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-

Game of Thrones Season Finale – ‘Valar Morghulis’ (2×10) Review

I have made it clear for quite a while now that I preferred Season 1 to Season 2.  There was a bigger emphasis on characterisation, there was focus, everything these characters did, it felt like there would be consequences. With Season 2, new characters were introduced, returning characters recieved more prominent roles and it all combined to contradict the story-telling of Season 1. Major characters would possibly receive one maybe two scenes per episode, and instead of giving the series scope, it removed all empathy I had for these characters. Blackwater negated that slightly, as it gave the show the focus that it desperately need but ‘Valar Morghulis’, the Season Finale only re-emphasised my initial beliefs, as it reverted back to the constrained story-telling that had hampered the majority of season 2.

So lets get the negatives out of the way first. Daenerys’ Qarth storyline has been among the weakest of the series so far and I love her character. Unfortunately, she has suffered the same fate as many of the characters from this season, in that she simply didn’t get enough screen time. It’s hard to imagine she has been granted more than half an hour of screen time for the entire season but the writers appeared to address that in the season finale with Qarth’s strongest moments yet. Viewers were rewarded with a fantastic scene in which Drogo returned to our screens, now I don’t care if this was the Warlock’s magic because despite the fact it is more than likely just an illusion, it felt real and that is in no part down to the fantastic chemistry between Dany and Drogo.

Yes, the Warlock was defeated far too easily, but I guess that just emphasises everything about Game of thrones this year. It has all felt slightly rushed, and with the lack of build up to this moment, it was only fitting that the events taking place in the House of the Unding, ended abruptly. Atleast now, it feels like Daenerys has a purpose; she’s got her dragons back, she’s got enough wealth to get her a ship, and maybe we’ll finally see Dany interact with the main cast next season? Ultimately a strong end, to a fairly weak story arc for Daenerys, especially considering how compelling her story was in Season 1.

I can’t really comment that much on the John Snow/Wildling scenes from the finale as well.. He has hardly been a prominent feature on our television sets. It simply felt like it didn’t matter, however with Snow set to meet Mans Raider, establishing himself as a spy within the Wildling’s, at least, much like with Dany’s storyline, he should have a greater role in Season 3.

Yes I am a grumpy old git as we did get some fantastic moments. Tyrion Lannister has felt like one of the few characters who we could not only relate to, but also felt important in the overall game. With his storyline, it wasn’t just about moving the chess pieces to set up some greater pay-off, and one thing the finale did provide was a fantastic conclusion to Tyrion’s story arc. Yes, we got that fantastic moment between Shae and Tyrion as he admits, that his time as hand have been the best moments of his life. He enjoyed the deceit and manipulation that have become so crucial in your ability to be Hand to the King. Ned Stark never played the game, and he paid the ultimate price. Tyrion did that and more, before he got it all stripped away as Tywin Lannister not only took all of the credit for the success of Blackwater, but also took back his role as Hand of the King, leaving our loveable imp without purpose. It may not be great to be Tyrion right now, but it should be fascinating to see how Tyrion adapts to his new role, or lack there of.

Another character whose progressions have been enjoyable was Theon Greyjoy’s. We got a great conversation between Theon and Luwin as he admits that even though it is probably all a big facade, he’s far too involved to turn back now. This definitley did a great job of creating sympathy for the death of Master Luwin but also emphasised the tragic nature of Theon’s character, as despite all the progression he has made, building up to the moment where he delivers an admittedly good speech, is completely negated with a single strike to the head. It was definitely one of the better moments of the finale however I still need an explanation as to why Winterfell was left to burn at the end and I’m not sure we will get it.

But ultimately, ‘Valar Morghulis’ will be remembered for its final five minutes. A final five minutes that granted us our first true glimpse of the ‘others’ or the white walkers and a final five minutes so compelling, that I almost completely forgot about all of the disappointing scenes from earlier in the episode.

Season 2 of Game of Thrones was definitely not on the level of Season 1. Unlike with the first season, season 2 never felt like there were any true consequences. Stannis was defeated just for him to gain fresh momentum to launch a new attack. Dany lost her dragons just for her to well… get them back and the only major deaths for the season were in the form of Master Luwin, who lets face it, is not on the same level as Ned Stark. What we can take from Season 2 is a fantastic premise for the third season. As mentioned earlier, Dany and John Sow both have fresh directions, Tyrion has a lack of direction and of course those final five minutes. It all combines for what should serve as a fantastic Season 3 but the prospect of a great season next year cannot completely negate my disappointment of this current season. We were treated to one fantastic episode in ‘Blackwater’ and a bunch of fantastic scenes, mainly from Tyrion. But as a Season as a whole, it struggled at times. The constant shifting of locale made the season feel dis-jointed, but at least with this finale, I can take comfort in the fact that we should be getting a fantastic season 3.