OK, I give up. After this week’s episode, it’s clear that Masters of Sex has completely forgotten that the one thing that made it different from a run-of-the-mill evening soapy drama was its main characters’ obsession with their sex research.
Once the writers stopped showing the research and refocused on how everyone felt about one another, the show became nothing more than a run-of-the-mill evening soapy drama that happens to be set in a sex research clinic.
Once upon a time, the research study was practically a character in the show. It was the catalyst driving most of the subplots: the glue for Masters and Johnson’s relationship, the engine for their ambitions, the struggle between their obsession for the work and their families, and a means to comment on the tensions between society and the changes new knowledge brings with it.
But ever since Bill and Gini published the results of their study on normal human sexual response at the start of this season, their studies have been little more than a sideshow. We know that they’ve been doing research in the clinic, because when this week’s episode starts, Johnson is telling other-lover Dan Logan that she’ll reassess her role at the institute just as soon as she and Masters make the pitch for their next book to their publisher. But we’ve seen very little of the work that’s gone into collecting the data for book number two, Human Sexual Inadequacy.
Instead, we’ve watched Johnson abandon a comfortable, if extra-marital, arrangement with Masters for an awkward juggling act between first-lover Bill and other-lover Dan, one where she seems uncharacteristically unable to make up her mind about what she actually wants. We’ve watched Masters seethe in jealousy about the whole affair and try to manipulate Johnson into behaving the way she used to, with his despair ramping up to culminate in this week’s drunk and angry almost-sex with nubile surrogate Nora, leaving him weeping in the corner over his love for Gini. We’ve had a whole series of subplots about how being homosexual was so much worse in the 1960s than it is now. We’ve seen occasional scenes from some family drama starring Libby Masters. And we’ve spent far too much time with Tessa Johnson, who is rapidly becoming the worst teenager in the world.
Thing is, it’s all been terrifically acted. It’s just not what we signed up for back in the first season.
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