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?
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.
- 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.