Masters of Sex’s first season was yet another in a long line of Showtime critically acclaimed debut series. The true story of Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson’s quest to discover what happens to the body during sex was often riveting, touching, and female-friendly in a way that’s rare on TV these days. The last episode left viewers with a few hanging questions. Would Virginia take up Ethan’s marriage proposal? Would Bill and Virginia begin an affair? What was going to happen to the study now that Bill was fired from his position at the university?
The biggest question left lingering was whether the show could continue its top notch quality into its second season. “Parallax” proved that not only could it match the quality, but actually improve on it. The second season premiere was funny, suspenseful, well-directed, and heartbreaking. If this episode is anything to go by, the second season will exceed all expectations. Here are a few of the best moments from “Parallax.”
Virginia Struggles at Work
The video of Jane’s cervix may have gotten Bill fired, but the ramifications have hit Virginia the most. Most people believe that she’s the video’s star. In her new post as Dr. Lillian DePaul’s assistant, she’s constantly harassed by the various employees of Washington University Hospital. Dr. Crane corners her in the bathroom and tells her that he can’t stop thinking about her since watching that video.
In typical badass form, Virginia fights him off with a kick to the groin, but it won’t stop the constant stream of harassment. When she’s not ignored by her fellow assistants, she’s finding dildos on her desk, getting asked out by every sleazy employee, and given dirty looks wherever she goes. Luckily, she has Lillian, Austin, and Jane as allies.
As Lillian’s assistant, Virginia is not making near enough to support her family, so she’s forced to sell diet pills in the most bizarre subplot this show has ever seen. With all the harassment, disrespect, and financial struggles, it’s so satisfying when a doctor approaches Virginia for help on a project. Her experience on the sex study makes her an invaluable resource and people are just starting to see it. It almost feels like a fantasy to see a woman get so much respect from a doctor, even if it was such a short scene.
Barton’s Tragic Life
Barton Scully and his wife Margaret are perhaps two of the saddest characters to ever grace our TV screens. Although the married couple clearly love and respect each other, their circumstances make them lonely and desperate. Barton, in an attempt to cure his homosexuality, is receiving weekly electroshock therapy. When he comes home to Margaret, he tries to forget about his inclinations and have sex with her. They’re both so excited, on the verge of tears as they clumsily touch each other, but it’s ruined when she realizes that she’s not what he wants. “There’s only a shred of me that still feels like a woman,” she says. “You can’t take that from me.”
Later, Margaret and their daughter Vivian hear a strange noise coming from another room in the house. Thinking that the window is open, Vivian goes to shut it. Instead she finds her father trying to hang himself. It’s heartbreaking to see the two women struggle to hold Barton up to take the noose from his neck. They’re all in such an impossible position, especially in that time period.
The Comic Relief of Langham
Dr. Austin Langham has always been a little slimy, but this episode painted him in a completely different light. At first, he’s Virginia’s biggest work ally. He interrupts the creepy Dr. Crane from assaulting Virginia and gives her advice to start selling diet pills. One of the episode’s highlights was him referring to the study as the “mummy’s curse” since it destroyed the lives and careers of so many people.
Another highlight was when he rushed, panicked, into Lillian’s office to hide from his wife and three children. Despite his insistence that he was now a faithful husband, his wife reveals over the loudspeaker of the hospital that he’s been having an affair with her sister. This moment is treated like comic relief, instead of a man destroying a marriage. It’s an interesting parallel to the moment when Virginia holds Libby’s baby, knowing that she’s going to meet her husband later in a hotel room.
Virginia and Lillian’s Relationship
One of the best parts of the first season continues to be one of the highpoints of the series. Lillian is the perfect character for a female-positive show like Masters of Sex. She’s a doctor in a hospital that isn’t known for hiring female doctors, in a specialty that’s all about women’s bodies. Her goal in life is to ensure the health of all women in the future by making pap smears a regular medical procedure. Most importantly, she’s the best role model that a character like Virginia could ever have.
Just like Virginia, Lillian is all about her work, so much so that when she comes to work with a black eye, nobody for a second thinks that a man could have done it to her. Their relationship is one of the very few positive female friendships on television, where nothing is about some guy but rather about their own progression.
Bill and Virginia’s “Affair”
Wow. Just wow. The scenes between Bill and Virginia in this episode were just incredible. While they spent most of the episode apart, flashbacks revealed what happened moments after Bill proclaimed he needed her. The first flashback is in Bill’s POV, as he clearly is proclaiming his love for Virginia. They have sex and Virginia tells him about Ethan’s proposal. The phone rings and she tells Ethan that they can’t be together anymore. Bill looks smitten.
The second flashback follows Virginia more closely and reveals parts of the same scene that we didn’t know. It’s now obvious in all of their interactions that Virginia is extremely grateful for her name being put on the study. When she talks to Ethan on the phone, she denies being in love with Bill. “This cannot be because of work,” Ethan says. She responds. “But it is. It’s where I belong.” It’s the study that she’s in love with, not any person.
The third flashback shows Bill and Virginia in a hotel lobby, for the first time. Throughout the episode we’ve seen that they’ve been meeting here but the context changes completely. At first it seems like they’re on the same page, but Virginia throws a few bombs at him. “It’s the rare man who can understand choosing work over love…An affair is a pedestrian thing…What we have between us is so much more than that. We have work.”
You can see the exact moment when Bill dies a little inside. Instead of building up the courage to clarify that he feels love for her, not just her part in the study, he puts on the cold, brave mask that he’s so used to wearing. “I don’t want you to feel like you’ve been lead on,” he says to her, as if it’s her who has had the wrong idea about them the whole time.
The writing, directing, and acting in this scene was so incredible. The viewers know what’s about to happen just by the subtle changes in Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen’s faces. Their whole relationship just became more complicated that imaginable.
• Bill is using the name Doctor Francis Holden as his code name in the hotel.
• In the most unprofessional move of all time, Libby’s pediatrician compares Bill to Albert Fish, a doctor who moonlighted as a cannibalistic serial killer.
• Betty returns with her Pretzel King husband. He mentions that they’ve been trying to have children. Bill knows that Betty is infertile and living a lie with her husband. Pretzel King donates a lot of money to a hospital to ensure that Bill gets a job and a new place to host his study.
• It looks like Jane is being written out of the show. Too bad, because she was a sweet friend to Virginia, although maybe unnecessary now that Lillian is around. She is going to Hollywood to be an actress with the filmmaker from last season.
• The subplot with Bill and his new baby, Johnny, was borderline scary. He refuses to be in a room with the baby. When Libby leaves them alone together, he tries to drown out the baby’s crying by turning on “Bye Bye Love” loudly. His mother calms the baby down and he admits to having regular sex with Virginia. “I am my father. You know it. And now my son knows it too.”
• Bill’s mother is moving back to Ohio. He wants to hire a nanny immediately. (She’ll be played by Keke Palmer.)
• Lillian: “It’s sad nobody thought I’d get a black eye from a jealous lover.”
• Lillian messes up a few words when talking to Virginia. Could the cancer treatments not be going well? And how did she really get that black eye?