Masters of Sex wrapped Season 2 Sunday night with two surprise comebacks (Barton! Ethan!), a shocking betrayal (Bill sabotaged the CBS story and unwittingly played a role in Virginia losing her kids!), and a big turning point with regard to Bill and Virginia’s work (they’re gonna start passing on their sex knowledge to couples like Lester and Barb!).
“Their work has now shifted from data collecting to actually helping people who are suffering,” explains series creator Michelle Ashford of the finale’s closing scene. “It’s the very beginning of what [becomes] intensely therapeutic work for them. This is what they ended up spending most of their time doing — trying to heal couples.”
In the following Q&A, Ashford sheds light on some of the episode’s (aforementioned) big moments, and previews what’s to come in Season 3.
TVLINE | Barton’s return was a big surprise. Was that always in your back pocket?
Did I set out at the beginning of last season knowing that was going to happen? No. We’ve now realized that there are certain characters that we’ve introduced that are going to weave in and out for however long it lives, and I would say he is one of them. And his wife, Margaret, is another one. And then when we were talking about this episode and thinking, “Well God, if he can’t talk to Virginia about something who does he talk to?” And all of a sudden I thought, “Oh, wouldn’t it be fun, if it’s Barton?”
TVLINE | Was Barton being truthful with Bill when he said that he had come clean with Margaret about his homosexuality?
TVLINE | I’m bummed we didn’t get to see Beau Bridges and Allison Janney perform that scene. I know they both have their own shows, but still…
He pretty much comes clean to her at the end of Season 1 when he tells her, “This is actually what I am doing.” So I felt like she didn’t go from ignorance to all of a sudden, off screen, him telling her everything.
TVLINE | Will we see more of them in Season 3?
We love them. And we’re committed to them. And they are committed to us. I would say it’s likely we’ll see them one way or another.
TVLINE | Will Bill’s secret that he sabotaged the CBS story continue to haunt him next season? Will it be like a ticking time bomb between him and Virginia?
Michael Sheen and I had a very long discussion about this. It all depends upon what we decide to do [in terms of a time jump] when we come back [in Season 3]. We have this sort of odd burden, or you can call it an opportunity, which is that there are milestones that we need to hit. And they need to actually be at the date that they happened in real life. There are these great turning points in their lives and their careers that are looming, and we have to be faithful to when it happened in history. So we’re going to have to [incorporate] some time jumps again.
TVLINE | Ethan popping up was another surprise. Will we see that rivalry between him and Virginia-Bill play out?
That remains to be seen. But we loved bringing him back. And we love him. So he may [reappear].
TVLINE | Why didn’t Virginia fight harder to keep her kids?
That is not the end of the story at all. It is the beginning of the story, in fact. Her relationship to her children, to the notion of marriage, to creating some sort of functional family unit, is just beginning. Also, she deluded herself into thinking it was just a temporary thing.
TVLINE | Let’s talk about Libby. I kind of loathed her at the beginning of the season, but now I think she’s one of the most fascinating and sympathetic characters on the show. Caitlin FitzGerald really rose to the occasion.
Isn’t she just amazing?
TVLINE | Yes. Her speech last week was stunning.
I felt the same way. I would sit there in [the] editing [room] and look at her and go, “God, she is literally just the most perfect creature on earth.” Personally I adore her, but she’s also grown into this really complicated and interesting actress.
TVLINE | How long has Libby known about Bill and Virginia’s affair? Was it just a suspicion that suddenly clicked when she watched the two of them being interviewed by the CBS crew?
That was part of it. There was a very willful desire to ignore this for a long time that slowly, slowly, slowly bubbled up to the surface. And one of the things that allowed it to bubble up to the surface was realizing that she was going to act on her own needs [with Robert]; something was awakening in her. And once that happened it was easier for her to look at the whole package and go, “What is really happening here?”
TVLINE | Why does Robert bring out the strength and daring in Libby that Bill never did? Is it because he actually appreciates those sides of her?
Because he’s paying attention to her. He’s looking at her in a way that her husband does not. He is actually evaluating her, judging her — not kindly sometimes. And he’s not afraid of her sexually. Someone is seeing her and looking at her.
TVLINE | Will we see that relationship evolve in Season 3?
That’s something I’m really thinking about right now. I don’t know the form that that’s going to take. We love [Jocko Sims]. We just keep casting these people and going, “Oh, no, we can’t get rid of him!” We’re going to end up with 200 regulars by the time [the show ends].
TVLINE | For what it’s worth, I want to see more of that relationship.
Yeah? Good. I love hearing that feedback, because I’m in a little bit of a bubble here. I also think they’re really compelling.
TVLINE | Betty had a lot to do in the beginning of the season, but then she just ended up answering phones. Will she remain part of this world moving forward?
Absolutely. She was supposed to be in our pilot and nothing else and look what happened.
TVLINE | Will Sarah Silverman return as her unrequited love Helen?
Yes. I really think she will. She’s a busy woman, so we [will] have scheduling issues, but she was a delight and wonderful, and the two of them couldn’t have hit it off better.
TVLINE | The Austin-Flo subplot pretty much existed on its own island. What was it about that storyline that you felt it could stand on its own, separate from the rest of the show?
It was a tricky year [because] everybody fled Maternity Hospital and Austin was left behind. And we had a real story issue of, ‘How do we keep him connected to our gang?’ We thought, thematically, there was something really interesting bubbling here [with Flo and the diet pills], and then you [incorporate] a man whose objectification of women is sort of his M.O… There were a couple scenes that had to drop by the wayside because of time where Austin comes to Virginia and says, “What the hell is she doing? How could she make such an outrageous demand that my sexual favors are a condition of my employment?” And Virginia says, “Where have you been? Don’t you realize this goes on all the time?” So some of the connective tissue between Austin and our people got left behind, sadly.
TVLINE | I miss the Lillian-Virginia bond. I was hoping Lillian would miraculously be cured of her cancer.
So were we. [Laughs] We [saw] how fantastic she was on the show and we had this horrible realization that we had given her Stage 4 cancer. Why did we do that? [Laughs] We didn’t anticipate how much we could do with Julianne [Nicholson] until it was too late; we’d already put the curse on her. I share your sadness over Lillian.
TVLINE | I love Lester and Barb. They were in your closing scene — is that a sign that their story will continue?
We don’t really know. I think Lester is pretty firmly entrenched as one of the office regulars. And we love Betsy — love her. It was a fluke how we got her to do the role of the secretary, because it was Betsy Brandt. And then the press got wind of it and they were like, “Oh my God, you have Betsy Brandt?!” And I felt like saying, “Oh, you have no idea how small this role is.” But then I thought that it was silly [to not make better use of her], and that’s how the whole idea of bringing her back came about.