Halfway through Season 2, Masters of Sex decides “to hell with this,” and leaps forward two and a half years in the episode Asterion. I’m not saying it’s inexplicable—that’s the wrong word, because I can think it through and come up with explanations. Yet it was altogether strange.
The decision here is not to be historical: Masters and Johnson founded their own institute (a not-for-profit) in 1964, it wasn’t named “Masters and Johnson Institute” until 1978. Bill Masters divorced Libby and married Virginia in 1971. Before tonight’s episode, plenty of reviewers speculated as to whether the series would rush forward to reach these key events, but now we have the institute, under the “Masters and Johnson” name, founded in 1958. Clearly, historicity has been thrown aside. This means, among other things, that we don’t know when or if Bill will divorce Libby and marry Ginny, since the historical record is not authoritative. These are, at this point, essentially fictional characters with the same names, and doing many of the same things, as historical people.
So, it’s not catching up with the history of these people. Is it catching up with other history? Does Masters of Sex need the civil rights movement to progress? Or is it just to push the relationships? It’s almost as if the entire purpose of this time jump episode was the two scenes with Shelly; the punch line, Ginny remembering nothing about him, was two years in the making. It’s like the writer’s room was tired of the characters as they were, tired of the effort to get them to a different place, and so now Betty is a CPA and Libby has a sexless marriage and Bill has a renewed relationship with his mother and Austin realizes that bachelorhood is hollow. Phew, glad we didn’t have to write that for more episodes!
The real point, I suppose, is for Bill and Ginny to come full circle. Austin has a conversation with his ex-wife, and she has moved on. People move on. The bell, she says, cannot be unrung. But the irreparable damage between Bill and Ginny? That can be unrung, because the work is what binds them, and through the long absence of physical affection, they continued to work together. So there they are, back in the same hotel room, telling the same lies about how this is “the study” and not an affair.
There were certainly good things about the episode; especially Lester. Lester’s cinematic pretensions and his filming of everything lent just the right commentary on voyeurism to the proceedings. The acting was generally top-notch, as usual. It definitely felt like an Emmy-submission episode for Michael Sheen. Ann Dowd as Essie Masters, Bill’s mother, was peculiarly one-note. She arrived, delivered a speech, left, arrived, delivered another speech. It was not the quality we’ve generally seen from her, so I must question the writing.
The thing is, Season 2 of Masters of Sex has been outstanding. Season 1 was intriguing, occasionally magnificent, but uneven. But we’ve had six killer episodes in Season 2. And then Asterion. It feels like a total misfire. Sure, we’re all supposed to say “game changer,” but is it? Same cast of characters, same basic standing in their relations to one another, slightly different hairstyles and clothes.