“She’s not shy. She tells me how fast to go, how long to stay in a certain spot. Is this the kind of stuff you want to hear?”
Four episodes in on a show about sex, I think we’re good talking about that kind of stuff.
After last week’s well done “Standard Deviation,” Episode 4, “Thank You For Coming,” delves more into the characters of William Masters and Virginia Johnson and show us their lives at home, with their families. The more human side of Dr. Masters we saw last time gets some more development with the arrival of Masters’ mother, Johnson gets a visitor, and we learn that Johnson’s daughter is not a fan of any man who gives shots. Who knew?
The episode begins with an unnamed man answering Dr. Masters’ questions about sexual positions and his love life. He does have a name, but we’ll return to that later.
As Masters told Johnson at the end of the last episode, the study was to resume at the hospital. Now the two need participants who are willing to hook themselves up and masturbate in order to measure their reactions. Masters falls into the clinical, doctor talk when describing the study, whereas Johnson is more upfront and practical. It’s nice to see how Johnson seems more like an actual partner during this scene as opposed to playing second fiddle.
Following this, we see more of Johnson’s home life when she has an encounter with her ex-husband, George. Just out of the blue, George is looking for a place to crash due to being behind on his rent and still owing his landlord money. Not to mention losing his job. And his car was almost repossessed. George, however, sees this as an opportunity to be a free spirit and explore.
However, it’s here that Johnson pulls some role reversal and becomes the strict disciplinarian, chastening George for letting the kids watch television on a school night. After all, we’ve seen how complicated a single mother’s home life can be, now her ex shows up looking for a place to stay? For as liberated as Johnson can be compared to Masters, she carries some of his strictness at home, though it at least does show she’s a good mother.
Libby, meanwhile, is beginning to show signs of her pregnancy. Dr. Masters is also showing signs, too, as Libby discovers when she’s awoken by the sound of the television and finds Bill in the middle of the living room. Bill’s sleepwalking shows a moment of vulnerability. Above all else, one thing Bill is interested in is maintaining control, yet here, Libby is in control, helping bring her husband back to reality. But since Libby is with child, let’s get Bill some more assistance in the form of a visit from his mother, played by Ann Dowd.
Dr. Haas gets some screen time as we see him struggle to make acquaintances with the nurses and lunch ladies at the hospital- women he’s either brushed aside already or forgotten about. When the woman serving you food doesn’t slap all of your serving onto your plate, you’ve screwed up.
Luckily, Haas does get the attention of a pretty young volunteer named Vivian, played by Rose McIver, who remembers that Haas danced with her when she was 16. While it’s nice that Haas may have found a keeper for the time being, it’s not so nice when we learn that Vivian is Scully’s daughter. But at least she’s turning 19 soon, so Haas can play ball.
Betty’s not around in this episode, and no Mae Whitman either, but we do get another moment between Dr. Masters and a patient with a foreign woman whose about to give birth to her second child. However, that’s the cutoff for her. She requests that Dr. Masters perform a tubal ligation so she’s unable to produce another child on the grounds that she cannot afford to take care of a third.
But Masters cannot perform such a procedure without the husband’s consent. Masters, seeing some of the fear in the woman’s eyes upon bringing up a husband, levels with the woman and is well aware that this operation is less about money and more about trouble at home. As the woman explains, having a third child would tie her to her husband forever. Alas, Masters says he is unable to help her.
Haas gets his one-on-one with Libby and goes on about Virginia Johnson again, this time using an analogy from The Wizard of Oz. For the longest time, Haas walked through life without a clue in a world without life or bloom. After meeting Virginia, color has entered his life and he feels he has purpose. With that affair over and done, Haas is stuck back in Kansas. And, after all, once you’ve seen Oz, who wants to go back to Kansas? Well, maybe Judy Garland and Ray Bolger do, but that’s beside the point.
Masters has received another participant for his study: Mr. Walter McAddy, the alias that Virginia’s husband uses to enroll. We resume our regularly scheduled sexual adventures with the men and women being instructed to touch themselves as they would when they are alone. Whether for facial expressions, reaching the plateau phase, seeing how soon their toes curl, the withdrawal of the clitoral shaft or reaching the orgasmic phase, Masters and Johnson watch with curious observation as their participants pleasure themselves for the sake of science.
Back at home, Masters and Mama Masters make an attempt at bonding when Bill learns that his mother now drinks. But more than that, with a baby on the way, Mama Masters should make herself available. As in very soon. She and Libby are keen to the idea of her moving to St. Louis, at least close enough so she can help out. Before Bill can even try to get that idea out of everyone’s head, the conversation shifts to the planned dinner party they’re he and Libby are having that evening. In an attempt to play matchmaker, Libby has invited both Virginia and Dr. Haas.
However, as it turns out, Virginia’s daughter is smart enough to pick up on Dr. Haas and immediately does not like him. Not because of his demeanor, but because he gives shots. After all, those pointy needles can sting, don’t you know? Haas’ attempts to reconnect with Johnson are met with her rejecting his advances, despite the fact that he did not plan to attend the party until Libby asked him.
Bill and the rest of the guests get a taste of Bill’s life as a child through Mama Masters’ stories. You know, those stories you wish your own mother would avoid telling to a group of people outside of your own family? Well, turns out Bill campaigned for long pants in his youth. So much that he took a sewing machine to a pair, proving that he was born to operate, even when young.
It gets a laugh out of the guests, but Bill is anything but pleased. His temper is not placated when the toilet overflows due to whatever Johnson’s son did when in the facilities. We see a brief flash of unrestrained anger as Masters orders the children out while he tries to fix the mess. And to prevent any further sidetracking or funny business, he offers to drive Virginia and her children home, rather than leave them in the hands of an intoxicated Dr. Haas.
Masters and Johnson have a brief conversation about the perils of childhood. Masters, having observed Johnson, wonders how she managed to get so good at it, but Johnson is less sure that she even qualifies as a good parent. Granted, she’s a hell of a better parent than her squatting ex-husband, and she makes that known when she returns home.
Haas, having lost another opportunity with Johnson, runs into Vivian, who happened to be out and about to return a book he let her borrow. Despite his inebriated state, he managed to invite her into his home and continues to go on about Johnson, unable to let her go even for a moment. The awkwardness is cranked up to infinity as Vivian removes her shirt and bra, with Haas taking an opportunity to play out a fantasy of him pouring whiskey onto a woman’s breasts. Luckily, before this can become even more awkward, he’s called into the hospital for a surgery.
The next day, Mama Masters speaks of her sister, Darlene, and how she just had to get away from her for awhile. In a sense, it’s given her a chance to be independent, spread her own wings and become self-sufficient. She’s a risk taker now and makes spur of the moment decisions. Bill, with icy disregard, comments on how pleased he is, but it’s clear that he’s holding back resentment.
Bill is then also called into the hospital and we’re treated to a brief flashback where Mama Masters, overhearing her husband beat Bill, drowns them out with music from the radio. Back to the present, Masters operates on the foreign woman from earlier and delivers her child. However, he then happens to notice some excess bleeding and orders her tubes tied in order to stem it.
After the birth, the woman’s husband is overjoyed at his second son. He’s even more ecstatic about the idea of a third or fourth child, maybe even a girl, but a brief glance between Masters and the woman say otherwise.
Johnson goes to Masters and admits that Walter McAddy is her husband, explaining that it could compromise the integrity of the study. Masters, surprisingly, does not object. Instead, he goes back to review the files of Mr. McAddy and calls him in for a special session of question and answer. With Johnson not present, Masters disguises this as an attempt to garner responses that could be inhibited by the presence of a woman. With this one-on-one session, we return to the man answering questions at the beginning of the episode, who is, in fact, George Johnson, played by Mather Zickel.
He speaks of Virginia as a sort of liberated sexual goddess. She knows herself, knows what feels good and wants you to tell her what feels good. She’s magic. She’s her own woman.
She is Lizzy Caplan.
“Thank You For Coming” is, to me, not as strong an episode as “Standard Deviation,” but it does, again, let us glimpse into the life of William Masters before wanting to study sex, as well as give Virginia Johnson a chance to show how confident and competent she is as a mother. The episode focused mostly on the trio of Masters, Johnson and Haas, with Scully’s screen time going to his daughter.
I’ll admit that seeing the study return the hospital was a letdown, if only for the fact that we’re no longer at the brothel. The women at the brothel added a dose of extra humor to the sex study and that location changed things up from the sterile hospital. Now that we’re back where the study first began, it would seem as if there’s no more need, but I do hope we haven’t seen the last of the brothel and the prostitutes.
There’s no good way to word that sentence.
The writers manage to build on Masters’ past through the introduction of his mother, who is a welcome addition to the cast. Through William’s scenes with his mother, it’s clear that he holds some anger or resentment toward her and it’s seen in brief flashes. We have seen Bill be manipulative, cold and frustrated, but he managed to keep it contained.
Here, particularly after his mother shares his childhood stories and the children make a mess in the bathroom, we see that Bill, as Libby points out, is always on edge. It could be the idea of having a baby, the study, or his feelings for Johnson, but it’s evident that M
asters is building to something bigger to happen further on in the season. I appreciate the writers taking the time to space out Bill’s past rather than condense all of the flashbacks in one episode. With Scully, we got to see the spark that led Bill wanting to study sex, but with his mother, we see his vulnerable side. It’s still not a clear explanation how he went from being open and optimistic to being cold and clinical because his father abused him, though.
Virginia Johnson, meanwhile, is another mixed bag for me. Sure, it’s great that we get to see her stand up to her husband, but his presence tells us nothing new about her. Yes, she’s sexually active and explorative compared to other women at the hospital. This is information we learned through her tryst with Haas in the pilot.
However, her scene with Masters during the car ride home is telling, where even she does not know whether she qualifies as a good mother. While trying to be taken seriously at work, she’s now out to prove that same confidence to her husband, who insists on being around to babysit his own children.
Also, while George may believe that Virginia is magic, let’s not ignore the fact that she had to fight off Haas in the first episode and is dealing with her ex and clinical boss right now. Not to mention that her boss pines after her and almost sees her as a subject from the way he listens to her ex husband describe her. She’s no princess, so no need to hold her up to some high standard when she acknowledges her own shortcomings.
Haas, meanwhile, continues down his self-destructive path with a few upswings. The time spent with Vivian does provide him with a glimpse of happiness, but his pining over Virginia shows his inability to move forward to another woman. You’re at a hospital in the 1950s! Quit whining over one person and get on with your life.
Or at least grow something resembling a spine because his whining grows annoying. After all, he couldn’t even keep his liquor down before going in to operate, compared to the always prepared Masters. One can hope his awkward whiskey on the breasts moment with Vivian doesn’t get back to Scully.
Side-note, Vivian bears a strange resemblance to adult film actress Heather Silk. What? I said slight.
Also, with Masters tying the tubes of the foreign woman, is the show trying to establish a ‘New Mother of the Week’ running theme with its episodes? Because there are only so many ways you can pass off Bill doing a good deed before it runs dry.
Again, “Thank You For Coming” is not as strong an episode as “Standard Deviation,” but, like most first seasons, it continues to plant seeds of character development that, hopefully, will play out by season’s end.
The show’s strength still comes through solid performances juxtaposed with moments of humor that lighten the drama during tense moments. How long will Mama Masters, George and Vivian stick around? No idea, but their presence does expand the world created here and help provide some depth to our main characters. All in all, still a solid episode.
Seriously, though, let’s go back to the brothel.