When we first met Dr William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) in season 1 of Masters of Sex, they were naive pioneers at the forefront of a sexual revolution that the '50s was not prepared to accept. Now, as the final season lands on SBS On Demand, it’s a very different story.
By the end of season 3, it was the dawn of the swinging '60s. The pair had published their book, Bill was the victim of a sting operation when the practice was accused of prostitution and Virginia boarded a plane to Mexico, making a decision that will change her and Bill’s lives forever.
It's been a bumpy road to this juncture in this loose adaptation of Thomas Maier’s biography Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love. Masters and Johnson, brilliantly played by Sheen and Caplan, have succeeded against all the odds to get the results of their groundbreaking research on human sexuality published. Having strived throughout their professional careers to reach this momentous moment, however, the pair’s personal lives - especially their own tumultuous relationship - are in chaos.
Despite great reviews from the medical world, Bill and Virginia still needed investors to make their dream printed flesh. Playboy lothario Hugh Hefner (John Gleeson Connolly) expressed interested, but Bill didn't think the nudie magazine was the right fit. Instead, he chose Dan Logan (Josh Charles), a businessman working in the perfume industry who wants to bottle the scent of sex - a decision he learnt to regret.
Meanwhile, with Bill spending less time at home and all but possessed with his medical tome, he and his wife, Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald), were barely speaking. On the flipside, he was talking to his estranged brother but was haunted by flashbacks of his own relationship with his brutish father.
Libby had long since noticed her husband and his business partner were spending far too much time “working” late. The formally prim and proper housewife, angry at the cards her husband has dealt her, lashed out and had two affairs herself. Using cultural and historical events to propel the storyline, Libby became involved with the Civil Rights movement after she mentally lost it, abused her black nanny and had an affair with the help’s brother. The other extra-curricular fling was with her neighbour; a passionate tryst she hoped would help her escape her passionless marriage. It didn't.
Things came to a head for the couple when Bill was questioned by the police for accusations of impropriety with a minor and then arrested for prostitution. His male surrogacy scheme was sabotaged by religious zealots determined to usurp the sexual research they believe promotes promiscuity. Furious at his recklessness and complete disregard for his family, Libby left him to rot in jail. Virginia, on the other hand, was released on bail, paid by the pair’s financial benefactor and her new beau, Dan - much to Bill’s distress.
The rift between Bill and Virginia had long been brewing, much to the exasperation of their constantly put-upon secretary, Betty (the always wonderful Annaleigh Ashford), who's been dealing with her own then-frowned upon lesbian relationship with Helen (Sarah Silverman). As Bill and Virginia achieved the success with their publication, Human Sexual Response, they'd always craved, the demands of the media and public meant they had to be constantly seen together, something neither of them wanted.
As the season ended, Virginia was heading to the airport with Dan to get married in Mexico. Bill was in hot pursuit to stop her, having finally realised he's in love, but he stopped and got out of the taxi - a crestfallen man who has come to the realisation it’s all too late for them. As she boarded the plane, Virginia looked over her shoulder. Was she hoping Bill would save her or was she pleased he's wasn't there?
With season 4 kicking off proceedings in 1968, things are not looking good for Dr Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson’s relationship or business. Entering the decade of the sexual revolution, the Mad Men styling of the first seasons has been replaced with flares, sideburns and key parties. You’ll have to watch to see how the pair’s scientific approach to sex copes with the sexual liberation of the impending '70s.
Watch Masters of Sex on Thursday nights at 11pm on SBS. The show is now also streaming on SBS On Demand: