Masters of Sex: Asterion

 Posted by on August 25, 2014 at 12:30 am  Masters of Sex
Aug 252014


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.


  7 Responses to “Masters of Sex: Asterion”

  1. Anachronism watch: “orgasm” as a verb. “I aced my exams” (?), the knowledge of plate tectonics in the 50s (and presumably the 20s, given Libby’s presumed age at the time).

    • I wondered about that earthquake explanation, too. The San Andreas fault had already been studied for some time (and I remember some nice photos of it at a museum in San Diego). The continental drift/plate tectonic theory had been proposed by the late 50s, but was still very much “fringe” and certainly not part of the common venacular.

      Being conscious of anachronisms would be inhibiting on first draft – especially dialog – for writers with a 21st C. “ear”. But how tough would it be to hire some old writers (for the “ear” part) and some educated in recent American history (the universities have always over-produced more than required for teaching).

      (there is no lack of suitable historians these days – the nearly-universal American “teaching certificate” for public schools, complete with an extra ed-major degree, have served as a protective barrier-to-entry for holders of all the other baccalaureates )

  2. They long ago stopped following the actual history with these two. Hell, they abandoned it when they cast Michael Sheen and didn’t make him shave his head (Masters was very bald in real life.) So that doesn’t bother me.

    Skipping two and a half years in one episode just smacks of lazy writing though. Which is disappointing, because they’ve done so well so far. I’m also disappointed that while they’ve apparently dumped the entire Scully family, they’ve managed to find a reason to keep Austin around. That just bums me out.

  3. Last episode I was surprised at Masters’ precipitous firing from Buell Green. I’d anticipated they would work the racial conflict angle a bit more. I’m glad they “resolved” the Libby obsession over the nanny – though I suppose the discomfort all that caused means that it “worked”. MOS has only nominally followed the events laid out in the bio. Just to start, both of Libby’s children were born before Gini entered all their lives.

    I still hold out hope that the Scully’s will return but wonder how they will fit, dramatically.

  4. This show is awfully frustrating. Sheen and Caplan are magic together, and sometimes the show’s just flat-out brilliant. I don’t even mind that its history of Masters and Johnson is largely fictionalized. But the constant anachronisms and the characters’ frequently utterly wrong attitudes for the time are distracting. And the writing is just appallingly sloppy. The storylines are always flailing around, with too many side-trips that lead to dead ends.

    The handling of the big time jumps in this episode was just a mess. (Either be consistent with using the “Five months later” intertitles, or don’t!) With nothing approaching last season’s great Scully arc this year (though Lillian’s fate was very, very effectively handled – let’s see an Emmy nom for Julianne Nicholson!) I find myself mostly half-enjoying the show.

    It definitely has its moments, but I wish the series would focus more on its strengths (mostly its compelling leads) and try for a more accurate, Mad Men-like treatment of its times. I want to be able to fully recommend this series to folks who haven’t seen it, but the best I can manage is a halfhearted recommendation with the caveat that it’s at best a half-brilliant show that often doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing… but then it can suddenly take your breath away unexpectedly.

    • I like the show much better than you do. The anachronisms are constant but not generally glaring. Your point about the inconsistent intertitles is something I noticed myself.

  5. Other than the acting and technical side, most of this season has smacked of laziness and of confusion of not knowing where they’re going next. The temporal jump was weird. If they didn’t need that time to develop or share anything, my feeling is that whatever was happening in the previous several episodes was just as unnecessary.

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