Release” most directly relates to the release of Human Sexual Response, but with the way Bill and Gini stare at each other while reading the glowing reviews, it would be unwise not to look at the title euphemistically.

This week’s episode features three plots, each of which highlights the importance of the book in different ways. First, there’s Bill and Gini’s separate attempts to capitalize on the publicity, with Bill going the route of medical textbooks and Gini speaking to several investors, one of which happens to be Hugh Hefner.

Gini’s scenes are initially more interesting, especially when Charles’ perfume, sorry, “fragrances and flavors” mogul gets involved. Yet, Bill’s path leads him back to Beau Bridges’ Barton Scully, now divorced from Margaret (please come back Allison Janney!) but still closeted and in another heterosexual relationship.

I couldn’t help but find it ironic when Bill defends Scully—since the real life William Masters proved not to be such a huge fan of the LGBT community—but it was still heartwarming to see him rush to the aid of his friend. Furthermore, it enforces the necessity of a book like Human Sexual Response that can begin people on the road to open-mindedness. Bridges, for his part, delivers a genuine performance. I certainly hope Scully takes Bill up on his offer to join his practice. It would be nice to have him around again.

A smaller plotline sees a beleaguered Lester trying to juggle his late hours with his nagging wife, who turns out not (!) to be Barbara. Yes, he actually got married to Heléne Yorke’s Jane, who has returned from her attempt at an acting career. This narrative ends up representing the book’s importance in its purest form. Jane is only nagging because she’s tired of being home with the children all day, and she’s bored out of her skull. All it takes is reading one dirty fan letter for her and Lester to reignite their spark. Bill and Gini’s goal has always been to use their work to help marriages, and so it’s nice to see that it has at least started to help with one.

The most important plot of the week, however, is also the most heartbreaking. The dynamic between Tessa and Gini this season has already been fascinating, but it’s taken to a whole new level when the book is released. Isabelle Fuhrman imbues Tessa with an authentic harshness, as a teenager who simultaneously resents her mother and is, on some level, trying to follow in her footsteps. She claims to be embarrassed by her mother’s work, but is later seen using the book to get closer to a boy she likes, proclaiming to be far more sexually advanced than she actually is.

Unfortunately, she’s in over her head. The sad truth of Tessa’s narrative is that it illustrates just how foolish the Dean at Washington University was for turning down Bill’s proposal to include sexual education in the curriculum. It’s incredibly disturbing to watch as Tessa is forced by her crush to perform oral sex in the backseat of a car, and then stomach churning when he kisses her on the cheek the next day, as if nothing had happened. Bill and Gini’s hope for the book is to give women greater sexual agency, meaning they will have more control over how and when they get to have sex. But how can they get to this point if there are still so many people who are quick to dismiss their work as smut?

Gini is, of course, unaware of Tessa’s nightmarish experience, finding the constant battle with her daughter impossible to win. This is, in part, because Tessa is a stubborn teenager, but also because Gini is stretched too thin between her work, her adolescent daughter, and her newborn.

A recurring theme in the episode is Bill’s impatience for Gini’s personal life in the face of their increasing amount of work. On the surface, he’s angry that she’s not helping him sell Wash U on the book, but it soon becomes clear that he’s jealous of the part of her that has to run home to her children—children that belong to George.

The final scene is extremely telling: Gini and Bill are ready to spend the night together after months apart, only for the baby to once again interrupt with her cries. Unlike in the opening, though, Gini brings the baby into bed with them, and the three lie together as Jackie DeShannon’s “What The World Needs Now” plays into the credits. These two might be trying to strengthen America’s marriages, but each of their own is a complete lie. The release of the book has the potential to cause an enlightened revolution, or be their ultimate downfall. I have a feeling it will be a little of both. Grade: A-

 

Some Other Notes:

– Libby’s subplot is the only one I didn’t care for this week, as it felt very removed from the rest of the story. Does anyone else suspect foul play between her married neighbors? The brain aneurism thing came out of nowhere, and there’s a lot of talk about how big the husband is. Does this mean that Libby has moved on from civil rights issues to domestic abuse?

– In the real life story of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, Hugh Hefner does indeed end up being a fervent supporter of their work. I hope this means that actor John Gleeson Connolly will be sticking around, because he did one hell of a Hef impersonation.

– I can already sense that Josh Charles’ character is going to attempt to seduce Gini, and I can’t wait.

– Betty’s screen time was greatly increased in this episode and I think we are all better for it.

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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