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Review: ‘Masters of Sex’ Season 3, Episode 12, ‘Full Ten Count’: ‘Masters of Sex’ Surrenders Control

Review: 'Masters of Sex' Season 3, Episode 12, 'Full Ten Count': 'Masters of Sex' Surrenders Control

PREVIOUSLY: Review: ‘Masters of Sex’ Season 3, Episode 11, ‘Party of Four’: Fear and Trembling

Back in the boxing ring — a familiar metaphor for his
pugilistic relationships with the scientific establishment, midcentury mores
and the personal and professional families he’s built over the course of a
decade — Dr. Bill Masters (Michael Sheen) begins the season finale of “Masters
of Sex” bloodied and staggering. The lopsided match is only a dream, of
course, but as his father and son jeer from the front row, it’s clear that Bill’s
desperate efforts to stay in control have already started to unravel: “A
man’s got to know when he’s beat, son,” his father snipes. In a season consumed
by what we can chart and measure, contain and explain, the wonderfully chaotic “Full
Ten Count” thus focuses on what we cannot, and in doing so suggests — in
contrast to the season premiere, “Parliament
of Owls
” — that people really can change, often far more than they
bargained for.

Having returned to St. Louis after last week’s disastrous
dinner, Bill and Virginia (Lizzy Caplan) face a season’s worth of drama in a
single day. With the press conference for “Human Sexual Inadequacy”
looming, the false accusation that Bill maintained an improper relationship
with Dennis Daughtry collides with another trumped up charge, this one for
“pandering and prostitution,” levied by Committee for Decency plant
Nora Everett (Emily Kinney). The construction of the episode exposes the series’
seemingly intractable problems with time — the season began by leaping
forward, screeched to a halt with the dreadful “Monkey
,” and here careens through plot twists from the wee hours of
the morning until nearly midnight — and yet the wildness of it is terrifically
apt. “Full Ten Count” sees “Masters of Sex” surrender
control, much like the main characters.

If it all seems a little slapdash at first, well, that’s
because it is. The writers’ attention is fitful at best, and so Tessa, Helen,
and Austin have been shuffled off entirely, their stories abandoned midstream,
only to be replaced by Barton (Beau Bridges) and Jonathan (Rob
Benedict) striking up a workplace affair; Paul, having outlived his narrative
usefulness — Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald) needs something, or someone, to do —
skips town without so much as a goodbye.
The Little, Brown
representative’s brief introductions to Nora, Lester (Kevin Christy), Jane (Heléne
Yorke), and Dan Logan (Josh Charles) are, sadly, a telling glimpse of the
series’ disjointedness this season. When it comes to
“Masters of Sex,” with the exception of a few superlative entries, I
can only echo Virginia: “
I just keep waiting for everything to
click into place.”

Still, as “Full Ten Count” rushes toward its
stunning conclusion, with Betty (Annaleigh Ashford) straining to hold the
clinic, the press conference and her colleagues together, it becomes a
surprisingly rich portrait of highly effective people finally admitting that
they’ll never complete life’s puzzle. In one potent scene, as Libby arrives to
bail Bill out of jail, Sheen’s frantic search for solutions, pacing and
shaking, suddenly slows. In real time, we watch him come to the realization
that his need for control is as impulsive as any addict’s relationship with
their substance of choice, and as damaging. “This happened because of
you,” Libby cries, “because you
are reckless!” He’s been so obsessed, for so long, with his own selfish
ambitions that he hasn’t even noticed the collaboration between Libby and
Virginia, much less Libby’s affair with Paul.   

As Virginia prepares to elope with Dan — not before her own
hilarious knockout punch, delivered to Nora’s smug face with a box of office
materials — and the confluence of events threatens the future of the work, the
episode indeed finds nearly everyone down for the count. Libby slumps to the
bathroom floor, Johnny (Jaeden Lieberher) worries that he’s responsible for his
father’s arrest, and Betty’s managerial magic confronts an insurmountable
challenge. But in the end “Full Ten Count” settles its sights on Bill
and Virginia, the “perfect equals” who’ve been the series’ ballast
all along.

Their heartbreaking conversation in the jailhouse corridor,
and even more so the suspenseful sequence that follows, is one last attempt to
seize control over the uncontrollable, and their ultimate recognition that
they’ve failed provides a perfect coda to the season’s finest hour, “Matters
of Gravity
.” “Love is not a force exerted by one body onto
another,” Bill said then. “It is the very fabric of those bodies.
Love is that which carves the lines and grooves, the curvature of our

“If you love me like you said that you do,” Virginia
says now, as if in response, “you’ll let me go.”

First longing, then regretful, and finally resigned, the
episode’s denouement, cutting between Bill’s mad dash for the airport and
Virginia’s impending departure, uses the familiar materials of romantic
melodrama — the taxi, the tarmac, the swooning possibility of snatching
victory from the jaws of defeat — to remind us that the series is in fact
about the inability to force the
pieces to click into place. By the time Bill pays the fare and Virginia glances
at the gate one last time, “Full Ten Count” thus sees the series
return to its central subject, unmet desire, only this time the disappointment
is shaded by relief.

Maybe the messiness of “Masters of Sex” this
season, if not quite purposeful, is a function of all the loose ends we leave
hanging in life, the failures large and small we set aside for a time to go
about actually living. After a season full of frustrations, it’s fitting, I
suppose, that tonight’s closing sequence is a full-throated expression of love,
unrequited. “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out,” as the old blues standard says,
and its regretful rag is not without a certain consolation. So too for sex
researchers and drama series: Sometimes the only way forward is to clean the
slate, and to know the score.

Grade: B

READ MORE: ‘Masters of Sex’ Creator Michelle Ashford on Season 4 Plans and Beyond

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