A return to their college town stirs things up for Helen and Noah.
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
Noah is running on a treadmill and the reviews are coming in on his book. The New Yorker, The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, and Vanity Fair all seem to be singing its praises. He grins just as a pretty blonde gets on the machine next to his with — you guessed it — Descent. He Skypes with a very pregnant Alison and reads aloud some of the choice words from The New Yorker. His peacock feathers are all aflutter!
Alison is excited too. But wait, Noah can’t listen to her fully because Eden keeps calling. How is it that Eden is even annoying virtually? Finally Alison regains at least 84 percent of his attention and takes him down the hall to where the nursery has been completely set up.That lucky jerk didn’t even have to put together a crib! She’s so happy, and he’s all, “Where is my office study stuff?” Oh, Noah. I find it interesting that in Noah’s view of things regarding Alison she’s really pretty drippy. But he’s distracted because he’s trying to hear from Eden about the Pen/Faulkner Award, and he’s on the short list. Alison points out that things are pretty good even without an award (ahem, like how they’re together and having a baby and his book is doing great), and he’s all yeah. “You just want it all,” she says. These two are not connecting — their energy is more like friendly strangers chit-chatting at the bank than people madly in love.
Down in the lobby of the hotel he sees another comely lass reading — but tough break, dude: It’s The Kite Runner. I don’t know why this made me laugh, but it did. Noah opens up the student paper and sees a review entitled “Descent: Porn by Another Name” by someone named Earnest Schiffbaum (I spent more time than I should have thinking about how Schiffbaum translates to “ship tree” in German, but I came up with no easy answers here). He’s all mad about it, and Eden is like, “Dude, who cares?” But, as Alison astutely pointed out, Noah needs and wants it all. They’re both distracted at the sight of the line around the bookstore waiting for him. Eden suggests he reads from the shower scene because she loves it, which seems sort of over-the-top flirty, but I think you guys know how I feel about Eden at this point.
Noah starts reading said shower scene and notices Helen, looking foxy, in the audience. It’s a little awkward reading about “fictional” Alison taking off her bikini and going into the shower (remember that from season 1?). He makes a hasty decision to switch passages and lands on the Harlem we heard from Helen’s memory.
During the Q&A, pretty girls slobber all over him and talk about how he writes women so well. He says he writes the voices of women he most admires, and Helen does an admirable job not hurting herself with a full body eyeroll. Next up, though, is our old friend Earnest Shiffbaum, who skewers Noah repeatedly on fiction versus reality, on his literary ambitions. Then he plunges a knife into Noah’s ego when he announces that the Pen/Faulkner Awards have been announced and the winner is not named Noah Solloway. Noah does an excellent job of gritting his teeth and not showing how bummed out he is.
He signs books after and makes the most groan-worthy Great Gatsby reference — please don’t make me repeat it, it involves a green light and a dock — to a pretty fan named Daisy. She slides him her phone number. Helen, who is behind her, sees the whole thing and is amused-ish.
They do end up in the same restaurant in his memory, too, but I gotta say, Helen is a blast in this one. She brings shots and beers and is generally hilarious as she full on laughs in his face when he start whining about how hard it is to be a white male author in 2015. (If you are still playing last week’s drinking game, both Bel Canto and The Corrections are mentioned, so that’s two to you.) He starts to unload on Helen, and then all of a sudden she’s like, “Hey wait, this is no longer my job.” Haha, good for Helen. I love this drunk Helen! She even goes so far as to be like, “Give me that phone number from that horny co-ed, and tell Alison she owes me one.” Nice. Eden continually texts him, and Helen is like, “Good Llord, what does she want?” Eden apparently has said she has “FOMO,” and neither of these two know what that means, which leads to my favorite moment of this episode: Helen stands up and shouts: “Millennials! What does FOMO mean?” Eden keeps texting — no doubt consumed by her Fear Of Missing Out, and Helen decides Noah has to drink every time Eden texts. This is a much better drinking game! Ugh I hate it when I like Helen and Noah together, but they really are hilarious together in this scene. She tells him she’s proud of him. He remembers the fight they once had here in this restaurant: It sure sounds like it was about an unplanned pregnancy when Helen was 19. (Goodness, Noah Solloway is a virile man.) They hold hands across the table, and she tells him sincerely she’s sorry he didn’t win. Aw…
This niceness is broken up by the sight of ole Earnest Schiffbaum at the bar. Noah is all alpha male I’m-going-to-teach-him-a-thing-or-three, and Helen stops him and says he’s acting like her father. “Bruce Butt-hole?” Being back in our college towns really helps us all regress, doesn’t it? Helen gives a very nice speech about how Noah is not that guy and she doesn’t want him to turn into a jerk when he is fundamentally a good person. That’s pretty classy of her all things considered.
When they leave the bar, he asks her if she likes the book. And sheesh, man, what do you want? She looks at him and tells him she can’t read it without crying. Ugh, people. She suggests he goes home alone and sleep it off.
He…does not take her advice. (I actually said out loud in my empty apartment, “Oh, Noah.”) He goes right up to Earnest and starts doing a whole who-do-you-think-you-are, and it’s real bad. Earnest is very smug and lets Noah know he actually has a book of his own coming out (ugh), and Noah takes a swing, misses, and crashes to the ground. Of course, there are iPhones recording this everywhere. Where’s your publicist when you need her?
Answer: She’s at the door of his hotel. Great. She’s spinning his antics as classic bad boy author garbage, and he decides to go the extra mile and brings her into his hotel room, where they start making out hot and heavy. Eden, surprisingly, is the one to be smart about mixing business and pleasure and stop things (look for her perspective on these events in season 6, I guess). Noah is left alone with his mini-bar drink, signing copies of the book.
In the future, Helen goes to see lawyer Jon and is clearly conflicted about giving the baby’s pacifier over to him. He reminds her that Alison “stole” her husband (ugh, no, he made his own bad choices!) and says he won’t use it unless he absolutely has to. Uh, I’m guessing he will have to. (Are they testing paternity? Because ack ack ack.)
Last stray thought: Noah didn’t think of Whitney once in this memory: Is that deliberate or what? Or is it just as she feared last episode, she doesn’t merit that much mind time…