Turns out, as many suspected, there were actual legal reasons for the new weird disclaimer at the end of Masters Of Sex this season, and I wasn’t the only one dumbfounded by the messy wrangle of Masters and Johnson’s kids in last week’s premiere. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter this week, showrunner Michelle Ashford refers to an “astronomical legal hurdle” that she and the show had to overcome, somehow resulting in the fact that on the show, both Gini and Bill have three kids now. When Gini’s new/old/fake husband George says that they’re considering Scott and Lisa as names for Gini’s baby, those are actually the names of their real-life kids. By the end of the episode, Gini has a daughter (ostensibly “Lisa”), so the tally on both sides is now two fictional kids, one factual. Hokay.
Ashford promises that these first two episodes are basically housekeeping for the show, so that family will not be the sole focus this season:
There were certain things that had to be done in our storytelling that had to do with legal issues. So, we made lemonade out of lemons. The fact is that some of those events were not necessarily the story we were going to tell. But we’ve told them at the very beginning of the season, and then we move on and we pick up back where we had intended this season to start. In an odd way, those first two episodes are to explain a lot of stuff that ends up not actually being so instrumental to the storytelling.
So Ashford had her own (vague) behind-the-scenes issues to deal with for the beginning of MOS season three, and is doing the best she can with what she has. I’m assuming that some of the real Masters and Johnson heirs objected to their likenesses being portrayed on screen (likely, a woman who doesn’t want the world to think that she hit on her eventual stepfather when she was a teenager).
Still, you can tell that Masters Of Sex benefits as Masters and Johnson adds a new case to the clinic this week, with celebrity client the Shah Of Iran. Even then, the episode allegory is laid on a bit thick. The Shah’s wife will leave him because she will not be able to bear watching the man she loves have a child with another woman. Just as Bill has set himself up for a similar scenario, helping to force the Gini-George fake marriage before the baby is born. George seems earnest in this second marriage attempt, despairing that Gini used to leave love notes in his pockets: a romantic who has become a scientist.
The best part of Masters Of Sex is when the show focuses on its two main characters, and by all accounts, the show does a decent job of portraying these two historic figures very close to how they were in real life. Ashford also says that Michael Sheen’s sometimes less-than-likable portrayal of Bill is to show the effects of child abuse on a grown individual, which certainly points to why he almost slugged his son last week. As a former abused child, it would be the last thing in the world he’d want to do, but he is nonetheless compelled to model the behaviors he was raised with.
Virginia Johnson, by all accounts, was the duo’s people person, who served as Masters’ buffer to the world, and this episode adeptly depicts why that was so much the case. Bill is dependent on Virginia, finding absolutely no chemistry with his new colleague (Maggie Grace). When Bill is being interviewed and pretty much describes a four-way, with a woman who “gives as good as she gets,” it’s clear that he can no longer function without Gini, not at this crucial stage of their careers, as the book is released.
Even though she’s playing a bit older than her actual age (and doesn’t look old enough to have teenage children), Lizzie Caplan remains a wonder as Virginia. Her warmth and compassion comes through with her clients at the clinic, yet she can still emit appropriate devastation as her daughter lashes out and calls her the worst mother in the world, right before she’s scheduled to have an abortion. The most interesting part of this episode is Bill and Gini’s discussion (while she’s in labor; thank God he stopped singing) about the decisions a working mother has to make. For Bill, his stay-at-home mother did nothing but suffocate him, and didn’t even protect him from his abusive father. So it’s not surprising that he believes it’s important for women to have something for themselves, outside the home, to show their children what can be accomplished, which is a pretty radical viewpoint for 1966, and fortunately no longer. As stirring as Bill’s speech is, it’s only out of desperation that Gini will want to focus on this new baby more than on him and their work. But his attempts to distract her during labor with talks about research and publishing an article fail miserably, and comparing a book to a baby to a woman in labor is probably about the worst time to make that kind of metaphor. Again, heavy-handedly, the show ends with Gini and Bill both looking at their creations through windows, both major accomplishments, and one that will now fight for the researchers’ attention.
According to Ashford, next week we begin where the season was supposed to start in the first place: The public reaction to the publication of Human Sexual Response. The introduction of Gini’s baby and the other kids has been handled, even though at first glance they seem like a misstep. But Masters Of Sex does so much well—the performances of the three main players, the spot-on period feel, Michael Penn’s score—that I’m looking forward to next week to see how that plays out.
- Libby is our other dependent player this episode. Just last week, she asked Gini to keep their domestic homelife together, such as it is. An idealistic plan that Gini misaligned by getting pregnant, and Libby finally—finally!—lashes out. It’s understandable: An unmarried and pregnant Virginia at the time of the book’s publication would surely lead most people to come to one logical conclusion. After all Libby’s gone through, it’s a relief to see her angry, even if her husband probably deserves her rage more than her only friend. Another quote from the Ashford article reveals that, “One of the other things I miss is that we didn’t get to see the end of Libby’s relationship with Robert,” which is unfortunate, but the fact that Libby’s alone again helps explain her fear of total isolation.
- One Betty scene per episode is not enough.