TV Review: Masters of Sex – First Five Episodes (USA, 2013)



Accompanied by the news this week that the show will live to see a season two, Thursday’s Masters of Sex brings us just one episode shy of the freshman season’s halfway mark. The show has fast established itself as the new kid on the cable drama block and here’s what we’ve seen so far. (Needless to say, spoilers ahead if you haven’t been watching).

Respected OB-GYN William Masters (Michael Sheen) is fascinated by the mystery of human sexuality, but forced to study it in secret when we first meet him. Beginning with one willing participant, Masters is attempting to legitimise his study with support from the hospital – something that the university provost (Beau Bridges) is adamant will not happen. Enter Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), a twice divorced ex-club singer looking for work and as she’s a “modern woman” with a casual attitude to sex, soon enough she is Masters’ secretary and right-hand-woman in his sexological study. Also in the mix we have the marital problems of Masters and wife Libby (Caitlin Fitzgerald) struggling to conceive and Ethan Haas (Nicolas D’Agosto), a junior doctor at the hospital, pining after Virginia.

The end of episode three marked new territory for the show – Libby learned that she was finally pregnant, and the study’s original participant, lesbian prostitute Betty DiMello (Annaleigh Ashford) exited sadly with her new husband. At that point I wondered where the show was headed – the extent of Libby’s involvement until that point had been her struggle to get pregnant, and Betty had provided the show with some much needed comic relief.

But I needn’t have worried. Episode four brought us some as yet unseen backstory for our two lead characters – in the form of Masters’ mother and Virginia’s (second) ex-husband. We learnt that Masters’ reluctance to have children stems from his abusive childhood, and that Virginia is a knockout in bed. The next week, Libby’s pregnancy was unfortunately short-lived and Virginia struggled to deal with the problems with her own children.

Anyone familiar with the story of Masters and Johnson – or anyone who’s done a quick Google search – will know that the research duo became much more than just research partners. We saw the very first seeds of this in the fourth episode, when Masters interviewed Virginia’s ex husband for the study. Masters of Sex is definitely a slow burning affair, much in the vein of Mad Men – if that show is anything to go by, the bigger payoff won’t be arriving anytime soon – but the gradual reveal of back stories and character flaws will make it all the more satisfying so I hope there’s more of those to come.

So, what happens next?

Historically, we know that Masters’ marriage to Libby is doomed to fail – it’s just a matter of how fast we get there. I don’t see her disappearing any time soon, but since we’ve already seen the first hints of Masters and Johnson as more than colleagues maybe things will move along a little faster. We’ll clearly be seeing more of Virginia’s children, and her ex-husband (or husbands?) – but I’d like to get a better sense for her aside from how much of an amazing modern woman she is.

Masters’ blackmailing the provost will undoubtedly show up in a big way, so I just hope that means we see more of Allison Janney as his wife. Hopefully Ethan gets over Virginia sometime soon, as his burgeoning relationship with the provost’s daughter is much more intriguing.

It’s no Mad Men just yet, but even that show didn’t get really interesting until the end of the first season. But Masters of Sex is definitely a big contender for the next big cable drama, and I’ll be watching.


Masters of Sex airs on SBS on Thursday nights at 9:30pm.


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