The Afterglow

Sex is complicated. First, you’re a kid and it’s hilarious. Then, you’re a pre-teen and it’s confusing. Then, if you are my kid sister, your precocious eleven-year old sibling and her friends corner you to offer all sorts of wrong information about sex with boys, and you realize that you like girls.

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Finally, you have sex, and you’re like—that was fine? And then it gets better. And then it’s great—until an insane firestorm of feelings takes you over, and you never really recover. Sex is awesome. What comes next—often, a different story.

Supposedly, sex was all the rage in the sixties. The flower children think they invented sex. I can’t tell you firsthand because I was negative twentyish, but I do know that famed sex researchers Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson were having none of it. The third season of Showtime’s prestige drama Masters of Sex is set against a backdrop of sex, drugs, war, and protest. Masters and Johnson are poised to publish their seminal work, Human Sexual Response, and establish themselves as credible researchers. It took twelve years, two marriages, lots of tears and a ton of lube to get it done—but, as Ginny notes at a press conference to publicize the book, this is only the beginning. “We are the sexual revolution,” she says. For better or worse.

This season is about fallout. Season one was filled with nudity and hair-tearing passion masked by all-American, 1950’s-style manners. The show was sexy and new. But now—twelve years since Ginny and Bill launched their unconventional partnership, and a couple of years since the show premiered—we’re riding the afterglow. That moment when the adrenaline and pheromones recede, and you’re kind of alone. In bed. With someone you like (or don’t like), love (or don’t love). Someone you know all too well, or whose name you barely remember.

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The season three premiere bounces back and forth between a press conference and an excruciating lakeside family weekend. This is the kind of balancing act upon which the show has built its reputation—cutting (sometimes clumsily) between public moments and private heartache. While reporters dissect the work Ginny and Bill have worked so hard to bring into the world, we see glimpses of a shared private life that is messier, more complicated and emotionally intense than sex itself.

The show seems to be saying: this is what you get. Succumb to your passions, and great things may come—people might also get hurt. The writers are deviating just enough from historical record to keep us guessing, while staying true to the sentiment that drove the first and second seasons: the work is worth it.

To protect what the two of them have in the lab and in the bedroom, Ginny and Bill are forced to make space for lots of other people. Their lives are crowded and suffocating. Bill would rather sleep outside, under the stars, than look his Big Love-esque family in the face. Ginny has to beg her lover for one inch of space—a bathroom stall—to herself. Bill’s actual wife, Libby, is popping pills to deal, and saying things like: a brokenhearted existence can “make you stronger, but it can also make you sad.”

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This story could veer quickly into disaster, or become a wild success and —kind of like any newly sexual relationship. The characters are bonded by sex—family is, after all, a product of the act.

That kind of explosive potential is what makes this show special. Masters of Sex is grounded by relationships—relationships that are always evolving, and are true to the animal reality of human contact. And the pain that sometimes brings.

Masters of Sex airs at 10/9C on Showtime.

–Elise

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Fool Me Twice, or: I Only Have Myself to Blame

Note: Some spoilers for Homeland ahead!

It’s not often that I catch myself engaging in overtly self-destructive behavior. Sure, I’ve sent drunken texts I that regret, and then ordered pizza, cheesy bread, and a 2-liter Coke Reg for one—all when I had perfectly acceptable leftovers in the fridge, and an unacceptable amount of money in the bank. But I’d like to think I have my shit together in more important ways. I have a 401(k) for chrissake.

But recently, I made two decisions that caused me to question my good judgment. In a moment of temporary insanity, I decided to jump back into two shows I’d previously abandoned – Homeland and American Horror Story.

Homeland

I gave up on this show last season, with only two episodes until the finale. They’d stretched the Brody character so thin over three seasons that I gave no shits what happened to him, or to his lover Temple Grandin. Season four was strongly marketed as the reset we’d all been waiting for—which would have come in season two, had the writers had the balls to kill Brody off as planned. After three years of Carrie’s chin-quivering and derp-tastic Chris and Dana, I was so ready to see Ms. Matheson be good at her job again, sans distractions. There was a zero percent chance that the writers wouldn’t have Carrie running around shouting at everyone like a mental patient. But I was willing to accept that, as long as her instincts were finally back on track. So I was reeled back in.

Homeland 312-1And, if we ignore all that baby stuff, it started off pretty strong. The murder of that bald guy from House of Cards launched a promising mystery. Tracy Letts was killing it, per usual. As was sexy, sexy, tiny-mouth himself, Peter Quinn.

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I should have known it was too good to last.

When Carrie started coaching Fara to seduce-recruit the Teen Virgin/Doctor, a red flag went up in my brain. Please do not go where I think you’re going to go, Homeland. I will seriously do your chores for a month if you will just let this show have a strong, stable female protagonist who kicks ass in the field. And that’s it, The End, no weird sex entanglements. Kewl?

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If she were a dude, the writers never would have had her screw that kid. Or given her the feelz for Brody. And Quinn is in love with her?! WHY?!?!?!? NOTHING MAKES SENSE. For two seconds I was lead astray, but my initial instincts to drop this hot mess were right. Auf Wiedersehen, Homeland, you piece of shit.

Unrelated, but I must get this off my chest, since I’m unlikely to write about Homeland ever again: Why did everyone call him Brody?!? EVEN HIS WIFE. MRS. BRODY. Srsly why.

American Horror Story

I watched the first season of this show on FX without knowing it was an anthology series. I was extremely confused when everyone died in the last couple episodes. How are they going to keep this going next year? American Horror Story: All Connie Brittons Go to Heaven? The premier season had some pretty scary moments, especially the faceless, latex-clad dude creepin’ around in the background. But the back half of the episodes felt tedious, and I didn’t tune into Asylum or Coven out of laziness.

The critical dialogue surrounding the series, coupled with this season’s Freak Show conceit, piqued my interest, so I’m back. I hadn’t seen the show since it fully embraced its campiness, and a circus provides the perfect platform. The freaks are set starkly against the vivid 50s Florida background. I’m into the anachronistic music, and super into Kathy Bates’ stellar performance as the bearded lady.

So why was jumping back into this show such a mistake?

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I don’t have any issue with clowns generally. But this clown. Fucking sucks. I hate him. Every time I try to fall asleep he creeps into my brain, and I’m convinced he’s standing by my bed with those effing scissors. Everyone! This is my Gone Girl-style diary—if I end up dead, a fictional character came through the TV and murdered me to death.

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You’d think I’d know better—I’m a life-long fraidy cat. I do not enjoy being scared. I was sort of tricked into seeing The Ring in theatres, and I was so upset afterward I ended up sleeping in my parents’ bed, still shaking. I was a freshman in high school.

Despite Twisty the Clown, or The Worst Thing That’s Ever Happened to Me Personally, I will keep watching Freak Show. It is truly original, and I am fascinated to see where the writers will take the season. In a world with no rules, it could go anywhere, for better or worse.

And I’d rather watch a literally-decaying nightmare than this wet wad of toilet paper.

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– Alison