[This is a review of the Masters of Sex season 2 premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
The season two premiere of Masters of Sex is one of the best hours of television you'll see this year. Writer/executive producer Michelle Ashford (The Pacific) lays the groundwork for a darker tone, one that is surely meant to break your heart. Ashford's willingness to tug at your heartstrings is not forced, but a natural progression that her characters must succumb to after the events of last season. Their fates are set, now the question is - are you prepared to take the journey with them?
This week's episode, entitled 'Parallax', picks up shortly after the season one finale, with Bill Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Wolf (Lizzy Caplan) searching for a new home to continue "the work." The word parallax has to do with points of view, or how one views an object from a specific position. If we're speaking in astronomical terms, imagine how you might view the earth from its surface, as opposed to its center. These points of view are a crucial part in understanding where our two leads are (at least from an emotional standpoint), at the beginning of season two.
Let's start with Bill Masters, who could easily be labeled as the series' antagonist; however, easy is not a word Michelle Ashford has in her vocabulary when it comes to character development. She wants you to see every point of view from Bill's perspective. Sure, there are the painfully horrific moments, like when Dr. Masters ignores his crying newborn by blasting music to hide the screams, or any scenes where he lies to his beautiful wife, Libby (Caitlin Fitzgerald). Even with all his faults, there are moments when he shows that he's capable of being a "good guy."
Bill's continued friendship with Barton Skully (Beau Bridges) is one of the few places where he could be called a hero. After witnessing the shocking (no pun intended) treatment during Barton's therapy, Bill suggests that he stop the process altogether. This is where the darkness settles in, as we see the weary Barton heading home to his wife Margaret (Allison Janney), with his only desire to please her and fix their marriage. Unfortunately, Barton was born in the wrong decade (not that everything is perfect now) and being a homosexual during that time with his position in life, was far from a welcoming one. Has a guy ever tried so hard to do the right thing?
Barton's only response to all this madness was to end his life; however, there is still love in his family, as his wife and daughter (Vivian) come to the rescue. Where do you see Barton going from here? Unlike Bill, Barton wants to make his family whole again, so for this episode at least, he is our superhero of the week.
In keeping with this 'Parallax' metaphor, if Bill's point of view is from the center of the earth, then Virginia's view is from its surface. It's almost as if she's trapped between two opposing forces with Bill being the strongest. Her phone conversation with Ethan (Nicholas D'Agosto) was heartbreaking, as the young doctor offered her the life she "ought" to have. A caring husband who loves her children and has a good job is everything, right? Ethan's cry of, "What can Bill offer you?" followed by Virginia's response, "It's where I belong," tells you everything you need to know about her current mindset.
Virginia is stuck in this destructive relationship falsely elevated by something they both refer to as "the work." As a viewer it's difficult to watch these two, because under the surface, this is an affair. Bill lies to Libby constantly and won't even hold his newborn, claiming that "I am my father... Now what?" That's the million dollar question as the season 2 premiere comes to a close, now what? Where do Masters and Johnson go as they receive new funding for their research?
Ashford doesn't seem like a cynic, she just takes her characters and leads them down the path they've chosen. That's what makes Masters of Sex so heartbreaking, beautiful and funny simultaneously. There are no clear cut villains or heroes, just people being people and it's something Ashford should never change.
What are your thoughts on the season 2 premiere and what do you think of the new cast members? The handsomely charismatic Danny Houston (Dr. Douglas Greathouse) was a nice addition to an already stellar cast. It will be interesting to see how he and Masters get along as the season progresses. Keeps watching to see what happens next.
Masters of Sex continues with 'Kyrie Eleison' next Sunday @10pm on Showtime.