Masters of Sex: ‘Giants’ Among Men

“Masters of Sex infuriates me like no other television show does. How can a show that gets so much, and I mean SO MUCH right, go so incredibly off-center and nearly tone deaf in its execution?”

That was my opening paragraph from last week’s review of Masters of Sex, and little has changed week over week. Sure, Masters of Sex continues to produce excellence in a few story lines, but it doggedly frustrates with some of its best characters. Its newest episode, Giants, further widens the chasm between the quality and the cartoonish aspects of the show.


I’ll start with the most frustrating: namely, the continued devolution of Libby Masters into an insensitive shrew. Clearly, the trajectory for the character is to provide justification for not only Bill Masters’ continued infidelity but also the ultimate dissolution of the marriage itself. It’s a shame, too, because, last season, Libby was a genuinely sympathetic character – the woman saddled with the beast of Bill Masters.

This season, she is unapologetically racist. Even worse, the writers have saddled Libby with cartoonish racism – subjugating nanny Coral to a de-licing shampoo, last week, and, this week, attributing Coral’s boyfriend’s defense of her to stereotypical black man aggression. She is also given a scene in which she pulls the “my husband works for a black hospital” card. Even Bill Masters, hardly a paragon of virtue and kindliness, is horrified by her actions and treats her like dirt.

Still, despite my overall objections to the story line, it isn’t without its minor pleasures. After Libby suggests to Coral that her selection of boyfriend in Robert is inappropriate, Coral retaliates with a very thinly veiled critique of the Masters marriage – inferring their marriage is a disaster because they sleep in separate beds. It is a very strong moment that plays to the audience’s cries for retribution if a little out of character for the meek Coral.

Later, Libby finds a way to ask Bill for sex, and, dutifully, he obliges. But the sex is cold and unfulfilling as is expected of sex that is void of passion. I do wish they’d found a way to divide the characters without resorting to destroying Libby’s previously appealing presence.

This sex scene is juxtaposed by another Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson hotel room sex scene but, this time, with a twist. Masters reveals to Johnson his offer of a permanent position at the black hospital that agreed to take up their study. In doing this, he has to convince Johnson to abandon her work with Dr. DePaul at a time when Johnson feels cast out to sea and undesirably dependent on him. He tells Johnson that DePaul knows about their trysts, although I was never clear exactly how Masters has that piece of information.

Johnson confronts DePaul, another stellar scene between the two actresses (I will spare you all my continued praise of Juliette Nicholson’s stellar work here), and needs to find a way to reaffirm control in her own life. After initially declining to continue participation in the study, Johnson agrees to another study. This time, it is absolutely on her own terms as demands that Bill strip and masturbate in front of her as she takes notes, echoing his emotional and physical stripping of her in the great episode “Fight.” The scene ends with Johnson forcing him to perform oral sex on her – a great turnabout for most women of the era.

I know many people have issues with Johnson’s progression this season and her willingness to carry on the continued affair with Masters – a fact that she all-too-easily describes to DePaul as “participation in the study.” I suppose it’s not the affair that really bothers me here. Instead, it’s her feelings and sexual attraction to Bill Masters at all. The writers have toned his character down significantly by making him more vulnerable and by giving him an air of a schoolboy in love. Still, over the course of the series, it’s never really been explained why Virginia Johnson was sexually attracted to Bill Masters in the first place. Is it a by-product of the sex study as described by Masters in a previous episode? Is it the allure of the opportunities he can provide her? Does she have daddy issues? It’s just never very clear, and it makes their affair difficult to swallow, so to speak.


One more notable event from the episode was the introduction of Betty Moretti’s former lover, Helen (Sarah Silverman). The jury is out with me on how this subplot will continue to evolve or tie into the overall theme of the show. Betty’s season two plots have been tenuously linked to Masters thus far, and, now that her husband knows the partial truths behind his wife, there are even less reasons to keep her in the show.

Now, with Silverman’s introduction, we continue to dive into the tortured soul of Betty Moretti as she negotiates between wanting a normal life and her attraction to another woman. The individual scenes go down easily enough, but, looking at the entirety of the show, I question its place within the show. Still, anything that diverts my attention from the Libby Masters debacle has to be a worthwhile endeavor.

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