The pilot episode for Masters of Sex was fast-paced and plot-heavy, focusing on the burgeoning relationship between Johnson and Masters. However, “Race to Space,” the series’ sophomore episode, spends more time examining the needs of the periphery characters – and it feels like a richer show by the episode’s close.
Unlike the slick, stimulated Virginia Johnson we saw in the pilot, our female protagonist is more reserved in this episode. Despite her sexual know-how, she is still a busy mother trying to give her career a rise so that she can afford a nanny to look after her kids. This reaches an affront when Masters fires her. He believes that she discussed the study’s steamier details with Ethan (Nicholas D’Agosto), and Ethan then told Masters’ boss, Scully (Beau Bridges), about the copulating couples.
There is no truth to this accusation, but Masters flings his rage at her. “You defied me,” he spits at her, and feeling as though he needs to knock her down a peg, Masters lets her go. Michael Sheen plays this moment with glaring disgust without having to raise his voice, the glimmers of his sexual frustrations at home – his prolonged bad luck helping his barren wife, Elizabeth, procreate – protruding from underneath.
However, it is not long before the duo is back up and working together, playing different bases for the same team. Masters decides to move the study to a more secretive location: the brothel where his initial test subject, Betty DiMello (played with a cocksure, bittersweet gumption by Annaleigh Ashford) works.
He makes Betty a deal. If the girls house the study and participate as test subjects, he will give them medical help and check-ups that they could not afford normally. Johnson, meanwhile, relates to the prostitutes and works as a messenger between them and Masters.
Race to Space is not as speedy as the pilot episode, but the acting is still stellar. It also does an excellent job at building up the subplots for the show’s many supporting characters. Last week, we found out what drives the protagonist. This week, the focus is on what the people to Dr. Masters’ periphery need and desire.
Many of them are repressed spirits trying to break free from one social mould and find sexual (or romantic) nirvana. Ethan tries to rebound from his brief encounters with Johnson by having similarly erotic one-night stands with other girls from the office, but he cannot help but see Johnson’s face every time a co-worker dips her head toward his, well, johnson.