The first season of Showtime’s phenomenal new series, Masters of Sex came to a close last night, although in doing so, it set up far more stories for next season than it provided closure for the storylines in this season. Basically, showrunner Michelle Ashford did to the setting in Masters of Sex what Jason Katims did at the end of the third season of Friday Night Lights: Forced out the coach. That’s the sense I got from Masters of Sex’s finale, in seeing Masters fired from his position at Washington University on the same day that his wife gave birth in a hospital across town staffed predominantly by African Americans. Is that where Bill Masters will set up shop next season? Is that his East Dillon?
Before we look ahead to next season, let’s see where the first season left off. As in real life, Masters was forced out of his position at Washington University after his research paper and footage of Jane’s “vaginal barrel” and a masturbating Ginny offended the delicate sensibilities of the male medical profession within the hospital, who were uncomfortable with that they considered a smut film, and had also felt threatened by dominating sexual powers of women that Masters had outlined, as well as the fact that Masters had more knowledge than them in a field in which they were experts (in reality, Masters was forced, over a longer period of time, to eventually give in to the pressure of the petition and resign). Masters did, however, manage to save the Provost’s job, by accepting the blame in its entirety, which essentially leaves the Provost sexual orientation storyline in Washington University.
To that end, Margaret finally confronted Barton Scully (a fictional character based on a mentor-like figure in Masters’ early life) about his homosexuality, and while he conceded that he does prefer the company of men, he pledged to cure himself. Margaret, though cheated by the loss of all those years, still encouraged Barton not to go through with the barbaric electroshock and aversion therapy treatments, fearing that it would endanger his life. I think she came to a kind of peace with it, an understanding that Barton does love her, and that she loves him, regardless of his sexual orientation. However, despite Margaret’s protestions, the episode ended with Barton determined to cure himself.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to know what to make of Dr. DePaul’s arc. She’s still determined to ensure pap smears are provided in every hospital in the country, but for now, her work remains at Washington University, where she continues to go under-appreciated and underfunded. She still has Ginny under her employ, but she may need to move elsewhere with Ginny and Masters in order to get anything accomplished before she succumbs to her own cancer.
Likewise, the fate of Ethan and Ginny’s relationship is up in the air. Offered a position at UCLA, Ethan asked Ginny to marry him and move to the west coast. She did not, however, provide an answer, and the episode ended with Bill at her doorstep insisting that he “needed” her, both for the study and, presumably, for her affections.
Based on what we know about the real Masters and Johnson, what can we expect for next season? Showrunner Michelle Ashford has already revealed that there will be time jumps involved in Masters of Sex, which are necessary to tell the whole story behind the sex researchers, who were still relevant well into the 1980s. They set up shop at an independent research facility in 1964, which seems like the next logical stop in the timeline (Masters was still with Libby at the time), although that may mean leaving Dr. DePaul completely behind, who would likely pass away from the cancer some time during the time jump.
They will have to leave behind some of the other characters tied to Washington University, as well, including Jane (Helene York), who will not be returning next season (she has stage committments), although Annaleigh Ashford, who played the prostitute who married the Pretzel king (Greg Grunberg) earlier in the season, will return as a series regular. It seems doubtful that Beau Bridges and Allison Janney — who are committed to their own CBS sitcoms — will return for much of anything beyond the occasional guest spot, especially since the action will be moving away from the hospital. Likewise, we may have seen the last of Austin Langham and Lester, as well. The biggest questions, really, is whether Dr. Haas will return next season, and if so, how does that even work?
It’s fascinating to see how Ashford weaves in the fictions she needs for dramatic tension, and the reality she is beholden to. Best I can tell, only Masters, Johnson, and Libby are based on actual people, while everyone else is either inspired by people in their past, or completely fabricated. Ashford will obviously hit the fixed points, but everything else is on the table for season two. Still, my biggest question remains: Will they bring back Mae Whitman, who had a three-minute scene early in the season, or was she possibly part of a storyline that just never developed?
(Casting news provided by Hitfix)