Review: 'Masters of Sex' - 'Catherine': Thou shalt have no other Gods before me
A review of tonight's "Masters of Sex" — which Showtime recently renewed for a second season — coming up just as soon as I send you a dozen yellow roses...
"I guess there's enough sorrow to go around for us all." -Provost Scully
Early in "Catherine," Bill meets with a naive, religious young couple who know so little about sex that they've taken the phrase "sleeping together" quite literally, and are baffled about why they haven't gotten pregnant yet. They're an extreme example of the kind of people Bill is hoping to educate with the study, but certainly one of his goals is to move beyond the idea of sex as an activity designed only for procreation.
And it's not just a random scene inserted for some laughs and a sign of just how ignorant some people could be back in the day. It's there near the start of an hour dealing directly and frequently with parenthood, whether the tragic end of Libby's pregnancy, Bill's ongoing reluctance to become a father based on memories of his own, Scully taking a shine to Dr. Haas after Haas begins dating his daughter, or Virginia struggling to balance the demands of the children she loves and the job she's come to love, too. Some people don't want to have kids, but have spouses who feel otherwise. Some want kids, but don't want to be defined only by having them. And every day and every decision made complicates your life and theirs.
Libby's miscarriage is the episode's major event, and I'm impressed with how Sam Shaw and Michelle Ashford's script plays once again with our sympathies for Bill. He is devastated by this, for the sake of his wife, for the sake of the unborn daughter he was beginning to warm to the idea of (and whom he can imagine having raised when he looks at Virginia's daughter Tessa), and Michael Sheen — in the early frontrunner for his Emmy submission episode (assuming this show can crack a bunch of tough categories) — masterfully plays every bit of that heartbreak. But Bill Masters — perhaps because of the brutal upbringing his mother refuses to talk about — is also very much the control freak with the God complex. He has to decide how each stage of this is going to go, though Libby understands this and is even able to get him into the operating room to do the procedure himself, but he has to explain the procedure to her in the most clinical of terms just so he can get the words out. And he pre-emptively shuts down even the thought of trying to get pregnant again, not so much as allowing Libby to have a say in the discussion. Even at the very end, when he finally and completely breaks down in front of Virginia, it has to be on his terms, with her holding his hand but keeping her eyes closed, so she won't actually see the great Bill Masters being such a wreck.
The loss of the baby is so powerful that Virginia's story takes something of a back seat to it, but Lizzy Caplan gets to break down in tears as well at the thought of letting down her kids and how Henry feels about her now. Like so many things about Virginia, it's a conflict that feels very modern, other than the context; women in 2013 (and many men) struggle to balance work and family, but in the '50s, the expectation was that women like Virginia and Libby would put their children above everything else. We know that Virginia cares about her kids — as Ethan notes to Henry, she's not that good at pretending — but this work, and the respect Bill gives her, thrills her, too. It's hard, but it's encouraging to see Ethan (for now happily involved with someone else) offering to step up and play father figure to Henry in a way his actual father doesn't much want to.
Just a powerful episode, the strongest so far.
A few other thoughts:
* An otherwise dark hour gets leavened a bit by the subplot about Dr. Langham's failure to launch once he's assigned a different sex partner (and even after he's placed back with Jane), as Teddy Sears' bellow of "WHY WON'T MY DICK WORK?" is demanding of GIFs, auto-tuned remixes, and whatever else the internet has to offer. And as we move further into the baseball World Series, I enjoyed reimagining Bill and Virginia's debates about chemistry versus things that can be quantified as the scouts vs. stats argument that's become a part of baseball discourse at least since the publication of "Moneyball." (In this metaphor, I suppose Bill is the sabremetrician, and Virginia the crusty old scout who wants someone who looks good in jeans.)
* Allison Janney joins the recurring cast as Scully's wife, bringing our total of new CBS sitcom actors to three, counting Beau Bridges and Margo Martindale. Happy to have Janney here (and she is fantastic in next week's episode), but now I'm waiting to see who else will appear from CBS' lineup. Perhaps a Tony Shalhoub cameo filmed back when the idea was to cross-promote "We Are Men"?
* I like that the supporting characters aren't being confined to one corner of the show. Jane is mostly there to be part of the study with Langham, but she's also the person Ethan goes to for romantic advice — here with her wondering with exasperation why it's scientifically impossible for a man to put himself in a woman's shoes for one second.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
2013 | Thriller | RSummary: Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (D...Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
2007 | Comedy | PGSummary: Newlyweds Nick (Ice Cube) and Suzanne (Long) decide to move to the suburbs to provide a better life for their two kids. But their idea of a dream home is disturbed by a contractor (McGinley) with a bizarre approach to business.Director: Steve Carr
Cast: John C. McGinley, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
1996 | Crime | RSummary: Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt... but he's got a plan. He's going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It's going to be a snap and nobody's going to get hurt... until people start ...Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by. It has deep soul, a wicked sense of humor, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Pam Grier, and Robert Forster.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
Let Streaming Genie help you.