After an ineffective and all around kinda dumb inciting incident “Race to Space” goes into the hopeful normal mode of just exploring the characters. Even if Showtime hadn’t showed Masters firing Johnson in the previews (Showtime in general is real spoilery with their previews), the shock wouldn’t have been any more effective. Thanks history (and wikipedia) for kinda taking all the “drama” out of the moment. Still this is the second episode show they aren’t firing anyone yet, that’s gotta be some season finale cliffhanger play. Ineffective as it was, Michael Sheen did an excellent job in the scene which was constructed well over all.
William Masters is an odd duck. Maybe he isn’t like the John who would refuse to take his shoes off. He certainly does a bad job compartmentalizing aspects of his life, coming off more like a robot trying to show emotion than actually feel it. Making everything emotionally dishonest, ironic for an act that has largely been mythologized as moments of emotional honesty. He’s a bit cruel. Exacting in his actions: firing Virginia at the drop of a hat, threatening Ethan without listening to his response, continuing to lie to his wife about their infertility, brushing Betty off like she’s nothing. He treats everyone like they are nothing, just objects for him to hook up and study. There are moments attempting some kind of emotional connection or a thing resembling honesty with his wife and then it’s gone. It seemsMasters of Sex is trying to show Masters not as a man utterly repressed sexually (among other things) but as someone too consumed by his work. It’s numbed him to sex. He treats it as something that can be studied and understood and not as something that can just be. He can’t bare to look at his wife masturbate. The way in which he reacts, as if it was shameful screams prudishness but maybe it’s the lack of wires and gizmos. What if that is what he needs to enjoy sex.
At the sametime Masters goes out of its way to show him as someone who really does care for his patience. He reall dose like helping others, like the girl with the headaches.
On the front of emotional honesty, Austin, Jane, Masters, and Johnson all fall back on the line of “for science” as justification for their physical desires. Austin tries to get Jane to continue the study in private....at his house (when his wife isn’t home). Jane is very into the idea of doing something for science. Johnson’s insistence on that line is more for the security it brings than likely a real love for work. Masters just uses it as an excuse to continually repress himself. All of these characters fall back on that line to get around to what they really want instead of just beating right through the bush about it. Austin is a cheating bastard. Jane really is into doing stuff for science and isn't easy. Johnson needs to keep her job. Masters well dude is just weird.
“Race to Space” had several moments of day dreaming imagination. For the men, Masters and Ethan, it pointed to their true desires. They both really want to lay with Virginia. The scenes involving Virginia weren’t daydreams so much as a mental run through of attacks on how to let Masters down on his “hey we should sleep together....for science” offer. It reminded me of Tilda Swinton’s introductory scene in Michael Clayton. In it Swinton’s character, Karen Crowder, rehearses her presentation to the U-North board. Director Tony Gilroy and editor John Gilroy cut back and forth from the scene of Swinton rehearsing in the mirror to the presentation, creating a singular vision of how those things went. There is no singular vision or “right” course of action for Virginia to take, turning Masters down, since she never got a chance to turn him down. These types of scenes are really good at showing what a character really wants, I’m just worried things will go a bit unhinged and soon Masters will be dreaming of having Virginia in a myriad of circumstances.
Betty is more complex than Masters initially suspects. She exploits her strength and his weaknesses to her advantage. Letting the sex study move into the cathouse gives her real power over him. In Jean Renoir’s Rules of the GameOctave (played by Renoir) speaks the famous lines that “everyone has their reasons”. There is no good or evil so long as the person acting has a reason to act. It’s a stance that not many films or TV seem to take, painting instead in clear goods and evils. Betty has her reasons for wanting her tubes untied: it’s for a man, the Pretzel King. He really likes the Betty that he knows from church, the nice girl who works at a hospital. Maybe even she likes the idea of that person as well. She seems like him enough but it’s what he can offer her the American Dream of the 1950’s: married kids and rich that she really wants. Having ulterior motives does not undo or turn false the emotions Betty seems to have for this Pretzel King. Is she totally in love with him more than Helen, likely not. But it’s an understandable play to make, which is why that scene in the kitchen between her and Virginia played so well. It’s an understandable reason to get untied. It’s also kind of a sad commentary on what there was for women back in than and to a degree today.
The Bits At The End