After four seasons of a show, some lose their original luster. Masters of Sex is definitely one of those shows. The edgy, scandalous intimacy which Masters of Sex built their first season on has not been as strong in the last two seasons. For the most part though, the show has stayed true to its original premise. Based on the groundbreaking work in human sexuality by Dr. William Masters and his assistant turned partner Virginia Johnson, Masters of Sex has given viewers a glimpse into the first time topics on sexuality were ever discussed. For every discussion which has been exhilarating and insightful, there have been those which were acutely uncomfortable. Masters and Johnson never shied away from any of it. They were brave enough to tackle the taboo subject of sex in the 1950s and continue to push the envelope past the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s. Thus on the eve of the Season 4 finale, we still want more Masters of Sex, and here’s why.
Season 1 introduced viewers to Dr. Bill Masters and his brazen (for the time period) assistant Virginia Johnson. Bill was the straight-laced, demographically appropriate middle-class doctor with more intimacy issues than he knew of. Virginia was a divorced mother of two children working her way as an assistant after a failed stint as a singer. Neither one was particularly comfortable with the boxed labels they had to fit themselves into during the 1950s. They found purpose in the work they created together, and the intimacy they shared because of their passion for their work created a very unique love between them.
Season 2 was also a large success and an excellent homage to the inspirations of the show. The Boxing episode was a work of writing brilliance which revealed the most intimate parts of Bill Master’s soul in a carefully woven narrative against the backdrop of a famous boxing match. The series took a big leap forward in time and progress as Masters and Johnson established their own private clinic when their work got them blacklisted from all major universities. Interracial and same-sex relationships took center stage as the rumblings of change jump-started the 1960s. Most importantly, Masters and Johnson developed their most famous methodology tackling sexual dysfunction.
Season 3 was a bit of a mess. In several ways the series deviated dramatically from some of the facts of Masters and Johnson’s history. Normally that’s to be expected, for dramatic effect and for legal repercussions. However, in that sense so much time should not have been devoted to fictional situations which ultimately brought down the narrative. Don’t even get me started on the gorilla! The surrogacy program, celebrity patients, and yes, even Josh Charles’ character, were all based on real events and people who made their way into the pair’s lives. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was necessary to see Virginia Johnson consider a more stable path in her personal life for the sake of her children. Just as it was important to see the disintegration of Bill and Libby Masters’s marriage, especially the moments Libby finally stood up for the life she wanted, setting both her and Bill free. As always, the show is at its strongest when its focus is on the work, and how Masters and Johnson dealt with being the first ones to deal with any given situation.
Which brings us to Season 4. Like the season before it, this year hasn’t shown the strongest Masters and Johnson have been, but has been more sensitive to the tone of the turn in their work. The 60s as we remember them in specially themed callbacks with Halloween store-bought costumes was really the late 60s and early 70s. This was when the sexual revolution really took hold of the country with the Burning Bra, the Playboy Mansion, and plenty of free love. Bill and Virginia are also the most unencumbered they’ve ever been with each other, which is saying a lot of a couple who have had an on-and-off affair for almost 15 years now. Their individual emotional journeys really needed to be fleshed out to reestablish their deeper intimacy as a pair. The season has deviated a bit from historically accurate data. For example, Dr. Masters’s treatment of homosexual patients was much less sensitive than depicted onscreen. On this his work actually did damage to the LGBT movement by being one of the first to try to “treat” homosexuality. As you can probably guess, the results of this experiment were a miserable failure. The introduction of the secondary partners was also a slight annoyance, as it only worked to hold a weathered mirror on Masters and Johnson’s relationship.
Yet here’s the deal. Most of the series up till now has been chronicling the rise of Masters and Johnson. The series has yet to delve into how they became household names recognized outside of the medical and celebrity communities. In the years to come Masters and Johnson made their way into average American households by appearing on “The Tonight Show”, and publishing four more works based on their research. There’s also the 20 years of Masters and Johnson’s marriage. That was a particularly large evolution in the couple’s history because in their own words, their sexual relationship was more active before they were married. As much as we love Bill and Ginny, history tells us they do amicably go their separate ways. It would be a disservice to viewers who watched the evolution of the couple thus far only see half of the story. More Annaleigh Ashford and Beau Bridges wouldn’t hurt either.
Watch Masters of Sex end Season 4 tonight on Showtime, with Bill and Virginia’s wedding as the main event.