Not having been on the boat for the first two seasons of Showtime’s Masters of Sex, coming into season three of the sexual revolution it is more about who is in the show thus far and less about the recreation of Masters and Johnson with their edification about coitus and orgasm. The three main characters are William Masters (portrayed by Welsh actor Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzie Caplan) and Masters’ wife Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald).
Upon tuning into episode two, titled Three’s a Crowd, it is not any of this trio that captures the eye though. It is Isabelle Fuhrman who demands attention, the sight of the Orphan star playing Virginia’s daughter pleases and excites. The 18 year-old actress blew everyone else off the screen as Esther in the 2009 horror film, where she portrayed a grown woman trapped in a child’s body who murders each family that adopts her, and it will be no surprise if she does the same in this series.
Leaving the cast alone for the moment, it is interesting to note that the time period being portrayed feels like a spin-off or, at the very least, influenced by Mad Men. The gloriously successful AMC series set in a similar time frame, late 50s to mid 60s, seems to have prompted a number of shows during what could be seen as a turning point in many areas, not just that of culture, business and sex.
Showtime’s series is set around the research of Masters and Johnson and their subsequent book. Masters of Sex follows the interaction of the characters and their family members along with the public and its reaction to the revelations about sexuality and their clarification of female responses to sex.
Rather interestingly, Virginia Johnson, is pregnant; an single incident with her ex has lead to the rabbit dying. After initially deciding to get rid of the fetus, she changes her mind “on the table.” When William castigates her for the decision, she explains that her ex got her existing children and that she was not going to lose this one. Masters’ wife Libby is not pleased at Johnson’s pregnancy as she feels it puts her husband in the category of potential sire.
Tess, Virginia’s daughter (played by Fuhrman) is also not impressed with her mother’s decision to keep the baby. William’s discomfort is based upon the book facing charges of being responsible for increasing female promiscuity, ergo the issue with Johnson’s single mother to be status.
In real life, the team of Masters and Johnson married, around 1971, so it is fascinating to see the interaction between Libby Masters and Virginia. One could assume, from this episode alone, that it was Mrs. Masters who facilitated the move from matrimony that enabled Virginia and Bill to become a couple until 1992.
In this second episode, Virginia has been forced to take a leave of absence and a Dr. Wesh has been drafted in to take her place till the baby is born and it is time to publicize the book. The Shah of Iran and his wife are undergoing fertility treatments and Tess is trying to get tickets to a Bob Dylan concert.
Plot points aside, it is odd to see Michael Sheen, (Underworld, The Dammed United) playing the role of Johnson. Sheen is a consummate actor who fills the shoes of Masters quite well although this is a variation of his usual role. Lizzy Caplan looks completely different from her role inThe Interview unfortunately though that is the first thing that springs to mind whenever she is on screen.
Caitlin FitzGerald as Libby has no “legacy” to shadow her performance and she fills the role capably and the scene where William is working on the television while she angrily smokes and says nothing is priceless.
Sadly, Masters of Sex is one of those programs that requires the viewer to sit down and binge back from season one. The story of the people “responsible for the sexual revolution” as the tagline says, is one that needs to be watched from episode one to “get it.” By this time in the series, all the actors have gelled and characters are now more fully realized. The addition of Isabelle Fuhrman opens up a number of possibilities in the show but only time, and the writers, will allow her character to become a “regular” cast member.
Masters of Sex airs Sundays on Showtime. Entertaining but all the more so if one binges to catch up on events.