Masters of Sex talks about penises and vaginas, about erectile dysfunction and about the clitoris. However, in Three’s a Crowd, we learn that this show, like apparently every other, is incapable of uttering the word “abortion”. “Are you okay with…?” “Of course.” Ugh. In a show that purports to be about honest communication about sexuality, and its complications, and yes, its failures, this is simply unconscionable.
Three’s a Crowd also toys with that cliche, the woman who goes for an abortion but decides to keep the baby, henceforth known as the “Joan Harris”. A recent study indicates that 99% of women who had abortions do not regret them after three years (the length of the study). That, of course, doesn’t mean that women don’t almost decide to have abortions and change their minds, but the television version of abortion is all about the regret and fear and silence, and a show about sex education should do better than that. It’s possible that Virginia didn’t go for an abortion at all, but lied to Bill. The fact that I can’t tell is a failure of the writing.
I am really enjoying this season of Masters of Sex, but it is a little histrionic, largely in the form of Libby Masters. Her tightly-wound panic at the slow dissolve of her marriage cannot maintain this pace. This was actually a very good episode in many ways, but when I look at the tension of last week, and then this week, I am concerned that the show will just become a whirlwind of people FREAKING OUT about sex and about Virginia and Bill’s affair, and about sex, and about love, and about what people will think, and about sex. As emotionally effecting as Lizzy Caplan’s acting always is, a woman having an emotional breakdown during labor is yet another media cliche. Although the sight of Bill Masters singing Danny Boy may have been worth it.
Right now, we’ve had two episodes juxtaposing the pure chaos of Masters and Johnson’s personal lives with the book release, which is also frenzied. We’ve seen very little research and very little of the rest of the cast–Betty and Lester are barely blips, and the supporting players outside the two marriages are otherwise non-existent. This is going to get claustrophobic very quickly. It’s not sexy, and there’s no breathing room. We need some balance and soon.
At the book release party, when Virginia was very pregnant and pretending to be in love with George, George drunkenly said that if it’s a boy it’ll be named Scott, and if a girl, Lisa. In fact, George and Virginia Johnson had two children, named Scott and Lisa, during the course of their marriage (1950-56). Tessa and Henry are entirely fictional. (Bill and Libby Masters had two children, Sarah and William III.) I think it’s fine that the children are fictionalized, there’s something about gawking at the lives of real children that is different than gawking at the lives of two adults who purposely chose to become public figures. But throwing a fictional pregnancy into the plot (and one laden with cliches) seems weird to me.
The TV show ER was probably the master at showing medical cases that highlighted what was going on with the doctors’ personal lives, although everyone has done it since (House and Grey’s Anatomy come to mind, to name just two). It can be lovely, or it can be clumsy. I’m sorry to say that the unnamed royalty from an unnamed country was extraordinarily clumsy (although, again, beautifully acted). I can’t imagine why the writers felt we needed someone to explain that a love triangle is awkward. And by the way, the notion that Masters and Johnson somehow invented the idea that work outside the home was needed for a woman to be fulfilled is just insulting to feminism in general and Betty Friedan in particular.