Masters of Sex, Season 2, Episode 7, “Asterion”
Written by David Flebotte and Michelle Ashford
Directed by Michael Dinner
Airs Sundays at 10pm (ET) on Showtime
It seems this is the year creative time skips became an unexpected fashion in television. Both True Detective and Fargo pulled off the unprecedented move of jumping forward in time in the middle of an episode, and now Masters of Sex has one-upped them both by performing several jumps in the same episode! My knowledge of TV history is far from comprehensive, but I can’t think of any other show that’s done something like this before (except for a few episodes of The Simpsons, in which time is a… malleable concept, to say the least). Of course, multiple series have ended on greatest hits montages in their final episodes (Six Feet Under, for instance), but to my knowledge, no one has plopped an episode like this into the middle of a season.
The effect is unexpected but invigorating. In one hour, “Asterion” takes us through several years, leaving the ’50s in the dust and bringing Masters of Sex into the ’60s (the subtle background, wardrobe, and hair details indicating the changes are some impressive production work). It starts with a simple title card informing us that five months have passed since Bill and Gini were dismissed from Buell Green, and doesn’t let us keep our bearings for long. As Betty leads a man through the building housing the Masters/Johnson clinic, a Communist party headquarters becomes a CORE office with a pillar crossing the screen acting as a wipe.
And in this time, life has its ups and downs. Gini dumps her ex-7th Heaven (apologies, Barry Watson, but that is all I will ever associate you with) boytoy and moves on to a different one… or ones. Austin similarly cycles through several girlfriends before trying to crawl back to his ex-wife, who roundly rejects him. “As much as you want to un-ring the bell, it’s rung,” she tells him, “And when that happens, all you can do is listen.” This is notably the first time I’ve ever cared about anything that’s happened with Austin. But it’s also the closest the episode comes to saying out loud what it’s about. Many of these characters are trying to move on from what’s happened to them, sometimes in denial that it’s impossible to get back what they once had.
Chief among these are, of course, Bill and Gini, Bill much more so. This episode features Masters at his absolute worst, at separate times flinging his rage at his mother, at Libby, and at Gini. He’s at his lowest as well, thrashing through the financial bog the new clinic is in. But even when times look good, he can’t be satisfied. Completely unable to touch Libby or Gini, he tries futilely to substitute a prostitute, in a back alley, no less. It doesn’t work. He’s still reeling from arriving on Gini’s doorstep, eager to make some kind of romantic outreach, only to find “her beau” standing in the threshold. Ultimately, he gets her to participate in their “private studies” again, domineering her in a reverse of when she did so to him in “Giants,” but it’s a hollow victory. Gini, for her part, simply seems to be stalled. She still hasn’t gotten her degree (contrast this with Betty, who’s been making the most of these years, despite divorcing Gene) and can’t seem to stick with a stable relationship.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. In fact, in spite of the multiple ugly yelling matches, this manages to be the most lighthearted episode of the season so far, thanks mainly to the return of the sex study, which brings with it all sorts of hilarity about measuring the trajectory of ejaculations and such. Also returning in this episode are a bunch of old recurring characters. Ann Dowd has escaped The Leftovers to come back as Bill’s mom, Betsy Brandt suggests that her earlier brief run as Bill’s secretary wasn’t a waste of her (it turns out her character has no vaginal opening, because this show still hasn’t run out of ways for societal silence and lack of knowledge about sex to make people miserable), Artemis Pebdani is back as Flo the weight loss pill lady (I maintain that her character from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia would be perfectly at home here), and most surprising of all is the return of Lester the movie geek! If only Jane and the Scullys would come back, all would be well.
The title “Asterion” could refer to one of several things. I’d like to think it’s a reference to the anatomical part of the human skull, but the writers were probably thinking more along the lines of the demigods of Greek mythology, or the fact that the word simply means “starry” or “ruler of the stars” (incidentally, this is the second Greek title of an episode this season, the first being “Kyrie Eleison”). The constellations dance across the sky, time marches on, people change (or don’t), and this episode encapsulates the way life clips along. Masters of Sex is completely unafraid of shaking things up this season. Now that the sex study is fully, definitely back in play, it’ll continue to sweep the main characters towards the fate that, thanks to history, we already know is in store for them.