Review: “Masters of Sex” Season 3 Premiere Takes on Sex, Revolution, Women’s Lib, & the Human Sexual Response
The Season 3 premiere of the popular cable television show, “Masters of Sex”, is available for free viewing in advance of its airing on July 12, 2015. Similarly to HBO, Showtime is presenting its content online for a monthly fee as an alternative to watching it on TV. And it’s about time!
“Masters of Sex” follows the important work of sex researchers William H. Masters and Virginia Johnson, wonderfully played by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan, respectively. After two successful seasons delving into the ground-breaking work that changed society’s perception of sex and of women’s sexuality forever, Season 3 of “Masters of Sex” promises to go even further, showing their work finally reaching the masses while exploring their personal relationships which are crippled by the very work they love.
This online episode offers a brief review of where the show left off at the end of Season 2 and picks up in 1965. Much like my dismay with “Mad Men’s” foray into the mid-1960s, “Masters of Sex” is now squarely thrust into a world of avocado green appliances in the home, false eyelashes and white eye shadow on the women, and some of the ugliest clothes ever designed. Be that as it may, the ’60s were also an incredibly important time for progress in the civil rights movements for blacks, women, American Indians, and other traditionally marginalized groups.
This episode alternates between Masters and Johnson’s press conference for the release of their pioneering book, Human Sexual Response, and the months leading up to that press conference. Masters is as work-focused as ever, and even when he is with his family physically, he is an absent father to his children emotionally. Likewise, Johnson also deals with her role as a mom to two teenagers and is determined to finish school, a personal and professional goal she repeatedly has put off due to her dedication to their work.
Masters’ wife, Libby, pops pills to get by as she deals with anxiety and depression. At one point, she admits she has been “medicating myself so I wouldn’t feel” all of the things wrong in her marriage. She confides in Johnson one night, “I think that a heart can only be broken so many times, and then it’s done. And I think that I’m done.”
Even though she is a sex researcher, Johnson has trouble talking to her own daughter about sex, which is difficult at the best of times, but the irony is not lost. Her son, Henry, wants to enlist in the military, causing Johnson another knock-down-drag-out with her ex-husband, George.
Now that the children of Masters and Johnson are growing up, the show focuses more on the relationships they have – or do not have – with their families. Masters and Johnson are much more equipped to help other couples even as they fail horribly in their relationships in their own families. A pivotal scene between Masters and his son Johnny, in which Masters’ past issues with his angry father come barreling to the forefront, shakes Masters to his core.
The mentality of the time toward women’s sexuality is also on full display. During the press conference, a reporter asks, “With your emphasis on female sexual pleasure, can a woman feel free now to say, ‘No’?” I laughed out loud at the stupidity of the question, and yet I had to remember that the timeframe of the show is 1965. Then I remembered misogynist Virginia politician Dick Black’s comments from just 2002 about how spousal rape was not possible, especially if the woman is wearing a nighty. Then I remembered by own marriage, when I felt like I had to have sex to keep the peace about bills or not to get kicked out. Johnson’s response to the reporter’s question was brilliant: “Our study gives women more freedom than ever to say ‘No’ because a woman will no longer be making her decision out of fear.”
By “fear”, she means the traditional fears regarding social ostracism, disease, and pregnancy. The point is that women would now have the information they need to make informed decisions in regard to sex, safe sex, and a better chance at preventing unwanted consequences. All hail, women’s lib!
The reporter presses Masters and Johnson, questioning if they think the current societal trends will lead to a culture of moral decay. Johnson emphatically responds by explaining, “Young men and women today are inclined to work things out emotionally rather than fixating on sex.”
At no point in the series has Dr. Masters been likable as a person, a husband, or a father; he fails on all three points. However, as a doctor, Masters is a vocal and unapologetic advocate for women’s sexuality, women’s equality – especially pertaining to sex and pleasure, and a woman’s right to choose whether or not she wants to be sexually active. A New York Times reporter remarks that clergy members are warning that lowering these traditional fears – and women feeling comfortable telling their husbands “No” when it comes to sex – means women will bring about the collapse of social order … because women living in fear and enduring spousal rape is apparently preferable. Masters bluntly and succinctly replies, “There is no universe where fear is a value worth preserving.”
Probably the best line in the episode occurs when one reporter insinuates that Masters and Johnson are trying to piggy-back on the sexual revolution, to which Johnson retorts, “We are the sexual revolution.”
“We know the fear that surrounds the subject of sex…. The legacy affects us all,” Masters points out to the reporters. He explains that the narrow-minded constrictive view of sex has only been around since the Industrial Revolution. Before that, “Sex was a given. It was valued, enjoyed, even if it wasn’t understood scientifically.” He states that all they want from their research is an approach to sexuality that is free of fear and full of understanding.
The reporter who grills Masters and Johnson throughout the episode dishes his final words about their book, Human Sexual Response. What does he say? You’ll have to watch to find out.
Overall, this episode is a great testament to the work of Masters and Johnson, while highlighting the hurdles they faced professionally and personally. The 1960s time period is firmly established by the production design, and Annaleigh Ashford, who plays Betty the office manager, has an all-too-brief scene at the beginning, but sporting a pseudo-vintage Streisand/Funny Girl wig makes it worth it.
My only complaint is the casting of Johnson’s son, Henry. The actor, Noah Robbins, looks nothing like Lizzy Caplan or Mather Zickel, who plays her ex-husband George; and Robbins seems more like a 14 year-old, not a 17 year-old who is ready to enter the military. This is TV, not the stage; a little more realism is expected. Also in this episode, this 17 year-old Henry has sex with a woman older than he is, and yet there is no mention of statutory rape or impropriety, except for the fact that she has a child.
For the other teenage Johnson kid, the casting of Tessa with Isabelle Furhman was a good choice as she resembles both Caplan and Zickel with her dark looks. And though she does have a nude scene, Furhman is 18+ in real life.
Extra kudos also go to the casting team for hiring Jaeden Lieberher to play Masters’ son Johnny, who perfectly expresses through body language and facial reactions how much he wants to be like his father and desperately wants his father’s love, but secretly resents Masters’ obsession with his work.
The real-life Virginia Johnson did have two children with George Johnson, but their names are Scott and Lisa. The factual William H. Masters had two children with his wife Elizabeth, and their names are William and Sarah.
This online freebie preview has been edited for content, with the more choice language silenced, naked breasts blurred out, and the best part – the sex – has been cut out completely. You’ll have to buy a subscription to get the full benefit of the sailor’s language, nudity, and sex scenes.
If you have never seen the show, check it out. And if you think we struggle with society accepting women’s sexuality in today’s world, “Masters of Sex” expertly portrays the narrow-minded environment that women endured as they struggled for sexual liberation just 50 years ago.
Catch the Season 3 premiere of “Masters of Sex” on Showtime.
With the landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States legalizing gay marriage last Friday, June 26, 2015, one would think only celebrating and rejoicing would be heard throughout these 50 states, which are founded upon the principles of “liberty and justice for all”. However, one does not have to look far to see the glaring reminder of the right-wing religiosity that plagues American culture and politics.
The vile response by evangelicals and fundamentalists has been most prevalent on social media with an extra helping of crazy being bandied about in the news media. The past seven days have offered a shocking reminder at just how deep the fundies’ misguided hate runs in this country. Lifelong friends have been unfriending and blocking each other. Preachers have threatened to light themselves on fire. Businesses have posted “No Gays Allowed” signs on their doors. Narrow-minded troglodytes everywhere have shown their true colors amidst the “rainbowification” of the United States.
The one thing that has not happened is the earth imploding, or falling out of the sky, or hell freezing over, or some other catastrophic calamity causing the end of life as we know it — even with the religious right prognosticating that marriage equality would end life as we know it. In fact, everything looks pretty normal from here … and I’m in the Red State of Mississippi. The marriage equality ruling was blocked by Governor Bryant — whose son is gay! — and Attorney General Jim Hood, but the people demanded their equality — backed by the Supreme Court, and won. Things are looking good here as gay and lesbian couples have been getting their marriage licenses around the state.
Amazingly, the LGBT community and allies have taken the high-road amidst all the vehemence spewed by so-called Christians. Yet, real Christians, who actually live by Jesus’ teachings of love and tolerance, do count themselves amongst the allies, and hopefully, they will drown out the cacophony of the religious nuts’ anti-gay and anti-equality rhetoric that has filled the media since Friday.
Sure, it’s a balmy summer’s day, but not because of the predicted fire and brimstone.
Apocalypse, anyone? Not today.
The last two minutes of Sunday’s “Game of Thrones” finale sent the internet into a frenzy as Jon Snow succumbed to an “Et tu, Brute`” ending. And yet, no one is talking about the beatings of the women in the finale, Cersei’s solo walk of shame, or the systematic abuse and rape of women throughout the show’s seasons. I address this in my latest YouTube video: youtu.be/YEx8CBo_ziY or watch it below.
When people speak of “Game of Thrones”, they marvel at the costumes, the production values, the pseudo-medieval landscape of knights, swords, and dragons. In fact, before I had ever seen GOT, I asked about it on Facebook, and the comments were all enthusiastic, with one in particular exclaiming, “You’ll love the costumes and the look of it. And the sex is GREAT!” The sex, of course, was mostly incestuous.
Fast forward past the hideous reign of the sadistic Joffrey, abuse of women is so commonplace in the show as to have lost any impact at all — in much the same way rape and domestic violence are pervasive in American culture but considered a “women’s issue”, leaving women the task and responsibility of not getting raped or beaten.
“Game of Thrones” gets its social commentary right sometimes. The storylines of religious fanaticism rising up and taking over the government to create a fascist state of oppression is a direct mirror of the Tea Party in America. The targeting and persecution of homosexuals was a realistic plotline with which many in the LGBT community can identify. But where is the episode in which all the women band together and address the battery and assault of women?
The subjugation of women in media reflects the fight women are still waging in society-at-large to live in a world that recognizes women are human beings. At the time of this writing, the Equal Rights Amendment is still in limbo. American women are not equally protected under the Constitution.
In the United States, women make up 51% of the population, 51% of small business owners, 52% of voters, 52% of the professional-level work force, and 60% of college graduates; plus, we control 80% of consumer spending. Why aren’t 51% of the television shows and films centered on women and women’s issues? Why aren’t 52% of the writers, directors, and creative artists women? Why aren’t 60% of corporate CEO’s female? Why don’t 80% of advertisements portray women as complete, healthy, fulfilled human beings instead of reducing us to the industry-standard Photoshopped, hypersexualized marketing prop?
Only 20% of the United States Congressional body is comprised of women — even Afghanistan has women in 27% of seats in its Parliament, according to the Quota Project. The Inter-Parliamentary Union ranks the United States 72nd in the world for women in national parliaments. And why hasn’t the United States had a female president yet? The United States ranks 78th in the world for having women in top positions of executive power. China, India, the Philippines, Latvia, Georgia, Ireland, Rwanda, Cuba, Indonesia, South Korea, Chile, Argentina, Croatia, Kosovo, Serbia, the Bahamas, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Brazil, and the Central African Republic are just some of the countries that have had a woman as a president and/or head of state.
What could possibly be holding the United States back from women’s advancement in government, business, education, and society, in general? If you guessed “patriarchy”, you are correct. The foundation of all modern civilizations is patriarchy, an institutionalized form of culture that feeds off of misogyny, intolerance, and violence and specializes in the oppression of women through sexualized violence and domestic abuse.
Cultural phenomena such as “Game of Thrones” that harken back to a dark age of brutality and violence against women reveal our culture’s deep-rooted misogyny and help keep the cultural mentality stuck in a bleak, abusive purview that ultimately harms everyone, not just women. This mentality is reflected on college campuses that require incoming female students to attend a “how not to get raped” orientation rather than teaching the incoming males not to attack female students. Over 80% of reported rapes are committed by someone the woman knows, which insinuates that some men still think they have an unwritten entitlement to sex, willing or not.
How do we fix this everyday sexism in culture and media?
Hire more women writers to create new works. This will give an authentic voice to storylines about women so that the portrayal of women is not limited to male writers’ secondary filter of how men think women are or how women should be. The Broadway League’s 2002 poll of professional theatres and venues revealed that only 20% of theatre professionals, such as creatives and designers, are women.
Hire more women directors. Women have our own aesthetic, our own rhythms, and our own ideas about how relationships — romantic or not, can be portrayed. A simple theatre exercise will prove that the same script can look and sound completely differently when directed by a woman than by a man. Difference is okay. The world will not fall off its axis because conflict was resolved without the quasi-obligatory male machismo or violence.
Put a woman at the center of the story and the action in new works. Write her to be a leader who does not spend half of her time talking about a man — or obsessing over a romantic relationship — and who does not have to endure a plotpoint of being raped — as if women can only gain personal, internal strength by being raped.
#WhereAreTheWomen was a powerful rallying cry for feminists during the 2012 election year, and it is absolutely valid in most professions. Women make up only 4.8% of Fortune 500’s list of female CEO’s, while Rutgers University’s studies on the gender gap in college settings show only 24% of full-time professors are women. The numbers are even worse in the professional, commercial arts that create the entertainment media that pervade our culture, such as “Game of Thrones”.
The 2015 Academy Awards had eight films nominated for Best Picture. Not one film had a woman as the main character. Of the five directors up for Best Director and of the 10 films nominated in the Writing categories, not one nominee was a woman. For the 2015 Tony Awards, not one of the nominees in the categories of Best Director of a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Orchestrations, or Best Scenic Design of a Musical was a woman. But history (and herstory) was made when Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron became the first female writing team to win composer/writer Tony Awards for a show. It only took 69 years for that to happen.
The bottom line is this: our voices are not being heard. Our stories are not being told.
According to the World Economic Forum, the United States ranks #20 in the world for economic gender equality, behind Nicaragua, Rwanda, and South Africa. The United Nations has reported that 70% of women experience a sexual attack at some point in their lives. The U.N. also works for gender equality through its Development Programme to help women around the world: 60% to 70% of the world’s poor are women, over 65% of women are illiterate, and over 30% of women are subjected to some form of violence during their lifetimes.
Men cannot tell our stories for us. Only women can tell women’s stories fully and authentically.
This is not a coincidence. This is a systematic silencing of women across society. This is why popular shows such as “Game of Thrones” are able to thrive with little opposition or outrage toward the portrayal of violence against women. After all, why complain about the way women are mistreated when the sword fights and costumes are so cool?
Wake up. Speak up. Be heard.
The former Bruce Jenner was an Olympian and respected personality. The new Caitlyn Jenner is fodder for media outlets to either extol her bravery or ridicule her journey to what is still considered weak and inferior — being a woman.
Like many others, I posted the Vanity Fair cover on my Facebook wall, and comments ranged from, “She looks fabulous” to “Her breasts look real!” Today, in a restaurant, I overheard men talking about the “Jenner thing” (their word for all the media hype), and they referred to her as “it”. Not him or her, just “it”. Now that she is no longer a masculine specimen to behold and revere, she is just her looks, her breasts, and an oddity: an “it”.
Jon Stewart hit the nail on the head in his acerbic commentary on Jenner’s transformation, noting that now that she is a woman, the only thing people will consider is her “comparative fuckability”. The Olympic gold medal is in the past. Jenner’s accomplishments in the future rest solely on how attractive she is. Thank god, she’s thin. I mean, if she were trans and fat and ugly, there’s no telling how the media would have treated her…. Or would the media have cared at all?
Another aspect of this journey that fascinates people is Jenner’s penis, which she still has according to interviews she has given. It is customary for a transwoman to wait a year before making the decision to turn the penis and scrotum into a vagina. This is a huge decision, and the penis surgery will be irreversible once done.
People are fascinated by the genitals, and we all know how much men adore their penises. Nearly every monument men have left throughout history has been phallic, from Egyptian obelisks to the Washington Monument to New York skyscrapers. Men who are insecure about their virility due to size tend to overcompensate in other ways, leading to accusations of Napoleonic Syndrome. And let’s not forget all the ammosexuals who must prove their manhood by showing off their bigger, longer, powerful assault rifles at the grocery store.
The penis transformation of sexual reassignment surgery continues to boggle people’s minds — because a person lucky enough to be born with a penis certainly must be crazy to cut it off, right? Having a penis comes with so much entitlement in our world. In the 20th century, tobacco companies marketed cigarettes to women with the understated sell that having a cigarette meant women could finally have a penis, too. Women no longer needed to be jealous that they were penis-less. Therefore, a man giving up everything that embodies masculinity to become a woman is the punchline to a cruel joke because being feminine, being female, being a woman is obviously still looked down upon in our society.
To Caitlyn Jenner: I wish it were different, and I think you are incredibly brave to have gone through this whole ordeal so publicly. But to echo Jon Stewart, welcome to life as a woman in this vast expanse of patriarchy, where your looks matter more than your intellect, your abilities, or your heart.
I hope this pain you’ve endured will help others who are also in pain. Thank you for being a role model — whether you are wearing sneakers or heels.