During its Golden Globe-winning first season, The Affair told the engrossing story of an extramarital tryst between Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson) by shifting between their sometimes conflicting perspectives. This season, the points of view also include those of their exes, Helen (Maura Tierney) and Cole (Joshua Jackson), as the show tracks the fallout from the two breakups and a murder that Noah allegedly committed. Now that Noah and Alison are openly together, the writers can grapple with bigger issues beyond infidelity, like what it really means to get what you want.
And no one’s wrestling with that more than Helen, who’s realized that a perfect-on-paper family isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. The moment we glimpse Helen’s inner life, she becomes the most fascinating character on a show that’s full of them. (The exception is Cole, a one-note brooder whose moods range from mildly depressed to violently—but sexily!—depressed, and whose ability to work with his hands like a man is endlessly romanticized.) Viewed last season as a cold, status-hungry society wife—a convenient image for those betraying her—Helen is suddenly a deeper human being, someone who gave up her bohemian past when she got married and can’t play the martyr anymore. We see flashes of her rebellious streak and her need for time alone, often spent smoking pot in the park. (Alison also spends time alone in the park. Could these two women have more in common than just Noah?)
Helen’s an intriguingly conflicted personality, and an even better cautionary tale. When a friend asks if she knew that Noah was cheating, there are unspoken questions there: How would I know if it happened to me? And if I didn’t know, how could I move on? The fact that viewers are asking the same questions only makes this season more compelling to watch. A–