Masters of Sex – Season Two Review

The season finale of Masters of Sex, entitled “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, was largely a reflection of the season as a whole – uneven but with a lot of great individual scenes and moments, most of which pertained in some way to Bill and Virginia. Throughout the entire season, the one welcome constant has been the fascinating evolution of the relationship between Bill and Virginia and here it is no different as their search for a cure of sexual dysfunctional, Virginia’s custody battles and the pair’s battle to keep their study relevant when faced with competition from a rival study, provide a deeply satisfying conclusion to the season.

Yet, at the same time, the finale also continued to explore the baffling sub-plot involving Langham’s ventures with cal-o-metric and his relationship with Flo. At times, the show can struggle to manage the various sub-plots which don’t necessarily have an exact correlation to Bill and Virginia or the study, but ultimately story lines such as Barbara and Lester’s work because they feel like they are servicing the larger story of the show. Even if they spend a long period of time without ever interacting with the two main protagonists, the pair pursuing a relationship without sex not only provides a few very sweet scenes involving Lester and Barbara within the episode  but it also allows for an interesting commentary on what it means to be in a relationship and the importance of sex and intimacy within that relationship – which is one of the show’s main themes – as they struggle to define what it means to be in a relationship with no sex. The writer’s also did a nice job of bringing the arc full circle and tying it back in with the study, as judging from the final scene, it appears as though Bill and Virginia’s attempts at curing sexual dysfunction will now extend to Barbara and Lester as well.

However that was not the case with Austin, whose continued involvement throughout the season went from a slight annoyance, to something that made me legitimately angry. The show has shown that it is willing to move on from certain character’s when they no longer remain relevant – just look at the large turnover in the cast this season – so the fact that the show kept Langham around for no apparent reason, in a story line which felt like it belonged on a completely different show with only a very tenuous thematic link to the show as a whole, makes it one character arc that is completely indefensible.

One of the shows other major problems this season was the arc concerning Libby and her time at CORE office however here the writer’s did a much better job in the final two episodes.  Part of why the story proved so problematic for the first ten episodes was the fact that we really had no insight as to why Libby was behaving so uncharacteristically as this borderline racist, however Libby’s final scene in Episode 11 went a long way in redeeming that arc this year, and Caitlin Fitzgerald does a wonderful job of selling that justification, as the idea that Libby would be seeking some sort of companionship considering the state of her relationship with Bill, makes a lot of sense. And that continued in the finale, as in a nice moment shared between Libby and Robert, it is revealed that Libby knows about Bill’s affair with Virginia. This was an important step for the show and it’s nice to know that Libby has not been completely oblivious to what has been going on between Bill and Virginia for the past three years or so, and it leaves me excited for where the show will take the relationship between the three of them in the future. Once again, I am glad where the character of Libby has ended up this season, I’m just not sure entirely sure the circuitous journey to get to that point was entirely worth it, especially when you consider that it came at the expense of possibly spending more time with Bill and Virginia.

And that is ultimately the biggest question when evaluating this second season. Are you here for the increasingly dysfunctional relationship between Bill and Virginia or are you equally compelled by the various narratives which weave in and out of Bill and Virginia’s story? If it’s the latter, then I imagine you enjoyed Season 1 a lot more as Allison Janney and Beau Bridges were both featured prominently, however if you find yourself leaning towards the former (like myself), then you will have probably found Season 2 deeply rewarding. The show thrives when the focus is firmly on the study and the incredibly complicated relationship between Bill and Virginia, and Season 2 only enhanced that further with episodes such as “Fight”, which was one of the best episodes of television you will see anywhere this year.

At this point, I would be doing an injustice to the show if I did not mention the outstanding work done by both Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan who continue to find hidden layers to the characters of William Masters and Virginia Masters. Sheen may have received the better material this season, but in the finale it is Caplan who shines. Notice the cracks in her voice as she tries to convince herself and Bill that giving up custody of her children is the right thing to do. Notice the subtleties on her face when Virginia realizes how little the children seem to care that they will be spending less time with their mother, or when she finally begins to break down on the phone with Bill, before she finally reaches her bursting point as she realizes that the CBS video – which was the reason in the first place for her giving up custody – has been pulled, even if she does not know that it was Bill that orchestrated the entire thing. Lizzy Caplan has been fantastic throughout the show’s entire run, but this may have been the best performance she has given to date.

Ultimately, the more I think about it, the more I see the similarities between this show’s second season and the second season of Game of Thrones. Both are based on source material and it has become increasingly apparent that both shows were at a point in their respective stories which were not particularly interesting, almost like it was necessary for the show’s to get past this point so that it can get to the richer material in future seasons. Yet despite that, both show’s managed to deliver what are largely considered to be the series’ best episodes to date with “Fight” for Masters of Sex and “Blackwater” for Game of Thrones, which also both happen to be episodes that revolve around one particular location for the entire episode in a season when both shows drew criticism for having various sub-plots which felt completely unrelated to the overarching storyline of the season.

Now having said that, I really liked this finale, and I thought this season actually probably did a better job than Game of Thrones’ second season, because no matter what else is going on in the show, it’s main focus is and always will be on Bill and Virginia, and for pretty much the entire duration of the second second, no matter what was going on with Austin you knew you were guaranteed at least two or three great moments between Bill and Virginia in each episode. And that is ultimately why I find Masters of Sex to still be among the very best shows on television. Everything else can be fixed but the fact that the core relationship is still as fascinating as ever leaves me completely at ease with where the show is currently at. Bill Masters and Virginia remain two of the most fascinating characters on television, and when a show can deliver episodes as good as “Fight” it is very hard to complain about anything else.
Episode Grade: A-
Season Grade: A-