In this culminating episode of Masters of Sex, characters compare Dr. Masters (as does Bill) to Charles Darwin, Elvis Presley and God. He is Darwin because he is shooting for scientific discoveries that the world (and a conservative community) is not quite ready for. In a similar way, the attention he gets from showing this titillating evidence makes him a swaggering Elvis type. However, with the rain falling down in nearly every scene, he is feeling a torrential downpour of his own life as things fall apart despairingly. Creating this maelstrom that touches all of the characters, Bill is God.
“Manhigh” is a strong, although very neatly wrapped, season one finale. It is an episode packed with big events – a firing, childbirth, and a wedding proposal. The main preoccupation in this episode is the debacle of Bill’s presentation. Although he fills a room of curious doctors and spectators, he stimulates their palettes too much. After showing footage of Jane (whose face is not shown) masturbating, the doctors stiffen up and pop out of their seats, outraged by the lewd video. Several protest and demand Masters to be fired, and alas, Bill loses his job.
Michael Sheen is a commanding presence in this episode, perhaps giving his most complete performance on the show so far. He gets to move from these lofty comparisons mentioned above to the hospital stripping him of his title and his purpose. Down to the barest bones of his humanity, Sheen gives a heart-wrenching plea in from of Virginia at her home, asking for forgiveness and then setting the stage for a life together. From commanding virility at the top of his presentation to vulnerability as he stands, nervously, at Virginia’s door, the episode shows Sheen’s range, something the series has used sparingly. Even if Bill has been mostly a scoundrel or curmudgeon during this season (and will likely continue to be, since he does not even reconcile with his wife in labor), it is refreshing to see writer Michelle Ashford weaken him to his knees.
Meanwhile, Virginia is at her own crossroads, figuring out how to respond to two pleas for her love in this episode alone. The more stable choice would be to ship her and her family off to Los Angeles, where potential fiancé Ethan Haas waits with a job and sunny weather. Or, she can stay cooped up, in her rain-drenched neighbourhood with Bill, trying to figure out how to use the provocative study (that now has her name attached) to get her somewhere.
As the second half of the Masters of Sex, Caplan has been a standout this season. Her optimistic outlook has brightened each episode and made her friendships and struggles with Drs. Masters and DePaul meaningful. Caplan is an actor that has the wit and candor to play with these foils, but also the quiet resilience to fulfill some of the show’s more emotional moments, like the two proposals in “Manhigh.” For a woman determined to liberate herself from a male-dominated field, though, it could be a slight to the character to abandon her own ambitions to be the lesser half of either Bill or Ethan.