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“You just…want it all,” Helen drunkenly and wistfully tells Noah over drinks. Though it’s told from a Noah perspective, the warning could be applied to either of them.
“208” shows us how Noah will never be satisfied; he’s finally living his dream life—in more than one way—but it’s not quite enough, or rather, right. Alison and him are engaged with a baby on the way, but she’s undone his office so that she could make a nursery. His book is one of the most talked about of the season but he’s passed over for a literary prize. “Descent” is heralded in a (seemingly) fawning New Yorker article, but the review from the paper of the college where he’s done his reading bashes it as little more than pornography. He wants all of the high-profile fame, but none of the baggage and target-status that comes with it.
It’s something that Helen was likely always attuned to; this week she admits that when his first book failed she was happy, because it meant maybe he would settle for just being a husband and a father. That her words come to the audience before we see Noah’s side, and the plight of fame he’s starting to feel, is no coincidence—nor is it that we never see it from his. She’s always had a fairly good read on Noah, even if it was filtered through what she wanted from him. And as long as we’ve known him he’s turned away from that.
The way Helen sees it, she and Noah fucked up Whitney, but she’s a bit less clear on how fucked up they are themselves, divorce or no. Her parents kept her on such a specific leash all her life she never stopped to think about how she got everything she had wanted: Noah compromised on taking a loan from her parents so they could get out of a scrummy apartment in Harlem. She admits she wanted all of Noah, but not all of his dream, she wants Whitney to think for herself but not if that means pursuing a modeling career.
That Noah chooses to make not one but two boneheaded decisions in light of his “failures” while Helen doesn’t seem to even grow an interest in the Tinder profile her daughter made for her that seems to be blowing up isn’t surprising. Helen learned her lesson about impulsive decisions, Noah has ultimately been rewarded for it. The ways he acts out shouldn’t really be surprising, but I still felt a bit taken aback when he goes all in with Eden. She’s definitely been a major source of fission in so many of his entanglements across the last two weeks (When Eden checks her phone and reveals she knew Helen and Whitney would be touring colleges it became clear that Helen and Alison share a contempt in common), but I kind of thought the show might be a bit more delicate about the fact that nothing—no happy(ish) home, wife, career, fame, child—seems to satisfy Noah Solloway entirely.
And as the night winds down it’s not clear if either Noah or Helen is read in on the illumination that the other sees in them. Helen seems to have moved past the nostalgia for her marriage that Whitney observed at the beginning of their day, declining a (allegedly chaste) night in Noah’s suite, while Noah seems to realize that he needs to appreciate the wins while he’s on top. But in the first episode that seems to be weaving in the time shift to the arc of the episode, with a back and forth on Helen’s visit to Lawyer Jon’s office, it seems Noah and Helen have gotten better at coparenting, or at least faking it, so there’s some growth happening there. Whether or not it’ll pull them out of the descent they’ve started down, we’ll just have to wait and see.
- Whitney’s outfit for touring colleges makes her look like a teenage witch and I am here for it.
- I feel very out of touch with the zeitgeist, but are there really people Helen’s age regularly using Tinder? Like enough that there would be like 2 or 3 matches in the span of under an hour in a college town? Genuinely curious.
- The future, according to The Affair is very monochrome and bleak. It’s still a bit mum on how far ahead they jump, but I guess that’s what we have to look forward to.
- “You have at least five good years left. I’m just trying to help you maximize them. …You might even have six.” Whitney herself is not often the best drawn character, but Julia Goldani Telles is always solid.
- That said it is supposed to be December and she is a senior looking at colleges. That’s not great.
- I couldn’t hear it exactly, but was that The Smiths playing in the background when Noah makes the (utterly boneheaded) decision to go in the bar and confront the critic?
- Sorry about the delay; American Thanksgiving got in the way of everything this week!
- For all the show has been building up Eden as some sort of rude handler, she defied expectations set for her here. Good on her.
- Once again we’re exploring the future with no one perspective—a weird shift I still have a lot of questions about. But it seems Toby Lawyer Jon isn’t going to settle for mere wondering about the parenthood of Alison’s baby—finally, someone going after the answers.
- I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: This show can be really overt with its imagery, but that shot of Noah signing his books was pretty masterful, if obvious.