‘Masters of Sex’ Recap, Season 1 Episode 5: “Catherine”


Well, now we’re talking. This week’s episode of Masters of Sex finally got some fires burning. The stakes in the episode were something beyond the relatively boring, will-the-study-be-at-the-hospital-or-won’t-it situation. The dialogue was less anvil-like, more crisp, a bit sly. And the actors didn’t appear as lost as they generally do. This was a now-we’re-talking episode; let’s hope they can maintain the momentum.

Virginia’s son Henry is angry. Angry that his mother isn’t as fun as his father, who lets his children eat fast food for breakfast. Angry that she doesn’t have time to spend with him, because Bill is such a slave driver. And angry, finally, that she won’t let him just live with his father. Virginia’s secret is that she knows George won’t want that, and also that if she ever let her son understand that, it would break his little heart. Haas saves the day at the very last moment by catching Henry, who has disappeared into the bowels of the hospital, and persuading him that his mother isn’t so terrible.

Being the opportunist he is, Haas sees an opening into Virginia’s life, so he offers to be a sort of big brother to Henry going forward. She demurs at first, worried that it will change their relationship, but he manages to persuade her by affirming that he has a new girlfriend now, Provost Scully’s daughter Vivian, whom we met before. And indeed, Haas has by that time taken the girl home and bedded her, during which encounter he’s horrified to discover Vivian’s a virgin. “This is too much responsibility,” he tells others. But it’s too late, Vivian’s smitten. And now he has to hang on to her to hang on to Virginia.

Libby, meanwhile, is still very happy about her pregnancy, which is going swimmingly. She is not happy about Masters’ sleepwalking habit, which now includes meticulous packing of both Libby’s effects and the child’s. She questions Masters’ mother about it and gets no real reply; it’s passed off as a cute childhood affectation. But then his nightmares prove prescient. At a party for the Scullys’ 30th anniversary — enter Allison Janney as Beau Bridges’ wife, god I wish Allison Janney was in everything, she often single-handedly saved The West Wing from being one long Sorkin self-love session — Libby begins to bleed. Rushed, terrified, to the hospital, Masters can’t detect a fetal heartbeat. The baby’s dead, and Libby is frightened. Haas is there to perform the delivery, but Libby insists Masters do it himself. She wants them to lose together what they didn’t make together, she says, and Masters assents.

Sheen, delivering the baby, shows the first sign that he actually understands his character in orchestrating the delivery of his small, still daughter. He comes into his own with his frustrated exchanges with his mother afterwards, telling her that they both know why he sleepwalks, and that he believes that he and she infect everything, everyone. He’s great, too, when he arrives in Libby’s hospital room to take her home, and reverts to an old lie. “I can’t ever see you go through that again,” he says, “so we have to stop,” as though it were some deformity of Libby’s that ended the child’s life. It’s a form of self-protective cruelty that for once in this series’ so-far-five hours that we actually understand; it’s suddenly clear that Masters is certainly an arrogant jerk, but one for a host of reasons that are impossible for him to express. And that point is driven home by the episode’s close on Masters’ anguished cries in his office. Virginia is there and tries to comfort him by squeezing his hand, but he needs her to close her eyes before he can really let loose.

Even the B-plots were great this week. We got a lovely little side joke in the form of a couple who don’t understand that “sleeping together” requires more than sleeping next to each other. We get the doctor who’d been participating in the couples part of the study suddenly and distressingly unable to get it up. And Masters even feels the guilt he should feel about blackmailing the Provost with his homosexuality. Let’s keep this going, Masters of Sex, because we have another six hours to go before the season’s up. The show’s been renewed for a second season now, and I hope it was because there’s more like this to come.