Why Masters of Sex makes me cry

Masters of SexHave you been watching Masters of Sex? If not, you should do. In the UK it is being shown on Channel 4 on Tuesdays at 10pm, or you can watch it on Catch-Up TV.

I watched one episode, on a colleague’s recommendation, to try it out, and have since being totally hooked on it.

If you are spending money downloading porn to see other people having sex on the screen while your wife or girlfriend is away, save yourself the cash and just watch Masters of Sex for free instead. It is incredibly sexy, with lots of nudity and explicit sex scenes but with an excellent plot to back it all up in a totally non-tacky, unvulgar way.

Without giving away too many spoilers (if you haven’t watched episode 9, on Dec 3, don’t read until you’ve seen it, as there IS a spoiler…sorry), let me tell you a little about the two main characters in case you are unfamiliar with the programme.

Bill Watching

Summary
The series is based on the real story of Dr William Masters, played by Michael Sheen, and his secretary Virgina Johnson (who eventually becomes his Research Assistant)’s study on sex and human sexuality in the 1950s. It is area no scientist had ever pioneered in before; they recruit volunteers for the study and basically watch people fornicate or masturbate while they annotate scientific data. By episode 9, which was this week’s, they have already started filming these sessions as well.

William and Libby Masters (Photo By Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Bill and Libby (Photo By Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Masters, who is socially awkward, and sexually repressed when the story starts, is married to Libbby, a beautiful stay-at-home wife, who is desperate to conceive his child, and thinks that her husband’s lack of interest in her is due to her infertility.

What she doesn’t know is that the actual problem is Masters’, himself a fertility expert, who ironically has an extremely low sperm count.

Masters seems to have very little in common with LIbby, and flashback scenes to his younger days seem to imply that she wasn’t exactly the big love his life, but a respectable doctor had to be married to a girl from a good family to get on in his medical career.

©Showtime

©Showtime

Virginia Johnson, played by the stunning-looking Lizzy Caplan, is a twice divorced mother of two and an intelligent and ambitious woman trying to build a career to feed her children. She is totally uninhibited sexually and quite forward for a woman of her time, in that she is able to fully enjoy sex, even in the absence of love. She is also a warm and compassionate woman, in touch with her own emotions, and knows how to talk to people.

In a nutshell, she is the complete opposite of her boss, and that is exactly why they complement each other and why he is attracted to her.

Eventually Masters and Johnson start “participating” in the sex study themselves, as fellow researchers, by having intercourse with each other late at night in the lab and measuring their own bodily responses. In their minds, they are not having an affair but participating in research for the advancement of science, even though their sessions become more and more intense.

Falling in love
As their involvement with the study deepens, their professional relationship starts morphing into something else. It is now clear they are in love with each other and not just because of the sex. Over several episodes, we see Virginia’s loyalty to and admiration for Bill, we movingly see her compassion and humanity holding him up when his tough guy façade starts to crumble.

They are, to the audience’s eyes, an obvious match with each other.

But Masters is a married man and a scandal could put his reputation in jeopardy. To make matters more complex, his wife Libby is now pregnant, although he did not really want to have a child with her, and his mother compounds his shame by reminding him his father was also unfaithful with his own secretary.

Caught between his wife’s desperate appeal that without a child and family, he is only an empty man, and his mother’s warning not to become like the father he hated, Bill Masters is crushed under the weight of his guilt.

Awkward, as usual, and unable to deal with it, he does something cruel and heartless that breaks Virginia’s heart, to make sure she doesn’t think he is in love with her, even though he is.

I know Masters of Sex is only a television series. But this is not an uncommon situation and can easily spill into real life. Although sex seems to be the main theme of the show, it is really a discussion on intimacy and the difficulties humans face when connecting to each other.

Why I cry
Watching episode 9 of Master of Sex, where Bill Masters hurts Virginia so badly she finally breaks down, made me want to scream with rage. Why are men such cowardly w**k**s?! Why can’t a man, in that situation, just honestly admit he likes her, although they cannot officially be together, instead of pretending he has no feelings, instead of acting like an automaton made purely of steel? Why must the woman have her heart broken and pay a price for having made a man feel good about himself?

As a romantic, of course, I am hoping Masters of Sex will have a happy ending, that William Masters will realise what a fool he was and how much happier he could be with Virginia, that he will, ultimately, choose loyalty to himself and his true feelings.

But real life doesn’t always play out as it does in fiction or movies. People make terrible mistakes in love and relationships all the time. They make very poor choices while talking themselves into believing it is right for them.

In real life, the man usually chooses the lovely but unexciting wife he has little in common with and has a child he did not want, while the woman who shares his dreams and understands his demons, the woman who makes him go wild with desire, because their connection is deep and visceral, gets the blame. Her charges? Guilty of leading the man astray, away from respectability from responsibility, away from ‘happy family life’, away from what society deems acceptable.

The male-female situation could be reversed. Remember The Bridges of Madison County? Men and women in committed relationships all over the world wept over it because (though they would not openly admit it) they had personally known the pain of having to renounce someone they truly loved for the sake of protecting someone else’s happiness.

Lessons
Regret cannot change the past but it makes us more alert for when we come to the next intersection and have that déjà vu moment…where have I seen this landscape before?

Have you noticed how in life the same situation, only with different characters, recur again and again, like an annoying test we keep retaking. The lessons never go away until we have finally learned what we need to learn.

Virginia wins
Not every man can handle a passionate, liberated woman like Virginia, unafraid of her own feelings and desires, who only knows one way to live and love: that with a genuine heart. I love the character because I see myself reflected in her, launching myself bare-souled into things I love, into people I love… Only to smash against a massive iceberg, and being shattering to pieces.

Virginias of the world, who go around loving with an open heart, always risk giving too much while getting too little, or nothing in return. Yet, even knowing this, were a million chances offered to me, a million times I would choose to feel too much over not feeling at all.

The victory may not be too obvious, but at the end of our lives (because we all die one day), the score always belongs to the one who told themselves the least number of lies: Johnson 1, Masters nil.

“I don’t want to get out without a broken heart. I intend to leave this life so shattered there’s gonna have to be a thousand separate heavens for all of my flying parts.

Shattered heart

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