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 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.

 

The Affair – 308

“Why?”

It’s a question a number of characters ask throughout 308, about a number of different things. But the probing, dangling question seems to always be cutting into the same root, planted years and years ago: Alison and Cole.

After a couple weeks of the Noah/Helen show we’re back in Montauk, as Alison and Cole sort out custody and then themselves. When we start we’re in the middle of their custody hearing, Alison watching Cole as he seems to be looking anywhere but over at her. Then Luisa takes the stand and—to everyone, even Cole’s surprise—she says that not only has the relationship between Joanie and her mother improved, but shared custody should be on the table. “I’m not a fan of Alison, but this isn’t about me. She should have her daughter back.”

It’s an about face, to be sure. And though Alison is delighted at having her daughter back she understands Cole was thrown by it all happening so fast. He and Luisa seemed to be having a tense talk after the hearing, after all. Alison brings him coffee and a muffin at his in-progress house, and he says that it “seems a little fast” to him. “You haven’t exactly been the model of consistency since you got back; you’re still you,” he throws in her face before asking her to leave.

Alison moves on. The next day she gets called down by her doctor, Dr. Perry, to meet with a young woman who lost her child and has been on suicide watch since she arrived at the Woodlawn facility eight weeks ago. It’s the healthiest we’ve ever really seen Alison engage with that side of herself, that memory from her past. Though there’s something, maybe, to be said for the whole session going so smoothly, the conversation is full of an implicit understanding. The woman doesn’t try to shrug off Alison too much; she wants to get better. And Alison is seemingly able to speak honestly and without any facade, telling her: “It’s incredible to be alive. And everyone else assumes that life is a given. But you and I both know that it’s not. You and I both know that breath can end. So we know that life is a given. You’ll miss Don, but you’ll keep her with you; you’ll keep that memory alive. And you’ll live now for both of you.”

After that she goes to see Cole and tell her she’s been invited to a program at Woodlawn. Cole doesn’t take this well, but really, did we expect him to? He’s been in such a foul mood all episode, even as he tries to be friends with Alison. You can feel him pushing her away even as he draws her closer, talking about the film of grief over her eyes.

Cole can’t stand it; he accuses Alison of only thinking about herself—a fair critique, when she says she hasn’t thought about how Joanie would factor into her plan to live in New Jersey half the week, less fair when he says he “knew she was going to do something like this.” She says she brought him this news because he’s the only one who can understand, and he waves her off.

She heads to bar where she runs into…Helen. It’s their first real heart-to-heart, and they both get somethings off their chests: Helen continues to wrestle with who Noah was not only to her but with her, and Alison apologizes for the affair. 

It’s a weird day for her, to be sure. Even weirder when a cop friend tips her off that the New Jersey cops are back questioning Cole after he popped up on toll cameras close to Noah’s house the night of the attack.

And then we’re with Cole, back at his courthouse chat with Luisa post-testimony. His memory of it all looks a lot less contentious than Alison’s memory of it all, but it’s just the beginning of a bad day after the new powers that be want him to halt progress on his house due to code violations.

When he comes home, weary of the ways of the world and utterly exhausted, Luisa asks him if they’re ready to start their own family. He shrugs it off, saying he’s interested but he’d like to talk about it at a later time. 

Next day: Still hasn’t halted production on the house. Oscar gets sent from town council to tell him to cut it out, because he’s a high-profile citizen and they want to make an example of him. Eventually their conversation turns to a heart-to-heart, about love, parenting, and Alison.  Oscar warns him that she’s not worth leaving Luisa for, but Cole still seems troubled by the thought of it.

And that’s why he can’t handle when she comes by. In his version of events she doesn’t just leisurely pull over after seeing him at the Lobster Roll, she barges into the restaurant as he’s getting set up (and likely mentally lingering on his conversation with Oscar). She’s much more clear about spending more time away from Montauk, and he can’t handle it. “As long as I’m crazy you get to be sane,” she zings back at him.

It’s enough to send him back to Luisa, almost manic about the possibility of starting a family. She’s thrown, trying to appeal for him to table it until he calms down when the cops show up. They’re itching to nab him for anything they can, it seems, and when he waves his hand too close to them they grab him and take him to jail for the night.

And Alison visits him. She asks him what he was doing down in New Jersey that night. He admits that he drove to see Dr. Perry because seeing her up in Montauk, being good with Joanie, being clearer, gave him ideas. And they have one of the clearest conversations we’ve ever seen from them.

A: Why did you need to see my doctor?

C: I needed her professional opinion I guess. About how you are…I don’t need you, I don’t want you, I don’t miss you. Truth is I do. I need you. And I want you, and I miss you, and I love you. And i’m tired of pretending that I don’t.

A: I’m depressed with mood swings…I know that i am not an easy person to love. I love you. I always have and I always will. But this is your decision to make. And I don’t envy you.

When Cole gets released from jail Luisa asks him what he told them. “The truth,” he says; he drove down to see her doctor to get evidence for the custody case. Luisa doesn’t believe him, but when he rolls over to go to sleep she doesn’t push him either.

Only he doesn’t sleep. He goes to see Alison where they have yet another clear-eyed conversation:

A: We keep coming back to each other.

C: I know.

A: Don’t you think that means something?

C:I think that means we were unfinished. –

A: And now…we are? You’re scared. I think you’re giving up because we’ve made a mess of everything and it’s too complicated. If you leave Luisa now you can’t play the good guy anymore.

But either way, the next morning he’s in the kitchen, making up with Luisa. His face is a bit inscrutable, but it seems there’s more to be resolved here too.

 

 

Stray Thinks

  • It’s not really clear at what point this takes place. We know that it’s been a couple weeks since we last saw Cole and Alison, since they talked about the court date, but how long has Noah been staying with Helen? Why did she lie about Vick treating him?
  • “But it’s not your fault. I mean, men need to feel important in a relationship in order to stay, and I stopped making Noah feel important years before he met you.”
  • The fact that Luisa told Joanie about the court decision all alone is so indicative of her place in Joanie’s life; like that’s not even co-parenting. She’s just being a primary parent, which wouldn’t be where you’d think she is.
  • Oscar is so chill with his “She’s a solid B+ and, let’s face it, I’m a C” that I CAN’T STOP thinking he’s on to something.
  • I am far from an expert on these sorts of things, but it really feels like The Affair has gone off some sort of predetermined or mapped out plan for its plot. It kind of fits like a cheap sweater, loose in the wrong areas but so right where it’s right. But it’s officially been renewed for a fourth season, so I guess there’s more drama planned for our crew.

 

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 – 304

Episode 304, or wherein we learn that Cole’s life remains hard.

What I found interesting was that both versions of events (his and Alison’s) were sympathetic to Alison. It’s no surprise that she sees herself as unduly put upon, however legally warranted that may be; her lawyer doesn’t respect her, Luisa doesn’t like her, and she doesn’t get to see her daughter enough all because she needed to take some time out to recuperate her mental health. But the fact that Cole sees her as an almost wounded deer of a woman is in stark contrast to her own version of how Cole sees her. More so even than Helen’s strained relationship with Noah, this seems like the most two versions have aligned, painting a very skittish, sad Alison.

It appears, however, that there’s no winning for Cole. In his own version Luisa’s mad at him for siding with his ex-wife too much, and in Alison’s Cole is a hardass who doesn’t want to acknowledge her existence.

To a large extent I don’t understand all the animosity towards Alison, who—though possibly in a bit too much of a hurry—seemed to have done the responsible thing when she “left” Joanie and checked herself into an institution. When Cole comes over to yell at her she’s right to call him on the fact that she didn’t abandon Joanie at all, she left her daughter with her father.

But Luisa has earned some cause to be cautious: The timing of it all, as she’s pointed out before, was weird, and clearly Cole and Alison have a strong connection and an equally strong pull towards each other. The scenes in Cole’s version in their house have a warmer tone, with peach colored walls and a coziness pervading. It’s the sort of feeling we don’t get from The Affair a lot, and a lot of what we’re shown seems to stem from Luisa being a good mom and legitimately loving Joanie. It’s sad because their issues seem to be having two different conversations. When they fight in the kitchen after he holds her back so Alison can comfort Joanie, she’s trying to say that she feels like a second-class parent even though she’s putting in more legwork and consistency. He’s trying to get Luisa to understand that he’s between a rock and a hard mess and that as his partner she should do everything she can to make his life easier, not really taking into account the parental dynamics at all. The result is her feeling even more put upon; even if Luisa’s acting out somewhat, she’s keeping Joanie out of it and fighting with Cole over feeling respected while still standing by her man, even offering up an alibi for the night Noah was stabbed.

Which is strange since Cole doesn’t have an alibi for the night Noah was stabbed. That feels like a misdirect to me, at least in terms of what it means for Noah’s case. It does seem like Cole is up to something if not far more nefarious than at least shadier than his warm, homey life suggests. Perhaps because The Affair touts itself as a show where there’s always more than what you see, but the fact that the police seemed so much more sympathetic to Alison’s plight seemed more suspicious to me. I don’t think she knows what’s happening with Noah, but the fact that they’re resuming contact seems like a good place to start. Especially since—if Alison’s memory is to be believed—they were there for a full day, at least.

Stray Thinkings

  • Alison did know the officers were going to go talk to Cole, but didn’t warn him. I’m inclined to think it’s just a slip of the mind with everything going on, but she was interrupted in the process of considering poisoning Luisa so who knows.
  • Joanie is the cutest, ok?
  • Oscar’s schtick seemed suspicious when he was just talking to Cole (“Luisa’s been good for you, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this happy”), but coupled with his small talk with Alison where he (seemingly) contradicts himself over his baby’s sensitivity to noise, seems suspicious. Kudos to Darren Goldstein for really selling the subtle, smarmy vibe, where he always seems to be thinking three steps ahead even if he’s headed off at the pass.
  • It was like, classic weird thing with the cakes, but Alison’s didn’t look big enough for a kid’s friend birthday party, when it’s normally more about quantity than quality, and would probably make a better treat for just having as mother and daughter together anyway.
  • Of course, then Noah shows up driving past Alison, so I guess we’re about to get into it. Here we go…

 

 

 

 

 

Total Affair of the Heart – 303

Well Juliette’s done in one episode what it took Cole and Helen an entire season to. Luckily this also allows for the season’s first, return to “same encounter different perspectives” it’s hung its hat on for so long. Unluckily, there’s not too much to say on this episode really. 

What have we really learned about Juliette, now that we’ve seen her side of the story? Sure now we know that Noah’s account (she came and found him, and practically jumped his bones without any prelude) of the dinner varies wildly from hers (he came and found her, they had a conversation about love and life, before turning to other things), and we know that she’s got a much older husband, who was also once her teacher, who has dementia and lives in France with a nurse. That may be part of the most important thing we’ve gleaned of Juliette’s life: She’s a caretaker, taking in broken men and growing students, and forming bonds around helping them. It could (for once) explain what a woman sees in Noah, or what she sees in her douchey student.

It could also be a gateway to a whole lot of nothing. The Affair falls in line with House of Cards here, wrapping itself in prestige, high-brow drama dressings with little or nothing to show for it. Its constant cynicism about love is tiring. What little juice it keeps in the perspective tank seems to have run out of having much new to say. Whatever promise there is for Juliette as a character seems on a dangerous precipice here: As Angelica Bastién writes of The Affair, the show has some interest in letting its women characters wrestle with their archetypes without letting them say much about it. Helen is a scorned wife with a life, Allison a wounded mother with a complicated emotional pattern, and now Juliette is a sophisiticated European romantic who throws off traditional roles.

We now know about her husband, her perspective, and that she jacks off to Noah’s book (or the thought of Noah?), and not a whole lot else. Is she saying what she thinks Noah wants to hear when she talks about women’s arousal or are her archaic sex views really how she feels? We see her wearily eye a hole-in-the-wall gunshop and a sign-twirling Statue of Liberty, but is it what she thinks of America? Nothing else in the episode seems to hint at her feelings for her adopted country.

On Noah’s end there’s little more resolution: He doesn’t remember who stabbed him, or even really what happened. We get more insight into what happened to him in prison—Brendan Frasier’s prison guard seems to be straight out of Misery—but it’s all set up to what happened to him in the end. All we know is it gets more violent.

These prison flashbacks still rub me the wrong way. Again, there’s a difference between what The Affair was attempting in its first season—telling a story from two sides, all while leading to (seemingly) one-sided future consequences—and what it’s doing here, which is mostly checking off the quirky dark prestige drama toolkit. We don’t know what happened with Noah and his sister 30 years ago (guesses?) that leaves her wracked with guilt, but the writers are content to leave it dangling over the story and the audience. Increasingly like the show’s depiction of Juliette, it feels much less novel and insightful than it does just a hollow copy cat.

Stray Observations

  • Well that’s one way to read, I guess.
  • I guess this is supposed to be the same part of the dinner/consent conversation Noah heard, but this is one of those situations where their takeaways were so wildly different that I have a hard time believing it.
  • Audrey is much more convincing this time around, and comes off a bit less like a shrill feminist archetype, but only barely. They’re still not doing much with her, and her “hate-fuck” thoughts about Noah don’t help.
  • In addition to being much more sheepish and cute as opposed to Noah’s image of her as sultry and seductive, she doesn’t notice a train sound when he runs out. Hers is all non-diagetic music.

Total Affair of the Heart – 301

Of course we start back with Noah Solloway. Partially because he is the one who has blown his life up at the end of each season and we need to see how he’s putting it together this time. Partially because he’s an instigator of the titular affair. Partially because the last thing we heard spoken was him confessing to a crime we know he didn’t commit in order to protect the women he loves. And partially because of course we start with Noahthe-affair

We’re clued in almost immediately that time has passed thanks to his beard, and we soon learn his father has died, he’s living with his sister, and it’s been three years since he went to prison. His kids are older, they’re not sure how to be around him, and Noah is more mopey than ever.

The Affair‘s hat trick with its perspective adjustments and replays never fully delivered on the premise, but in episodes like these—where the focus lies with just one person, never showing anyone else’s point of view—it’s more about how things are being said and what is left unspoken.

Noah and Helen, for instance, are definitely not on the same wavelength. At the funeral she is confused and he has his blockades up. She’s distant, asking questions but seemingly never answering his honestly. It’s frustrating, but it’s more likely a reflection of how Noah himself is coming off to others than it is about how Helen is communicating. As we see in a flashback to the beginning of his sentence, he was once light on his feet about his time, feeling invigorated, and telling Helen to “just wait” for him. Now he pushes her into pulling back.

His students are young to him. Their worldview is simple, black and white, something he brushes over without really engaging with it. We see it when he eviscerates Audrey’s piece in his class (for really no other purpose than that he needs an outlet), and we see it at the “salon” at his new French Love Interest’s house. Audrey is skittish and then righteous; the boys at the table simplistic to his distinguished, nuanced take on sexual consent. He’s not wrong, and his answer may be more jargon-filled and enlightened than the other men at the table (“I’m afraid to touch a woman at a party” blow me), but it’s not anymore respectful of women. Their political rhetoric is tedious, sure, but it’s all being filtered through Noah—who, as we know, has trouble with consent and power in conversations and sexual relationships.

His new lady love is relatively uncomplicated; her lecture is (as is The Affair‘s style) on the nose as hell with all its bluster about “a shadow of a shadow, desperate to be destroyed by its creator,” and being “tainted by his infernal paternity.” By the time they’re walking outside the church she’s the literary equivalent of a silver platter, a character who “calls things like it is,” and draws connections between adultery and Lancelot (who is one of the most famous adulterers of all time—doesn’t make it more or less romantic to those who oppose adultery, like the women at the salon dinner).

And all that is tied up with a couple new avenues for the show to open up this season: What did he forgive his sister for, once upon a time? What’s up with all this rape rhetoric on campus; is anyone else getting Veronica Mars season 3 flashbacks? What the hell happened in that prison that we’re flashbacking to, and is it driving him mad or is he really in danger?

For now all we have is Noah’s perspective. Next week, the world will broaden a bit.

Stray Stuff: 

  • “Thank you Mr. Solloway, for those…words,” is the funeral director hitting it on the head the best, until Noah’s son observes Grandpa would’ve liked his disjointed eulogy because it was “short, sweet—no bullshit.”
  • Any guesses as to what’s up with his deal with trains?
  • I’m not sure how much I like the “flashbacks” here. Granted it’s playing around with time similarly to how it’s always done as a show, but there was something a bit more respectably pulpy back when it was an end we were working towards. Now that it’s building to where we are it feels a bit like we’re betraying the show’s actual low-brow masquerading as high-brow game.
  • Jennifer Esposito, continually underutilized by The Affair and the universe, may have a bigger role this season.
  • I know it’s supposed to read as that way, but what the fuck was his tirade in class about? He’s clearly frustrated with his place and lot in life, but still came off as wildly inappropriate and smug—even in his own reality.
  • “Asking isn’t sexy.” These college boys are completely horrendous.
  • “I started noticing the change after 9/11” was the moment when I knew that this show was going to be harder to take seriously this season. 
  • Welcome back, y’all!

 

 

 

Vikings Season 3 and The Perfect Protagonist Problem in Paris

This post will detail the final bits of Vikings season 3. Spoiler-averse ye be warned. 

Vikings is one of those shows I’m ready to go to the mat for. Though it has its downsides, the show has proved itself time and time again to be built on a strong understanding of perspective, both historically and narratively. But by the end of season three, it became clear to me that Vikings has a perfect protagonist problem.

I’ve written in the past about how much of Vikings, to me, hinges on Travis Fimmel’s performance as Ragnar Lothbrok—which luckily he regularly wields with enigmatic precision. The problem is, within the show his character is situated in a bit of a house of cards. His whole identity has been as a fantastic warrior and tactician, even if he strives for something different (or at least claims to). For that to work in the story, he must frequently be at least one step ahead of those around him. And Vikings does give us a lot of evidence that this is believable for him: Unlike leaders on Game of Thrones, Ragnar is not prone to long-winded speeches of intimidation, preferring to hang back and watch others interact and offering his opinion (only) when needed. He’s a good study of character, combat, and condition, so it makes sense that he can throw all that weight behind planning a battle. We’ve seen him pull off impressive coups against leaders who have (perhaps wrongfully) feared his lust for power and prowess, and they have all hinged on his understanding of himself and those around him both as players and pawns.

It also explains how he would know his previous right-hand-man Floki had murdered his closest friend Athlestan. And why he wouldn’t confront Floki immediately; he has tactical use, and Ragnar is eager to broach the walls of Paris. What it doesn’t explain is why we’re expected to believe such a hootenanny plan which was apparently Ragnar’s: Allow Floki to lead the first charge, which would probably fail, wound himself to the point of near death, and ask the Parisian christians to baptize him. episode-10-season-3-of-history-channels-vikings-ragar-takes-paris.jpgOnce dead, he would demand a proper funeral in their church, from where he would burst out of the coffin and let in his fellow vikings to ransack the city.

Oddly, the part I have fewer and fewer bones to pick is with the historical accuracy of this plan. Christians were reportedly very particular about their funeral rites, particularly that of reformed pagans. That Athlestan’s death would be the catalyst for Ragnar’s idea (which, historically, is often credited to Bjørn Ironside’s exploits in Italy) is not so far fetched to me. I’ll even throw my hat in for those who believe that Ragnar may believe or at least question whether both faiths are real.

What is far-fetched is that Ragnar would lose 1000 men to what is, essentially, a big game of misdirection. To be fair, during these episodes the show did legitimately manage to toy with my emotions; the thrilling initial siege on Paris was hitting all the right notes for a vikings victory until it wasn’t (much like recent events), and it did seem like for however wooden the French court scenes were the battle sequences showed some innovation the vikings weren’t prepared for. Understanding that Ragnar had to make the war look convincing, it’s fair that he would spend months and months waiting them out. He is a patient man.

But the Parisian siege felt like it had turned their golden goose into a gimmick. Fimmel’s Ragnar is a protagonist who works best when he doesn’t have to explain himself, which can leave the reality of his character tied up in the reveal. Towards the end of season three, Ragnar was monologuing (ostensibly talking to his friend in Christian heaven) about his grand plans, and for that grand plan to ultimately be so far fetched it called into question much of the character—which is saying something considering season 2’s coup-de-grace. That this winding and counterintuitive plan would go off without a hitch doesn’t necessarily speak to Ragnar’s prowess as a tactician, but as a character too tied up in contrivances.

And at the end of all of that, it’s still not even entirely clear what lesson he was trying to teach Floki, let alone what his patient revenge was. The season ended almost too quietly when Ragnar finally let Floki know that his murderous deeds were known. The show had already asked its characters to externalize a lot of their conflicts, such as Ragnar’s demise and issues with Floki, and then pulled a massive bait-and-switch that didn’t feel truly earned. Then as it offers us these true “big” moments as season enders, we’re not surprised by most of them because they already felt so improbable and we as the audience had already internalized a lot of the issues at play.

Though the show’s laissez fare attitude towards pacing can be oddly thrilling (not to clear all issues off the table before allowing its time period to move forward) it makes me nervous to think of launching into season 4 come mid-February, and swiftly moving away from the events around Paris. Vikings season 3 struggled a bit under the weight of a few too many storylines (Bjørn’s love life is just yawn, but the English courts also needed some better tie-in by the end), and I’d hate to see these central vikings get squeezed out in a time-jump. So far I’m still willing to see how high they’ll stack up these issues before the shark jumps over, but I’d be disappointed if it means diminishing returns on all the balls in the air. As the theme song goes, “more, give me more, give me more.”

the-vikings-prepare-to-attack-paris-in-episode-8-entitled-to-the-gates-season-3-of-history-channels-vikings.jpg

Black’n’Orange: Season 3 Episode 6

Catching up? Check the tag. 

My first thoughts on this episode is that it left me a little numb.

In a way that only OITNB (and possibly a handful of other shows) can, “Ching Chong Chang” was that bizarre mix of everything I wanted and nothing at all. The flashback seemed like a good way to fold in a backstory with a weekly theme, while also being a far too convenient story—that I fear will ultimately be dropped.

960As we follow Chang around the prison, we’re treated to a look at her life before she arrived at Litchfield: the unwanted, “unattractive” sister who rose to power in a smuggling ring (I might’ve missed it, but I don’t think they ever actually said what position she held in the end?). It’s an interesting backstory, certainly colorful given the only intermittent flashes we’ve seen from Chang so far. It’s nice because it doesn’t seem to seek to explain much of Chang at any point; our view of her pre-prison life shows her trying to forget about the “ugly duckling” label she’s carried, but much of her activity in prison is purely observational. She makes Frito/pea balls in the microwave; she saves oranges; she reins herself in during an improv exercise.

All that is wrapped up tightly with an episodic discussion of what it means to be a woman, and perform feminity as a woman: Chang’s broken betrothal, the lingerie magazine (and all the intersectional privilege that comes with it), Marello’s creepy prison pen pal scheme. It’s as if OITNB is running through a list of boxes that allows it to facilitate a lot of important dialogue, but it also all feels a bit too neat.

Red hits it on the head when she’s confronting Healy, who’s still sour about her using him to get back in the kitchen. “I take advantage you get your feelings hurt. You forget that when I leave here, you lock me in behind you,” she spits at him. “You leave her with one coin—it’s tawdry and demeaning, but if she has to, she will spend it.”

The episode does a lot to advance several plots, actually. Red is (triumphantly) back in the kitchen. Piper has a new flame friend. The prison’s privatization is starting to grind gears a bit. Poussey is longing for love in her life. But amidst the episode trying to do all that while also make compelling points about feminism (and, on the mid-back burner/not yet front-burner, the privatized prison complex) it left nothing with a lot of breathing room. They’re all there, and it’s arguably not even done poorly. But it’s so crowded that it’s hard to make out any nuance through the haze.

Stray Shots: 

  • Red velvet isn’t a thing. You heard it here folks.
  • “God bless free market America of the United States” listening to Pennsatucky’s whole “viva la privatized prison” speech really through me for a loop. Strange to see how the other side (in this case southerners? Conservatives? People who are 100 percent behind this sort of thing?) lives. Also interested to see if Pennsatucky’s arc of acceptance continues through—what I’m predicting is—a rocky transition to the prison’s new owners.
  • “All right, this is still prison, alright?”
  • Cream in Carbonara sauce = vulgar. This week was filled with hot food takes.
  • “We got the haircuts.”

 

 

Black’N’Orange: Episode Five

Interactions with others are often colored by the image we project of ourselves. That doesn’t go away just because you’re in prison. Episode five, “Fake It Till You Fake It Some More,” is all about pulling off those rose colored glasses.

Flaca from Orange is the New Black episode 5“People will believe what you tell them, until you don’t,” says one character in a heated exchange. And it’s true—which leaves a couple characters in a bit of a jarring whiplash. After consistently projecting a fake image of the prison (or at least attempting one) Caputo finds out exactly where he is when the dust settles. Daya is still reeling from Bennett’s disertion, and has hit an all time low in her pregnancy mood. Red’s softening to Healy only to be revealed as just another scheme to get herself back in the kitchen is true to character, but still jolts Healy awake from whatever fantasy land he had of yet another Russian woman falling in love with him for his character.

Norma, who’s been masquerading behind Gloria’s back about her healing properties, flies a bit too close to the sun and learns that sometimes the image you’re enjoying projecting doesn’t always belong to you. Appropriation is real kids, as Gloria is quick to remind Norma. “This ain’t your history; this ain’t your culture,” she warns, taking away what was never a super interesting plotline to begin with. The best things to have come out of Norma’s egg-healing was the revealing of others issues, and by the episode’s end Norma’s got her old groove back, and a way to keep that exposition going—good for us, and her.

Which is something that Daya could surely use. The mom-to-be is reeling, with the loss of not just a support system but a life plan and a romance, all with an illegal baby on the way who has nowhere to go. I had always assumed that in some way her father’s boyfriend would be the legal guardian, even if it meant Bennett would be the one who actually cared for him—which still raises a whole lot of questions about child services, but I could overlook that given just how far gone this plotline already was—but when she finds out that he can’t manage that it’s just another expectation letting her down. Her exchange with Pornstache’s mom is bittersweet; I’m glad that she has someone who’s willing to be there for her, let her know her rights, and take care of the baby, but their relationship is so tenuous—something the “Grandma” is all too aware of. Maybe this seed will pay off down the road (an ol’ “get what you need” payoff to all the Pornstache lies/Bennett leaving web of the past) but I’m guessing more likely Grandma is right. More on that to come.

Of course the spotlight of episode five falls to Flaca, who’s always dreamt of being somewhere better than where she is—whether that’s the prison’s kitchen or her mother’s sewing shop. To her it’s not a choice that means she’s abandoning her family, instead it’s just her becoming the image she’s had in her mind all along. I’m a bit tired of OITNB using “family break-ups” in such a huge sort of flare-up, given that outbursts like these often lead to season-long repercussions. But I appreciate the expanding of Flaca’s character, and she’s clearly learned a thing or two about how to stake out your own territory.  I hope they take the time to let her fake it until she makes it sometime.

Stray shots: 

  • As a big fan of “Arms and the Man,” I am way into Poussey’s retelling
  • I was doing the math on what saving a $1/hour could mean for an inmate and got as far as thinking about what that could’ve meant for Taystee’s first release and got too sad to continue. Though the third season isn’t exactly putting it front and center, it is allowing for a much more frank dialogue of life in prison.
  • “I’m really wearing it ironically” says Flaca of her fashion choices, showing that it turns out no one—even the wearer—is sure where the irony line is.
  • “I’m pregnant in prison, lady. Did you really expect me to be all happy and glowy?”
  • One of the downsides to Piper being a secondary character this season is that her neuroses don’t really carry across episodes very well, or at least the writers aren’t used to it yet. Her teasing of Alex here struck me as really tonedeaf, given what a real threat hangs over Alex’s life right now. She may have been paranoid, but she at least has some cause to be. Piper is really all over the map for me lately.
  • One of the best parts of season 3, conversely, is that without a “big bad” (or Larry—praise!) is there’s more time to focus on the relationships and strains of prison life. And damn that is a good (if slow) thing.