This episode does not just feature one cut-off parent-child situation though. Johnson’s son, Henry (Cole Sand, who looks like a young Wes Anderson), misses his mother when she stays late to work on the study. He blames her for not raising him well enough and wants his dad around. The intricate relationship between Sand and Lizzy Caplan may be one of the show’s greatest pleasures, akin to the parent-child dynamic between Jon Hamm and Kiernan Shipka on Mad Men.
Keeping with the tragic theme of parental separation, Vivian Scully reprises a date with Dr. Haas. She reveals to him that she wants him to corrupt him but not turn into a steady boyfriend that daddy (Haas’ boss, Provost Scully) would like. However, when Haas realizes that he has deflowered his boss’s daughter – Nicholas D’Agosto gives a priceless reaction when he finds out – he does not know where that leaves things between him and the Provost. He wants to be a chivalrous date to suck up to his boss but now he carries around a lot of baggage with him. As he quips, it’s just like the department store adage – “You break it, you buy it.” There goes another incredible one-liner from writers Sam Shaw and Michelle Ashford, if maybe too clever for the time period the show is supposed to be depicting.
“Catherine” is an episode full of masterful moments. For instance, the sexual tension between Masters and Johnson as they, themselves, debate over whether or not attraction can bring a spark of chemistry into the results of their study. “Attraction has to play into how a couple moves through the stages in sex, as long as the couples are matched,” Johnson argues. Cue the awkward silence as they retreat to avoid gazing at each other. In addition, Teddy Sears’ exasperated profanities when he cannot, ahem, rise to the occasion, is a joy to behold.
If the episode could not be good enough, Allison Janney shows up as Provost Scully’s wife, Margaret, in a scene celebrating the Scully’s 30th anniversary. Allison Janney is like a massage after work or an extra chocolate chunk in a cookie – she makes everything seem better, and she is as delightfully acerbic as usual. (When Janney and FitzGerald sit next to each other, their pretty, angular faces side-by-side brings an uncanny resemblance.)
Masters of Sex is not just an expert exploration of an American society at very different stages of sexual awareness. “Catherine” examines its characters at complex emotional dilemmas: Johnson is torn between her passion for work (and Dr. Masters) and catering to her family. Masters tries to balance his clinical duties and deep-seeded regret. Haas is haunted by whether to continue with Scully’s daughter or keep pursuing Johnson when he realizes he could be like a father figure to Henry.
At the epicentre of “Catherine” is the burdened Libby, now lost without a child of her own. In the episode’s most piercing line, she tells her husband, “Stop talking to me like I’m your patient. I’m your wife.” It is the most emotionally naked line in an episode full of many raw performances and fascinating character reveals.