Sunday, October 6, 2013

Showtime’s “Masters of Sex”, #101, “Pilot”

By Catherine Giordano

Take a close look at he word
 "sex" in this poster.
The premier of the new Showtime series Masters of Sex which aired on Sunday September 30, 2013 was given the very unoriginal title of “Pilot.” I’ll call the episode “Foreplay” because the show begins when Masters and Johnson first meet and begin to collaborate on their project—understanding the physiology of human sexuality.

The first thing you have to notice about this show is the word “sex” on some of the posers for the show.  It has an inverted “E” between the “S” and the “X”.  At first I thought it looked like a four poster bed.  Little innocent me.  I looked again and I could see a champagne glass.  A third looks reveals a …. OMG, did they really go there?  Right to the center of a woman’s sexuality. Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge.

The story begins with Dr. William Masters (played by Michael Sheen), a renowned ObGyn and infertility specialist working at a St. Louis hospital.  He’s a miracle doctor saving lines and helping couples conceive a child. The irony is—his own marriage is childless. Rumor has it that the good doctor is shooting blanks. Also he appears to enjoy studying sex more than he enjoys having sex. At least sex with his wife.

Virginia Johnson (played by Lizzie Caplan) is a newly divorced, former nightclub singer, a mother of two young children who is hired for the insurance department. We soon discover that she is a free spirit with regards to sex. Long before women’s liberation she was very sexually liberated for the time—1956. I should also mention that she is beautiful, she is ambitious, and she knows how to get what she wants. What she wants is a friends-with-benefits relationship with a handsome young doctor, Ethan Hass, at the hospital. They begin a torrid affair, but it ends badly. The young doctor is in love with her and doesn’t understand why she is so free, and passionate, with her sexual favors if she doesn’t feel the same way about him. The concept of friends with benefits had not been invented yet—she is just  a slut.

Dr. Masters chooses Mrs. Johnson to be his assistant. She is capable of being just as dispassionate about sex as he is. The doctor had previously recruited prostitutes to help him with his research by allowing him to spy on them with their clients. It looks like voyeurism except the doctor seems to be too busy taking notes to experience any arousal. Johnson helps him recruit “regular folks’ for his research—if you can call folks who are willing to have sex in a laboratory all wired up with sensors while the doctor and his assistant watch, “regular.”

Masters wants The hospital to fund his research. The provost of the hospital, Barton Scully,  is aghast. Not only will he not fund it, he orders Masters to cease and desist at once. Masters ignores those orders and continues to work to bring the doctor to see things his way.  Literally see things his way. He has rigged up a glass dildo vibrator with a camera at the tip and the female volunteer masturbates with it. Masters invites the president to have a look peering into the top of the dildo while the tool is being used by the young lady volunteer. I think he is going to come around to Masters’ point-of-view about the project.

The episode ends with Masters putting a proposition to Johnson.  They need to become the subjects of the study if the study is going to succeed.  They need to have sex with each other—all in the name of science, of course. Johnson is taken aback by this proposal and asks for time to think it over.

We, of course know how it ends. It ends with the publication in 1966 of the Masters and Johnson’s magnum opus, HumanSexual Response, the first scientific study of the physiology of sex. The world has never been the same.

The fun of this series will be seeing the personal and professional turmoil between these two points in time as we watch the drama between two people who wanted to know everything about sex, but who may have known nothing about love.   

If you can’t wait for the story to unfold on TV, you can read the biography of Masters and Johnson by Thomas Meir, Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, The Couple Who Taught America How to Love

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