Masters Of Sex Review: “Involuntary” (Season 1, Episode 9)

Episode 109

In the latest episode of Masters of Sex, the characters at the hospital are getting their performance reviews, so I think it is apt to write a little analysis about one of the major performers on the show, Michael Sheen. Unfortunately, he is probably not going to win the Emmy for Best Actor next year. That is not to insult the English actor or his excellent work on Masters of Sex, but he is not giving the type of performance that lingers in the minds of voters. That has more to do with the character he portrays though as Bill Masters is a hard man to like.

He uses his study as a ruse to get away with sleeping with a woman he desires, he treats his wife more like a test subject than the father of his impending child and he gives the cold shoulder to his mother. Worse, he does not see any of this as problematic. When his mother, Essie (an astute Ann Dowd), confronts him in the office and tells him to tread lightly, lest he turn out like his father who had affairs and abandoned his wife, Masters cringes but doesn’t accept responsibility for his vices.

Bill was just as stubborn and oblivious to compassion in the first episode as he is here; however, while he has achieved more sexual prowess, witnessed in the scars Virginia leaves in his back from her spasms in the sack, he keeps making the same mistakes. He ignores his wife and mother, he treats Virginia more like an object than a research partner and he still reeks of elitism.

When he and Virginia visit a smut shop so that they can develop a reel of ‘physiological’ footage, Masters watches a nickel peep show. Instead of reacting to the sight of a woman pleasuring herself, he snickers at how poor the actor is, compared to what he knows to be a woman’s real sexual response. “No woman will be able to fool you again,” Virginia tells him. It is a great ironic line as he is the one fooling himself by misreading some easy cues from the women in his life.

As catty and delightful as Bill and Virginia’s “post-game analysis” remains each week, “Involuntary” is an episode overstuffed with too much backstory. Filled with small monologues, the episode (written by Noelle Valdivia) tries to explain too much about the characters with plodding backstory. And, Jesus Christ (as Dr. Haas would exclaim), this episode disappears into a ton of backstory, as a method to explain how the characters’ action stem from their own upbringings. Bill, Libby and Ethan have a lot of explaining to do about where their motivations come from. It all feels convenient but within the boundaries of a single episode, it also feels overstuffed.