After last week I wasn’t sure whether to continue with my blog about C4’s Masters of Sex. There are too many TV recappers out there already, each with their devoted following of snarky commenters. It’s always more fun to just watch and not take notes – a lesson Dr Masters would do well to learn judging by last week’s episode.
So I’d decided to leave the subtext and the sniping to others, but then I saw the opening credits for episode two, “Race to Space”, and changed my mind. I don’t know who was responsible for this jaw-dropping sequence, but it’s the kind of thing those clever people at Digital Kitchen (Dexter, True Blood) might have cooked up. Among other things, it cheekily references one of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films of the 1950s.
Movie fans will recall that Hitchcock raised a few eyebrows with the closing moments of his classic “wrong man” thriller, North by Northwest. As the newly wed Mr and Mrs Thornhill (Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint) get down to business on the upper berth of their cosy sleeper cabin, the speeding train is seen disappearing into a tunnel. It’s a suitably climactic sequence, though not exactly subtle. (Compare it with the formal elegance of the Saul Bass-conceived grid that displays the movie’s opening credits.)
No doubt the Master of Suspense would have appreciated the similarly suggestive locomotive shot that forms part of the title sequence of Masters of Sex. But you really have to watch several times (in slow motion) to appreciate the full range of phallic, tumescent, orgasmic and downright in-your-face sexual imagery on display here. You’d have to be as sexually unenlightened as Michael Sheen’s Dr Masters not to get the point of all those exploding champagne corks, rockets, fireworks and rapidly rising baked goods. The cute, copulating, wind-up bunny rabbits (more Durex than Duracell) also set the scene rather nicely.
Talking of Michael Sheen, does anyone else feel there is superficial resemblance between the chameleonic Welsh actor and that ruminating beaver that pops up next to his name?
There’s definitely a keen sense of the humour behind the production of Masters of Sex. That’s just as well, because in “Race to Space” things went from bad to worse for Masters and Johnson, both professionally and personally. The doctor was forced to relocate his sex study from the august surroundings of Washington University (in St. Louis) to a “cathouse on 3rd & Sutter” after someone blew the whistle on his extra-curricular activities. Hooker-with-a-heart Betty (the fabulous Annaleigh Ashford) strong-armed him into giving her a job as a hospital receptionist in return for her co-operation.
Dr (not-so) Masterful’s low moments also included getting arrested and being forced to watch his wife Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald) try to inject a little “va va voom” into the marital bedroom. She was also pretty miffed because the dumb-but-handsome Dr Haas (Nicholas D’Agosto) had been unceremoniously relieved of his duties as her gynaecologist. “Is this about your sperm count?” asked Haas, as these two alpha males squared up in the elevator and attempted to get territorial over Mrs Masters’s unmentionables.
It wasn’t all hearts and flowers for Virginia (Lizzy Caplan), who was still mulling over Dr Masters’s “unconventional arrangement”/indecent proposal from last week. He fired her in the mistaken belief that she’d betrayed him by blabbing about the study. Meanwhile, slap-happy Dr Haas offered her floral tributes and lame apologies to make up for last week’s brickbat, and there was further criticism of her parenting skills.
This week geeky Henry Johnson (Cole Sand) had his nose in a comic-book Race to Space. His mom really needs to take inspiration from one of her more enlightened (female) colleagues Jane Martin (Heléne Yorke), who was reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in the canteen. “We’ll always have Paris.”