And now we welcome Max, and other dated items into the fold. Max is Noah’s college friend who’s now divorced, and generally fine with it–or so he initially claims. But it’s clear as the episode progresses that he’s really not; he’s jealous of what Noah and Helen have. That unshakeable, established love born from a college romance.
So he can’t know (and Noah won’t tell him) that Noah lusts after what Max has. He longs for the freedom to approach Alison at work and unabashedly hit on her or to flirt with her in a club. But in a concept introduced to me by the late, disappointing, HIMYM, Max’s appearance in this episode–coupled with the growing intimacy between Noah and Alison–brings a sort of regressive immaturity to Noah. (Though, arguably, Noah has been fairly immature throughout.)
Him and Alison play immature games where she comes and plays the stranger at the club, they go out dancing and suddenly age themselves 10 extra years next to the crowd around them, and he hates the word mistress to describe Alison. He lets his best bud Max believe that Noah’s from a planet where relationships work, probably because to some extent he believes it is too. The life he talks about and keeps with Alison is so separate from his life with his family he can’t believe that Helen picks up on his distance over the summer.
It’s that sort of stubborn, adultery-denial that gives Noah his tough streak, but it’s also what makes him a childish partner. Once he pulls off his dream girl goggles and sees Alison for what she is, a married drug dealer who lives in a summer town, he suddenly has a renewed interest in his wife, and familiar stability she brings to his life.
Meanwhile, for Alison this affair has been something of her own stability. She’s always been mature and composed, and for the first time in her life–as Athena guessed–she’s finally found that a bit of unpredictability can present a whole new outlook. Suddenly she feels free of the weights that come with the Lockharts. Free from debt, misery, guilt she sees a real future with Noah.
And so in the last scene she goes to him, but is confronted suddenly by the vast rift between where they are in their lives, marriages, and true desires. But Noah has seen the life she has, the life Max got, and recoils into his privilege shell. It may not be perfect, but it’s home.