Masters of Sex finished its third season recently, one that seemed like a misfire for a lot of people, but I'm not one of those who ever thought the show was all that consistent in the first place. In fact, while this season did make some strange creative choices, it didn't seem any more or less out of place than some of the uneven arcs that came in the first and second season, and for my money, the most important part, the relationship between Masters and Johnson, remains just as intriguing as ever, even if the character's ambivalence are sometimes hard to reconcile with their actions, leaving their motivations inscrutable.
But let's start with the thing that bothered people right off the bat. The show took another significant time jump at the beginning to 1965, and gave us an episode that explored the odd, threeway relationship that had developed between Bill, Virginia and Libby, with their uniquely blended families making for some odd regular vacations. This episode was fascinating as it touched on this rarely seen (but apparently true) dynamic that existed between them, but then for some strange reason was never explored again. What seemed to be setting up a theme is instead left for one episode and one episode only, as the rest of the season went in a different direction.
Okay, strange, but I'm still onboard for the most part. But then here comes the event that deeply polarized everyone, and that was giving Virginia another baby and putting her in an arranged marriage in name only to her ex-husband, a wildly concocted story that was apparently done only for behind the scenes legal reasons involving threatened lawsuits from the surviving real life Masters and Johnson children. Another odd choice, but again, just one episode, so it didn't necessarily hurt the show for me that much. Once the season’s arc really got going after the first two episodes, we got more typical Masters of Sex stories, like a plot involving the always great Allison Janney and Beau Bridges, a pregnancy storyline for Betty and her girlfriend Helen (Sarah Silverman) that brought back old favorite Dr. Austin (Teddy Sears), and then the main story of the season, Virginia's affair with M&J's new investor, Dan Logan (Josh Charles), which threatened to eventually break up the duo, since Virginia was drawn more to Dan over the season and away from Bill, ending on a cliffhanger in which Bill professes his love for her and tries to stop her from leaving the clinic at the last minute.
I was more or less alright with this story, except for the fact that it drew attention to Virginia's somewhat maddening motivations, which were always murky and never clear on why she was doing this or what she thought was going to happen. We're never allowed any insight into her own thoughts about Bill or Dan, and her seeming desire to keep seeing them both while hiding the relationship from Bill never made sense for a woman who supposedly wants to have her job, and two lovers who work in the same place. I never quite understood what she was thinking or feeling at any moment, even if the acting from Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen remained strong as always. Despite that, I was still interested to see where things ended up and remain involved in the relationship (although in doing actual research on the two, their real life activities around this time are starting to sound more interesting than what Michelle Ashford was creating for fiction, since she's been fudging both the facts and the timeline more and more lately).
For me, the worst part of the season was the presence of Bill and Virginia's kids. Repeat after me, showrunners- it's NEVER a good idea to introduce a bratty teenager into your main cast. Ever. But that's exactly what they did this year, so Virginia's demonic daughter Tessa joined the ranks of Dana from Homeland as the world's most horrible teen, and even a somewhat sensitive and realistically handled sexual assault subplot couldn't bring a whole lot of sympathy towards a girl you wanted to punch in the face every time she showed up onscreen. Bill's twelve year old moody son Johnny was only slightly less irritating by comparison. The idea seemed to be to show that Bill and Gini are awful parents, and maybe they were, but I think we got the message in one episode without having to suffer the kids any more than was necessary. God, I hope that's a story that started and ended this season.
Finally, poor Libby got to have some happiness as she indulged in an affair with a new neighbor (her lover Robert from last season apparently died offscreen, in another missed opportunity lost in the time jump), and Ashford and co. apparently decided to speed up the timeline in ending the Masters' miserable marriage about five years earlier than it happened in real life (we only get up to 1966 by season's end). I'm assuming they felt they could no longer drag out Libby's victim status creatively- even if it did go on in reality for longer as the real Libby Masters kept up appearances and played friend to her husband's mistress for at least a decade. The show didn't want to indulge that mindset to its true end though, and had Bill apologetically confess his affair to Libby in the finale- a scene that I didn't buy for one minute. Bill Masters was a narcissist like no other and any man who has a 15 year affair will probably never own up to anything as his own fault no matter what occurs- however the real life marriage ended, I would never believe it would come with an apology from a guilt ridden Masters to his long jilted wife.
A problem some have had with the show is exactly that narcissism and inherent unlikability from Masters as the protagonist, but that's never bothered me as Michael Sheen plays him, and especially this season as Bill became somewhat more open, affectionate (towards Virginia) and self-aware. The show remains its many parts rather than the sum of them overall, but I still find the majority of those parts engaging and involving, and I still want to see in what direction all these relationships go, especially the main one. But then again, I'm also a sucker for relationship dramas, history and based on true life events, and the basic adherence to facts, even with fudged timelines, intrigues me plenty with this story to keep me hooked. It may be more my cup of tea than others, but I remain a devotee.