Fitting for its name, Masters of Sex has never been a show that shies away from the more explicit details of what goes on in the bedroom, or from showing the skin of its own stars. “Kyrie Eleison,” this week’s chapter in the Masters-Johnson bio-drama, may be the show’s first episode to subside with scintillating sex onscreen. Regardless, it is one of the most revealing episodes thus far. And, if industry rumors are correct, it is leading up to one heck of a “bottle episode” next week.
As I examined in last week’s premiere review, the Emmy-nominated drama is turning into a series focused on the consequences that come with too much sexual inhibition. Bill and Ginny’s rekindled affair – one they know is an affair, even if Bill is convinced that what they are doing falls beyond those taboo boundaries – has given them both an air of invincibility. Sexual prowess can give people the feeling of confidence and satisfaction, one that permeates beyond the bedroom. However predictably, the study partners are starting to find they are not as powerful as they think.
Bill, for instance, is still having trouble nursing his son. The good news is that Libby has already gone ahead and hired a nanny, Coral (Keke Palmer). What starts as a bond between the stay-at-home Libby and the easygoing Coral as the two of them discuss their kitchen-centric wounds starts to move to a bad place when the nanny’s swaddling skills one-up Mrs. Masters. Of course, so that her superiority as the mom is not relinquished, Libby makes a rude comment about Coral’s lack of proper diction – a criticism veiled in racism – and reinstates the mother as the one who really has the power in the household.
It is rare to find moments in Masters of Sex when Libby gets to be controlling, but her stubbornness as she shrewdly insults Coral (“I always feel grateful when someone points something out I can do better,” she says with a touch of arsenic) has shades of her husband. We get a cold, Betty Draper-like vibe from Libby this episode, which shows a new side of competitiveness that works well with the character. Fitzgerald has just the right balance of malice and kindness for us to realize how much she aspires to be a more dominant mother and wife.
While Libby grits her teeth at home, both Bill and Virginia find they are being stepped on at their respective offices. The sex doctor is still trying to get Virginia on the board to work with him on a bolder version of the provocative study. The only moments that focus on the study, a major element that hopefully comes back to bring a jolt of needed momentum to this season, is when Masters and Johnson explain their work to two doctors, Greathouse and Ditmer. It is a clever scene of cross-cutting between the two conversations, where the protagonists sit as if mirrored and explain their work.
Even without the study occupying his time, Bill has a very busy first day at Memorial Hospital. There, he deals with Rose (Ana Walczak), a teenage girl with symptoms of nymphomania who has already gone through two abortions (that we know of). We first see Rose sitting with her stern parents in the opening scene, a detached long shot that emphasizes the distance between the characters – Rose is dead center, her father and mother out to the sides – as they sit and have dinner. Rose tries to hide the blood dripping out of her, but she shivers in pain in front of her parents. (Michael Apted, once again, brings us directly into close-up of characters going through misery only they can understand.)