The title “Standard Deviation” more obviously refers to William Masters’s chance encounters with homosexual men, who provide his latest ethical and moral hiccups in pursuing sexuality scientifically, but it also works to demarcate the episode as being the precise point Masters of Sex decides to make a clean break from history and chart a potentially very different path for its characters. I won’t go into too many specifics for fear of potential future-series spoilers, but it’s already clear that Michelle Ashford is setting out to use Masters and Johnson as more of a loose framework to probe big ideas about societal relationships to sexuality than strict historical portraiture.
Part of the fun of watching a first-time showrunner flex their muscles is to see just what narrative strategies they’re prepared to deploy in service of a story. With “Race to Space,” Masers of Sex expands its stylistic/narrative catalog a bit, allowing in daydreams, allegory, and montage, while it hones in on Virginia and her reaction to Dr. Masters’s request that they themselves engage in sex. It’s not all effective, but the willingness to toy around with different storytelling modes bodes well for the series’s future.
Breaking Bad is not a series generally noted for its lightness of tone, but Vince Gilligan and his collaborators have always managed to wring humor and quirk out of what would seem to be a hopelessly grim set of story beats. That’s what makes “Granite State,” the series’ super-sized penultimate episode, so hard to watch. Save for a few passing moments of sewer-downhill-from-the-gallows “humour,” “Granite State” is a relentlessly bleak hour of TV, wherein even the glimpses of “hope” are really just (in all likelihood) presaging more carnage.
There’s no shame in stealing from the greats. So when “Destino” begins to feel like a hyperkinetic Justified/Breaking Bad mashup for a few minutes during a trailer-park raid gone very wrong, it’s just the kick in the pants an hour this scattered needs. Not everything about “Destino” works, but its peaks are very encouraging.
Since the very beginning of Breaking Bad, these actresses have been tasked with the most thankless roles on one of the most celebrated dramas in TV history. In the case of Gunn, it’s a repeat performance in a sense: she had a similarly unglamorous gig as Sheriff Bullock’s beleagured-but-upstanding wife Martha. TV historians and prognosticators will be quick to extol the virtues of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, along with Dean Norris and Bob Odenkirk (and rightfully so) but in a very real sense, Brandt and Gunn have long provided Breaking Bad with a moral dimension that would otherwise be absent.
It’s important to keep expectations in check at all times, but especially with beloved TV series. There are so many variables at work, so many moving parts operated by so many individuals, that even with the smartest showrunners, the best writers’ room, and the most stellar cast, things can go off the rails when you’re least expecting it, often at the worst possible time. So it’s with a sense of relief that “Blood Money” opens with what might be one of the two or three cold opens the series has ever pulled off (and that’s saying something). And yet it’s the end of the episode that easily slides into the all-time Breaking Bad Holy Shit Canon.