Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Masters of Sex Review: "Catherine" - Sex Is Terrible

Caitlin Fitzgerald is magical in "Masters of Sex"

Man.  If ever there was an episode of television dedicated to proving just how desperately the world needs Masters and Johnson and yet, at the same time, demonstrating that nobody should ever think about, talk about, or consider having sex ever again, this is it.  Because, while the last four episodes have been all about exploring the pleasures and positives of sex, “Catherine” deals with all the worst bits.

The two halves of this episode are so tonally different that it’s really impossible to discuss them together, so let’s start with the latter half, where Libby loses her baby.  It’s an absolutely brutal sequence, made all the more tense by Henry’s decision to escape his mother’s watchful eye.  It was a conflict that had been brewing all episode, with the kids now regularly spending time with their father.  But Virginia’s frantic search for Henry mirroring Libby’s desperate pleas for Bill to act like her husband and not her doctor is painful to watch. 

Bill’s need to maintain a clinical detachment from his wife, to be the doctor and not the spouse is so convincing that it took me until the end of the hour, and Bill’s breakdown in front of Virginia, to realize that he actually did care about his unborn child.  It was just fantastic work by Michael Sheen throughout the episode.  It shouldn’t be terribly surprising, given how detached Bill was from even the process of making the baby (as Libby pointedly reminds him heading into the surgery), but that need for clinical disinterest in the face of sex and childbirth is apparently pathological and is a real danger to his marriage.  His wife needs a partner, not a doctor.  That Bill needs to shut himself in his office and close the eyes of the only person with him in order to express his emotions does not bode well for his ability to create any kind of close relationship.

What’s most remarkable is how successful the episode’s midpoint tonal shift is because the first half of the episode is a jaunt through all the ways in which sex the most ridiculous, terrible thing ever invented.  From the naïve “religious” couple (who take the Biblical phrase “lie together” a little too literally when it comes to baby-making) to Dr. Langham’s immediately gif-worthy cries of “Why won’t my dick work!?” nobody is getting laid this week.  Nobody, that is, except for Haas, who learns the unfortunate lesson of the Vicky Mendoza Line.

Yes, I'm citing "HIMYM" in a "Masters of Sex" review.  Deal with it.
You see, Vivan is crazy.  At least, that’s the only explanation I have for a woman who convinces a man (and herself it seems) that she’s not interested in a relationship, only wants to have fun, fails to tell him that she’s never actually “had fun” before, and then confronts him later with declarations like “You have my love and devotion” and “We were meant to be together.”  Yikes.  I actually felt bad for Ethan, considering that he finally seemed to find a woman who he didn’t have to convince himself was Virginia and who seemed to share his desire for a romance-free sexual relationship.  That she’d immediately turn clingy after their first time, despite the very apparent awfulness of their sex is just a little too clichéd for my tastes. 

“Catherine” was the best episode of the series thus far because it perfectly managed to blend the humor and horror of sex and its consequences.  It is equal parts humorous, humiliating, and horrifying.  That the show is capable of blending all these emotions into a single hour is a testament to how strong its creative core is.

A couple of spare thoughts –
I don’t know if I mentioned it enough above, but Michael Sheen and Caitlin Fitzgerald are absolutely incredible in this episode: Fitzgerald as Libby desperately pleads with Bill to just be her damn husband for once (“Right here, right now, I am your wife.  And I want the truth.”) and Sheen first playing Masters’s veneer of stoicism and later his complete breakdown.  Amazing work all around.

I wonder how much of Henry’s desire to leave Virginia was fed to him by his dad.  We don’t see George at all, but the episode opens with the kids returning from his apartment and Henry immediately upset with Virginia.  Then again, it’s entirely plausible that he just wants to be with the parent who is actually home on a regular basis, instead of the parent who is constantly working.

“You break it, you buy it.”

“It wouldn’t be a bell curve if everybody was at the top.”

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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