Well, would you look at that: We begin in the future! That’s a first, right? Lawyer Jon and his baby-faced assistant are still puzzling over the tape we got a glimpse of last week. You know the totally misleading one where Scott Lockhart allegedly tells Alison, “That’s our baby!” (I’m not buying this for one hot second, The Affair.)
They’re trying to figure out what the deal is, along with the phone records that show that Scott Lockhart called Alison a million times and she wasn’t returning. Lawyer Jon spins out a scenario about one night of forbidden passion between Alison and Scott Lockhart and how he was either blackmailing her or something, and she got drunk and, with just one twitch of the wheel, decided to end Scott Lockhart. I think the important takeaway from this whole thing is that Noah is lawyer Jon’s client — he doesn’t care what happens with Alison; his job is to make sure that Noah doesn’t go to jail, and the best way to do that is to throw suspicion on someone else. Just as he’s getting pretty psyched about all this Helen sticks her bang-haired self in and asks for a word. And we go spinning back into Helen’s perspective.
It’s a college tour with Whitney! And we’re at Williams, the alma mater and early romantic stomping grounds of Noah and Helen (and, also, “please don’t call him uncle” Max). It’s very pretty! Less impressed is Whitney, who declares it “Hogwarts without the magic.” (Whitney, it should be noted, is also wearing a very questionable hat.)
Whitney continues to eyeroll her way through the tour — it’s hard to impress sophisticated city kids with dorm rooms — and while Helen tries to talk up the place, Whitney just takes her picture, which actually is incredibly annoying. She also sets up a Tinder profile for her mom. Funny? Sweet? Weird? Sure. When Helen tells her to shut it down, Whitney is all: Listen, Dad left a year ago and time is ticking. “You have at least five good years left. I’m just trying to help you maximize them.” Sheesh. Helen is on a budget (why?), so they’re staying a hotel that Whitney does not find up to her snotty standards. Helen is all, “Listen, you’re staying in the dorm with someone named Chrissy, and I’ll drink wine in my room and wander around town.” Whitney begs her mom to swipe right.
As they go to meet this mysterious Chrissy, Whitney continues to whine about how pointless this is since she won’t be getting in to Williams. (True, I’m sure.) Helen is all, “You’re golden! You have your father’s charm!” Whitney is like, “Please don’t compare me to the dude you hate most on the planet.” In fact, Whitney doesn’t want to go to college at all. She wants to attend the school of life — you know, travel to places like Japan and London! Or — and here’s the real deal — she wants to live in New York and be a model. I’m assuming she means Manhattan here because she already lives in Brooklyn.
Turns out some photographer approached Whitney and gave her his card, and Helen is understandably grossed out and suspicious. They fight all the way to a charming cafe. As things get heated, Whitney goes for the jugular and tells Helen that unlike some mothers she knows, she will not live off her parents for the rest of her life. Her stomp-away exit is ruined when she sees Noah across the street.
She runs across and greets him, Helen and Noah both confused about why the other is there. Noah is with Eden, the stunningly beautiful but nightmarish publicist. Whitney wants to upgrade into her father’s hotel. Cool dad Noah says sure, and Helen is left to be the bad guy and explain why college tours exist. In the midst of all this, Chrissy shows up and actually seems kind of cool, and Whitney must think so, too, because she takes off with her. By the way, Noah looks really unusually tall in this scene; I don’t think that means anything, but I’m just saying. Noah asks if Helen wants to come to his reading that night, and Helen gives an amazing, “Uh, no.”
Back to the future: Helen is asking lawyer Jon what to prepare the kids for. The trial is in two weeks. Jon tells Helen he has one suspect, but he doesn’t feel comfortable talking about it just yet. Helen wants to know what kind of confirmation he needs. “I can’t let him go to prison.”
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Back in Williamstown, Helen drinks a martini and watches people file into the bookstore, presumably to see Noah. “Eff it,” she says and wanders into the bookstore, amazed at what has happened to her ex-husband. They catch each other’s eyes, and for a moment it’s just super sweet — he gives her an isn’t-this-insane kind of look, and she smiles. His reading, thank heavens, is not all about amazing combustible hot, hot, hot sex with Alison but appears to be about leaving Helen. I think that’s what she would prefer? It’s interesting: It’s about the time they took money from her parents for the first time and how it was the beginning of the end and how he wondered what happened to that girl and the man he was who once totally worshipped her. (Trivia: I happened to be on set for filming this particular scene, and Dominic West was having a hell of a time with his native British accent saying “Fifth-floor Harlem walk-up.”) Helen looks thoughtful.
Last question from an audience member: Do you believe that love can last? Noah’s answer is about faith and about how it takes two to hold love up. He notes the word “unfaithful” is used for adultery for a reason. This is interesting: It sounds as though Noah is actually owning his actions while at the same time Helen is thinking about her own culpability. Noah quips if you lose faith (in God or love), this book is what will happen to you. It gets a laugh from everyone but the one who counts the most.
After the reading they walk in the snow around campus. They pass a couple making out against a tree — a ghost of who they used to be, maybe. Helen shivers, and Noah gives her his hat. Seriously, he just looks physically so much bigger than her in this episode — it’s bizarre. I’m choosing to believe this is a tricky Helen perspective thing: how large Noah looms in her mind and heart. They both admit to being hungry and name an old haunt, Mona’s, at the exact same time. Please don’t let Noah and Helen be cute together!
At the restaurant they catch up and let the nostalgia wash over them: Helen tries to even order some falafel waffle combo (that sounds weird, but I’m willing to go with it). She tells him not to dismiss this newfound fame and adulation and seems to be trying, at least, to be genuinely happy for him. But the tone shifts when she tells him Whitney’s whole fashion-model idea and says she think it’s their fault — that Whitney is trying to get back at them in this way. Noah suggests letting her take a year off to get it out of her system, going so far as to say that if he had done the same thing then maybe he wouldn’t have had a midlife crisis at 45. Helen is like, “We’re using the past tense here on that one?”
Noah reminds Helen of what she was like when she was Whitney’s age: how she used to walk naked through the library and put crazy tattoos on her stomach and gave blood in order to go to Africa. Wild, indeed. He reminds her that she didn’t go because her parents wouldn’t let her. Helen, realizing Noah is right, puts her head down in defeat.
They leave the place and Noah asks where she’s staying and offers to have Eden get a cab. Helen gives a very sincere apology: She’s sorry she made him leave Harlem. And what’s more, she’s sorry that she was relieved when his first book failed. She thought it would mean he’d be content with her and the kids, but now that she sees him in all this success she realizes that’s who he really is and that is what he ultimately wanted all along. Noah has the grace to say thank you. When the cab arrives he tells her there’s room in his room for her, and Helen wisely sees how that might be a truly terrible idea and tells him she’d prefer to walk. He takes his hat back.
Next: Noah gets a first heady taste of fame