Browsing: Masters Of Sex

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So far, Masters of Sex has been on a bit of a slow burn, revealing its buttoned down characters in increments while it pushes its plot forward as forcefully as possible. “Thank You For Coming” is a step back, plot wise, and as a result it is probably the strongest episode since the pilot. By focusing more on the characters these events are happening to than on the events the previous two episodes have centered on, the show recaptures some of that early magic as it delves further into the pasts of Masters and Johnson.

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Since its excellent pilot, Masters of Sex has become increasingly concerned with moving its plot. This makes some sense, as there is a lot of table setting the show needs to do in order to acclimate us to the characters and the culture, but it also means something has been lost in these two episodes since the show’s debut hour. The pilot had a keen sense of its two main characters, and a smart focus on their outlooks and their struggles. More than any episode to this point, “Standard Deviation” is a place setting episode, where things need to happen. It lacks the sense of character of the pilot, and doesn’t linger long enough on the effects of its plot the way “Race to Space” did.

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In its early going, Masters of Sex can feel just a bit too programmatic, like a prestige biopic vying for heaps of Oscars, more concerned with checking off the necessary boxes than with coloring them in all the way. The show has several advantages over the standard film about historical figures, though. For one thing, it has time. While most movies run around two hours, Masters of Sex is already nearing that and just getting started. It can take its time filling out its world and filling in its characters, because it has the time to spend. It has also shown, in its two episodes, that it is willing to use that time to its advantage. Though the show has been racing through developments in its plot, it never does so without taking the moments it needs to linger on its characters. It is meticulous in its approach to characterization, tonight giving us several glimpses into Virginia’s head (and one into Bill’s) that explain her largest conflict and get to the heart of her character without beating us over the head. Masters of Sex may not be one of the best shows on television two episodes in, but its certainly on its way.

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For much of the last decade-plus, prestige television has been largely about death. Whether this is explicit, as on shows like Six Feet Under or violent epics like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, or implicit, as on series like Mad Men, where a sense of dread and mortality hangs over things, these series have been interested in endings. Which makes Masters of Sex more unique from the start for its focus on the beginning of life, but also, on the way all life begins. Though at its inception many of the characters at the center of the show are buttoned down in one way or another, it’s clear from early on that this will be a show about learning to live and to love. Masters of Sex is the best pilot I’ve seen this fall, a rich, textured beginning to a show that already promises complexity, inquisitiveness, and vitality.