Thoughts on Masters of Sex Episode 1

WARNING: Spoilers for season 1, episode 1 of “Masters of Sex”.


Masters of SexI’ve fallen a long way behind on this series. Having kids means not being able to watch a lot of shows with explicit sex scenes in them, especially not ones with sex in the title. However, I got a Google Nexus 7 for Christmas, so I thought I’d give HBO Nordic a whirl with it.

Masters of Sex follows two main characters, Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, as they begin to study the effects of sex on the body in 1952.

As I watched, I couldn’t help thinking of Kinsey, with Liam Neeson, that covered a similar period and similar study. The connections are striking. Both lead characters are interested in sex on a purely scientific level, both are hampered by social mores and both seem quite cold and logical. I did enjoy Kinsey, though, so I was quite willing to give Masters of Sex a try too.

As is now the norm for HBO, the writing and production are stellar. Despite it being quite a dry subject (other than the sex itself), the show kept me interested the whole way through. The entire cast were excellent in their roles. Lizzy Caplan especially, in her role as Virginia Johnson.

Both Masters and Johnson seem to be willfully ignorant of the power of sex on the human mind, while being fascinated with it for other, different reasons. Masters is a dedicated obstetrician, one of the leading doctors in his field in the US, who also has a low sperm count and can’t impregnate his wife. Johnson is twice divorced in an era when a single divorce was a scandal, and is just interested in recreational sex.

Both of them seem to be ignoring the power that sex has on their respective partners. Libby Masters is distraught and beaten, believing she’s the cause of the infertility between her and her husband. For Masters, she seems to represent his failure, and he can’t even look at her during sex. After two years, this is having its toll on Libby.

Johnson, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to understand that not just women can fall in love. She is using Dr. Haas for sex, as a friend with benefits long before there was even a phrase for it. However, she seems completely shocked when he falls in love with her and wants to marry her.

The episode had great twists and turns. I was not expecting Haas to punch Johnson, but that paled in comparison to the twist at the end. Masters tells Johnson that they need to have sex together for completely spurious reasons. Caplan’s performance here was brilliant, conveying just how much of a bind Johnson is now in. What seemed to be a way for her to make a difference, instead comes down to another man wanting her for something she doesn’t want.

I very much enjoyed this episode and look forward to watching episode two. Since I’ve fallen so far behind, at least I don’t have long to wait.


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