Masters of Sex “Parallax” Review (2×01)

14 Jul


“Work…it’s where I belong.”

A script is a means by which we can find some semblance of structure, of stability, of requirements and guidelines, and we oftentimes will retreat behind what we perceive to be a life script, something that takes into consideration the values of society, mixes it up with our comfort zones, and dictates what we should do and what we should feel. Because of this, the identities that arise and the problems resulting from the identities we display to the world are simply false fronts.

Parallax–which has to do with different viewpoints of the same object–plays a huge role in the ideas of script following and false fronts and fractured identities. The most overt examples of parallax in the episode are the flashbacks to the night on which Masters showed up at Virginia’s door: we’re privy to Bill’s point of view, then to Virginia’s, and we see just how conflicted the two are throughout. There’s a push and pull effect ever present in their interactions, and you get the feeling that while they should be together, they’re crafting a wall through which they can touch, but not feel. If I had to name that wall, it’d be “work”, and behind it is where they feel safe. The quote I used to open the review–Virginia’s “It’s where I belong” when talking on the phone to Ethan–seems to be a quote pulled right out of “Virginia Johnson, Obvious 101”; it’s something we expect her to say and it’s something she’s probably recited countless times before. However, given the social climate at the time, it’s also a risk for her, a half truth when she says that “things have changed”, a dip into the William Masters waters.

Throughout the episode, we see Masters and Johnson reading from scripts, played out literally with the latter’s diet pill script and played out metaphorically with Masters’s scenes with his baby. The script Masters abides by has just been thrown for a loop with the introduction of his son, and what does he do? He doesn’t adapt or face his fears; rather, he hides and attempts to disappear within himself, electing to drown out the baby’s cries with music. Then, he lashes out at Essie and causes her to leave, and he states that he’s become his parents; he does, after all, cheat on his wife (a la dad), turn up the music when the baby’s crying (a la mom), and names himself Francis at the end (a la dad).

Speaking of the ending, it’s a beautifully played scene by Caplan and Sheen. Here are two people obviously having an affair, but they won’t admit it, but they want to, but then what happens to the script, and then what about the work, and then what if the entire world collapses? Essentially, they’re walking a tightrope they’re waiting to fall off of, and when Masters sees that he and Virginia aren’t on the same page, he retreats. Once again, it’s all about the work. They love the work, that’s no question, but all you have to do is take one look at their faces and you can tell: they’re wondering if there’s something more.

They can either look at the study as a gateway toward a meaningful relationship, or they can look at the relationship as merely within the confines of the study. Parallax at work again: the latter is easier and safer, but should they be looking through a different window? For now, Mr. and Mrs. Holden will continue up to their room, feeling each other’s touch as they wait and wait.

They’re waiting until they can be William Masters and Virginia Johnson again.



-In no way am I minimizing the Barton storyline by relegating it to “other thoughts”; it’s certainly one of the most heartbreaking storylines I’ve ever seen play out on television, and Bridges and Janney deserve recognition for it. Barton’s someone who equates sex with intimacy, so he feels that if he shocks the homosexuality out of him, his relationship with his wife will be repaired. He imagines she’s a man as he’s about to have sex with her–again, different views of the same act or topic–but in essence, what it comes down to is whether or not he’ll realize that homosexuality is not the problem; rather, the problem is his–and society’s–inability to recognize that homosexuality is not the problem. Here he is, participating in a treatment* that should cure him, that should solve everything, but in reality, it pushes him to a precipice that he nearly falls off of. It’s devastating to watch him destroyed and at such a low, and I can only hope that he finds his way out of the hole.

-*The idea of the treatment, by the way, ties in nicely with Ginny’s diet pills.

-Allison Janney’s performance when Bill comes to the house after Barton’s suicide attempt: perfection. It’s a haunting image of a face trying to hold back emotions, to feign interest in one thing when she’s preoccupied with another. We see variations of that expression throughout for many of the characters.

– “Oh, we had a King.” *Cut to Masters sitting in a flimsy throne, aka a chair*

-Well, that might be the last we see of Ann Dowd for a while, considering she’s on The Leftovers now.

-Bye, Jane and Lester. :/

-Michael Apted does excellent work with the direction throughout. I especially love the shot of Masters stopping at the doorway to the baby’s room, then the camera zooming out to emphasize the Bill’s smallness in a world that’s quickly engulfing him.

-New character: Danny Huston’s Douglas Greathouse, who seems very interested in Bill’s study. The money, by the way, is largely due in part to Betty’s husband The Pretzel King and his donation. I like pretzels.

-Nice to see Lillian again (and I still maintain that “Phallic Victories” is the best episode thus far). Here’s an example of someone whose cancer is consuming her, and something like drinking is her way of coping.

-Weekly coverage is a possibility right now. We’ll see; I’d certainly like to write about this show each week, as it’s one of the best ones on TV. Also, congrats go out to Beau Bridges, Allison Janney, and Lizzy Caplan on their Emmy noms. How Michael Sheen was passed up for Kevin Spacey and Jeff Daniels will confound me to the end of time.

Photo credit: Showtime, Masters of Sex

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