There has been very little on Masters of Sex so far that could be described as surprising. Virginia and Bill are very obviously going to wind up together romantically at one point or another. The study’s success is arguably the basis for the whole series, so any threats of it being tossed out of the hospital never really felt legitimate. Even the hints of Bill’s backstory we’ve been getting recently via his mother—while compelling—feel pretty standard. But “Catherine,” named for Bill and Libby’s unborn daughter, marked the first time that this series truly caught me off-guard.
The episode’s big twist—that there are complications with Libby’s pregnancy and the child is delivered stillborn—makes sense on paper…sort of. If Bill and Libby had such a hard time getting pregnant in the first place, it makes sense that there’d be risks, but viewers have been led to believe that the fertility problems were due mostly to Bill’s low sperm count. But Libby’s pregnancy, Bill’s concerns about fatherhood and the strain they put on the pair’s marriage all appeared to be the main arc that would carry the rest of the season. Abruptly putting an end to it—which was done by Bill informing Libby that they won’t try to have children anymore because he can’t bear to see her so distraught—completely changes the trajectory of the rest of the season. For the first time in this series’ short run, I don’t have a clear idea of where things are headed. And that’s exciting.
“Catherine” also featured some of the strongest performances from the Masters of Sex cast yet. Now that the writing seems to be straightening itself out and we actually have reason to care about these characters, those tasked with bringing them to life are really delivering. Caitlin Fitzgerald was heartbreaking as the grieving Libby, and Lizzy Caplan brought some vulnerability to Virginia this week as she deals with her son Henry acting out and running away. But Michael Sheen continues to carry the show as Bill Masters, and his performance this week was gutting. The repressed doctor is obviously trying to keep decades of emotions at bay, and we get a hints of this when he snaps at his mother earlier in the episode, but they come spilling out in “Catherine”’s excellent final scene. When Virginia, recognizing Bill’s upset, refuses to leave his office, he reveals he had doubts about being a father and feels guilty, as if those thoughts had any hand in his baby’s death. Then the tears start welling up, and Bill panics—we watch as he recognizes they’re coming, much like one might realize they’re about to vomit and assess whether they have time to run to the bathroom or if a nearby trashcan will have to suffice. Bill realizes he only has trashcan-time before he’ll start bawling, so he asks Virginia to close her eyes, and when she responds quizzically, he gets desperate. “Please,” he whimpers as he uses his hand to push down her eyelids. She keeps them shut and takes his hand, and we’re left with a rare intimate moment between the two—Bill weeping uncontrollably and a surprised Virginia doing her best to comfort him.
While this was, without a doubt, Bill’s episode, other characters made strides as well. Ethan became a little less awful through his interactions with Henry (who knew he’d be so good with kids?) and his desire to do the right thing with the provost’s daughter, Vivian. Provost Scully seems to still be harboring some anger towards Bill over the whole blackmail situation (when offering his condolences about the baby, he says “I’d give you a hug, but I wouldn’t want anything to be misconstrued.”), and this week we meet his wife, Margaret (Alison Janney). The study is back to couples, and so we get the return of Jane and Langley, with an interesting wrinkle thrown into their storyline. All in all, Masters of Sex seems to finally be getting its bearings and taking steps towards becoming a compelling drama. Very surprising indeed.
-The religious couple who thought that “sleeping together” actually just meant sleeping together was pretty funny. “God may have created the heaven and the earth, but he’s not an obstetrician.”
-We keep getting glimpses of Bill and Libby’s strained relationship, like when Bill remarks that couples climaxing together is “as rare as Haley’s comet” and Virginia informs him it’s actually pretty common if the pair has chemistry.
-Bill’s sleepwalking is back again. This time he’s packing a suitcase while he sleeps.
-Langley’s exasperated cry of “WHY WON’T MY DICK WORK?” was kind of hokey but also made me laugh.
-Margaret’s advice to Vivian that “you have to make them love you” reveals a lot about her relationship with her secretly gay husband.
-”If God wasn’t invented for a time like this, then why invent him at all?”
-Really? A doctor’s gonna deliver his own stillborn child? That’s not against protocol or anything?