“Masters of Sex”: TV’s Hot New Experiment

Sigmund Freud once theorized that sex is one of the primary driving forces behind all human behavior. After all, whether two people have sex in order to produce a child, or because they consider themselves in love, or just for the pleasure of it, or even if they don’t ever end up having sex, it is difficult to deny the prominent role that sexual desire plays in so much of human interaction. Whether or not Freud was entirely correct, what most agree to be true is that sexual desire is a biological drive inherent in almost all human beings. No matter how civilized we consider ourselves to be, and no matter how neatly we define it within socially acceptable norms and values, there sex is, embedded deep within our thoughts, actions, and television sets.

Masters of Sex is one of the newest hour-long dramas to premiere on Showtime. On September 29, 2013, viewers were introduced to Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), two characters based on the real-life researchers of the same names who, in the late 1950s, began conducting controversial experiments that would come to greatly advance our society’s understanding of human sexuality. What is so great about the show’s subject matter, which almost always has to do with the complexities of human sexuality, is that sex is such a timelessly engaging topic. Whether it is the late 1950s or the present day, sex is still such a mystery to so many.

Master's of Sex airs on Sunday nights at 10:00 p.m. on Showtime. | Photo courtesy of Showtime.
Masters of Sex airs Sunday nights at 10:00 p.m. on Showtime. | Photo courtesy of Showtime.

The fact that Masters‘ main characters directly confront the many mysteries of sex makes this show all the more interesting to delve into. In the pilot episode, the show’s version of Dr. Masters is introduced as a remarkably intelligent researcher who strives to transcend his ignorance of human sexuality (an ignorance shared by the masses during the late 1950s). He spends most of the episode attempting to overcome the many obstacles that stand in the way of his being able to conduct his sex research…the most prominent obstacle being society’s aversion to asking those questions about sex that they may not want the answers to.

The reasons for Masters’ obsessive determination to overcome these obstacles are explored through both his sexually repressed relationship with his wife, and his fascination with Johnson, an ambitious new hospital secretary whose relatively open attitude toward sexual exploration makes her all the more attractive to Masters. Masters spend much of the first episode repeatedly asking the same question: “Why do women fake orgasms?” By episode’s end, Johnson is the only one willing to provide an answer that truly grabs Masters’ attention. It is no coincidence that she also grabs a job as his assistant.

The subtle sexual tension between Masters and Johnson serves as a driving force for much of what makes Masters so fascinating. That is, besides those revealing scenes where participants of Masters’ sexual experiments  are asked to remove any and all clothing before “pleasuring themselves” or “sexually engaging one another” while hooked up to wires and monitors that measure their physiological responses. Most television shows offer some sense of sexual tension between prominent characters, but rarely is that sexual tension so heavily reflected and paralleled in the show’s primary plot lines, such as in this show’s sexual experiments.

That fantastic intertwining of the forces driving both the plot and characters is precisely what makes Masters of Sex such a unique and fascinating new television show to add to the must-watch list. Like many human beings, a good deal of what drives the actions of Masters, Johnson, and show’s many other characters is their complicated attitudes towards sex. Four episodes into the show and these characters’ attitudes still remain a largely compelling mystery to both the viewers and the characters themselves.

Much like being in the midst of one of Masters’ experiments, what ever does happen next, it will most certainly excite.

Masters of Sex airs Sunday nights at 10:00 p.m. on Showtime. 

Evan Tuohey

Evan Tuohey is Film and Television major who was born a writer and never strayed from it. He also loves philosophy, thunderstorms, hiking mountains, and wine&cheese dinners. Evan hopes to one day write for a serialized television drama. Until then, you may find him working as a bartender for your local catering company.

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