Sunday, July 19, 2015

REVIEW: 'Masters of Sex' - Bill and Virginia Decide What to Do in the Wake of a New Pregnancy in 'Three's a Crowd'

Showtime's Masters of Sex - Episode 3.02 "Three's a Crowd"

The shockwaves surrounding the events of Masters and Johnson's first press conference begin to reverberate around their universe as the book nears its release date. Bill takes on a powerful, high profile fertility patient with the help of a new doctor at the practice. Virginia and Libby come to terms with Bill's role in Virginia's life.

Virginia's pregnancy was a last second reveal at the end of the third season premiere. It was a development that promised to keep things very personal and emotionally complicated between its two leads at a time in their lives where they are walking further into the public eye. It was a weird development to close out a terrific first episode back. But it also had the potential of keeping things very complicated while making sure things don't become too comfortable for Virginia, Bill and Libby.

But all of that potential is largely squandered in "Three's a Crowd." The premiere worked so well because it was very intimate and focused on the characters as they prepared for this upcoming spotlight. That preparation dominated their lives in a time when their families needed them the most. The pregnancy only further highlighted just how distant Virginia and Bill had become to their families. It was something that needed them to take a step back and re-elevate their lives. They are hardly able to do that though because of the book's upcoming launch. This is a very scattered episode where the characters try to figure out how best to handle this news in a way that is acceptable to the people who will be reading their book. Bill and Virginia have set out to change the way that society sees sex, intimacy and marriage. And yet, they are still being bound by the old ways of thinking when it comes to pregnancy.

It honestly does hurt the show a little bit with the reveal that Virginia's baby actually belongs to George and not Bill. Even though it would be highly improbable, Bill as the father would have been a much more compelling story arc for the show to explore. Bill, Virginia and Libby have become comfortable with their three-way marriage. Their families have blended in a way that was truly profound to see in the season premiere. Their lives are connected because of the work (and the affair) that Bill and Virginia are doing. George is a part of that world because he still has a lot of say when it comes to Henry and Tessa. And yet, he is the least developed character from the families. The audience got a much better understanding of all four of the children in last week's premiere than they have from George over three seasons! But it's not all that clear how the audience is suppose to view him. He is frequently presented as an obstacle that Virginia has had to deal with. Because it has been so easy to sympathize with Virginia, George has never come across all that well. It's hard to understand him. So giving him even more importance even though the foundation of the character isn't all that strong feels very misplaced.

It's clear that the show didn't want to linger on this pregnancy or the time between the big press release and the actual release of the book. This episode continues to move forward quickly in time - about five months total. The hour wants to explore how this pregnancy has the potential to uproot so many of the characters' lives in the wake of the book's release. And yet, that's not a strong enough purpose for the events of the episode as a whole either. The hour largely focuses on Bill and Virginia spinning around trying to decide what the best option would be in order to preserve the integrity of the book. Things change every five minutes or so. That makes it hard to believe that the next plot point to happen would be the thing that they actually stuck to. So, they go from Virginia planning an abortion to Virginia being in hiding and Bill having a new associate at the practice to trying to find a husband for Virginia to pose with at the press events. It's a lousy narrative structure that doesn't build the tension in an interesting way. It's hard to care about Virginia and George's marriage. It's even hard to care about George's claims that Virginia has changed too much as a person because he is frequently seen as an irresponsible drunk. There's weight to Tessa saying that she basically had to raise herself in Virginia's absence. That's a direct ding at the one thing that Virginia is about to do all over again. But there isn't anything similar to grab onto in Virginia and George's interactions.

There is immense value in the final conversation between Virginia and Bill where the two of them are trying to make sense out of what their lives have become. And yet, the effectiveness of that moment is undercut by just how scattered and disjointed the rest of the episode is. There is no value over Virginia agonizing over whether or not she's capable of being a good mother. There's no value to Bill saying that children may have even brighter futures if their parents actually went to work out in the real world chasing their own dreams. Both sides of that discussion are very much period and character appropriate. Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen do such terrific work in that final scene together. But again, the impact of the decisions they come to doesn't hit as hard as the show wants them to because of the whiplash nature of the decisions they made over the course of the hour.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Three's a Crowd" was written by Amy Lippman and directed by Dean Perisot.
  • Bill treating the royal couple from Iran felt very much like a case-of-the-week story. That's a narrative device that the show really doesn't utilize a whole lot and could be seen as a way to fill the hour up with material. It wasn't all that great. Lester reacting to their security was a lot of fun. But the story itself was trying too hard to connect with the emotional realities of what Bill and Virginia were dealing with. It may be enough for Bill to realize that Virginia is actually his better half instead of Libby. But there's still too much awkwardness for that to manifest anything of actual substance any time soon.
  • Also, this has really been a low key start to the season for both Betty and Lester. It's amusing to see Bill know them well enough that they'll need to dress more appropriately for this royal visit. But that doesn't lead to some grand story for them either.
  • It did feel a tad like Libby was pushing her own rationalization on Virginia just a tiny bit. She has made peace with Bill and Virginia's affair by embracing the need to keep her family together as one unit for her children. She was essentially telling Virginia the same. Even though it hasn't been working for her, she still wants to believe that it is.
  • There's going to be more later on with the character played by Maggie Grace, right? Otherwise why hire an actress like her to play that nonessential role that didn't really do a whole lot.
  • Bill's awkwardness in trying to explain things in a non-medical way to the public has always been amusing. But him talking to the reporter alone was a tad too over-the-top and direct in its awkwardness. Again, the show was just trying way too hard to connect.