Monday, December 16, 2013

Masters of Sex Season Finale Review: "Manhigh" - The Air We Breathe

Michael Sheen delivers a disastrous lecture in "Masters of Sex"
“Man can go anywhere, he just has to take his own atmosphere with him.”

I know there’s a lot of plot I really should talk about in this episode.  After all, Libby finally has a healthy baby, Masters delivers his research presentation and gets fired as a result, Ethan proposes to Virginia and Bill winds up on Virginia’s front porch, just a boy, standing in front of a girl, asking her to love him.  But it was this line, delivered by Major David Simons following his return from the stratosphere in August 1957 that really struck me.*  After all, scientific research is all about striving for new heights (metaphorically, obviously) and entering rarified air.  But, as we saw in Bill’s presentation this week, not everybody is ready to accept the view that the pioneer sees.  As Simons says during his broadcast from the edge of space, out there the stars don’t twinkle.  And the vastness of space is even more palpable without the comfort of terrestrial surroundings.  

* Major Simons’s balloon ascent was the second of three in Project Manhigh, which gave the season finale its title.

And so it was, that when Bill delivered his findings, complete with Jane’s and Virginia’s film footage, the audience walked out and he was fired.  They even changed the locks on his office before the night was out.  It was a brutal, if likely temporary end to an illustrious career.  What Masters discovered far too late is that Virginia was his atmosphere.  She kept him tied to the earth even as his research took him further and further into space.  She was also the one made the research, made those stars twinkle. 

Virginia never would have allowed Bill to air the footage that ultimately causes the entire ruckus.  She knew what would and wouldn’t be accepted.  Bill even admits several times in the final two episodes that she was the one who knew how to present the research and that he was only throwing in the penis size information because he didn’t know how else to make the research interesting.  And we’ve seen all season that this is the case.  It was Virginia who figured out how to frame the research in a way that allowed them to recruit subjects for the study.  It was Virginia who usually convinced a participant to do something they felt uncomfortable with.  We even saw her skills being used on another front, in winning over the doctors’ wives at the conference in Tampa.  Masters may have been the genius behind the research, but Johnson was definitely the engine running it.  She was his atmosphere.

That the season ends with Bill declaring his love for Virginia is a little surprising given how the series has played thus far, but it makes sense that he finally realizes just how crucial she was to his work.  And I can’t imagine him not loving somebody that important to him.  Of course, this still leaves the “complication” of Libby and their new child.  I don’t know where the story goes from here, other than the broad outlines, but Bill and Virginia's relationship was tempestuous enough that I don’t think we can immediately accept this development as the show putting these two characters together permanently.  At the very least, however, the cards seem to now be all on the table, wherever the show goes from here.

Ultimately, the first season of Masters of Sex was phenomenal, hopefully drawing viewers in to a new world, opening their minds to new ideas, and changing their previous notions about the way sex was dealt with back in the 1950s and 1960s.  I’m just finalizing my year-end Top Ten list, but I imagine Masters of Sex will likely end up in the top four.  It’s a show that, like its characters, is forging ahead into brave new territory, giving marvelous performances along the way.

A couple of spare thoughts –
I really hoped we would come to some kind of resolution with Margaret and Barton’s storyline.  Beau Bridges and Allison Janney are just so spectacular in every scene.  But the show seems content to let their story continue simmering for the time being.  I believe that Masters of Sex was filmed in its entirety before Janney’s and Bridges's network shows Mom and The Millers began shooting, so I hope they’ll be available next season, because Margaret Scully is easily one of my favorite characters on the show and Bridges is doing great works as well..

Ethan’s proposal is probably one of the few times this season when I wished I had known less about the story of Masters and Johnson and how things will play out from here.  Knowing what the future holds for them makes me much less interested in Ethan’s and Virginia’s story than I would be otherwise. 

Well, that’s a wrap for this season.  I hope you enjoyed watching this show as much as I did (and I hope you enjoyed reading these reviews as well).  I’m still looking a show to pick up for weekly or biweekly reviews in January.  Right now I’m leaning towards HBO’s new series True Detective, but I’m open to any suggestions if there’s something you’d like to read about.

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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