Previously: Whitney’s a bully. The Lockharts are drug dealers. Noah wants out. Oscar is a jerk. Okay? Here we go.
We begin in Noah’s memory: He and Helen and Whitney are at Whitney’s therapist’s office. Whitney, with all the awkwardness of a teen with misplaced confidence in learning therapy speak, tells her parents that a lot of her behavior could be blamed on Helen’s expectations. Man, it must be hard to be a parent sometimes. Helen’s face seems to be reflecting this a bit, but she admirably holds it together. Whitney has picked up on the fact that her parents are unhappy and having issues, but she’s off when it comes to who is the dirty cheater—she thinks Helen and Max are having an affair. Oh Whitney, so close.
We cut to the detective who is reading Noah’s second novel, so I guess this is the future? The cover treatment looks like a little Twilight-y, but that is probably not intentional. It’s title is Descent. Dun dun dun! Note: The detective is wearing a wedding ring after telling Noah in an early episode he was divorced.
Back in the Solloway mobile, Noah says they should just leave this hellhole and Helen agrees. Whitney? Not so much. She and Helen start to fight (I’m total Team Helen on this one though I do love Whitney screeching, “Why do you deny me my reality?”) while Noah tries to organize their departure. Martin wants to say goodbye to the ranch and apologize for the mare disaster the other day. Noah—deeply unpsyched to be there—skulks about while Martin tells hot Cole he’s sorry. Cole is, shocker, terrific about the whole thing. He tells Noah that Martin’s a great kid, though he seems to be attention seeking. Noah, trying hard not to chant I’ve been doing your wife all summer, smiles and hedges. Alison appears, sending Noah into a panic.
The elder Butlers are fighting amongst each other about an unflattering Vanity Fair article. Noah is, as Helen points out, just about the happiest we’ve ever seen him.
He runs to the Lobster Roll under the guise of getting gas, but wanting to leave a note for Alison. Oscar busts him and straight-up blackmails him. “You know what I just realized? I can tell your wife?” He suggests $10,000 to make sure Helen never finds out. He gives Noah a one week deadline.
As Helen bids her mother goodbye, she suggests she come with them, a suggestion Margaret rejects as it would just give Bruce Butler an excuse to hole up with his mistress. Noah takes this in and feels gross by association as he should. Then the Solloways, all smiles, beat it the hell out of the Hamptons and head for Brooklyn where their renters wrecked their brownstone. The kids adjust to being able to talk at dinner and having to clear their own plates. Helen and Noah adjust to being able to have sex in their own bed… except Noah is having a little trouble. I think I’ll skip the part where Helen talks about Noah’s “legendary hard on.”
Noah is troubled thinking about the disasters that could very well lie ahead—not helped by Oscar texting him. He heads to Max’s the next day and confesses everything in order to get a check. Max is sleeping with a 23-year-old, so he is in a generous mood and gives the money to Noah and a little free advice: Don’t tell Helen.
Noah is jogging in the park when it all gets to be a little too much, and he collapses to the ground. Everyone except Noah could have guessed the cause: panic attack. “It really felt like my heart,” he tells Helen in the emergency room. Helen apologizes for the stress of living at the Butlers for the summer. She sweetly suggests they’ll go somewhere else and decompress. Her kindness is his undoing: He confesses to the affair. It was stupid, he says. It was nothing. It meant nothing. Helen immediately nails who it was with: the waitress, Alison. Damn, Helen! Nice intuition. She finally breaks when she learns it went on all summer. Noah looks guilty and yet relieved all at once.
Back at the Brooklyn brownstone, the family greets Noah upon his return from the hospital. He tells them it was dehydration (someone has been reading US magazine) and hugs three of his kids, Helen and Martin hanging back. He glances out the window and rushes over to close the drapes as he doesn’t want to be on display. Hmmm.
Helen is having a hard time, understandably, processing. Maura Tierney crushes this scene. She’s breaking as she reaches the conclusion that their marriage and friendship is a lie. Noah says that he loves her. They’re yelling pretty loudly, so I can’t believe the kids can’t hear them. Noah tries a few different defenses: I was in a bad place; she came after me; he was feeling weak after his book came out; the pressure of writing a new book blah blah blah, but Helen is not having it at all. (This is the most annoyed I’ve been with Noah the whole season.) However, I think there’s some truth in this fight: that Noah feels like Helen looks at him like potential unfulfilled. “You’ve been waiting for the guy you married to… happen.” “Only because you are,” she shoots back. They are exhausted.
But only Helen sleeps. Noah is awake enough to get a taunting text from Oscar. Noah calls him back and tells him he told Helen so that Oscar can go f— himself. Now that was satisfying. Noah rips up the check.
NEXT: Just a small town girl living in a lonely world