Last year Masters of Sex, starring Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan was one of the year’s best new television dramas. Telling the true story (albeit with additional padding) of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the show was emotionally hard-hitting at times and exceedingly well acted by its stellar cast. Masters of Sex is set in the late 1950s, early 1960s at a time when many cultural taboos were being challenged, including the research into human sexuality being conducted by Masters and Johnson.
Those who have seen the entirety of the first season will know that the show explored the developing relationship between Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson, with the final episode finding Dr Masters on the doorstep of Virginia declaring that she is the one person in life he cannot live without. With such an emotional bombshell ending the first season, it was only apt that the opening episode explored where the relationship would lead. Considering the social status of Dr Masters, he decided not to call their sexual rendezvous an affair, due to him being, in his words, a happily married man. Instead, somewhat farcically, the two decided that they were to begin meeting in a hotel regularly to have sex, under the guise of continuing the sex study. The first half of the season sees the characters continue their affair, with complications being thrown in every so often. While Virginia is seemingly portrayed as a good woman in contrast to the in denial Dr Masters, her refusal to develop any sort of moral conscience over having an affair with a married man is somewhat at odds with her character. Nonetheless, Caplan and Sheen have obvious chemistry on screen and the development of the relationship between Masters and Johnson gets stronger as each episode rolls by.
If there is one criticism to be had about season 2 of Masters of Sex, it is that in exploring the story of Masters and Johnson and their study, it seems to neglect many of the other characters and sub-stories which were threaded through its first season. In fact one of the best stories from season 1, that of Provost Barton Scully coming to realise he was gay and the implications it had on his marriage, has thus far only featured in the first episode of season 2. Without giving anything away as to what happens in the episode, it must be said that his storyline was one of the more emotionally affecting in the second season. Much of the supporting cast have also been given less screen time. While we are treated to multiple visits to Dr Master’s hard suffering wife Libby Masters, played by the excellent Caitlin Fitzgerald, who the writers seem hellbent on turning into one of the shows most detestable characters in the first half of the season, we see little of Austin Langham (Teddy Sears) and barely anything of Ethan Haas (Nicholas D’Agosto). One of the first season’s great strengths was that all of the characters were given their own stories to tell. It seems a shame that so far in the second season, so much of the focus is on Masters and Johnson and their story, that the writers have forgotten this is a television drama that needs to sustain a large cast and multiple story lines.
With a huge amount more of the story of Masters and Johnson to be told, the remainder of the second season will only go so far in progressing it. That the show has already been picked up for a third season before the second has even finished airing in America is testament to the popularity of Masters of Sex. With so much more story to be told than in the at times dull Mad Men, Masters of Sex is currently one of the best television dramas around.
Masters of Sex can currently be seen on More4 every Tuesday at 10pm, or you can catch up on 4oD.