“High Anxiety” builds off of some established ideas in “Surrogates” and continues with them to deliver some very strong scenes that bring out some of the best acting on the season so far. Virginia is back at work to deal with the surrogacy program, Austin’s bad news gets worse, Libby makes a decision, Johnny acts like a dick, Betty is stuck in the middle, there’s something here for everyone. Let’s jump into “High Anxiety.”
The episode begins with Dan and Virginia having girl talk while bathing. Dan has noticed how quiet Virginia was earlier. He’s so used to her sighs and calls for God. He’s also used to being in St. Louis, so he’s trying to find a reason to stay. After all, he’s come close to bottling the smell of sex, but the results are still erratic, with 75 percent of the women not responding.
Until then, Dan still has an understanding with his wife, similar to how George and Virginia have an arrangement. It’s now a question of whether Dan wants to stay in the area, even though nothing may change. He’d like to stay, but doesn’t know if he can.
We follow Virginia home so she can be in her thoughts on her own.
Oh, how’s it going, Bill? Yes, Bill has decided to chill on Virginia’s sofa because he got tired of calling. Virginia’s defense is that she was dropping off her kids. Sure. Bill admits that he’s not himself. He’s here to apologize, as Virginia is still furious at him for starting the surrogacy program behind her back. He admits that he shouldn’t have taken the program and other things into his hands…things that affect Virginia’s kids.
Bill asks for Virginia’s forgiveness, asking her to keep an open mind. He can’t think straight when they’re not together in that way. Virginia senses his remorse and prepares to unzip him, but Bill does not want her to put her mouth on him. Few men would say that. Instead, he wants her upstairs, like always.
Indeed, the two have sex, but Bill is more into this than Virginia, who looks like she just wants it done.
Then, we cut to a cemetery. Joy lost her battle and has passed away. Paul comes to bring some flowers to her grave, when he spots Libby not too far off at Robert’s grave. Well, the cemetery doesn’t look like it’s segregated, so there’s that. Paul is sorry for Libby’s loss, which no one else ever said because no one knew about the affair.
Paul has missed Libby, who is plagued with guilt for betraying Joy. They’ve both suffered, though Libby doesn’t believe that the two found each other. Instead, they exist as crutches. Paul has a new life and Libby already has practice taking care of herself. Despite Paul’s desire to be with her, Libby wants Paul to be with someone else.
At the office, Bill has another confrontation with Ronald, who still has information from the Lord to share. He saves by spreading love, but Bill just sees Ronald’s words as fear and hate. Damnation may be coming for Bill, Ronald says, but that’s when Bill pulls Ronald into the elevator and lets him know that he will feel pain if he steps into the building again. God may have given Ronald information, but Bill has been sent as a warning.
In Lester’s one scene of the episode, he participates in role-play with Nora while embodying Humphrey Bogart. For what reason, I don’t know. Anyway, Bill’s analysis finds that Nora made Lester comfortable, sensed his vulnerabilities, and explored areas of interest.
Next up for Lester is Wendy, played by Bonnie Bower. This time, Lester is Frederick, a transfer from Cape Canaveral. This touches an emotional nerve with Wendy, whose brother is currently in Vietnam. That’s a constant source of worry for both her and her mother.
And this is why Virginia has objections to the surrogacy program: the surrogates themselves are too unknown and unpredictable. Married couples, though, don’t need training since they know each other. Bill, though, considers that a generous assumption, given some of the couples they’ve dealt with in the past. True. Hell, Al and Isabella weren’t that long ago, for example.
Bill still wants to move forward since every phase of their experiments has involved trial and error, and now they must deal with the suffering male. Virginia scoffs at that. She’s all for keeping an open mind, as Bill suggested, but she’s not about to help train volunteers. Instead, she wants to do research that she cares about, and that’s not surrogacy.
Yeah, we’re still talking about the scents. Virginia proposes a placebo effect to Dan, who sees this as nothing more than fake scents. But it’s more than that, Virginia says. We learn that Dan’s most popular selling cologne is called Rake. Men envision themselves as a ladies’ man. To Virginia, the idea changes our behavior. It won’t be fakery, but Dan again points to the fact that one-fourth of the women are not aroused by scent.
Despite that, Virginia sees promise in this. After all, people with dysfunctions believed in a cure for their conditions after hearing about the clinic. So, Dan figures, they’ll continue the study, but tell women that they’re smelling pheromones, which are nature’s own pheromones, and see if the numbers increase. This has the potential to keep Dan in St. Louis.
Bill follows up with Betty about their argument from last week. She’s right. There’s been too much looking the other way that has led to deceit. No more secrets going forward. They just tear people apart! So Betty’s first open admission? Bill needs to modernize his wardrobe.
Ah, but this isn’t Bill just wanting to make a change. He’s talking about how Dan Logan has diverted Virginia’s attention from the true work. He needs to find out what’s really going on with Dan, as he’s jeopardizing the stability of all the time built to get to this point. Or rather, Bill needs Betty to find out. In response, Betty presents a box of trophies. He heads off in a rush.
And heads straight home, where Paul leads the football team in a celebration. But enough about that. Let’s talk about a character named Stephanie, played by Laura Silverman. We’ve never seen her before, but she finds that coaching football has really helped Paul during this time of upheaval. She wants to organize with Joy’s girlfriends to make sure that Paul is well fed, even though he’s looking fine. Yeah, she just wants an excuse to jump his bones.
After all, how long does a widower need to wait? According to Emily Post, Libby says that it’s a year. Stephanie just wants Paul to be happy. Again, we’ve never met this character before, but in the span of on scene, she wants him inside of her. How about that?
So after Paul congratulates Bill on his assistance with coaching, Libby introduces him to Stephanie, who is Jacob’s mother. Stephanie admits that this is all a set-up, but Libby pushes them forward, commenting on their looks and intelligence.
Betty and Helen talk about their potential future daughter while watching I Dream of Jeannie. This viewing is interrupted by the arrival of a disheveled Austin, who announces that he has lost custody of his kids. The judge said that Austin was unfit, which is odd since Austin’s uncle, Lionel, was in the Olympics. Austin strips down, opens a window, and yells to the world that he’s lost it all. He then passes out.
Somehow, I doubt that Elise heard him.
Back at House Masters, Bill sees Dennis sitting outside with his trophy. Dennis, knowing that Bill wrote a book about people’s private parts, needs the doctor’s medical expertise with an issue he’s having. He thinks something’s wrong with him. What’s the issue?
Nocturnal emissions. Or, to be blunt, wet dreams. But Bill tells Dennis that this is all normal. Johnny, jealous little shit that he is, overhears this conversation and throws something at Dennis, all while yelling for him to get out of his home.
Austin enters Betty and Helen’s bedroom. He can’t sleep, so he wants to try sleeping with Betty and Helen. Like hell will that happen. Betty plays babysitter to a depressed Austin as he talks about the things he cherished with his kids: playing Concentration, watching Lost in Space, and such. He’s now just a fuck-up, even if Betty thinks that he was a good doctor a diet pill salesman. But when Austin was with his kids, he could be himself. He figured that having kids would force him to grow up, but the opposite happened.
Dan and Virginia put the placebo plan to work. They inform potential patients about the power human pheromones have to make us attracted to one another. Pheromones don’t smell, but they believes that they’re detected through the nose, travel through another person, and send messages into the brain that grab our sexual attention. It’s pure animal magnetism. Dan and Virginia capture the results as women take in the scents.
Later, Betty brings some invoices that she needs Virginia to sign, as Bill isn’t in yet. However, she soon starts asking about Dan Logan. She admits that Bill is worried about Dan’s effect on Virginia, but she also thinks that Bill feels undone by Dan’s presence.
But Betty isn’t about to put herself in the line of fire. She’s worked hard to earn that desk chair and doesn’t want this operation undone. Virginia assures her that no such thing will happen. Everything is going just fine. She’s just busy going to the next stage of the scent research, which is true. As in Virginia actually has to clarify that this is true.
Following this, Betty takes a phone call from Austin, who can’t find the Frosted Flakes, meaning that Helen probably finished them. Bill enters soon after, thinking that Betty is hiding something, but she’s not and wants no part of this game between Bill and Virginia. She gives Bill some sage advice: trying to control other people isn’t going to work. The only one you can control is yourself. So, Bill asks, there’s no relevant information regarding Dan?
Bill heads straight to Virginia to talk about the scent results. She wants to study the power of suggestion, but Bill wants to know if there’s any reason Virginia insist that Dan Logan remain? She’s making lemonade out of lemons. She reminds him that she didn’t even want Dan Logan as their investor- she wanted Hugh Hefner. But then Virginia found value in Dan’s work. Bill counters that he could make a study far more tailored to their work than a phony sniff test.
But Virginia can’t be forced to work on Bill’s surrogacy program since he started it, against Virginia’s objections. She’s never put his foot down on his interests, so she expects the same consideration from him. After all, this institute bears both of their names, so both their interests can be accommodated.
Then Nora enters to let Bill know that a patient has arrived. This is Jack Coleridge, played by Jerry O’Donnell. He and Nora head off in the elevator. We’ll regroup with these two later.
Later on, Libby picks up some mail when she overhears Paul and Stephanie mingling outside. She goes to Paul after that to let him know that Bill be working late again. As such, she can’t use some ballet tickets, so she gives them to Paul.
She heads home to find Bill drinking to numb how he’s feeling after his trying day. Libby joins in and the two manage to have a casual conversation about how certain people can be so treacherous. Bill refers to Dan as a virus that metastasizes into a cancer, for example. Libby pops Bill a loaded question: how do you get rid of the people you want to get rid of? His response? Redouble your efforts.
The two fail at toasting, but Libby relishes the moment. Why don’t they ever drink together or talk or make love? They’ve been married for a long time, but Libby looks beyond that. If Bill were dying and he had one last moment to look at the things that mattered the most, what would he say about his marriage? That they tried their best.
Betty arrives at home to find a frantic Helen trying to figure out who to call when someone may have taken their life…and then hangs up when she realizes that Betty is home. Rude. Anyway, Austin left a note that says he has nothing to live for and mentions the St. Louis Arch.
Nah, he was just in the bathroom. Somehow, he didn’t hear them. The note was just something he doodled, like a depressed person would. Besides, how would you even climb the arch? However, Austin doesn’t see much of a reason to live right now. He’s lost his wife and now his kids, both of his parents are dead…what’s left for him? He’s nobody’s son, husband, or father.
Helen has something in mind: he helped make a baby. Yup. Helen just got back from the doctor’s and learned that she has a bun in the oven. Now Austin and Helen get to be fathers!
Dan and Virginia go over the numbers. They’ve gone up a bit, but not enough to justify continuing. Virginia talks of marketing a perfume to women: a scent that helps a lady feel more in control and awaken sexually dormant parts. It would certainly go hand in hand with the sexual awakening going on in the world right now. So the research could be tailored to give women power in their lives, but Dan still says that the numbers don’t support this endeavor. His work may be done.
Johnny spots Dennis talking to two girls, who are in the middle of talking about Mrs. Tate. Rather than join in, Johnny blabs all about how Dennis doesn’t know how his penis works and needed to talk to Johnny’s smart father because he’s stupid. Johnny walks off, feeling satisfied, but he doesn’t have a victorious look on his face.
At the office, Bill watches Nora and Jack take part in non-sexual touching. She rubs his arms, then chest. Jack, feeling a bit excited, pleads with Nora to go further down since he may not get another erection. Even though Nora tells him that’s not protocol for the first session, she eventually does give in. I’ve gotta say, I’m not a fan of Jack right here. He’s a bit too pathetic. Lester may be impotent, but he’s not some pleading sap.
Anyway, Bill immediately confronts Nora on crossing a line. You can’t play fast and loose with patients. Nora, wanting to succeed, asks forgiveness for this one mistake. After all, Bill doesn’t understand how hard she’s worked to be a better person. More than that, he doesn’t know how when Nora’s father left, mom told her to pretend that he was still coming home when people asked.
Dad also hit Nora a few times. She thought it was her fault, believing that if she tried harder, maybe bad things wouldn’t happen. This Bill understands, and he tells Nora that even if she had tried, it wouldn’t have made a difference. She knows that now. Nora has a big heart and a lot to give. She rarely goes back to her old self, where she did what people said in fear of them not loving her. That’s not who she is now.
If the situations were reversed, Bill hopes that someone would have given him a second chance. He allows her to stay. With that settled, it’s time for some Chinese.
Libby makes another unannounced stop by Paul’s to drop off some braised chicken. After all, it’s her day on the meal rotation. What does Libby truly want? Paul. She’s sick of pretending. So the two kiss.
Back at the office, Bill and Nora talk over Chinese food. I instantly approve. She doesn’t normally talk about her past, though Bill assures her that a sad childhood isn’t what people discuss. Nora doesn’t even tell her boyfriends. Hell, some of them even ended up like her father, but that’s common. Nora felt it when Bill was angry at her. She felt drawn to him. But, Bill says, it’s good to catch herself now and talk about what’s on her mind.
We finish with Dan and Virginia in bed, with Virginia saying that she’s usually the one who slips out of a party without saying much of anything. Virginia doesn’t go to New York often, but when she does, she promises to look up Bill. Dan assures her that she doesn’t have to worry about New York since he’ll still be coming to St. Louis. He doesn’t care about roads- he came for her. He can’t accept the thought of not seeing her and he’ll come due to the fact that they love each other.
“High Anxiety” continues a lot of the themes and messages from “Surrogates” by introducing the placebo effect: giving characters a dosage of something they think will help them, but ends up being a ruse.
Much like how “Surrogates” had characters swap one thing out for another in their lives, this episode didn’t just deal with a temporary switch, but possibly a complete change of pace altogether. There’s no need to just settle for an alternate reality when you can just accept this different world and keep moving forward.
Now, that’s not the easiest task for some, particularly women during this period, because we’re going to get to a point where we need to rely on others for support. Or to use each other, as Libby puts it, as crutches.
Sure, we’re the masters of our own destinies, but it’s not always as easy as waking up one day and deciding you need a change of scenery. Because life is so unexpected, we can’t prepare for what it can throw at us.
At the same time, you don’t want to find yourself waiting forever to make a move just because you’re uncertain of the outcome. Sometimes, it’s better to take that final step and take a chance. Even if you end up meeting rejection, you’ll find out sooner, rather than later, instead of wasting time and energy speculating on a ‘What if’ scenario.
This is Libby’s dilemma of the week, as she ends up playing matchmaker for Paul and Stephanie, but she doesn’t feel comfortable about this because she still has feelings for him. Stephanie’s introduction feels too convenient. Joy dies off-screen, Paul has been teaching football for quite some time, but this is the first we’re hearing of this new character who feels that Paul is good at coaching. And of course it’s going to help him through this grieving period, but for as long as we’ve known him, Paul has coached football. It shouldn’t be made any more significant or impactful in his life just because his wife died.
In the end, it doesn’t seem like Stephanie will amount to much since Paul and Libby have chosen to continue pursuing their feelings for one another. That already isn’t going to be easy and they’ve acknowledged that. But it appears as if Libby has moved past Robert, even if it took as long as it did to confess how she still felt for him.
Right now, Libby is close to the end of her rope and got confirmation that her marriage with Bill has not amounted to much in his eyes. Sure, she finds value in it, but she’s not being met halfway by her husband. So she’s not going to wait much longer until she decides to pursue happiness.
Bill and Libby’s conversation over drinks is my favorite scene of the episode by far. Not just because of the chemistry between Sheen and Fitzgerald or the mutual dislike for people they don’t like, but the two came off as friends instead of passive-aggressive spouses. Their talk felt genuine and it’s one of the few times they found common ground on an issue that affects them both.
For a second, I saw a glimpse of a loving couple that could laugh and have fun with one another without any strings attached. It’s rare that we see Libby and Bill be this cordial, even though Libby knows that Virginia has replaced her in Bill’s life. The two acknowledge that there’s someone in their lives that they need to get rid of, and chances are they’ll both adopt Bill’s approach of redoubling their efforts.
And for Libby to hear Bill sum up their marriage as nothing more than they tried their best affirms that there’s nothing left for her. This is the moment where Libby needs a change of pace because she has little to gain from this loveless marriage. She has to exert control over her situation and put herself in a position where she can be happy. Or, at the very least, find someone who makes her happy.
By the way, can I just say that Caitlin Fitzgerald looks extra gorgeous this week?
Anyway, Libby needs the control that Virginia speaks of when she tells Dan about the placebo effect. And that’s Virginia’s plot of the week, as she creates a new scenario that she hopes will keep Dan Logan in St. Louis. Instead of being one of those women taking control of their lives, Virginia is scrambling just to have control by finding ways to keep Dan in the area.
But she can’t because she doesn’t have the numbers to back up her theory. And yet, as Virginia stated to Bill, she’s in this scenario because of him. If Bill had backed Betty and Virginia’s option of Hugh Hefner, Dan Logan would never have become a factor in the study and there’d be no conflict from Bill. But Bill’s arrogance ended up working in Virginia’s favor, so she’s making the best of this situation.
However, Virginia can’t keep this going forever, and she knows it. While there’s some conviction when she describes the placebo effect to Dan, part of her knows that it won’t produce the desired results they need. So long as it keeps Dan around, she’s content.
And unlike Bill, Dan isn’t interested in controlling Virginia. Virginia sees a lot in Dan what she would like to see in Bill: balance. Bill is rigid and unmoving except when he feels the need to be remorseful, as evidenced in the scene at Virginia’s house when he begs her to keep an open mind and apologizes for going forward with the program. But Virginia has lost a lot due to Bill’s actions, so it’s only fair that she give him a taste of his own medicine.
Virginia has exercised control over Bill before, but more often that’s involved the sexual scenarios. When it comes to the work, sure Bill and Virginia clash and still work together, but a lot of the bigger decisions have been made by Bill. And Virginia was right to bring attention to the fact that both their names are on the institute. Their names are also both on the very study that brought them to this point. Virginia has toiled hard to get here and it’s more than time that Bill start giving her more flexibility and not throw a fit when they disagree.
So when Bill opens his heart to Virginia and expresses his desire to make love to her in a bed like they used to, it doesn’t feel genuine because not long after that, he’s enlisting Betty to gather intel because he can’t be bothered to talk to Virginia himself…at first, anyway.
Bill must always be in control of a situation where he feels the odds are in his favor, which would explain why he’s so nonchalant about how his marriage hasn’t amounted anything memorable in his mind. He doesn’t realize that his wife wants to be rid of him or that his son is becoming a mirror image of him.
Actually, a quick aside, let’s talk about the kids for a moment. It was established earlier that Bill has softened to Dennis, and I like how he didn’t even berate Dennis for not knowing how to deal with his issue. It felt very much like a genuine father-son moment, until you remember that these two aren’t related.
Johnny, meanwhile, steps into his father’s shoes and uses some of the same language that Bill used to get back at Dennis for beating up Johnny. Johnny is like a middle child. Or the youngest of two siblings. He sees someone else receiving all the love and attention that he craves, so he lashes out just to make himself feel smug and superior. But despite Johnny making Dennis look bad, he looks like a jackass himself because his anger comes from jealousy. And you can tell once he’s done ranting that he’s not proud of what he’s done.
But back to Bill. During “Surrogates,” Nora ended up taking Virginia’s spot and that idea continues here, despite Virginia being back at work. But instead of just being a second Virginia, Nora shares a lot in common with Bill not just her education, but her personal life. Bill and Nora had similar upbringings with abusive fathers and both of them wanted to say things that made them happy.
Nora finds herself at odds with wanting to help Jack, and she does, but only because she doesn’t want to let him down. I get that, but this situation didn’t need to go down this way, I feel. Bill knows that this is against protocol and I’m not against him lashing out at Nora for crossing a line. That’s just how these sessions work. But either Bill just waited to see how Nora would respond on her own or he didn’t interfere when he could have done so. Really, I think Nora should have just left Jack alone instead of trying to satisfy him.
Instead of trying to make Jack happy or change him by going out of order, she could have stuck to the scenario. But Jack just seemed so…desperate and pathetic. His face even looked pathetic. He’s the kind of man who can’t be bothered to help himself.
At least when Kitty tried to help Lester last season, he eventually stopped talking and let her work her magic.
The final two scenes between Bill and Nora built upon the acquaintanceship that had been re-established in “Surrogates.” Truth is, Bill really doesn’t know much about Nora, but not only is she opening up, she’s revealed a key piece of herself that parallels Bill’s troubled past. It’s a slow, but strong way to build their bond and Kinney’s performance when she discusses her troubled past is nothing short of stellar.
Kinney also apparently has a very small rack, but’s move on.
In the middle of all this is Betty, who has to put out multiple fires. She’s not backing down from her statement about looking the other way, and she’s also not about to become the middle party to not just Bill and Virginia’s bickering, but dealing with Austin and Helen. Her line about controlling yourself instead of other people was too telling, but at least it didn’t lead to Bill having some sort of epiphany since he was laser focused on Virginia. It just felt blatant.
It now really feels like the authors have almost run out of things to do with Austin. He’s a shell of the much more confident, albeit womanizer, man he was two seasons prior. Sure, Austin’s life wasn’t perfect, but he still had a wife and kids. But despite knowing how to be himself with his children, it appears that he didn’t truly appreciate what he had until it was taken from him.
Now he wallows in self-pity because there’s nothing left for him. His current occupation isn’t going as well as he wanted, so even work isn’t an escape for him. Like Betty when she concocted the idea of going to Austin in the first place, he’s in a desperate state of affairs and is on the verge of taking that final step. What he needs is a swift kick to the ass to give him purpose, which came in the form of Helen’s pregnancy.
By the way, Helen really jumped the gun on Austin’s note. So she gets in maybe a few moments before Betty and finds Austin’s note, but her first instinct is to call emergency services on the phone. Why not at least check around the place to make sure Austin is there? It’s not like he has many places to go since he’s still stewing in depression. But yes, Helen is pregnant, so hopefully this takes Austin out of his funk. Also, it’s not needed, but part of me does hope that Elise makes an appearance this season, even if it’s brief.
That said, I’d gladly watch a spin-off of nothing but the misadventures of Betty, Helen, and Austin. I did get a laugh out of Helen and Betty flipping out over Austin’s suicide note, only for Austin to walk out of the bathroom, very nonchalant, as if nothing happened.
“High Anxiety” is a pretty good episode and follow-up to “Surrogates.” It continues the themes and messages of swapping out one aspect of your life for another, but takes it further with characters like Libby deciding, through Bill’s advice, to redouble their efforts to get what they want that shall make them happy. For Libby, that’s not Bill Masters, but Paul.
In addition, Dan and Virginia’s relationship is on the verge of ending while Bill and Nora’s friendship continues to grow. At the end of the day, with so many relationships fractured or on the verge of cracking, to paraphrase what Stephanie said to Libby: how long must one wait before going after what will make them happy again?