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Friday, December 20, 2013

MASTERS OF SEX "Manhigh" : Season Finale Review

Article first published as MASTERS OF SEX "Manhigh" : Season Finale Review on TheTVKing.

Showtime's excellent Masters of Sex completed its freshman run this week with "Manhigh." Bill Masters (Michael Sheen) prepares to present his findings of the past year of study to the hospital at large. Anticipation among the staff is high, and everyone eagerly packs the auditorium to hear Masters speak. But without Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) by his side, Masters overreaches and finds himself facing steep consequences.

Masters needs Virginia as much as any great partnership only works with both partners. He's brilliant, but bad at handling people. Virginia is smart, too, but her interpersonal skills are what balances him out so well. Masters would never have gotten as far as he did in his work without her to smooth his rough edges and communicate with their participants, calming anxieties. Now, her absence costs him dearly.

Masters realizes Virginia's importance, as evidenced by his inclusion of Virginia's name on the work product. He doesn't have to, with Virginia now working for Dr. DePaul (Julianne Nicholson) instead of him, but he does it out of appreciation for all that she has done. He isn't arrogant enough to minimize her contribution, and gives her the credit she has earned, even though she's a woman and women didn't get credit as freely at the time this story takes place.

Not that Masters is without assistance. His new helper, Jane (Helene Yorke), believes in him, as do cameraman Lester (Kevin Christy) and Bill's wife, Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald). But none of those three have Bill's ear or his professional respect the way that Virginia does. He likely appreciates them in some small way, but he doesn't consider them on the same level, and thus there is no one to tell him to temper himself.

Which is why the presentation is a disaster. Doctors and board members are shocked to see the inside of a vagina and the body of a woman masturbating, especially with women present in the room. They leave angrily, ignoring the statistics and invalidating Masters' work. In this instance, his data may be solid, but no one is going to pay attention to it because he screws up the initial conversation. He's his own worst enemy. Can he salvage anything from his efforts?

"Manhigh" ends with Bill standing on Virginia's door step in the rain telling Virginia that he needs her. This, more than her name on the work, leaves him bare and vulnerable, admitting something he didn't want to say out loud for the longest time. He swallows his pride and asks her to come back to him. This may be unhealthy, as he's missing the birth of his child, and he shows an obsession towards her with the use of footage of Virginia's body in the presentation. Knowing Bill is married and liking his wife, Virginia may be hesitant to return to the man who has few boundaries. But will she?

Virginia has a choice to make. She can stay in her home and work with Dr. DePaul and / or Masters. Or she can marry Ethan (Nicholas D'Agosto) and move away. This isn't as simple a decision as it may appear. Yes, Virginia loves her work, and with Dr. DePaul sick and Masters fired, both need extra help. But Ethan is really good to her kids, and they matter quite a bit to her, too, so she may want to put their needs ahead of hers.

Let's be honest, although "Manhigh" doesn't reveal Virginia's choice, she has to work with Bill. Otherwise, there's no show. Masters of Sex hinges on the relationship between the two of them, and as much as I enjoy the other characters, the rest are expendable. Thus, somehow, Bill and Virginia will end up working together again.

Besides this central plot, there are a lot of great supporting moments in "Manhigh." I love Barton's (Beau Bridges) struggle with his homosexuality, and his wife, Martha (Allison Janney), asking him not to undergo aversion therapy when she sees how bad it is. They are a couple I can't get enough of. I love Barton standing up for Masters, and Masters doing Barton a favor by saving the elder man's job. I love Lester and Jane's kiss. I love the masturbation conversation between Lester and Masters. I love seeing Libby hold her baby, someone that will surely bring her the joy her husband can't give her.

Masters of Sex is wonderful because of all of this. The two leads are fantastic, but the other players are terrific, too. The stories are well structured, with appropriate story for recurring parts without taking away from the whole, and layered, developed, authentic characters. There's commentary on the time and culture that doesn't feel preachy, and real questions that can't be quickly and easily answered are posed. It's definitely my new favorite Showtime series.

Masters of Sex has been renewed and will return next year to Showtime.

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