The Affair – 310

If “310” had existed in another season, or after another run of episodes, this might be a different review. The episode — chronicling Juliette and Noah’s days in Paris, and commitment to their family members as well as each other —has plenty of sweet, emotional moments. It’s just that they only barely connected with what we just saw.

Take Noah’s arc this season. We’ve seen him come to terms with a burden he was carrying around with him for the entire show (except it had never been mentioned), spiral out of control multiple times, cope with his time in prison, dissolve his marriage to Alison, burn his bridge with Helen, and finally realize that he stabbed himself in a disassociative episode and…none of that, is here.

Whatever build up there was between Juliette and Noah this season, whatever complications she adds to his life, is largely absent here, save for an errant mention of when he was out of control a few months ago and she helped him right the boat. What was his recovery process like? Who knows. It’s not relevant here. Never mind the fact that the entire season built out a mystery and a few mental health episodes to keep its wheels turning. The Affair has always struggle to balance the different strands of the show, but here it feels like it bucks the hook its so steadfastly held onto in favor of a romance drama.

What’s left has some nice moments: Juliette’s quietly sad disbelief at Etienne’s lucidity, only to still be crushed when her fears are confirmed moments later; Noah’s talk with Whitney, though perhaps a bit on the nose (The Affair specialty), feels like a solid connection between these two.

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But it doesn’t feel at all like a resolution to their arcs. For Juliette, it feels like her introduction has gone from hot, sexually-open, stereotypical Frenchwoman to grieving wife seeking escape to ignored lover to…girlfriend? I guess? Again, we haven’t really seen anything from this relationship, pre-recovery or no. Juliette’s arc mostly makes sense when we look at what (apparently) the writers are trying to do with Noah, which is completely rehab his image.

It’s a bizarre step, seeing as how he didn’t need to be rehabbed until they decided to spin him out of control to spin out a season mystery. Noah has always been a bit of a scumbag as a real person, but as a character who opted to go to prison at the end of last season to protect the women he loves, he was not exactly in need of saving. “310” returns him to that place he always seems to get to in Affair finales: loved by a woman, against all odds, and stepping in to be her night in shining armor.

I’ve written before that season 3 of The Affair felt a bit like a show they had ventured off the roadmap with, and “310” only confirms that for me, unfortunately. But they’re renewed for season 4, so next fall The Affair will be back on the map, one way or another.

Stray thoughts

  • I can’t get over Juliette getting a finale half, which seems a bit weird to me. Although we left basically everyone else at a nice stopping point (Alison getting shared custody of Joanie and a potential job, Cole choosing Luisa, Helen coming clean and mending things with Vic) Juliette has been so close to a non-entity. Her plot line here, while narratively rewarding in some ways, seems to only exist to prop up Noah’s half.
  • Noah would pretend he’s Hemingway.
  • I really liked the way they played the two versions of Juliette’s colleagues. Too often the memory questions this show asks seems to be overly-convenient (the restaurant scene, or the season 1 finale) but this one was a simple illustration of how weird social situations are, with or without a language barrier. The no subtitles in Noah’s was a nice touch too.
  • I’m not saying Juliette’s boss was wrong or right, but damn that scene was brutal to just be a random, lingering thread.
  • As was the black humor of getting Etienne’s body into the elevator. Oof.
  • From the notes: It’s only a matter of time before Noah shows up inappropriately [after Etienne’s death].
  • Oh Furkat. What a douche.
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The Reality of UnREAL’s characters

I’m just as surprised as you are that one of the best new shows of the year is a Lifetime original. But here we are.

“UnREAL” takes a look behind the scenes of a “Bachelor”-esque show, and the twisting of reality to create reality TV. Our lead, Rachel, is a producer who swings anywhere on the spectrum of morality from questionable choices to downright manipulative all within a single moment of her day, guiding these girls and their “Prince” through the “romantic” process.

It’s a tricky line that actress Shiri Appleby walks: Rachel has no business being likable, and often crosses in Walter White-territory of “should I even be rooting for her?” But as the protagonist and lead anti-hero of “UnREAL,” she needs to stay engaging and engrossing. Don’t worry, she sticks the landing. “UnREAL” hinges on it.

(L to R) Shiri Appleby (“Rachel”) and  Constance Zimmer (“Quinn”)
(L to R) Shiri Appleby (“Rachel”) and Constance Zimmer (“Quinn”)

Between her and the woman literally running the show, Quinn (Constance Zimmer), a sort of unholy union is formed where only one thing matters: the advancement of their own desires.

What makes “UnREAL” such exhilarating television is that it depends so wholly on the full moral compass of its characters. Digging into the themes of what people want and what they are capable of to get that, the show isn’t afraid to wade in-between the white knights and gray areas, and get really dark.

It’s a stark differentiation to “Game of Thrones” which continues to simplify its characters as it draws them out of the book. Tyrion, a fan favorite, should’ve become the monster everyone expected him to be at the end of season four when he killed Shea. But instead the show wrote in reason after reason to keep him as their champion—and we see this pattern over and over again. Stannis, Ramsay, Ser Meryn Tant; the plot goes out of its way to establish behavior that reduces them to either good guy or bad guy.

Given that, it’s no wonder the show often struggles with shock factor to keep its audiences guessing. “UnREAL” isn’t perfect and delved into the same shock plot lines in the course of its first season, but for the most part it didn’t have to. The electricity of watching characters whose spine is so movable makes for thrilling enough television on its own.

The season ends with an unlikely pairing that should’ve always been the sure bet: Rachel and Quinn. They both know they’re not locked into their partnership, but they also know that they’ve always got each other’s best interests at heart (or something next to it, anyway). It’s an intoxicating dynamic. Now to see if they can keep us guessing.

Total Affair of the Heart (Episode 6)

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.

cdn.indiewireSo 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.

Wired Up: ep. 1-4

Since I’m doing a watch through of The Wire for the first time, here are a few stray observations I’ve got going on:

  • TV shows are set up on the foundation of change. Something changes in the narrative or lives of the characters, and that’s the catalyst for the show. Usually there’s a newcomer, or an event that allows the characters to describe backstory and clue the audience in on the jargon, history, and need-to-knows. But “The Wire,” despite the shift in the detail of the officers running the busts, the audience is largely left to figure out for themselves what the police and dealers are aiming to do. It’s an interesting choice, not unusual for HBO, but it rings truer to life on “The Wire” — bringing home the unfortunate commonplace of this routine in Baltimore –unlike “Game of Thrones.”
  • In that vein of things, the shaky, handheld cam they often use gives the show a general firsthand feel. It grounds the viewer in the mentality of the characters. For now I’m not sure what exactly they’re trying to say with it, but they are definitely pushing a familiarity of the characters on me.
  • Kima. Badass, lady-cop, woman of color, queer character; yes more of her please. I see a lot of greatness in her, though she’s also an example of the “strong women” characters who are strong because they have “masculine” characteristics. That said she’s wonderful.
  • This show is a cornucopia of “Ohhhh it’s that guy!”