Sunday, August 9, 2015

REVIEW: 'Masters of Sex' - Bill Gives a Big Speech, Virginia's Parents Visit & Margaret Examines Her Life in 'Matters of Gravity'

Showtime's Masters of Sex - Episode 3.05 "Matters of Gravity"

Virginia's parents arrive unannounced. Libby and Bill discover Johnny has been bullied and both look to fix it in their own ways. Virginia finds unexpected excitement in the scent study. Bill takes on a promising fertility patient that could get him back in the good graces of Washington University.

Season 3 of Masters of Sex has been a somewhat perplexing season so far. The show continues to produce great character-driven moments. But there isn't a clear indication of what the narrative thrust of the season is yet. Bill and Virginia's book has been released. That makes this a very important time in their careers. And yet, dramatizing the events of this time hasn't always been clear. It still feels like the show has some leftover awkwardness from the end of Season 2. Again, the show is still doing some things very well. The actors are still great, the emotions still feel real, and the kids have been integrated in a meaningful way. But something is still missing from this season. Perhaps there just needs to be more clarity over what it is all of these characters want in their lives right now. Everyone is largely content with their personal lives but still unsure about what they want for the future. That has led to some great drama so far this season. But ambiguity can only go so far. If the show has to resort to a long scene where Bill Masters threatens a 13-year-old boy in order to fill out an episode, something is obviously missing.

Virginia is perfectly happy with her relationship with Bill. They start the episode in bed together after another evening of passionate sex. She is still committed to that relationship. Her only struggle this season so far has been dealing with the awkwardness of raising teenagers. She has definitely struggled with connecting to her children because she is so focused on her work. That's once again the story on display in this episode. But now, the show has added Virginia's parents into the mix. It's not a wonderfully nuanced story. Her mother is very judgmental about how she lives her life. She doesn't fully understand the work or how she is expected to describe what her daughter does to her friends. Nor does she care that her daughter has gotten her degree and published a book. Her mother is only focused on Virginia not being in a real marriage. Tessa is acting incredibly juvenile in her attempts to expose Virginia's affair with Bill. She is acting out in a weird and predictable way. The true surprise was Virginia's mom learning the truth and actually applauding Virginia for it. This is the first time where she has been truly proud - at least in Virginia's eyes. But she only sees it as Virginia doing whatever it takes to lure in a man of stature and intellect. A man who is worthy of being a good husband. A man who she can be a good wife to. That's not what Virginia is doing at all. But that's how her mother sees it. That is infuriating to her. It's also the only reason why Virginia would look at Dan Logan as a sexual prospect. She doesn't want to prove her mother right. So to avoid her own feelings, she goes looking at the next closest man in her life. Sure, it's a rash decision. But one that should help bring clarity to her life and what she truly wants. Though that will likely come about after a handful of episodes were things get even messier between the three of them.

Meanwhile, Bill has been very persistent on what he wants in regards to the book. He wants it to be a success and forever change the way society views sex. But he has also been holding onto the idea that the book can be used to teach medical classes across the country. That has brought up his unresolved feelings towards the way Washington University kicked him and the study out. Things are coming full circle. Bill and Virginia go back to the birthplace of the study and are received much more warmly than they were at the end of Season 1. But it's never abundantly clear what Bill is hoping to get out of this arrangement. Chancellor Fitzhugh needs Bill's help in order to help his son. But it's never clear what Bill wants in return - except to brag in front of the people who disregarded his work as smut all those years ago. Perhaps it's not even clear to Bill himself. That's certainly an interesting idea for the story. But so much focus is put on him and the ambiguity of it all doesn't inherently make it interesting. It's such a rousing moment when Bill gives that keynote speech and is able to expertly handle the one question that is thrown at him. Virginia is a huge afterthought in the entirety of this story. Her concerns about returning to the university are trivialized. Plus, Bill is more than capable of articulating the purpose and meaning of his study and the book in a way that everyone can understand. It's easy to see why Virginia's mother would believe that Bill is the main voice behind this work. The audience knows that's not true. That's made transparent in this episode through the subplot with Johnny getting beat up and Bill threatening the other kid.

Bill relating to the rest of the world has always been an awkward subject for both the character and the show. It's a subject that has always been hit-or-miss for the show. His handling of his son getting beat up at school wasn't all that great. He was trying to go about things differently than his own father did. He wanted to be there for his son in a way that was still stern but supportive. He wanted to know the truth. But Johnny doesn't feel any kind of bond with his father. He lied about what really happened and then chose to leave once Bill started opening up about his own childhood in the end. Bill is struggling to connect. That is suppose to be the endearing part of this story. That no matter what he does he won't be able to forge that bond. It just never worked all that well.

Also happening in this episode was the continuing adventures of Margaret Scully and her new polyamorous relationship. The audience learns how this arrangement came into being. It's something that Margaret accepted for her life because she didn't want to be in the same kind of situation she just left. She wanted things to be different with Graham than they were with Barton. But things were just as tragic in this situation as well. She wasn't allowed to give voice to her opinion. She felt she needed to be okay with this in order not to lose the new man who she truly loved. She was willing to put in the work with him in order to get back to that healthy place sexually. That led to a wonderfully hilarious sex demonstration with Bill and Virginia. But at the end of the day, Margaret needed to do what was right for her. She took herself out of that environment. Barton is right in saying that that decision shows how far she was changed as a person. Both of them are capable of changing. She was able to stand up for herself and he was able to be honest with their daughter. Things aren't going to get easier for either of them. They are both alone in this world. But at least with each other, they are finally allowed to be honest. This story was just so simple while remaining emotional dynamic. That's what continues to make the Scullys such fascinating characters on this show. More of their energy needs to be transplanted on the rest of the show this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Matters of Gravity" was written by Esta Spalding and directed by Adam Arkin.
  • Now that Barton is working at the clinic, he needs to start developing relationships with the other characters who work there - including Virginia, Betty and Lester. Too much has focused on Bill and Margaret. Those scenes are great. But he's in a new environment now. Let him make some new connections.
  • It would seem Betty and Helen have gotten back together. When Betty is helping Bill with his back problems, she makes a remark about Helen. It's just a passing reference. But it does hint that change has happened in her personal life as well. Can't wait to see more from her again.
  • The scent study has started initial testing. But so far that just means Dan, Virginia, Lester and Betty in a room together trying to figure out what to do. Hopefully, the later experiments will actually have merit and scientific findings.
  • What kind of post-speech, question and answer segment only has one question? Or was Bill's answer just too good and the standing ovation too meaningful for anyone else to ask something?