Anyone else see those giant dark clouds gathering on this season of 'The Affair'?
Previously on The Affair: Everything happened.
We open this season with Noah awaking from a dream — one that’s seems awfully angst-ridden, set somewhere dark and hazy, maybe or maybe not running down a man who may or may not be Scott Lockhart, on a dark and windy road. (This episode was written by show creator Sarah Treem, so my guess is that anything that appears obvious isn’t.) But then he wakes up and, wait a second, now he’s in my dream. Well, my dream house anyway.This place is incredible! It’s on the water with its own dock, and inside it’s airy and oozing with charm. It’s so charming, it even has an old-timey toilet — one that Noah yanks too hard and appears to break. Charm is tough sometimes.
Turns out my dream house is in Cold Spring, N.Y. — a not-too-terrible commute into the city — where Noah is meeting with Harry, his editor. Harry is not into the new ending of the book. Noah argues for subtlety. I love it when the show sort of sits up straight and talks to directly to us, the audience:
Harry: “It’s two people sitting down to dinner!”
Noah: “With an unimaginable secret between them.”
Then later, getting all sorts of meta when it comes to this show, Noah says: “Murder is salacious. It’s cheap.”
Harry: “It doesn’t have to be: have you read Of Mice and Men?”
Oh, The Affair, how I have missed you. There’s lots of money talk — Noah can’t get more of what’s owed to him until he has an accepted manuscript. Harry also wants to know just how much of the book is what went down with him and Alison and the Lockhart gang. Noah gives the answer all writers will (and, by the way, they are always lying): It’s just fiction. More Steinbeck is name dropped; make of that what you will.
Afterward Harry walks through Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and runs into a friend from the neighborhood. They awkwardly chit-chat about getting together. Noah gets a little twitchy. He rounds the corner, and we see why: There’s a moving truck waiting, along with two young guys hanging out. Noah tells them to wait and he’ll bring his stuff out.
Margaret greets him icily at the door and informs him she sent the kids away. They immediately start sniping at each other — she tells him that his things are the basement. By things, she means a couple of suitcases and a cheap, purple folding chair. There’s talk of how nasty things will get and how Noah is just after money. He flips his lid a little and starts grabbing books off the shelf, which enrages Margaret further (not that she needed much help), and when he grabs a painting off the wall — one that his father painted — things boil over. Noah tells her through clenched teeth that if she doesn’t move aside he’ll kick her down the stairs.
Of course that’s when poor, stomach-aching Martin comes to the door. Oops, turns out he was home after all. Kudos to the writers, by the way, on Martin’s stomachache — a sign, perhaps, that Martin is internalizing unhappiness. Anyway, Noah is bummed because he wanted to take Martin to a Yankees game but now can’t because Martin is seeing a therapist.
Outside things don’t get much better when Noah runs into curly-haired Trevor. This is a kid I can seriously get down with — he finds theater camp too sporty because it’s outside and wants to go to the movies instead. Poor Trevor has the wrong idea when he hears that Noah is meeting with Helen — they are not getting back together. Noah gives him some hard truths: They’re getting a divorce, and he’s in love with someone else. Trevor does not take it well and punches Noah in the face. It will get better in college, buddy, I promise!
Noah heads to a mediator’s office where Helen is sitting, her usual composed herself. The dude running this thing is a grinning fool and, to my unknowledgeable ear, making inappropriate jokes.
They start getting into the division of property and such: The house is Helen’s; the store too. When they get to Noah’s book advance and potential profits, Helen gives a well-timed smirk. “The word ‘profits’ struck me as funny,” she explains. Zing. When he explains that he wants shared custody and she counters that there’s no way that he could find a four-bedroom apartment with his measly earnings, he informs her that his advance is for $400K. She looks startled. “Good for you,” she says, at least 92 sincerely. He explains that he’s been living in a guest house on an estate in Cold Spring, N.Y., but will look for something in the city.
After, he complains that that this mediator is a yahoo. Helen says he came highly recommended — after all he did the Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss divorce. As she hails a cab, Noah complains Whitney won’t return his calls. Helen is like, “Well listen, she hates you, and by the way, I don’t want the kids around her.” I think we all know who she means. He tells her not-so-nicely that she can’t get everything she wants. She’s like, “Wow, dude, you are a real D-bag.”
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Noah arrives back to the magical house on the Hudson where Alison is preparing dinner. They exchange pleasantries and sit outside and eat under a pretty sky. He pulls her up to dance after telling her how happy he is, and then they even make out a little bit. Oh boy, these two.
After dinner Noah walks out to his dock with that Williams chair he rescued from the basement and sits down a happy man. There are twinkling lights in the trees behind him, and, hell, Damien Rice is playing. What a world he’s living in! What a time to be alive! He opens a beer: the very picture of a man who has it all together. He smiles a contented smile. Behind him we see a (not at all metaphorical) storm cloud headed his way.
Annnnnd then we jump to the future where Noah is much less contented and in jail. There’s our old friend Detective Whatshisname, who brings him coffee and is sweet talking him about how he should cut a deal now because the judge is local, etc., etc., etc. This detective is Noah’s friend, see. His new friend advises him to take a plea. Noah looks like maybe that’s not a terrible idea but, in the end, tells the detective that he wants a effin’ lawyer. Fair.
Next: Helen’s recollections of the same day involves a lot more sex.
It’s our very first time inside Helen’s point of view. And, um, it’s…quite a view. It begins in a totally trashed hotel room with alcohol and used condoms strewn about. We see a male butt and it belongs to (drumroll) Max! Helen is sleeping with Max. Well, to be fair Max is asleep, and Helen just looks sort of bummed out.
We see why she’s so psyched when we cut to her and Max en flagrante delicto, and he’s being…let’s go with chatty, and she’s pretty much not into this at all. Man, this is quite a sex scene! And it does a fantastic job showing how un-sexy sex can be sometimes. It’s apparent Max is way more into Helen than she is into him. Max is also real into being naked. (Here’s the interview I did with actor Josh Stamberg about his full frontal nudity scene.) “Good morning, city of dreams,” says Max. I can’t help it: I love Max.
But it seems like Max is probably doomed in his love of Helen — a crush that he’s been nursing since college. She curls up and complains about the benefit she has to go to that night and how now she’s going alone because Noah won’t be going. Max tells her she’s too nice. Helen’s face disagrees. She takes a shower and bursts into tears. Yeah, that’s not a sign of a great night, right? (Sidenote: Maura Tierney is the greatest).
She walks through Washington Square Park and sits on a bench and pulls out a vaping thing to smoke some pot. (Did I just reveal myself as a total square? Come at me, vapers.) She enjoys her weed contemplatively as the world slows down around her.
She’s next in that same mediator’s office we saw in Noah’s memory. The Jeremy dude doesn’t seem great in this recollection either, but less goofy. Noah is late, and she apologizes for him. Jeremy says that it’s probably why they’re getting a divorce: “Because he’s irresponsible, disrespectful, and generally unconcerned with anyone’s needs except his own.” Au contraire, says Helen. They’re splitting up because he had an affair. “Symptom, not disease,” the mediator says. Oh hello, show, we hear you loud and clear!
Noah arrives — it should be noted how differently Noah and Helen are dressed in her recollection of events. Also, Noah looks a lot less interested in the proceedings. In this one, she’s very open to Noah being in touch with the children. She even suggests he tries to find a place to live nearby.
No-go, says Helen’s Noah. How is he supposed to pay for a four-bedroom apartment? She says she thought she’d help out. Noah gets nasty fast by making a comment about her negative income from the store. He curses a million times about taking money from her parents (oh, now it bothers him), and she rightly wonders why he’s being so awful. He’s all snotty about his book and needing time, and in general he’s being kind of a monster. She asks where he’s living and if Alison is there too. Noah says no. (Liar.)
She runs to her daughter Stacey’s ballet class and sneaks behind some other moms just in time to hear them gossiping about Noah’s affair. There’s some “Poor Helen” talk, which I’m sure makes her absolutely insane, and she coughs to alert them. Ugh, so awkward.
Afterward, one of them runs after Helen to apologize. She wants to know if Helen knew that Noah was cheating. This is, of course, is the question we all ask ourselves — would we be able to tell if we were being betrayed? — but I still finding it shocking this woman actually asked. Helen handles this beautifully with a wonderful line about a rainbow shooting out of Noah’s…you get the idea.
They arrive back at the brownstone only to find Trevor crying on the couch because Noah told him they were getting a divorce. Poor little Trevor. Whitney comes down the stairs and could give exactly zero you-know-whats that her brother is crying. Staying true to herself, Whitney wants to write about the whole Cole-putting-a-gun-to-her-head thing for her college application. Classic. (Has there ever, in the history of television, been a teenage girl written so well?) Margaret won’t pay if that’s the way Whitney wants to play it: “It isn’t self-expression; it’s self-indulgence.” Yup, that about sums it up. Helen looks like she could use more weed.
In the kitchen, she goes for wine instead. Margaret asks about the mediation and lets her know the car is coming to pick them up, and they snipe at each other for a bit, in true mother-daughter style. Helen insists on a family dinner, which does not go so well. Everyone at least agrees that Margaret can’t cook worth a damn.
Helen is all dressed up beautifully and smoking/vaping/whatever on the front steps, barefoot. She’s contemplative and clearly dreading this benefit. When she arrives she says hi to some fellow rich people—after going through the indignity of explaining that no, her husband will not be joining her at table nine — when she sees that Max has somehow gotten himself invited and is waiting for her. Is she happy to have someone there for her? Is it weird? It’s very hard to tell by Maura Tierney’s face.
Max is the total hit of his table, telling stories about his past life as a tree-hugger and demonstrating his clear adoration of Helen from back in the college days. Margaret is clearly very much Team Max. She says she always thought she’d be planning Helen and Max’s wedding. Max says that Helen was the girl at Williams and that lusting after her was a campus activity. Helen looks exhausted with the effort of sitting upright. “I just can’t believe I finally got her.” Man, dead Max walking here.
When they get home Helen gazes thoughtfully at Max. She thanks him for showing up. He smiles. They make out a little on the front step as it thunders behind them not at all metaphorically.
Helen sits on her bed and looks at the empty space on the wall where Noah’s father’s painting hung. It thunders some more.
And we’re off to the future where — shriek! — Toby Ziegler (or, if we must, actor Richard Schiff) is Noah’s lawyer. Also, future Helen has bangs.
Toby brings down the hammer and yells at Detective Whatshisname and tells Noah to keep his mouth shut. Noah is all, “Um, who are you? I can’t afford you.” Helen speaks up from the doorway and tells him she’s paying. The former Solloways exchange a strange look of understanding between them. ‘Til next week!