Helen takes partying for one a little too seriously.
Credit: Mark Schafer/Showtime

It’s a Helen-versus-Noah split. And if you, like me, were excited to see Maura Tierney strip down to her lingerie and drunkenly sing along to “Changed the Locks” by Lucinda Williams, then you are in luck. Not so much luck for Helen, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

We open with Helen’s point-of-view of court, where her lawyer argues (rather effectively) all the crimes against marriage Noah has committed. You know the drill: the cheating, the gun incident, the love shack, and the general trauma inflicted upon Helen and the kids. Not one of these things are untrue. Hilariously, expensive-lawyer Jon keeps using the word “paramour” to describe Alison, and each time he does, you see Helen die a little bit more. It is an annoying word. Unfortunately, as he revs up to the big climax pointing out how Noah can’t figure out how to get his kids a place to live when the children are already living in a perfectly nice brownstone, the judge’s ears perk up. The judge is all, “A whole brownstone?!?” And you see this whole thing getting away from Helen as it’s detailed that they live in tony Park Slope and the building is worth $3 million. (Uh, that number is a little low these days for Brooklyn real estate but okay.)

Afterwards, the admits that this is bad and calls the judge a committed Bolshevik, which is pretty funny except not at all to Helen. This custody battle is obviously going to get ugly, and assets are going to be counted. Helen is all, “Whatever just stop saying paramour.” She prefers a much harsher C-word. “I hate him so much,” she says.

Back at home, Margaret has a fancy new hairdo in red and is la-la-la-la-ing about Bryn Mawr, which is apparently where she and Whitney are headed for Margaret’s 50th reunion. (She bribed Whitney into going, naturally.) Helen is irritated her mother didn’t ask about the court day and worries at the possibility that Noah wants money. She goes for some white wine, which I can’t really fault her for. Margaret seems unconcerned, but when Helen presses her to sit down with Bruce and the lawyer, Margaret confesses that she doesn’t know where Bruce is and that he’s left her for that chippie in Tulsa. Rough times for the Butler women.

Max decides to pop by with some pretty pink flowers. He was worried about how her day went, which is nice, though it’s hard to take anything Max says sincerely. He tells her they have enough time for her receive her present and for a roll in the hay. (He doesn’t say it like that.) She seems less enthused and becomes even quieter when her present is revealed to be tickets for a romantic getaway to Argentina. Poor Max. He’s so eager. She offers some lame excuses about the kids. Max is like, “Hey I gave him 50 grand; he should be just fine!” If he thought Helen would be psyched about that, he thought wrong. Helen starts to spin out as she thinks about how complicated this has all gotten and tells him that she’s pulling the plug here. I wonder if she’s wondering if Noah spent that money on an engagement ring? I sure am. Anyway, dead-boyfriend-walking tries to take it manfully. He still can’t get over the college thing, and that is rough. He starts to get just a little bit mean about how no one is good enough for Helen and no one can make her happy. She points out that Noah left her. Max! This is not the way to play this!

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And now we get to the best part of this episode. Helen undresses and drinks wine and sings along to great breakup anthem “Changed the Locks” by Lucinda Williams. Man, Maura Tierney crushes this scene — my favorite part is when she sort of falls over while trying to take of her tights, because yes. It’s super sad and super relatable. (We all do this kind of thing, right? RIGHT?!!?) She keeps getting drunker, and her empowerment surge gets sort of dampened when she looks at some gray roots growing in her hair. And that’s when she has the great idea to take the edible pot drop. She dances her decision out.

Now drunk and most-definitely high she goes to her store and gets nuts and totally scares a customer. Next up, the hair salon, where she gets some foils put in (highlights, I’m guessing?). She totally over-shares with her stylist about her divorce and her friends being scared of her and how she’s high. All of this seems remarkably un-Helen, but she is spinning out into outer space, and there is no stopping it. Especially when she tells her stylist about some of her bodily functions. (Just imagine what this hair stylist will be talking about with her friends tonight!) It’s just at the terrible moment where she sees her own mother’s face looking back at her from the mirror when she gets a call that she’s gotten her dates wrong and she needs to go pick up the kids. Ruh-roh.

She dashes out, foils still in her hair (this continually stressed me out for the rest of the episode), and like a full-on crazy person tries to get a cab, fails, and she gets in her car. This is all sorts of bad, and she most definitely should not be driving. And it just gets worse. She makes it to the school, she talks crazy to the counselor, and a series of unfortunate events leads to her backing out and hitting a car while little Stacey isn’t buckled in. Ugh. The awfulness of this just keeps ratcheting up when a cop approaches. The cop sees that Helen has weed in her bag and that Trevor is disgusted by her, and when it all spirals, she accidently assaults the officer and is quickly handcuffed. “I need to call my husband,” she says.

Noah arrives in a cab, a hero to the kiddos. He comes over to Helen and starts yelling at her about Stacey not wearing a seat belt and whether she’s lost her mind. Helen looks at him and asks in an even voice, “Why are you doing this to us?” Ugh. Noah certainly doesn’t have an answer to that.

She sits in a cell, picking at the same nail polish she was wearing that morning in court, and what a day it is has been. She finally realizes it’s time to take those foils out (I sighed heavily), and her hair has been bleached white.

Next: Noah takes a not-so-fun trip to New Jersey

We’re back in custody court, but with Noah remembering things, it all goes quite differently. This time the judge seems awfully concerned with whether Noah will be living with Alison or not. He tells Noah he hasn’t been thinking of his children’s needs and gives an order that prevents contact between Alison and the children. Dang. That seems rather rough! The judge also suggests Noah and Helen taking a walk through Prospect Park and search their hearts to try and find a reasonable solution. He points out that custody battles are simply garbage for children. Noah and Helen share a complicated look across the court.

Noah meets Alison at a cute cafe. Alison is all excited and happy because she’s been looking at apartments and thinks she found a perfect one. (Neighborhood, for you people keeping track, is Crown Heights.) Noah is looking more and more crestfallen, and he realizes he’s going to have to burst this bubble. They can’t live together. He tells her this is only temporary and she can stay in Cold Spring for the time being. Alison, understandably, looks less than thrilled, and I can’t really blame her. Of course, this could be a Noah-perspective thing: The Alison I think *I* understand is not nearly so needy.

She suggests giving Helen what she wants, a.k.a. custody. Noah’s horrified by the suggestion but is interrupted by a call from Helen. Her drunken antics need attending to.

If possible, things are even more messed up than in Helen’s mind. Stacey’s injury is a little worse, Trevor is more of a narc, and Helen is much more messed up. God, Maura Tierney is a national treasure. She asks why he gets to screw up but she doesn’t. On that note, she passes out.

Noah takes the kids home and sees the remnants of Helen’s drunken revelry. He also sees the flowers from Max on the table. (Interestingly, he sees red roses. I chalk this up to dudes not knowing the difference.) He, I think, draws the wrong conclusion about what was going on in the house before the accident (two wine glasses, a bra on the steps) and makes a split decision to take the kids to New Jersey.

Look, it’s Noah’s secret middle class family! His brother-in-law seems super nice and warns that Noah’s dad is visiting. Sister Nina turns out to be (drumroll) Jennifer Esposito, straight from Mistresses! Noah drinks a beer and broods a bit and comes in to talk to his father and Martin, who are bonding hard over baseball. Noah tries to join in, lamely mistaking the Marlins for the Dolphins, and Martin eye rolls so hard he almost turns inside out.

Noah tells his dad that Martin makes him nervous. His father responds with an excellent noncommittal “mmmm.” The father is a tough dude of few words, the very opposite of Bruce Butler, and he clearly makes Noah rather nervous, too. His dad, who is unsure of Noah’s age, tells him the story about when he was 50 and his wife, Noah’s mom, wanted to give him a present. Keep in mind, Noah’s mother was already in a bad state and had met a young woman that she wanted him to meet. Ugh, this is a sad story already, and Noah doesn’t want to hear it either. Noah’s dad explains he said no because he loved his wife. Martin comes back and is all, “You’re blocking the screen.”

Noah next goes to his sister in the kitchen, looking for comfort. She offers him whiskey. Noah starts to tell her about the pot and drinking-and-driving, and Nina is shocked. Noah is all, “This is great news for the custody battle!” He could go for full custody. Here is why I love siblings: Nina is like, “Uh, dude — think that through. Helen is a snob, but you can’t take her children away from her after all this.” Nina is the voice of reason: “I’m in love with Brad Pitt but I don’t get to effin live with him!” She basically tells him to think about this and to be very honest with himself. Noah gets mad (of course) and stomps right off.

Of course, Martin is pissed to leave because there are two innings left (Let’s go Mets!), and Trevor is having a great time on the trampoline. This leads to a really marvelous chase scene on a trampoline, which should be funny but gets sad real quick. After, they’re driving, and no one seems to know where to go. Poor Martin with his sensitive stomach needs a bathroom, so they end up in a Comfort Castle in Jersey City. The Hamptons, this is not.

Martin is in a bad way, holding his stomach and lying by the toilet on the floor. Alison calls and goes into nurse mode, having Noah check out his stomach and telling him to take Martin to the hospital. Martin is like, “Can everyone please leave me alone so I can just go to the bathroom like I’ve been trying all episode?” Poor dude. Anyway, that crisis passes, and everyone is asleep in this terrible hotel room. It’s just Noah and three of his children, and he sees that maybe this isn’t as simple as he thought. He calls Alison and tells her he misses her, and she’s all, “Guess what? I’m downstairs!”

That’s love: driving to a Comfort Castle with a six pack. I say this sincerely. They sit outside and drink the beers and seem pretty dang happy to be with each other. “What’s going to happen to us,” asks Alison.

Annnnd here we are in the future, in the courtroom, where rich-person lawyer is fighting to get a change of venue for the trial. He makes a pretty convincing speech. But the prosecutor is all, “Relax, the book isn’t that popular.” Noah passes on the plea deal, and the judge is all, “Fine but this trial is staying here.” Woof. See you all next week!

Episode Recaps

The Affair

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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