‘Masters of Sex’ Season 1 Episode 2 Recap: “Race to Space”


Episode two suggested that the gender politics of Masters of Sex are going to veer even further towards the misandrist end of the scale. There is not a single likable man on this show, and here’s the proof: the only way Virginia Johnson gets to keep her job is if she agrees to subsume her every single desire to Masters’ “brilliance,” oh brother.

We first see this as poor Virginia is debating her answer top the question that closed the pilot. She’s rehearsing scenarios while getting the kids ready for school, but it seems kind of important, as her therapist might say to her if she had a therapist, that her first impulse is to turn him down. Sadly, we never get to see her ultimate decision because in what is already becoming an exhausting contrivance in episode two of this show, the Provost has again shut down the study. Masters blames Virginia, saying that it must have been Hoss who alerted the Provost, and she’d made Hoss angry, and scene. Masters then gets mad and yells, “You defied me!” I think she should earn a Nobel Peace Prize for not promptly kicking him in the shins, but before she has a chance, he’s fired her anyway.

To round out Masters’ morning of “I am really the world’s biggest jerk,” it turns out he has decided to “treat” his wife himself for her non-existent “fertility problem,” instead of persona non grata Ethan. This is like watching Masters torture his own wife, except that she doesn’t know that he’s doing this. Why do I keep seeing people describe this show as “fun”?’ This guy is behaving like a sociopath, though Ethan will later put it nicer: “It’s awkward, and borderline unethical for me to keep that from my own patient.” By “that,” Ethan means that there’s no reason she should be anyone’s patient, jeez.

Anyway, now Masters is off to the whorehouse for a visit with Betty. She is like his magical hooker with a heart of a gold. Not like, she is, in fact, his magical hooker with a heart of wisecracking gold. He wants to know if he can move his study to her whorehouse. Betty, ever the bargainer, says okay but only if she gets a job in the hospital. Masters laughs at her. This guy? I’m supposed to root for him?

Back in Virginia, Ethan’s been sending her letters apologizing for smacking her — that bruise healed awful fast, come to think of it — but when she confronts him with Masters’ theory about the Provost, he says he doesn’t know anything about her being fired. He tries, over the course of the episode, to move on with any number of girls — first the prettiest ones, then the ones the rumor mill deems most sexually adventurous. But all he can do is dream, in a kind of creepily obsessive nice-guy way, of Virginia.

Virginia tries again to ingratiate herself to Masters — “If this is about us in the study together, then we can sort it out” — but he’s intransigent, and is actually making her send in the interviewees who might replace her. There’s a lot of skillfully employed sad Lizzy-Caplan-face, here, but mostly, it’s again emphasizing that Masters is a completely unlikeable sadist surrounded by far more capable and elegant women. The only time I come close to having fun on this show is when women point out how absurd he’s being, as one of the hookers does when he pulls out his glass dildo Genius invention and she cracks, “A coochie flashlight?” And then shines it in his face.

The police arrive. Masters tries to explain that he was there For Science, naturally isn’t believed — the way this show presents him I‘m barely sure he’s there for science.

So Masters has to call in the chief of police to spring him from jail, whose wife Masters has treated. Masters tells the chief he needs a favor and the chief sighs. “You got my nuts in a cup on this one,” he says, then looks over to Masters’ wife, who’s sitting there. “But things won’t be so easy with her.” In the car, Masters explains that his study has moved into the phase of using human subjects. The wife really puts it to him, “People were having sex in front of you.” Later, she’ll try to titillate him by having a little sex in front of him with, you know, herself. Unsurprisingly it doesn’t work. Masters’ fantasies, in the end, are all about Johnson.

Betty’s newfound employment at the hospital, however, catches Virginia’s eye. She tells Betty she’s impressed, and from one capable woman to another goes the anvil of the episode: “I struck a bargain,” Betty says, “he’s such a nut for that study it’s like shooting fish in a frickin’ barrel.” She thinks Masters needs Virginia’s help.

So Virginia is the one who goes in — without alerting Masters first — and charms all the women into easily cooperating with the study. Masters is nice to one whole person in this episode and it’s one of the women in the cathouse, who thinks she has a brain tumor but actually just needs glasses. Virginia is also the one who, when Betty announces that in order to continue the study at the brothel Masters will need to reverse her tubal ligation, ultimately convinces Masters he has to do it. And that he needs to keep employing her. So the entire firing arc is over and done within an episode; Virginia’s indispensable and everyone knows it. And Jesus, we still have 11 episodes to go.