This week The Affair is all about women trying to do right by their children while also doing right by themselves. But that’s about where the resemblance ends for Allison and Helen.
For Helen we get a jump in the past, a year back from the “current” timeline, and we see she’s struggling to move past her involvement in the accident. She goes to visit Noah and he seems to only swing between openly cold and openly rude, casually reminding her that it’s Helen he has to thank for landing him in prison to begin with. With his half-closed eye and cheek gash it’s a far cry from the spry, optimistic Noah we saw in the last flashback, and Helen senses that too. Allison still lingers in the air; Helen can’t bring herself to say her name, but she tries to acknowledge Noah’s actions as an apology. He shrugs it, and any relationship, off.
And his nastiness haunts her throughout her day: she can’t shake the weight, and tries to make the case for her own culpability that night at dinner with Vic, Whitney, and Furkat, Whitney’s new, much older, artist boyfriend. But—as I’m sure we’ll see her struggle with this season—without outrightly acknowledging it, there’s no way she can move past it and cope. On some level Helen already knows that. And so Whitney’s defense of her mother (which is a far-cry from their relationship in season 1) is of no help.
But as we see in her fight with Vic—which starts as a fight over a text, but evolves into a fight encompassing their whole relationship—this is the status quo for her. She’s held people at arm’s length so long she forgot what it’s like to have an elbow. And now the only person who can really see her is Noah, and he doesn’t want to see her at all.
Unfortunately for Allison, the only person she can’t see is the one she’s desperate to: Joanie. We learn (through heavy exposition with Oscar) that she had a bit of breakdown when Joanie turned four, something she relates to her daughter turning four, the same age Gabriel was when he died. It’s unclear, right now, exactly what happened. If it was Gabriel related, and not Scotty related; if she was forced to sign the papers when she shouldn’t have been; if Luisa actually hates her or just cares a lot about Joanie and Cole, who Allison has hurt immensely. Either way, she’s stuck without visitation rights and a small apartment in Montauk.
But she’s also got some thawing relationships: Cole eventually acquiesces and allows her to see Joanie (for an hour, and what looks like supervised visits), even if he’s still explicitly bitter. And though I made light of her relationship with Oscar, Ruth Wilson plays the scene exactly right, helping carry every bit of Oscar and Allison’s relationship into the conversation. When we’ve seen him in the past say he goes way back with Allison (and Cole) it seemed vindictive, but here it’s clear that they’ve been friends, or some more strained facsimile, for a long time. The way teases come almost as quickly as confessions.
She’s a much less self-assured Allison than we’re accustomed to, even in her own rendering. It’s not that Allison hasn’t always been cursed with more than a tinge of self-doubt, but in the past she was able to in some way confidently act. Her conversations with the post office lady and her wavering at the playground show play like she’s under immense self-control—for exactly what? I’m guessing that’s for another confessional with someone much closer than Oscar.
- I had forgotten about Vic. I still like him, and his ability to cut through Helen’s bullshit, even if he is sometimes also talking bullshit (like when he’s yelling at her on the street after they get back from dinner). That said the elevator ride is (even if totally on brand) interminable—and he keeps texting after the alarm, my God. He’s still an expert at dodging Helen’s knife eyes. But moving in over a fight is a terrible way to do it, and it doesn’t seem like from what we’ve seen of Helen that Vic is long for this world.
- “They have been through a lot.” “Honestly you’d have to bring your own waterboard to fuck them up more than my Dad did.”
- Trevor is a pain now, and Stacey looks a lot like her older sister.
- “I have a terrible relationship with my father, and I turned out great—” “Shut up.” Oh Furkat. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of you, and your intimate portraits.
- “Joanie likes yellow now” is one of the coldest shut downs I’ve ever seen.
- One thing this episode doesn’t get into is why she felt she had to tell Cole at all. Luisa seems to earn some rightful suspicion here, since I’m guessing though she didn’t tell Cole at his own wedding, it sounds like she did it shortly after. We know that the wedding was a breaking point for her needing to tell Noah, who she continued to be happily in a relationship with and raising Joanie until he went to jail. So why did she fess up to Cole?
- A lot of modern references here, with Oscar mentioning ISIS and Helen saying a friend’s dad voted for Trump.
- Any guesses on who she was talking to on the phone? Mother? Institution/doctor? Oprah?
- The cab ride home with the picture is one of the funniest shots The Affair has ever done. Thanks to Decider for blessing us with the (censored) gif: