While last week’s episode delivered complex character development, this week’s episode took a turn towards the revealing as more and more is discovered about each character. Although the tone of the fifth episode of Masters of Sex was upbeat at first, filled with tongue-in-cheek humor and whimsy, the arc of the episode was primarily concerned with loss – the realizations that come from loss, the consequences of loss, and the changes that inevitably follow loss – and this week’s episode, sadly titled “Catherine,” concentrates on the way in which every character suffers and copes with the residual damage after losing something very important to them.
The episode opened on a very young couple seeking Bill’s advice about how to become pregnant. The religious couple is seeking advice about conception but seemed mystified at Bill’s questions concerning cycles and positions. Bill laughingly relates the story to Ginny later, explaining they had never even had intercourse – they were “lying together” as the Bible suggested, never realizing they had to physically consummate to make a baby. It’s here that Ginny, although in jest, delivers the most telling line of the episode, when she teasingly asks Bill, “You shall have no other Gods before Dr. Master?” While this is a joke in the moment, it is bleak foreshadowing about Bill’s issues with control and hubris throughout the series.
In this episode, Libby is rushed to the hospital for bleeding and subsequently suffers a miscarriage and must undergo surgery to induce labor. The scenes between Libby and Bill in the hospital are so tight with mourning and unspoken pain it is painful to watch. Knowing what we know about the process of becoming pregnant, and how Libby feels about the baby, these scenes are agonizing in their sincerity. Libby, devastated and desperate for comfort from her husband tries to demand what she needs from Bill, but as usual he is withholding and chillingly composed. Even when she forces him to say the baby is gone, he treats her with stilted, arms-length sympathy. He projects his fears directly onto Libby, telling her it’s for her own good that they don’t try again. We learn of Bill’s guilty feelings as he blames Ethan for the miscarriage, doggedly questioning him about what he could’ve done differently to save her. He wants it be Ethan’s fault so it’s not his own, and Ethan knows this. We also get a clue about Bill’s abusive childhood when his sleepwalking reoccurs. He confronts his mother about their “shared sickness,” and his resentment has something to do with how he feels about her part in the ugly past with his father.
Bill’s hubris is like another character on the show, so in “Catherine,” it was testament to the actor to see his icy exterior melt into a man capable of experiencing human emotion. So much of what we know about Bill, we learn from watching him project it onto other characters so it was captivating to watch Michael Sheen bring Bill’s darkest and most internally seated fears and secrets to light, proving what we already know: that he is, in fact a multidimensional character. Bill’s issues with control and projection are never more evident than in the scene with Ginny, he demands she close her eyes so she won’t see him cry, while still needing her touch as comfort. This is the one of the most honest moments I have seen on television. There was veracity to that show of emotion, to the abandon in which he took on the moment, that would make you forgive every insensitive thing Bill has done.
This episode also saw plot momentum for the other characters as well, although most played second string to Bill and Libby’s troubles. Ginny proves herself a valuable partner to Bill, while feeling the sting of leaving her children so much. Her son, Henry, is most affected, and he rebels against her, declaring his intentions to live with his dad and running away from the hospital after Ginny disappointed him again because she had to work. She suffers the single, working mother’s anguish and perceives herself a failure. Ironically, it is Ethan who is there to comfort her, and who finds and returns Henry to her. He even offers to spend time with Henry, prompting Ginny to soften to him.
It is through the interaction with Ginny that Ethan becomes a real person, and not just some two-dimensional apparatus, meant to demonstrate Ginny’s independence. It is only through Ginny that Ethan is whole and we perceive him as more than the sensitive, yet misunderstood philanderer. Outside of his relationship to Ginny and his feelings for her, he is not very sympathetic or likeable, as evidenced by the fact that he took Vivian Scully’s virginity; even though he does claim her to Ginny when she expresses concerns about how his time with Henry might confuse things between them. He tells her he has a girlfriend, but he is so obviously enamored with Ginny, that the lie suggests Ethan is proving to be a truly dynamic character.
This episode is by far the most rich and well-constructed, and could perhaps win Michael Sheen an Emmy. This show continues to build upon the premise that we can forgive a character anything, if she just shows us his heart, and I think that is true the character of Bill.