Mark Schafer/Showtime

Noah makes a return trip to the Hamptons—without his wife and children.

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December 08, 2014 at 04:01 AM EST

It feels like forever since we’ve dipped our toes into the chilly, chilly Affair waters, right? Thanks a lot, Thanksgiving weekend! (It can’t be just me who desperately wanted some escapist TV after a long holiday weekend, right?)

But anyway, we’re back with our favorite adulterers and summer—metaphorically and actually—is over. Noah begins this half: It’s high school time, and Noah is working on opening the hearts and minds of the young (who, for the most part, look like they’d rather be anywhere but in class). The topic? Romeo and Juliet of course. Nothing too subtle about this one! I think we can skip the English literature parallels here, right? But we do see how at ease, how happy, Noah seems to be in the classroom. The writers definitely wants you to think about Noah’s final summation of those other star-crossed lovers: “Pure love cannot sustain in an imperfect world.”

After work he meets Helen at a cozy Brooklyn-y restaurant. Helen has news: Her store is going to be on the front page of the New York Times Styles section. Noah is Mr. Supportive husband here, clearly still on an apology tour, and even has a nice necklace from Tiffany & Co. For what reason? “Sticking it out,” he says. He’s really proud of himself for buying it, you can tell. Helen? Not so psyched about it—understandable as it’s clearly an I’m-really-sorry-I-cheated-on-you-and-ruined-the-trust-in-our-relationship-and-your-faith-in-mankind piece of jewelry. Who wants to wear that? She wants him to return it, and the mood turns sour. She doesn’t get into it, which shows some restraint; instead she says they need to pay off their credit card. Noah knows this means he’s not been forgiven yet.

At home, Martin is reading Moby Dick—a book Noah says was his favorite at his age. (I call BS on this but whatever.) Apparently Martin’s report card is not nailing it this semester, even though he used to do algebra for fun. (Gross.) Martin sort of alludes to getting bullied and wants to go to private school with Whitney. Noah thinks he should tough it out.

Speaking of tough, Helen pulls Noah into the hall to listen to Whitney throwing up. They are completely freaked out about how to handle Whitney’s maybe bulimia. (Eegads, what if Whitney is pregnant????) Helen wonders if it is her fault. Noah consoles and adds that maybe it was spending the summer with the morally bankrupt Butlers. And here we learn that Helen’s anger at Noah is always simmering just below the surface of everything (again, understandably). “We used to be a team,” she says. “Now we’re just two idiots that don’t know how to handle anything.”

At therapy Helen talks about how she’s too stressed out with the store and Whitney to go to Montauk for the weekend, but that someone should go to represent the family at a benefit where Bruce Butler is getting some lifetime achievement award. Noah selflessly volunteers—and promises he won’t contact Alison. Helen digs in a little, talking about how she married Noah because she thought he was safe. She could have had anyone and she chose him because he adored her and she thought he’d never cheat or leave and that they’d grow old together having this nice, safe life.

And Noah gets it. It’s been four months since the affair ended and he’s been beating himself up about his indiscretion, and he can’t take it anymore. He hates feeling like a fraud, hates not owning his house or paying for things. (Looooove that Helen sends the smallest kids’ clothes to the dry cleaner. “Just the French ones!”) Noah needs Helen to forgive him and to move on. He wants to go to Montauk and do this thing for Helen. Oh god, this is like watching a car wreck in slow motion.

Annnnd we’re back in Montauk. Bruce Butler gets his award and works the crowd. Noah spies Alison working the party, wearing that black dress from the beginning of the summer. Is anyone here surprised? They have a little awkward chitchat before Bruce comes over and Alison runs away. Noah and Bruce head outside and Bruce wants to know: was that the woman Noah was having an affair with this summer. This is already clearly Noah’s worst nightmare—made worse when Bruce mentions Noah’s book is going badly, too. Bruce suggests that Alison was Noah’s muse. He then tells a real neat-o story about the affair he had when Helen was young. This not the prettiest young lady made him feel lit up and awake after being asleep for his whole life, yadda yadda yadda. He ended it for the sake of his family, I guess, and channeled it into his book. “First time I was short-listed for the Pulitzer. The only time.” Oh dear lord, this is depressing.

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Bruce leaves with Harry, which leaves Noah conveniently alone at the party. He sees Alison upset on the phone and learns that her grandmother had a heart attack. She doesn’t have a car and can’t get ahold of a taxi (doesn’t her brother-in-law run a taxi company?) so of course Noah drives her. She asks him to come inside the hospital with her and he, correctly, replies it’s not his place.

When he gets back to the Butler abode he finds Bruce struggling to get out of his chair. Noah is struck by Bruce’s age, probably for the first time, and perhaps that’s why he asks Bruce what happened after he broke it off with that former student in Michigan. Does he ever think about her? “Every f–king day.” This sends Noah running to the hospital, where he finds Alison asleep curled up in her chair. Her grandmother is in her final death rattles, and so he wakes her up to tell her that it’s about to happen. I find every part of this recollection highly suspect: Alison is a nurse, after all. She doesn’t need Noah to explain what it looks like when someone is about to die. (Also, no one looks pretty or comfortable curled up in those awful hospital chairs.)

Noah and Alison drive and park in an empty parking lot by the lighthouse. She’s asleep, and he’s pensive.

Suddenly we’re in the future/present and the detective is watching Noah read from the apparently best-selling novel, soon to be a movie, The Descent. Sounds like someone took Bruce Butler’s advice, doesn’t it? Noah reads about driving fast and seeing the blue boat with the grass growing out of its belly, which we know the detective has pictures of, and which is at the entrance of The End. Dun Dun Dun…

NEXT: Musing right along…

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Two marriages collide when a tragedy brings an affair to light; the Showtime original series stars Joshua Jackson and Maura Tierney.
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