Masters of Sex: “The Excitement of Release”

TV Reviews Masters of Sex
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Masters of Sex: “The Excitement of Release”

Last week, Virginia assured her ex-husband that sex and love don’t always have to go together—and while that’s certainly true, “The Excitement of Release” followed up on that idea by exploring what it looks like when we have one but not the other.

The first example of this we’re treated to comes via Virginia and Bill. They’re in bed, excitedly reading each other all the positive reviews of their book and getting turned on by the praise, and when they start getting intimate, we learn that they haven’t had sex in eight months (due, presumably, to Virginia’s pregnancy and sham marriage to George). Yet here they are in bed together just enjoying each other’s company, and the implication is that their relationship is deep enough to transcend sex. They love each other. Of course, getting laid is nice too, and when Bill asks Virginia if she’s “missed this” after convincing her the time is right to resume sexy times, she replies “Of course I have.” Unfortunately, they’re interrupted by a crying Lisa, a convenient symbol of Virginia’s relationship with George and the slight wedge it has driven between her and Bill. However, by episode’s end, they’re interrupted again and Virginia this time brings Lisa into the bed with them. Bill protests at first, but eventually he softens and even puts a hand on the baby—more tenderness than we’ve seen him extend to any of his own children—and we’re left with an image of a nice little family unit. There’s real love here, and the sex is secondary to what is obviously a strong, enduring connection.

However, sex is crucial to a happy marriage, and that’s something that illustrated by the surprising reveal that Lester is married to Jane now. We’re apparently not going to get any real explanation for what happened to Barbara and how exactly Jane reunited with Lester after ditching him for Hollywood, but we learn that they have children, and she’s a bored housewife. They’re able to reignite the spark in their marriage when Betty suggests Jane take a job responding to all the hate mail the practice has been receiving about the book and Jane reads a particularly steamy letter out loud to Lester. Pretty soon they’re going at it, and although Jane insists she’s still mad at Lester, at least they appear to have regained their passion.

That can’t be said for poor Libby, obviously. She’s still trapped in a loveless and sexless marriage to Bill, but at least this week she has a friend. She’s upset when she learns that her new friend Joy is planning on leaving her football-hero husband Paul, but by episode’s end we learn (via Paul) that Joy has suffered a brain aneurysm and the damage is “catastrophic.” So Libby’s alone, once again, joyless and Joy-less. Something seems up with Paul though—the scene where he’s visibly annoyed when Bill brings out his football card collection and makes a rare attempt to bond with a non-Virginia human being was fascinating. It seems like a lot is made of his macho-man status; is Bill trying to please him because on some subconscious level he reminds him of his father? And why isn’t Paul, I don’t know, a little more bummed out about his wife being brain damaged?

Meanwhile, the rest of “The Excitement of Release” examined a few cases of sex without love. Tessa, we learn, has taken pains to present herself as sophisticated and sexually experienced. She tells her mother all the kids at school are making fun of her because of the book, but in actuality, she’s carrying around a copy and reading the more salacious passages out loud to a boy she likes. She leads him to believe she’s more experienced than she actually is, and when he wants her to “teach him” after a school dance, she makes an excuse about being on her period but winds up being forced into performing oral sex. The most awful part is that the next day at school, the guy seems to genuinely have no clue that he’s done anything wrong; he attributes her vomiting in the car to too much booze (instead of the trauma of a sexual assault), asks her out and gives her a peck on the cheek. It’s a painful reminder of why Masters and Johnson’s book was so necessary and important—this is an era where ideas about consent and female sexuality were at best misguided and at worst completely dangerous.

The episode’s other instance of sex without love also stems from the time period’s backwards ideas about human sexuality. Barton Scully is back—and he’s dating a woman. Because he can’t live openly as a gay man and simply love whoever he loves, he has to pretend by carrying on in a new heterosexual relationship now that his wife is out of the picture. He has given up the provost job and claims it’s because he wanted to get back to doctoring, but later when he’s trying to convince Washington University to use Human Sexual Response as a textbook, Bill learns that it’s actually because there are rumors floating around about Scully’s sexuality. At the end of the episode, he offers Scully a job, one where he no longer will have to pretend, because as Bill puts it, “I know, and it doesn’t matter to me.”

What does matter is that, whether we’re looking for sex or love or some sort of combination of the two, we’re allowed to do so with respect and understanding, something “The Excitement of Release” highlighted as season three of Masters of Sex begins to hit its stride.

Stray Observations:
—The hunt for potential investors seems like it’ll be an ongoing storyline this season, particularly with the addition of Josh Charles (The Good Wife) as a perfume entrepreneur who wants to figure out the smell of sex so he can bottle it and sell it.
— “Hell is a real place.” “No worse than St. Louis in August.”
—Bill accidentally making a pun (“I hope we’ve aroused your curiosity if nothing else”) and then repeating it in every sales call after it got a laugh was pretty great.