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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iMasters Of Sex/i: Catherine
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I am enjoying Masters Of Sex, and tonight’s episode “Catherine” is another excellent episode that explores these characters as their lives slowly unfold. But I would be enjoying it more if I could understand where the show is trying to take us, or what it is trying to say. As much as I admire the mechanics of this show and the marvelous performances contained within, I don’t have a sense of any of the broad arcs this show is trying to build. Or, to be exact, I don’t have a sense of any of the broad arcs apart from the attraction between Masters and Johnson, and it seems the clear that the show is taking its time with that one, probably with a multi-season arc.

Masters Of Sex is suffering from lack of a clear direction. The stakes of the season are not entirely clear to me, and now that Libby has lost her baby, it seems even that driving action has been stopped. I feel like I keep waiting for the show to tell me what is important—what matters. But aside from pointing repeatedly to the modernity of Virginia’s character and the repression of Masters’, it’s not saying much at all.


I’m a little worried that Masters Of Sex might only exist to spotlight sex scenes with wires trailing from the characters’ foreheads. It’s fine to showcase sex, but it’s odd when sex is the only thing a show can find worth exploring. There are plenty of sex scenes in this episode—two in the study, one in Dr. Ethan Haas’ bedroom, and one masturbation scene. All the couples’ scenes are lovingly filmed, with much attention paid to butts and breasts of both genders. But aside from the thrill of showing nudity and physical intimacy, there doesn’t seem to be much purpose in showing them, except to play up the show’s reputation as being a show about sex, and sexiness, and sexytimes. We’re not watching Masters and Johnson have sex with each other—so what’s the point?

I get that we’re watching Masters slowly lose his many layers of armor, and that we’re watching a show based on real people, but the pacing is flawed. I don’t feel that I know enough about the study to feel that there’s some sort of desired outcome that our characters are struggling for; in fact, right now, I do not know any desired or feared outcomes whatsoever. No matter how good the rest of the show is, that’s a problem. There are no stakes right now—and especially by the end of this episode, when Masters performs an abortion on his own wife, to remove the dead fetus from her uterus.


I never thought I would like Libby Masters very much—she’s so prim and poised, so neatly dressed and bloodless—but she’s really grown on me in the last few episodes. She’s trying so hard to be the perfect wife and mother, but she’s essentially alone in her marriage to Masters, and when she loses this baby, the receptacle of all her hopes and dreams, she is purely distraught—unable to stem the tide of hurt and anger she’s been carrying with her. Caitlin FitzGerald is doing great work as the careful, restrained Libby, and I look forward to seeing more from her. Now that the baby is gone (a baby girl they would have named “Catherine”), I wonder if Libby and Bill will break up, as they seem poised to do anyway. Masters is so, so broken by the end of this episode—and so ashamed of his own emotions that he asks Virginia to close her eyes before he begins to sob—that it’s hard to imagine that charade lasting any longer.

Ethan gets himself tangled up with Vivian, Provost Scully’s daughter, who used him to discard of her inconvenient virginity. Ethan only finds out when a bloodstain shows up on the bedsheets beneath them, and then he panics, worrying that somehow this will lead to him being either fired or married. I like Vivian, but I’m also not sure of her game—is she trying to trap Ethan into marriage, or is she trying to have fun? (Or both?)


I have to credit the production team—the same people who make such pretty sex scenes must have also worked on creating the stark red bloodstains on both the bedsheets and on the back of Libby’s formal maternity dress, when she begins to miscarry. In the middle of the show’s golden-lit nude bodies and 1950s cocktail parties, that blood is a snap back to reality.

I just wish I knew what that reality was supposed to be.

Stray observations:

  • Langham’s sex life makes for a fun little side plot during an otherwise depressing episode.
  • Good contrast from “God created heaven and earth, but he’s not an obstetrician” at the beginning of the episode to “You are a powerful man, but you are not that powerful” at the end.
  • “You deflowered the provost’s daughter?!” I do like Jane.
  • Allison Janney makes an appearance as the provost’s wife. She adds: “Men don’t know what women want, sweetheart. That’s why they have wives: to tell them.”

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