Masters of Sex is the slowest of burns, and this week, the darkest of hours. I was tough on the show last week for failing to advance or entertain much. There’s taking your time, and then there’s just wasting it. But “Catherine” was a compelling follow-up that was painful, but fruitful in what we discovered about our main characters and the fast-developing supporting cast (who really are making the show). There are still some miscues, like the Couple/Birth of Week stories, which are never fleshed out, but “Catherine” was a good example of how great the show can be. Hit the jump for more.
Like The Americans (another slow burning show I never really got into, despite my general appreciation of the Slow TV movement), Masters of Sex has a central relationship that deals with hard truths regarding divorce. On The Americans, our protagonist couple had a variety of marital troubles that felt painfully real, and the show received and deserved a lot of praise for that portrayal. On Masters of Sex, Ginny’s relationship with her son Henry was something that really stood out this week.
Henry’s rejection of Ginny is not out of the ordinary — his father is a deadbeat who he idolizes because the only time he spends with him is brief and full of fun. Henry is also hurt by the lack of Ginny’s presence, sighting her constant work schedule as his main source of frustration. When Ginny breaks down to Ethan later, she says she’s doing everything she can, and it’s certainly true. She could have married again just for the stability, but she wanted to be more than a dependent. She saw an opportunity not only to make money for her family and to provide on her own terms, but also to do something great and meaningful with her work. It’s a terrible position for her to have to be in, and there are many arguments to be made (as the show has addressed) that she didn’t make the right choice. But the show also acknowledging the strain her work is putting on her family, just like Bill’s, is one of its greatest accomplishments.
Speaking of Bill, “Catherine” was a watershed moment for his character. No, he’s still not likable. He’s probably one of, if not the most insufferable leads I can think of. He puts himself on par with God, continues to punish his wife for the abuse of his past, and treats everyone with an inexcusable coldness. But in that moment that he broke down in front of Ginny, and even more powerfully, made her close her eyes (classic Bill!), there was a removal of the robot mask. A human was underneath. One who really feels pain and hurt and doesn’t know how to begin to express it. For once, we really felt for Bill.
Still, his pain was nothing compared to Libby, who didn’t react to his decree that there would not be any more children, or talk of it. Given the miscarriage and what Bill has put her through, can the couple last for long? We know historically that they don’t, but how that plays out here will be interesting to watch unfold. Libby has quietly been a favorite character this year, both for her quiet resilience and her sincerity and resourcefulness. She looks and can sometimes appear to be like Mad Men‘s Betty Draper — the incredibly dressed, repressed housewife — but whereas Betty was a stunted child, Libby is a woman who is warm and forgiving and likable. Of course, with the death of Catherine though, her generosity towards Bill may have reached its end point.
“Catherine” was a dark hour, but it also seems like a launching point. The study is a savior for both Bill and Ginny, and throwing themselves into its next phase will be what they both need to heal from their pain.
Episode Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— I am really enjoying the Ethan subplot. He can be good, and then he can be the worst. I didn’t believe that he only wants to be friends with Ginny though — wanting to spend time with Henry is clearly a ploy. His “girlfriend” is once he doesn’t want (how horrified did he look when Vivian pulled the bait-and-switch of “I want to be young and free” with “we were meant to be together” FOREVER speech?) The fact that he told Jane Vivian “forced” herself on him … I don’t even know where to start. Giant mess there.
— Ethan: “You break it you buy it.” Jane: “And they say chivalry is dead.”
— Sad to hear Ginny articulate to Ethan the reality that George doesn’t want his kids.
— Sad also when Margaret Scully tells Libby and Vivian that the real story behind her and Barton getting together is not that he noticed her and it was love at first sight, but that he didn’t notice her at all, she pursued him. Of course thanks to Bill we know why he wasn’t that attracted to her …
— “You have to make them love you.” – Margaret to Vivian
— Weak spot: the Christian couple who didn’t understand lying together isn’t sex. Didn’t need it or a lot of these other couples/births of the week.
— Langham’s unexpected ED was a nice twist to the study so far, when even Jane couldn’t help him get it up. It’ll be worthwhile to see where that goes.
— I was thinking that Bill’s abuse at the hands of his father was just physical, but was it also sexual? I didn’t get a good read on why the sleepwalking was happening “again,” and what that meant. Maybe we’re not supposed to know exactly yet, or I just missed it.