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Review: 'Masters of Sex' Season 2 Episode 5, 'Giants,' Features Racism, Masturbation and Sarah Silverman

Photo of Eric Eidelstein By Eric Eidelstein | Indiewire August 11, 2014 at 12:35PM

Sarah Silverman joined the racy Showtime series last night to stir up some additional drama.
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Sarah Silverman in "Masters of Sex"
Sarah Silverman in "Masters of Sex"

With its last two episodes ("Dirty Jobs," "Fight"), "Masters of Sex" has been on a winning streak. And while last night's "Giants" showcased some wonderful moments, it also brought up a lot of questions, ones that make us a tad concerned but still hopeful for the Showtime drama's trajectory.

READ MORE: Review: Episode 4 of 'Masters of Sex's' Second Season Shows Us Why We Can Only Rely On Ourselves

"Dirty Jobs" had a momentous ending, as Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) left Memorial Hospital for Buell Green Hospital, a still-segregated hospital (where Dr. Masters' wife Libby gave birth). The condition: he is able to continue his study and bring in his trusty research assistant Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan).

Silverman is a wonderful casting choice and perfectly captures a scorned, but unforgotten lover.

"Giants" introduces a whole new set of racially-charged conflicts at the hospital, where Dr. Masters' white patients refuse to adjust to his new setting. A majority of the episode focuses on this clashing (it's still the 60s, after all), which also spills over into the domestic sphere -- specifically, the tension between Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald) and nurse Coral (Keke Palmer). Sarah Silverman adds to that tension in her first much-anticipated appearance, one which we'll take a look at shortly.

But first, onto Libby. In "Giants," the Betty Draper-esque, baby-crazy, dissatisfied wife of Dr. Masters takes her passive aggression to a whole new racist level. Last week, after insinuating that Coral may have been responsible for her son's lice, Libby forced the girl to ruin her expensive hair treatment by washing it with medicated shampoo. This episode follows on that by showing the residual (and rightful) animosity Coral holds for an oblivious Libby. 

We begin with Coral's boyfriend, who makes his way to the Masters household in order to confront Libby over her repulsive behavior. She takes his message as threatening and confronts Coral about it, insisting that this boyfriend is no good. "Masters" does a fantastic job at getting us into Libby's mindset: She thinks she's right. She think's she open-minded and worldly. She takes no responsibility for her misdeeds and instead continues to berate Coral, certain that her "advice" is friendly.

The dynamic between Palmer and FitzGerald is subtle and great, particularly in one scene where Coral manages to fight back by asking Libby if she should also make Masters' bed. If Libby is going to make assumptions about Coral's boyfriend, then Coral will do the same with Libby's own relationship. It's eye for an eye.

Meanwhile, Dr. Masters' first day on the job doesn't go as swell as he hopes. His office is small and he doesn't seem to care when hospital head Dr. Hendricks (Tony winner Courtney B. Vance) mentions that getting him that space was difficult. Clearly, Libby isn't the only oblivious one. He faces dissent from his old patients, which culminates in a brawl between in the hospital waiting room between two men -- one black, the other white. The result? Within the already segregated hospital comes more segregation, and Dr. Masters' patients are put in a separate part of the waiting room.  

Meanwhile, his efforts to bring Johnson onboard go awry. He just assumes she can disrupt her life, quit her job with Dr. Lillian DePaul (Julianne Nicholson) and rejoin him. He fails to realize that she has loyalties, a family to support and cannot just follow him wherever he goes, especially since he's been doing more going than coming (this is the third hospital he's taken a job at).

Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen in "Masters of Sex"
Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen in "Masters of Sex"

However, she doesn't get much of a choice in the matter as Dr. DePaul is already aware of Johnson's relationship with Masters. In an impassioned scene, the two woman argue (even when they should be on the same side). Dr. DePaul chastises Johnson for sleeping with Dr. Masters and Johnson in turn reminds Dr. DePaul that although both of them have it hard, she has it harder, not having parents who could afford to send her to medical school. The sequence is extremely powerful, all the more so with its intercuts to the outside office, where both women can be heard fighting by the hospital staff.

Johnson leaves and rejoins Dr. Masters, but she doesn't go quietly. During one of their hotel sessions, she takes a step forward to dominate Dr. Masters, forcing him to masturbate in front of her while she takes notes. It's by far the best scene in "Giants," refocusing the power trip between the two in Johnson's favor, while also being sexy, funny and dark as hell -- the best "Masters" has to offer. 

Finally, we find our way back to Betty DiMello (Annaleigh Ashford), who last week was forced to reveal to her rich husband that she cannot get pregnant; he in turn revealed that he knew about her sketchy past and never cared. The storyline had always seemed slightly superfluous to everything else going around, which is maybe the reason why Sarah Silverman was added to the cast as DiMello's ex-lover Helen -- to spice things up. 

Sarah Silverman in "Masters of Sex"
Sarah Silverman in "Masters of Sex"

Helen tracks DiMello down, pretending to be an old friend from the past who's a psychic -- DiMello's husband seems to get good vibes and sets them all up for a double date with a friend. The evening is awkward and full of innuendos, culminating in a sweet moment between former lovers. Silverman is a wonderful casting choice and perfectly captures a scorned, but unforgotten lover -- once again, "Masters" proves to be a showcase for mostly-comedy actors in drama roles. 

Nevertheless -- and this is perhaps the biggest flaw of the episode -- the plot line doesn't carry the same sense of urgency as everyone else's stories. We are reminded of this when Dr. Hendricks delivers a beautiful monologue to Dr. Masters and Johnson about his plans for integrating his hospital. Yes, his true agenda remains unclear (look out for the last few seconds), but it's a highly important and fascinating arc, way more than the "are-they-or-are-they-not-gonna-get-back-together" thing going on between DiMello and Helen. We love Silverman (Ashford too), but we can't exactly figure out where "Masters" is going with this. Still, it's another splendid episode in an already-strong second season. 

Grade: B+

This article is related to: Masters Of Sex, Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan, Showtime, Reviews, Sarah Silverman, Keke Palmer, Caitlin FitzGerald, Television