The Affair – 309

And so Noah’s complete fabrications are made clear. But The Affair still doesn’t know what to do with that.

This episode parcels out truth bomb after truth bomb for Noah (and by extension, the audience): He actually conspired to convince his mother to end her own life, before he helped her; in his overwhelming guilt he completely manufactured Gunther’s torture of him in prison; and once he was out he stabbed himself in the neck. It’s the sort of reveal that fits in neatly with other people’s image of Noah, as purely self-interested and desperately beyond help. But in others, it’s yet another problem The Affair can’t nail down. After all, why the hell are we just learning about this now?

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After a new thread in a prison flashback reveals Noah’s past, and his internal conflict, we’re led to think that this has been a part of his character since the beginning. But the truth is this is just the latest in a series of “truths” the show has dropped in order for us to buy the torment of its characters, and justify why they blew up their lives with an affair. The problem is, the show can only handle one of these threads at a time; the class conflict is never baked into the characters enough to feel totally intertwined, Noah’s (apparent) flagellation and search for redemption have only been introduced in season three, and Cole and Alison’s love for each other is so hot and cold it’s hard to thread any line through.

And Helen, perhaps the biggest casualty of this messy season, gets lost in the fray. For the first time in a couple episodes we see her seem like she’s really taking charge, but God at what cost? Her search to be truly seen, as the one driving the car, as the killer everyone has so long maligned Noah for being, causes her to blurt it all out over dinner, in front of her children and her parents. Though her parents may be a bit out there, are they wrong? What good would Helen coming clean now be? Who would she help now, aside from herself? And — perhaps most importantly — is she even thinking of the kids?

Though she never ends up going to see Cherry, she does go see Vic. “Not expecting forgiveness, just wanting him to know” is an excuse as old as time, but it serves as good a reason as any for coming clean to her ex. He’s cold, moody, and doesn’t seem to fully buy when she says she brought Noah in strictly out of remorse for actions and not love. I’m not sure we do either. But he says he’ll see her after work, so here’s to her looking up.

As for Noah…what is there to say when he represents all the sort of worst impulses of this show? As the main driver of the show he’s not consistently well-written enough to turn this into Mad Men, but he lacks the fun, near-self-awareness to turn The Affair into Nashville, leaving the show stuck somewhere in-between; seemingly forever inconsistently and morosely baiting its audience with the latest “bombshell,” and never focusing on where its strengths could be.

Stray thoughts

  • I didn’t even get to Helen’s conversation with Alison, which makes both more and less sense after this episode. I understand better why Helen was there, and Alison’s dialogue here seems fairly consistent with what we know Alison is going through (even Helen’s vision of her as much more self-assured than anyone has seen her this season). But once again The Affair overplays its hand by drastically changing the information exchanged between characters and crediting it all to “memory.” Why would Alison not remember spelling out to Helen that she was there the night Scotty died, or that Helen wanted to go confess everything to Cherry?
  • The bartender telling Helen “weird night” was a nice touch.
  • At least Helen bought three of Cherry’s pies.
  • Noah’s segment was actually directed by someone different than Helen’s, which I don’t know if they’ve done before on this show.
  • The segments with Gunther illustrate a problem that a lot of shows have: It’s ok if your audience calls your reveal way way ahead of time (it can make watching more fun!) but the longer you drag it out, the more the reveal has to be solid and rewarding. Simply extending the episode runtime isn’t enough. Noah wearing gloves all episode was a good way to keep people guessing. Spelling out what happened to Noah and then artily doling out the full reveal for the rest of the episode was not.

 

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The Affair – 307

Partway through Helen’s perspective this week, Vic seems to be reaching his breaking point. It’s understandable, after all she’s shown over this season that she’s still got feelings for Noah that tip her into delirious love, and she’s been showing little to no regard for how that makes the rest of her family feel.

“Wake up Helen. This man’s problem is much bigger than you and I can handle,” Vic insists. He no idea how much truth there is to those words, but the truth is neither does Helen.

This week is a continuation of last week, where we saw Noah struggle with his sanity and place in the world while Helen struggled with how much she “knows” Noah and the glowing love she still feels for him in her heart, recklessly unthinking about how it affects those around her. When Whitney tries to get her to understand what taking Noah back would mean Helen laughs in her face, scoffing “how it’s affected you?” She’s clearly ignoring the impact Noah, as a force, an adulterer, a convict, has had on her family, let alone her life. And while Vic is acting the way someone would if your girlfriend moved her ex-husband who she’s mooning over into your house without consulting you and then lied about it, Helen can’t see that. And so it becomes pretty clear early on that this is going to be it for Vic/Helen.Episode 307

I still like Vic. He was always smarter and more observant than Helen gave him credit for; on a different show he’d be the guy. On 30 Rock he’d be the sort of sardonic, quirky doctor who Liz Lemon would fall for against the odds. On The Affair he’s a casualty of Helen’s pathetic obsession with her Noah.

Which Noah seems to take utterly for granted. In his version of events Helen is much more down to business, confident, and bruising than her own skittish self-image. Vic is comes off more imposing; standing and looking down his nose as he dispenses sarcastic medical advice.

But no matter the reality Noah’s addiction to vicodin seems to ring true. At this point any other explanation for his erratic behavior and “attacks” from Gunther would just seem untrue. His prison flashbacks insinuate that Gunther was a majorly threatening presence when he was inside, but outside jail? What could the explanation possibly be?

He remembers himself as far more alert and self-reliant in his version of the day, but Helen imagines him as almost a child, whom she helps to dry off after the shower, feeds, medicates, and generally throws her life under the bus for. And what does Noah give in return—refusal to admit a drug problem? Ending her relationship? Withholding his circumstances when she’s trying to help? Lording his pending sainthood for taking the fall for her with the car accident?

Helen deserves more than that. The show knows it too, that’s why this week feels so painful to watch. With any luck she’ll wisen up soon, but knowing this show we’ve got miles to go before we sleep on that front.

Stray thoughts: 

  • Helen just thinking out loud to Nina’s answering machine about Noah’s condition and place in her life.
  • “Vic he’s their father, what was I supposed to do?” Vic: *shrugs*
  • “What kind of doctor refuses medication to someone who’s suffering?” Noah asks after Vic. The kind trained to look for Vicodin addiction.
  • Ahhh Furkat. And he camps, to go watch his 24-year-old daughter’s band play at festivals. What a treat.
  • Interesting touch the widely disparate looks Whitney rocks between Noah’s and Helen’s visions. It’s that kind of nice work that The Affair can do to more subtly clue the audience in to characters relation to each other.

 

 

 

Total Affair of the Heart – 306

Just as you start to wonder this week whether we’re going to see another one of Helen’s dad’s terrible girlfriends, and what Helen’s mom is up to, and if she knows how much we miss her—in she dances. Turns out, Helen’s Dad and Mom have rekindled their romance, and are halting the divorce and staying married. 

“At the end of the day, your mother just knows me,” says her father, blissfully. “Better than anyone else ever will.”

It’s the subject at the front of everyone’s mind this week; when do you really know someone? Noah wrestles with what his father knew about him, and what he wants Martin to know about him in return. Helen wrestles with if she truly knows anyone at all—and whether she’ll ever find someone to know her in return.

This week Helen bounces between rocks and hard places—Nina, Max, Martin, Vick; all seemingly trying to steer her away from Noah. She is, after all, one of the only people left who believes—nay, knows his innocence. It’s why she wants to believe he’s fundamentally good; fundamentally whole.

It’s why no one’s reasoning works with her. When her father jokes about Noah’s killer streak she hears the worst night of her life roar up against her ears. As Martin shuns his father for taking a life Helen sees the ghost of a path narrowly avoided. And when Nina throws in her face that Noah was broken when they met, that he used her to escape his life, until she dragged him down and he had to escape again.

When Helen’s at the disastrous double date with Vick and her parents it seems like she’s at an entirely different evening than the rest of them. That out of step feeling follows her throughout the episode, terrible decision after terrible action. She’s haunted by what she did, and haunted by the man who protected her who she may not even have known.

Her half lands harder than Noah’s, who struggles to put his life in motion after the last time we saw him—divorcing Helen, admitting his part in the end of his mother’s life, and figuring out where he goes from here. His admission in the last episode seems to have alleviated some of the guilt from his shoulders; he goes to his father’s house, and starts to broach the life he left behind there.

He brings Martin into some of the folds of his life and imparts some wisdom. We know Martin ended up going home, so when we see him chase a hooded figure into the lake it’s legitimately surprising (even if, from Helen’s perspective, we know no one else is there). But when the figure turns around it’s young Noah, it’s both a shock and a let down.

Anyone who’s not Helen could apparently see that Noah had trauma. And The Affair has telegraphed its thought process pretty clearly in the past. But this? This is a bit too low-hanging-fruit. What’s clear is that Helen wasn’t the only person “purposefully ignoring” the fuck-ups and downs in their life.

On the one hand you don’t want to end up like Helen: Finding out that Noah ran into her; realizing that she never cared to dig for the truth of why so long as the arrangement worked for her; grasping at straws and men for answers and connection. On the other, you don’t want to end up like Noah: Pushing people away in favor of exile, repentance, and confusion. Demanding too much and too little for yourself all at once.

The problem with knowing people, better than anyone else in the world, is that it can be a double-edged sword. And if The Affair is about anything more than affairs, it’s about the discovery of that truth.

Stray thoughts and thinks: 

  • God help me I love Vick. Poor bastard could be a great partner to someone in a different show. That being said, that Helen notices (or imagines) him laughing at her Dad’s joke about killing him to save a lot of heartache? Not a great look.
  • “Was Noah fucked up when I met him?” Helen asks Max, who is bewildered as one would be when you’ve just cheated on your fiancee with your ex-girlfriend after she initiated it and then brings up her ex-husband who was your best friend for 20 years.
  • Noah was calm when he heard a train whistle—if he heard it at all.

Total Affair of the Heart – 302

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.

Stray Thoughts: 

  • 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: