20 July 2014
Masters of Sex returned with its second season premiere. I’ll admit that when it first aired, I was worried it was merely a fluff show trying to capitalize on the “era drama” popularized by Mad Men. Not being a fan of Mad Men, I gave the show a reluctant gander and was pleasantly drawn in. This show is a true case of the actors bringing to life a script that may not work quite as well with a different cast. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan do a phenomenal job as Masters and Johnson. Many critics, and fans, were disgruntled over the recent Emmy snub of Michael Sheen, but personally I was okay with it. Don’t get me wrong, Sheen is a terrific actor but I’m continuously impressed by Caplan’s breakthrough performance. Partially, this is due to the fact that I’ve long been a fan of Caplan in comic roles and it’s a refreshing change of pace to see her in this complex, dramatic turn.
The premiere gradually shows flashbacks of the night where season one ended. William shows up at Virginia’s door and the two once again have sex, but this time without the wires analyzing their bodies. Post-coital, Virginia answers a call from Dr. Ethan Haas, who recently proposed to her. Virginia tells Ethan she won’t be marrying him or moving to live with him, and he immediately accuses her of staying for Masters. Virginia responds that it isn’t him she’s staying for but for work. By episodes end, Virginia tells Masters that their affair shouldn’t continue, and that she’s more than a mistress. Masters retorts that it was never really an affair and she misinterpreted his advances. He claims it was all for the study and we see Virginia’s slight hurt at this comment. This scene was probably my biggest issue with the premiere. It’s obviously bullshit that neither has feelings for the other, but my issue is that Virginia is so dead set on her career, yet when Masters tells her exactly what she wants to her, she seems upset. Part of me would rather watch this season unfold with Virginia constantly reminding Masters that their relationship is scientific rather than sexual, but it seems the lines are already too blurred. Regardless, Caplan still amazes me in all her scenes.
It isn’t just Caplan who captivates my attention as the career-hungry lead, who somehow manages to be extremely likable despite her mistress ways. Another powerful scene-stealing duo is Beau Bridges and Allison Janney as Mr. and Mrs. Scully. Last season, Janney’s Margaret dominated the screen portraying a wife’s struggle with her husband’s homosexuality. Janney and Bridges return for this week’s premiere and audiences were given arguably the best scenes in their run on the show. Burton Scully undergoes electric shock therapy to help heal the gay away and what follows is an awkward scene where he tries to have sex with his wife. As the episode progresses Margaret and her daughter save Burton from an attempted suicide. I could watch an entire series dedicated to these two actors and their character’s struggles. Sadly, Janney and Bridges are guest stars and not series regulars. In other developments during the premiere, Dr. Masters finds a new job at another hospital, which I fear may be an end to the Scully storyline. If Janney and Bridges aren’t given the opportunity to return to their Emmy nominated roles, I will be forever devastated.
Masters of Sex has so many wonderful characters and story arcs that there’s much more to analyze and love about this show. It was a wise decision to bring back Annaleigh Ashford as the prostitute turned high-society housewife Betty. I’m interested to see how her husband will react when he learns she can’t get pregnant. This is also sure to be an exciting season for Julianne Nicholson’s Dr. DePaul as she battles cancer and continues to make medical advancements for women. I suspect Nicholson will have an Emmy-baiting season herself. While I continue to watch this season, I’ll eagerly anticipate a potential return for Allison Janney, Beau Bridges, and Ann Dowd (whose acting chops are SO impressive this summer in both HBO’s The Leftovers, and her guest starring return in this premiere as Master’s mom). It would be a real tragedy if audiences don’t get to see the continued storyline for these well-written characters.