Disclaimer: there was no sex this week. No, “Kyrie Eleison,” the second episode of the season, was more about consequences. It’s a testimony to the quality of the show that, without all the nudity that we’re not supposed to care about, and without any serious plot advancement on the part of the leads, that the drama still holds.
The study itself has been waylaid — except, of course, for Masters and Johnson’s illicit hotel room research, which we don’t actually see this time around. All the files are in a basement, and Johnson can’t get them out without the help of Barton Scully, who has taken a mysterious leave of absence. Johnson can’t even manage to get a job at Masters new hospital because Dr. Greenhouse not only doesn’t believe she has the credentials, but he’s also hand picked a “gem” of a secretary.
So our leads are mostly apart, and are forced to face some consequences. Or Johnson is forced to face some consequences, and Masters helps some women face some consequences, because women bear the weight when it comes to sex.
Masters spends most the episode, and his first day at Memorial Hospital, dealing with a patient. Rose is an 18-year-old “Very Important Daughter” of rich parents. Rose’s unchecked desires resulted in an accidental pregnancy and a botched abortion. The episode opens with a Rose’s parents talking about her cotillion. She doesn’t want to wear gloves to the ball, she says. Her father reminds her that these objects of beautiful purity require respect, and that when her mother wore them she was like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. During this lecture Rose reaches down and, out of sight of her parents, pulls up a hand covered in blood. She nearly bleeds out in the hospital.
Back at Maternity, Johnson mostly gets yelled at. First she runs into Vivian, Scully’s daughter, in the hospital. Vivian just had Dr. Austin Philanderer hit on her while he puts a cast on the arm she broke saving her dad. Besides dealing with her dad’s near-death, Vivian’s still hurting after getting dumped by Ethan, who in turn was dumped by Johnson. She is in a pretty terrible emotional place. Johnson, eager to contact Scully so she can get the study files, stops her ex-boyfriend’s ex-fiance, who just blasts her, telling her that eventually all she’ll be is “old and ugly and alone.” Johnson makes a “does not compute” face.
Johnson’s reign continues when she forces Dr. Lillian DePaul, who has terminal cervical cancer, film an instructional video because it is the only way to spread the message about pap smears. But once DePaul gets in front of the cameras, she stutters out a series of nonsense words, breaks down, cries, runs away, and then, when Johnson comes to help, blasts her: “Let’s make the program bigger, let’s make it more … bigger. Dr. Johnson, nothing is ever big enough for you. Your eye is always on some other prize.”
It’s true! That’s one of the really great things about this show. Johnson (and Masters) are unlikeable, sure, and they’re dedicated to this cause, and this cause is finding out truth, and that is a pretty tired trope. But the writers get that, and they question the need for this dedication to this particular study. For instance — wouldn’t everyone’s time be better spent advocating for pap smears? Probably! Not to mention increasing access to birth control! But Johnson and Masters have chosen this, and maybe the study is just a crutch.
Study or no, Masters is a doctor. Rose nearly dies, and though Masters is able to repair the damage, her wealthy parents are pushing for a hysterectomy, which they believe will squash her sexual urges. Masters refuses because he is not entirely a horrible person, but his boss, Dr. Greathouse, is angry, because Rose’s parents are very rich and give the hospital lots of money.
This is the same reason Masters is stuck hanging around Betty, wife of The Pretzel King of St. Louis, Masters’ new benefactor. Last season, Betty was Masters and Johnson’s brothel hookup, but after The Pretzel King propose, she enlisted Masters to reverse her tubal ligation. He couldn’t do it, but Betsy never told her King, and now she’s pretending to get fertility treatments and mostly just hangs out at Masters office eavesdropping and saying sassy things.
Rose herself wants the hysterectomy — as long as it doesn’t interfere with her cotillion. She unloads the type of mommy issues you’d imagine from a young woman whose mother wants her to get a hysterectomy. Masters convinces her otherwise, but Betsy doesn’t know that and tells a pretty great story about stabbing her own mother in the eye with a pair of high heels. Rose tells her that Masters already talked her out of it — he gave her an IUD — and that he said “You are not your worst part,” which would easily be comforting to any of the characters of this TV show.
Except for Libby, actually. Up until this episode, Masters’ wife was just really nice, and not even boring. Just nice. But then she hired a nanny. Coral is, like Rose, an 18-year-old. Like Libby, she’d lost her mother. They share their mommy-less issues. But Coral is Black, and Libby, it turns out, is racist. She talks and talks at Coral, ignoring folky-but-right advice, and even correcting her pronunciation of “ask.” Coral did manage to win over Masters with her ability to shut up baby Johnny.
Back in the world, Masters meets up with Vivian, telling her he knows she didn’t break her arm playing tennis, because she’s basically the girl Andre Agassi. She tells him that her father tried to kill himself, and that now he’s in Europe, recovering. Probably in Venice, actually, because he always wanted to see the tower of Pisa, which must be so tired from leaning for 800 years. This is related, somehow, to Dr. DePaul wanting pizza, probably. The revelation gets a real, emotional moment from Masters, who breaks down crying when he gets to his car.
Overall, though, the show is pretty easy on its characters (it has a pretty low death count for a premium cable show), and this is no exception. Dr. Philanderer, who has been kicked out of his house for his philandering ways, invites Johnson to a party in his office. This is his way of “pressing the gas and turning into the swerve,” which sounds like advice he’s giving Johnson, who he also calls a “lone wolf.” Which is a good combo of metaphors. They should be happy, he tells her, because they are both not dead! Which is true. But also, he has to go to Alton, Ill. now to visit his family since his wife left (Why is he not in his house if his wife is in Alton? I suppose so he could always remember that the morgue is four floors beneath him). Alton, of course, is the hot vacation spot for the people of St. Louis. Just ask Johnson and Masters, who go there to have sex!
The biggest false-step this episode was the closest thing to sex: a mirrored back-and-forth where Masters talks about the sex study with Dr. Greenhouse and Johnson explains Ulysses to Dr. Ditmer, a gastroenterologist. It’s a cutesy little lead up about “the Greek way,” sweating vaginas, and olive oil that ends in Ditmer having an orgasm. Then Greenhouse smokes a cigarette and implies that Barb is into anal.