While the central focus of Showtime’s period drama Masters Of Sex has been on the early days of relationship between Bill Masters (played by Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), the show has developed into quite the ensemble drama. The stories in the series have also not only pertained to Masters & Johnson’s ground-breaking sex study but enveloped the world around them with everyone being affected by the study in one way or another.
As we highlighted last week, the gay storyline that has developed for Masters’ closeted boss, Barton Scully (Beau Bridges), has been captivating for many reasons not the least of which being his relationship with his wife (the always amazing Allison Janney). It’s been painful to watch Scully’s inner confusion and turmoil over his sexuality, which he’s been satisfying by regular visits with young hustler Dale (Finn Wittrock). And things have continued to spiral for Scully as we’ve seen him attempt aversion therapy as a last ditch effort to save his crumbling marriage.
Since we know the series is based on the Thomas Maier book, Masters Of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Masters, The Couple Who Taught America How To Love, is Barton Scully based on a real person, as well? “There was, in Masters’ universe, a superior in the hospital that did turn out to be gay at some point,” series creator Michelle Ashford told TheBacklot. “The character of Beau’s is an amalgam of several characters that criss-crossed through Masters’ life. He did have an opportunity to know a gay man who was in a position of power at the University. When, in fact, Masters realized the guy was gay is open to interpretation, but it’s not completely made up from whole cloth. There was precedent for that. But the guy who was running the University is not the man who is gay.”
We’ve already seen that the sex study did include talking to both lesbians and gay men but, given the time period, it’s no wonder that there was much that had yet to be studied and uncovered. “What was so exciting to me about this storyline,” Ashford explained, “was the notion, first of all, what was it like to be gay in 1956? What were your options? How was being gay treated, especially when you take in account Barton Scully’s age, his position, his education, all that stuff. Of course, men in all sorts of divisions have always been gay throughout history and so it seems really fascinating to take a guy like that and say what would his life have been like?”
Not only have we gotten Barton’s side of what he’s dealing with, but we’ve also been given a window into the life of his wife, Margaret. “The idea of taking his wife, who had been long-suffering, and then all of a sudden waking her up to the fact that something is radically wrong with her marriage,” Ashford said, “of course she had sensed it all along, but putting a finer and finer point on the subject until a certain clarity finally descends.” In recent episodes, we’ve seen Margaret fall into an affair with a philandering doctor at the hospital (who was also a test subject in Masters & Johnson’s study), played by Teddy Sears, who we recently profiled.
Also compelling is the fact that the Scully marriage may not be the happiest on Earth, but it’s also not the worst, as Ashford continued. “It’s also fascinating because I love the idea of exploring two people who have built a life together and the idea of a life that is satisfying in many ways to both of them and that they genuinely love each other. What happens when this whole element is introduced and becomes clearer? What options do they have? What could they possibly do?And especially to put it in 1956. I guess in this day and age, if this came to be then you’d just have to face the facts and do whatever you’re going to do, but there was a such a stigma attached back then. It’s fascinating to watch two people grapple with not only a personal, intimate problem but then the societal pressure on top of that. What does that leave them to do.”
So what will we see with the Scullys the rest of the Masters Of Sex season, which wraps its first season on December 15th? “I will just say it ends up being a complicated but fascinating journey that they go on,” Ashford teased. “I think it’s incredibly applicable today because who’s to say who you love and why you love them? Sex is one part of love but it’s not all the part of love and I think that story really explores that.”
Masters Of Sex airs Sundays at 10pm on Showtime.