“God may have created heaven and earth, but he’s not an obstetrician.”
I dunno, Dr. Masters. This God sounds like he’s got a pretty impressive résumé.
Episode 5 of Masters of Sex delivers on many points: it continues the balancing act of drama and humor without getting overtly silly with its subject matter, has payoffs for major characters and, like the episodes before it, asks and answers questions about self-reliance and how much power a person has.
It builds upon previous themes and adds to them with some extra layers of tragedy, but still sets up moments that will have a greater payoff as the season continues. Much like “Standard Deviation” two episodes before it, “Catherine” shows the actors in top form and delivers a quality episode.
The episode begins on a naked Lizzy Caplan. Though she’s in a bubble bath, so the thrill is gone before it can begin. But hey, Virginia Johnson gets a few moments of peace before she’s interrupted by her kids. Turns out George wasn’t a fan of giving lectures at school, so he dropped them off early. Too bad for Henry, however, since he lets his mother know that a weekend with his father is better than a million years. All right…
At the hospital, rather than getting the pregnant woman of the week, we get a couple this time. The couple has tried many times to procreate, despite the woman being unfamiliar with her cycle. They have slept together, but have not slept together. It feels like it’s there just to give Bill something to do early on in the episode, as the case has been so far, but his line about God not being an obstetrician speaks to how much Bill seeks to educate people like these two about the nature of sex. As powerful as God may be, surely he cannot do everything, right?
Well, God isn’t the one checking in on Libby Masters, either. Her time is still spent with Dr. Haas as well as Mama Masters, who comes to take Libby away to the nursery. It’s very brief, but as Bill watches his wife and mother walk off, there’s a slight smile on his face, as if he’s at peace with the fact that his wife is happy.
Other happy folks include the subjects, as Masters and Johnson have come upon their 200th test. Two hundred times watching people go from excitement to plateau to orgasm to resolution and it’s time for a change of pace. Couples. Masters is against the idea since it would not be a controlled study and there’s no quantifiable way to measure their love. In comes Virginia Johnson with the practical response that you can’t quantify love. It’s not some statistic or random number. When two people climax together, it’s because they love each other.
But two people climaxing together is apparently as rare as Haley’s Comet.
With this new approach, we finally return to Dr. Austin Langham, played by Teddy Sears, from the pilot. For the good of science and to be pioneers on the front line, he’s more than willing to hop back in the sack with Jane Martin, played by Helene Yorke, and reconnect the brief spark we saw in the first episode. I like the continuity here and as we’ve seen this pair work well before, it doesn’t come out of left field that Masters and Johnson would consider the two of them for the study.
Well, not really, as it turns out that Langham is instead being paired with a random woman, better known as subject F-102. She gets handy and tries to jack him off, but Mr. Winky downstairs is fast asleep, not rising to the occasion, as subject F-102 puts it. Langham tries to work himself up- after all, who better to know how to do it than us, guys? Am I right?- but to no avail. Better luck next time.
And speaking of luck, Dr. Haas finds himself on a proper dinner date with Vivian. After a brief meeting with Scully, who knows the bare minimum about Haas and his daughter, Haas wants to do things the right way, as in no pouring whiskey on Vivian’s breasts. Fearful that she will rat him out, Haas wants her to stay quiet, calling his behavior a lapse in judgment. Vivian doesn’t see it that way. In fact, in this scene, Vivian has become one of my favorite female characters through her conversation with Haas. She’s not interested in settling down now when she has so much ahead of her. Why can’t she have a casual relationship, full of fun, daring adventures, and that feeling of easiness?
From there, we go straight to the bedroom and probably one of the more realistic sex scenes on Masters of Sex as we get some close-ups of both Haas’ and Vivian’s faces during coitus. It’s stark, lacks any of the humor in these scenes we’re used to and we see the pained expression on Vivian’s face. Awkward, yet Vivian has no problem with Haas doing what he’s doing. That is, until they look down and they’re both seeing red.
That evening, Virginia arrives home and finds Henry watching television way past his bedtime. But he doesn’t care since his mother spends all of her time at work, anyway. And he’s ready to move in with George.
All right, where did this come from? I’ll touch more on this later, but for now, Virginia promises that one upcoming night after work, she’ll go out with Henry and Tessa on the ferris wheel and take them out to dinner.
These types of promises usually don’t end well in any film or television show.
Back at Casa Masters, Libby finds Bill sleepwalking again, this time he’s packing clothes for a person and a baby. That morning, Libby reminds Bill that he hasn’t had a check up in ages, so there’s no clear way of knowing what’s triggering the sleepwalking. Mama Masters arrives to take Libby shopping for paternity clothes and, in an act that gives Libby more excitement, begins to ask about potential baby names for their child.
Haas, meanwhile, is bearing his soul to Jane. From his point of view, Vivian forced herself onto him, never mind the fact that she’s still younger than he is. Either way, he’s screwed himself into a corner. Deflowering the provost’s daughter is one thing, but deflowering her at all, to Haas, means that a man is now stuck to the woman. You break it, you buy it, so now they’re destined to be together forever out of obligation. Jane’s solution: yellow flowers. After all, they mean friendship, so he better buy a dozen.
Back to Dr. Langham, who is livid about not being told that he would be paired with someone besides Jane for the test. In Langham’s mind, Jane will only sleep with him if it’s for the good of science. So when the two finally are paired together, Langham’s little guy gets stage fright again. Despite the attraction factor being there, Langham is not adhering to any patterns observed by Masters and Johnson. And so, when the study is forced to end, Langham is left to wonder why his dick won’t work.
To the hospital we go as Bill, now back in clinical doctor mode, struggles to find
a heartbeat. When she’s told to rest, Libby insists that Bill remain by her side, but he cannot. Charts and the like take up priority.
But wait, there’s always Virginia, whose leaving work with her two kids in tow for the promised ferris wheel and time well spent together.
Naturally, Virginia rushes to Libby’s side while Bill berates Haas for whatever he might have missed. Haas, however, reminds Bill that he always had the choice to be his wife’s doctor himself, regardless of what kind of protocol he may have violated.
Henry, none too pleased about his mother yet again not being there for him, wanders
off. Haas spots him before he gets too far and the two bond over why dads are great and why moms suck. Cute, but it at least gets Henry back into the hospital and lets him get all his anger out to someone besides a family member.
After Haas brings Henry back and the kids fall asleep, Virginia grows increasingly upset about the lack of control she’s having in her life: her best is not enough, and worse still, George would never accept Tessa and Henry because he was not the one who wanted children. Haas, in a tender moment, consoles her, telling her that she’s not a bad mother. He even offers to take the kids off her hands for a day, not because he wants to reconnect, but because he wants to. After all, Haas is comfortable with his girlfriend that forces herself onto him.
Back to the pregnant woman of the hour, Libby pleads that Bill stay with her. More than that, time to lay off the clinical doctor talk and treat her like his wife instead of a patient. Bill, somewhat shaken, refuses to let this shake his composure, but complies. During the operation, Bill removes the still body of what would have been their child. It was a girl.
At Casa Masters, Bill’s mother lets him know that his ordeals are far from over. Her attempts to comfort him are rejected as Bill, still holding onto what seem like years of anger, speaks of how this sickness in his family spills over everything and everyone. His mother still has her head in the clouds, and he’s just a chip off the old block.
The next day, Masters runs into Scully, who offers his condolences. Masters takes it with somewhat cold disregard, but Scully attempts to lighten the situation by offering a hug, except that it could easily be misconstrued.
Bill is done with children, and he lets Libby know this when he comes to pick her up. They have each other, which is all they need. Libby leaves without saying a word or taking his hand.
Back to work it is, as Masters heads back to work. He wants the couples to be completely anonymous, but Johnson still sees the attraction as a factor. Noticing that Bill is not discussing the loss of his child, Virginia forces her way in, telling Bill that he’s fallible and cannot prevent problems. He’s no god and science cannot make everything right.
Masters concedes that he had mixed feelings on being a father, but now, after seeing Libby go through all of that pain, their loss, he’s at an actual loss for words. And, in what could be seen as Michael Sheen’s Emmy nominated scene, William Masters lets out an anguished cry from what feel like days upon days of pent up emotion.
“Catherine” is a very powerful episode that shows a lot of the cast at their lowest points. However, rather than milk some moments for easy drama, this episode delivers great performances and deals with tragedy and loss in many forms.
As with previous episodes, one constant we see is how much people wish to remain in control. When things seemingly go their way, a wrench in the plan throws everything and everyone off. They’re dependent on things happening as they see them, never mind random variables life will inevitably throw their way.
Bill Masters, through his clinical doctor talk, conversations with Virginia Johnson and declaration of having no more children, is, more than most previous episodes, is a man who does not know how to react when he loses control. His emotional response at episode’s end comes in response to a loss, not a desire. Bill’s been able to handle most situations, but as Johnson points out, even he cannot do everything and he should not take blame for something out of his hands. After all, he told the couple near the beginning of the episode that God may have created the Heaven and the Earth, but he’s no obstetrician. Fitting that a man with a God-complex is brought crashing down to Earth by the loss of something that gave his wife actual happiness. Bill has power, but he is a man hampered down by his insecurities and inability to let people in. Remember, he couldn’t even articulate his wife’s miscarriage to her without speaking like a doctor instead of husband.
Losses can change a person and Bill seems to shut down most of his emotions due to the lost of his child. We’re told by Mama Masters that when his father died, Bill closed himself off and fell apart. Through his sleepwalking, the near loss of the study, memories of his childhood brought upon by the arrival of his mother and now the loss of his would-be daughter are all moments that are building up to something more than the cathartic reaction we witnessed.
Bill walks through his days with a mask, a mask he refuses to let down for fear of showing his vulnerability. Yet things like sleepwalking have led him to unconsciously lower his defenses, showing that he does have a heart. After all, we saw much of that fruitful optimism within Bill Masters when we flashed back to his early days during “Standard Deviation.” Yet here, with him practically begging Virginia Johnson to close her eyes so she doesn’t see him cry, we see a man coming to terms with the fact that he cannot control every variable. Bill’s reaction feels all the more real because him telling Virginia that he was mixed on the possibility of having a child showed his fear. Think back to when Bill asked Virginia how she managed to be a good parent, with her unsure if she even was. That fear and uncertainty could be Bill wanting to close the door on an uninvited guest who had not managed to make it into the world yet.
And yet the professional side of Dr. Masters often refuses to let others in. His reluctance to treat his own wife like his wife instead of talking to her like a subject in a test tube shows us that Masters is a man whose still not ready to put emotions at the forefront, even more so when dealing with his wife. Before, Masters could pass Libby onto Dr. Haas for the examinations, but here, Libby has to beg Bill to join her in the operating room so they can at least lose the child together. It shows the toll this marriage has on both Bill and Libby, and given the real life circumstances of these two, we know how this will inevitably end. Though, much like Betty’s operation during “Standard Deviation,” we see that Masters can and will step forward and overcome his insecurities when performing an operation, as witnessed when he insists to one of the aides that he perform on his wife instead of letting someone else do it for him. Nice moment and is believably handled. As are the confrontations between Masters and his mother, as his restrained anger just hints at rage burning within Masters for years.
Virginia Johnson experiences a lack of control as well, through her son. While it may make sense for Henry to opt for the more ‘fun’ parent, his anger at his mother, for me, comes out of left field. Remember, when we first met Henry, he was a quiet, introverted child who was into comic books. This is the kind of kid who you’d expect to keep to himself in class and would never in his life get laid.
Crap. What if Henry is me?
All right, moving on, I don’t feel Henry’s acting out was accurate with what we’ve seen from him so far. He never came off resenting his mother or wishing he lived with his father until now. Virginia is doing the best that she can on her own steam and despite how stressful that’s proven to be, it seems to be the path she wants to follow. Remember, Betty explained that the only way for a woman to get ahead in life is to hitch her wagon to a man. Yet Virginia had such respect and admiration for someone like Dr. DePaul, who managed to make it on her own steam, that it makes sense that Virginia would continue working long hours and making sacrifices just so she could make something of herself without being anchored down by a man.
This is why a lot of these individual moments work great as standalone scenes, but watching them in retrospect shows how much these episodes set up for later moments. Had there been scenes planted early with Henry talking about using a zap gun on Virginia, it’d have made more sense, but here, it just feels like easy drama. Even more so when it’s telegraphed that Virginia not only won’t be able to keep her promise to her kids, but that something work related would keep her from spending more time with them, which it did.
Adding to that, Virginia having a challenging time balancing home and work is something we know already, so it’s familiar territory, but having Henry want to leave her altogether gives it this extra added punch. Virginia is struggling, but she’s not about to buckle and hitch a ride to a man just to make things easy. She’s not in this for an easy ride, as she wants to provide for her family on her terms. It would just take her being more assertive. We’ve seen this side of her already when she argued with George about letting the children watch television on a school night, so we know there’s a tough mother within this liberated woman. She just needs to be more proactive. We can only see Masters of Sex play up how hard Virginia’s life is before it gets too repetitive.
Though I find Virginia’s subplot weak in this episode, it did open the door for Ethan Haas to come in and be the friend, the shoulder- or hanky, rather- to cry on. He’s opened the door to giving Virginia the friendship she originally wanted in the pilot and could give Henry and Tessa a father-like figure until George returns.
But then Haas goes and blows it through his actions with Vivian. The whiskey on her breasts was one thing, but now that he’s deflowered her, she has him shackled to her forever? Though I find these situations humorous, Haas seems less interested in settling down as much as he just wants a woman to give him the time of day since Virginia is preoccupied. Now that he has that, he fears he’s under her control. She’s a girl who wanted to have fun, but then she’s completely devoted to him. Love is a funny game, indeed. Speaking of the Scully clan, I am glad that Scully’s secret from “Standard Deviation” is touched upon, but not dragged out for unnecessary tension between Scully and Masters. The secret is out between the two of them and it’s unsure now what repercussions there will be, but I appreciate that it’s just acknowledged and not played up for drama.
Allison Janney as Margaret Scully is great with what little dialogue she’s given. She reveals to other women at the dinner party that she, in fact, was the one who pursued Scully. She explains that men don’t know what they want, so that’s why they have wives to tell them. You have to make men love you.
Which may be why Mina Thorne mostly does domination material. And I don’t expect to stop referencing adult film stars when discussing this show.
In fact, many of the women are used to great effect and I’d argue they command the show outside of Dr. Masters. Jane Martin is here as Langham’s experimental partner, but she’s also the ear that hears Haas go on about Vivian. However, she wonders why it is scientifically impossible for a man to put himself in a woman’s shoes for even one second.
Probably because we can’t rock the heels as well as you can, Jane, but I digress. She doesn’t just exist as a sex partner, she’s used effectively to try and help Haas’ dilemma. I like the writers making use of two characters that we barely got to know in the pilot, so they feel more fleshed out here.
Well, not so much fleshed out for Dr. Langham and his apparent erectile dysfunction. It was the comedic moment of the show, to be sure, and while it felt a bit out of place in the timeframe of this show, Langham screaming “Why won’t my dick work?” did add for some needed comedy amidst all the drama.
Then there’s Libby Masters herself, who Caitlin Fitzgerald continues to play with this charm and innocence. Fitzgerald plays the victim well here and I believed her pleas to Bill when she wanted him to remain with her. After all, his announcement of the stillborn came with the amount of vigor as reading a phone book, and to a woman whose just lost a chance at happiness, this is not what Libby needs. And yet despite this, she still managed to walk through most of this show with her head up. She’s looking for paternity clothes and likes watching babies, she helps her husband through his sleepwalking ordeal- Libby has the traits of a dependable, loving wife who got dealt a bad hand.
She’s married to a man that didn’t originally want to be present during her own operation. This leaves me to wonder what it would take for her to become more assertive. I can’t imagine that she’ll just lie down and accept Bill’s proclamation that they will have no more children. Even if it is done to prevent her from going through more pain, Libby’s silence leaves no clear indication how she will react when she’s had time to fully recuperate. Oh, and she’s still calling Bill “Daddy.” I thought we talked about that.
The stillborn is the episode’s highlight and a touching moment when Bill performs the procedure himself. Again, like operating on Betty, he swallows his pride and does his job because, in his mind, it’s the right thing to do. Now if only he thought that clearly as opposed to being cold and calculating with his wife. In response to him thinking up the name “Catherine,” I have an alternate episode title for the writers: “Subtlety.”
“Catherine” shows that there are no easy ways out for the main characters. At this point, I would not say it’s better than “Standard Deviation,” but it is much better than “Thank You for Coming” simply for involving more of the cast and advancing their story arcs. There are a few issues, but they did not detract enough from me enjoying another great installment.