Masters of Sex is often compared to Mad Men, and for obvious reasons. Both take place about a half-century ago with costumes and sets primped to match the period while also focusing on the social and political mores of the time. Mad Men, however, had some notoriously sexist attitudes in its early seasons, with the ad men of Sterling-Cooper not hesitating to make a joke at a lady’s expense, even when there were women in the room.
While this behaviour was commonplace on AMC’s drama, it is notably absent from Showtime’s latest hit. On Masters of Sex, the women are reaching their own apex of freedom. The sex study that the two protagonists are working on becomes a vehicle for women to explore their own liberties and limitations among a field headed mostly by men. On this week’s episode, “Brave New World,” there are some progressive pleasures front and centre, as Virginia opens up a new line of research with an emphasis on the female orgasm.
“Brave New World” opens with black-and-white archival footage of Dr. Sigmund Freud. Virginia is at a presentation where Freud’s daughter is the keynote speaker. Masters’ assistant is skeptical of Freud’s claims that women are frigid if they cannot achieve orgasm. She spends the rest of the episode plotting to debunk the psychoanalyst’s claims.
While the opening shot is in black-and-white, a scene toward the end of “Brave New World” shows moviegoers watching a film, Peyton Place, in marvellous Technicolor. In the audience is Margaret Scully (Allison Janney). Margaret tells Dr. Langham (Teddy Sears), who she meets outside after the show, that she wept throughout the entire movie. She responds to the evocative melodrama in that film, and in the copy of the Peyton Place book she reads, because her husband is unable to provide her with the same sumptuous pleasures that the entertainment provides.