Masters of Sex Is Trying to Do Something That's Almost Impossible

I am obviously the target audience for Masters of Sex because I love romances involving repressed men, but I am also a fan of hot sex scenes and laboratory dramas. Last night's premiere, however, reminded me that this show does something even harder than creating a story about kinky/repressed geeks.

Spoilers ahead.

This season is returning to a lot of the same conflicts in season one, with the uncredentialed but smart Virginia having to convince Bill to hire her again at his new job (even though he gave her co-author credit on their disastrous sex study last season). Virginia's boyfriend Ethan is basically out of the picture, so she's once again struggling to get by on her tiny salary as a single mom. Bill is back in full douchey husband mode, tormenting his wife by neglecting their baby, booting his mom out of the state, and acting like he's too good to look for work. Meanwhile, everybody is getting slut-shamed.

So that's all fun, especially because we got to see the hot sex that Virginia and Bill had when he came over all rain-drenched and said "you are the thing I can't live without" and Virginia gave him the pursed-lips expression and they did the deed without wearing EKG monitors. It's just Bill and Virginia again in this season. The one big development is that they've pretty much admitted that they like to have sex even if it's not just for science.

Except — and this is the difficult thing — they aren't really able to admit that. Masters of Sex is trying to do something that is practically unprecedented on television, which is to have unfulfilled romantic tension between two characters who are already having sex. How do you maintain the Mulder/Scully thing when every time our heroes study the unknown it means that they get in bed and hump like crazy?

The answer is that it's hard, hard, hard. Case in point was the pivotal "relationship talk" moment toward the end of the episode where Bill seems about to profess his love. "Last night was different," he says, referring to the aforementioned hot sex. Viriginia kind of laughs that off, and then says lightly that she likes Bill because "it's a rare man who would understand a woman choosing work over love." The implication is that she's chosen not to marry Ethan and go off to LA because she wants to work with Bill.

Bill's face falls — he's realized that Viriginia sees him as a work partner — which, confusingly, means a sex partner because they're mad sexologists who experiment on themselves. This is a bizarre, messy kind of relationship weirdness to capture on film. We watch as Bill stumbles through a couple of awkward sentences about how they should continue the "work" without sensors because they should be thinking about psychological effects of sex that can't be measured in the lab.

They're both talking themselves into the idea that they are having sex — and, maybe, falling in love — for the sake of scientific study. The tough part is that they're balanced on this odd knife-edge between keeping that delicious tension going, and being science perverts who are getting off on studying their own affair. Which, of course, they aren't having. Because having an affair is not what it's called when you're doing it for science.

So that's how this season will try to draw out more tension between Virginia and Bill.

Their burgeoning romance makes them even less likable, though. They are tormenting other people in their lives, like Bill's wife and Virginia's ex Ethan, and coming up with really dishonest intellectual reasons for it. Still, I love that they are flawed characters for reasons that have nothing to do with their sexualities. And I love that Masters of Sex is able to capture how workplace melodrama is workplace melodrama, whether you're studying sex or doing forensics or trying to catch bad guys.

I can't wait to see what's in store this season as the most uptight perverts in the world try to get their science on.