Actors: Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan
Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Widescreen
Number of discs: 4
Studio: Sony Pictures
Release Date: May 5, 2015
The more I watch “Masters of Sex,” the more it feels like a bad “Mad Men” rip-off trying to cash in on the ever-popular topic of sex. Though aspects of the narrative are based on real scientific discoveries and advances, these often take back-seat to the exploitable elements of the show. Most often this includes endless scenes of star Lizzy Caplan undressed, just in case you didn’t get enough of her breasts on “True Blood,” while many of the other storylines feel derivative of the worst parts of “Mad Men.” Melodrama concerning affairs, relationships and flings take precedence over just about everything. Even when this season nearly addresses racial issues significant during the period, it shies away in favor of cheap melodrama instead. Season one felt mostly like a monotonous noncommittal bore, whereas season two is a series of wasted opportunities and endless dead-ends in the plot. It feels like they are dragging the story out as long as they can, but my interest has long ago begun to wane.
The show is built upon the unconventional and often unclear personality of the pioneering sexologist and gynecologist, Dr. William Howell Masters (played by Michael Sheen), and the collaboration with his twice-divorced secretary, Virginia Johnson (Caplan). The fact that the storyline quickly becomes entangled in an inevitable sexual relationship between the two is somewhat tiring, especially with the way the series drags it out. This is not the only melodramatic sexual relationship to overpower the storyline, but the show recovers when the scientific research remains in focus. Unfortunately, that seems to be happening a lot less in season two, with far more focus on the soap opera aspects of the story.
While I might normally just dismiss this series as contrived and derivative, there are moments within season two which nearly elevate the show. It feels as though there are a couple of writers taking the dialogue in intriguing directions before backpedaling or switching to safer and duller territory. Dr. Masters is forced to take his study to several different hospitals over the course of this season, before going into the private sector to work for himself. Among these hospitals is one primarily used by the African American community, led by a man hoping to make it a racially integrated facility. This could have been an interesting new direction for the show, but they quickly turn away from it in favor of other directions.
The racial aspects of this season’s narrative are somewhat schizophrenic the whole way through, with the wife of Dr. Masters being the season’s single-most contradictory character. The ideology of Libby Masters (Caitlin FitzGerald) appears to change dramatically from one moment to the next. First she is inviting temptation by dancing with a black handyman in her living room, followed by the awful and bigoted treatment of her African American nanny, whose brother she eventually begins to follow around like a lost puppy dog. Although it feels like there is nearly something to be said about racial equality within the narrative, each of these various plot developments feel written by different people.
If the individual episodes don’t always work together fluidly or rewardingly, there are moments within this season which gave me hope for something better. The third episode in the season, “Fight,” is a remarkable standalone episode. It gave me hope for the remainder of the season because of how thoughtfully it was written, alluding to deeper character development than the first season was permitted. Instead, the show continued to run in the same circles following that episode. Even when the plot advances, it never felt like the show came close to the peak in the third episode. This is mostly because the characters become no more interesting the more time we spend with them. They either become duller, insignificant enough to be dismissed, or remain ambiguous to provide a false sense of mystery. At a certain point the way that Masters treats his wife in favor of an affair with Virginia is no longer mysterious, its just plain cruel.
The Blu-ray release of season two includes all twelve episodes on four discs, finishing with a season finale that is blatantly open-ended for the soon premiering third season. The only special feature for the DVD release is also included here. It is called “The History of Sex,” though the sex in the title is referring to the show. All of the featurettes exclusive to the Blu-ray use this cheap technique as well, including “The Women of Sex” and “The Men of Sex,” which is actually just a roundtable with the actors. There are also a handful of unnecessary deleted scenes for die-hard fans, of which I am clearly not included.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6.5/10
Historical Significance: 5/10
Special Features: 6/10