Ah, 2013. You were so full of incredible new shows, it was hard to choose a leader of the pack at the end of the year. Masters was tied at the top of my list, and for good reason (only the unparalleled Orphan Black had the edge on it for best new drama in my opinion). This historical series surrounding two pioneers in the field of sex research, Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson (played by Michael Sheen and Emmy nominee, Lizzy Caplan), somehow managed to be both sexy and educational, funny and dramatic, daring and true to it's 1950's setting. When I found out it was returning in summer 2014, I couldn't have been happier. Little did I know that this season (so far) would essentially blow last season out of the water with story lines that have kept me on the edge of my seat since the start. So what's been going on in the world of Masters and Johnson this year? Strap yourself in - it's time to start our study of Masters of Sex, Season 2.
SPOILER WARNING: If you haven't seen the first 6 episodes of this season of Masters of Sex yet, continue reading at your own risk! New episodes air Sundays on Showtime at 10PM, and the first half of the season is available on demand for your viewing pleasure, so get watching!
At the end of last season, Bill was ousted from Maternity hospital after a racy presentation of his sex study (complete with video of a mystery woman pleasuring herself) was viewed as pornography by his colleagues. Virginia, (star of said video) begins working with Dr. Lillian DePaul (played by the wonderful Julianne Nicholson) on her pap smear program after finding out she has cancer and is looking for a protege to hand off her life's work to. Virginia also gets a marriage proposal from Dr. Ethan, but with Bill at her doorstep, and her name officially on the study she worked so hard to complete, the choice was a no-brainer. This season began with Virginia officially turning down Ethan and continuing her affair with Bill. The opening episode provided us with an artful look at the fateful evening he turned up at her door from both of their perspectives, and gave us insight into their lives post study fall-out. Virginia was quickly rumored to be the woman from the video, causing her to be ostracized by the other secretaries and frequently propositioned by creepy doctors, while Bill and Libby's home life with new baby John could barely be considered peaceful. After Bill and Virginia meet at a hotel to discuss the future of the study, it's clear that they aren't giving up on their work, or on each other, no matter how that may affect the other people in their lives.
As the season continues, that self-serving M.O. has become a major theme for all of the characters. No matter what they dress it up as, Bill and Virginia's affair is going to hurt someone, yet their own interests are clouding their judgement as they continue to justify their wrongdoings "in the name of science". Betty (YAY! Betty's back!) continues to lie to her new "Pretzel King" husband about her infertility and her love for her ex-girlfriend Helen (played by Sarah Silverman in a surprisingly heartbreaking role) in an attempt to live the white-picket-fence life she felt she was meant to have. Libby is also proving herself to be not only racist, but more than slightly unhinged as she becomes obsessed with the life of her nanny, Coral (Keke Palmer in her best role yet). Between spying on Coral, forcing her to wash her hair with lice shampoo, and prying into her personal relationships in order to "protect her family", Libby's paranoia has even begun to scare the normally oblivious Bill. He isn't doing much better, essentially tanking his career and getting kicked out of every hospital in Missouri as his study continues to interfere with his obstetrics practice, gaining him enemies at every turn.
In one of the most interesting plot points of the season, Bill and Virginia's affair begins to be discovered slowly but surely by the others in their lives, leading to more difficulties than they could have expected. When Dr. Austin sees the pair leaving their favorite hotel late at night, he confronts Virginia and doesn't believe her well crafted, but clearly fake explanation for their whereabouts. Instead, he has a friendly drink (or five) with Lillian and assumes she knew about the two all along, letting their secret slip. Lillian, feeling betrayed by Virginia, gives her program away to another hospital, leaving Virginia financially insecure and stuck with her diet pill selling back-up plan. I love how the writers are slowly building the tension this way, creating a tangled web of people who know about their secret. While I'm slightly disappointed that the actual study has taken a back seat to the Bill and Virginia drama this season, both Sheen and Caplan have such chemistry together and embody their respective characters so well, it's hard to complain when they share the screen.
As things begin to come to a boil, this season certainly hasn't been easy to watch. In fact, the lighter moments we got last year are few and far between. But the incredible dramatic scenes have taken the series to another level, including last week's men's room confrontation between Bill and Dr. Charles Hendricks (Courtney B. Vance), over the implications of including black participants in the controversial sex study. Seeing the talented Sheen and Vance go head-to-head has been one of the highlights of a season packed with tense moments, critical questions, and next-level acting. Whatever the next half of Masters has in store, it's safe to say things have gotten off to an electrifying start. And as the reveal of Bill and Virginia's affair gets closer and closer to Libby, I'd say the drama has only just begun.
Come back next week for my overview of every TV fan's favorite award show, The Emmy's! Hosted by Late Night's Seth Meyers, the 2014 ceremony promises to be a memorable one. Tune in on Monday, August 25th at 8PM Eastern on NBC!