The book is out, and the reviews are rolling in. Masters of Sex opens this week with Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson reading each other the spectacular praise from the “new books” pages of medical journals and getting really hot about it.

Bill thinks this is the triumph that will finally let their sex research stand on its own, self-funded and separate from the fertility work that’s propped it up for years. But like so many other scientists, he’s about to learn that getting praise from the specialists in your field doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll win acceptance from a wider audience. To put it another way, when your work gets compared to Copernicus, it’s smart to remember that Copernicus published the heliocentric model on his deathbed and didn’t have to deal with the public reaction.

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And there is most definitely a public reaction. Bags of hate mail are arriving at the Institute and a guy from the Committee for Decency is haunting the lobby of the building to preach hellfire.

Bill chooses to focus on his dream of getting Human Sexual Response assigned in medical schools across the country, but even he can see that won’t happen if he can’t convince them to develop a course in human sexuality. Getting schools to adopt a textbook can be a long, hard slog at the best of times, so his quest to convince Washington University to lead the way is particularly quixotic. The curriculum committee is dubious, the chancellor openly hostile, but Masters keeps trying to win some “show you all” acceptance from the institution that fired him. In the end, he only gets insults in return.

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Other reactions are far more positive but equally problematic. While Bill makes call after call to run through his script with medical schools, Virginia is left to meet with the sometimes-sleazy industry reps that have come calling with offers of partnerships and funding. The interest is flattering, but the industries–‘hand massagers’, perfumes, and Playboy–give her pause. The money would certainly be great, but will associating with a ‘sex industry’ hurt the legitimate reputation they’re fighting to build?

That fear of losing the acceptance they’ve won from the medical community keeps Bill from taking a grant from the Playboy Foundation (although in real life, Hugh Hefner would later become a significant donor to their work). Instead, he insists on a partnership with the more-respectable-seeming fragrance company, although he soon finds that the manufacturer is a smarmy guy who wants to wants to put desire in a bottle and can’t stop looking at Johnson’s ass.

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Masters and Johnson’s struggle for funding is braided around more personal events for other characters. Lester is shocked out of self-pity about his marital problems with the realization that Jane is simply bored out of her mind. Bill starts to connect with Paul-from-next-door over football, only to lose ‘regular guy’ cred when he shows off his clearly-precious childhood football card collection. Libby continues to hang onto her marriage with Bill for the sake of the children.

And in this week’s most heartbreaking storyline, Tessa flails between blaming her mother for ruining her life by being “the sex mom” and using Human Sexual Response as a tool for flirting. The book lets Tessa pretend she’s more experienced than she really is, until she winds up in a car at homecoming with a boy who’s expecting a lot more than she’s ready to give. It’s painful to watch.

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The closing scenes for the story are even worse, as the boy clearly thinks what happened between them was mutual, and he’s too self-involved to notice that Tessa’s confident bravado is gone, replaced by a deep self-loathing. And the worst part–for the audience–is knowing that although she has an understanding and knowledgable parent she could talk to, Tessa’s convinced herself that her mother is the last person on Earth who’d care.

Image: Showtime


Contact the author at diane@io9.com.

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