Masters Of Sex Review: “Fallout” (Season 1, Episode 10)

Episode 110

Nicholson is another stellar recurring guest star, alongside Allison Janney and Ann Dowd. As she sheds her grim demeanor to turn on the charm, Nicholson’s wavering balance between her integrity and her need for friendly persuasion is the best she has been on Masters of Sex so far. DePaul is not the only female starting to feel the strain. Joining her is Virginia, who finds herself in a constant tug-of-war with Bill, and Margaret, pressed to figure out how to mend her marital strife (as her mah jong friends warn her, “The husband strays, the wife pays.’)

Two contrasting settings show Margaret trying to find her grounding. In one, she lies alone on her husband’s firm mattress, immediately after realizing that Barton is gay. In the other, she floats elegantly in a pool with Austin, as they contemplate their last night on earth. Janney continues her devastating work, much of it wordless, as a victim of a poor marriage trying to save herself, as the world around her tries to save itself. The use of two very different surfaces (the hard bed, the fluid water) that try to keep the characters upright and afloat express her predicament of falling even further.

This leaves us with Bill. Michael Sheen is still a questionable choice for an Emmy nomination since his character is turning so irascible, that he is starting to seem like a caricature of a stern, heartless busybody. Moreover, he is miserable to hear that his wife is pregnant. He is not exactly the friendliest chum on the block. In “Fallout,” he even punches Ethan and wrestles him to the ground, suspicious of his medical practices with Libby. Even in an episode where the onset of destruction makes everyone feel smaller, Dr. Masters still walks around with a shield of invincibility. He is as cold as the war permeating outside the hospital walls.

“Fallout” is the first Masters of Sex episode devoid of any sex, or even eroticism. All of the emotional feelings are underneath the surface, as characters wrestle with their own dissatisfaction as nuclear annihilation looms. The ensemble is dealing with the end of a sexual experience, from Bill and Virginia to Margaret Scully, and their emotional withdrawal might as well be the end of the world as they know it.