If you followed Indiewire’s “Affair” reviews during Season 1, you might remember that TV Critic Ben Travers and I split up each piece, with him focusing on Noah’s portion of the episodes while I focused on Alison’s version of the story. But, with perhaps a few exceptions, I’ll be handling this season alone.
There are two reasons for this. One was pragmatic: “The Affair” now airs on the same night as “The Leftovers” and “Homeland,” two shows that Ben loves, and we had legitimate concerns that covering three shows on the same night for over two months would, you know, kill Ben. (Which would be bad.) The other reason, though, was a result of how “The Affair” evolved over its first season. We split up our analysis of the POVs operating under the assumption that, at a certain point, some sort of objective truth would reveal itself over the course of the series, validating one of the two perspectives. This season, not only is it clear that an objective truth will never present itself, but that the show is a much more complicated beast.
Last year, we saw two married people with plenty of problems fall into lust with each other, and then maybe love. This year, so far, is largely about the aftermath, because shit has gotten real.
The crime woven through last season has begun to take on more definition, as Noah lawyers up (Richard Schiff! Every good show deserves Richard Schiff). But in the present/past, as we’ve come to understand it, things are only so-so. Noah’s trip to the city to catch up with the family and meet with the mediator handling his divorce is just brutal — at least, from his perspective.
That being said, it’s hard to imagine a man making up the idea of getting punched in the face by his youngest son. And even in Noah’s version of events, he calls Helen an asshole; though, admittedly, he does so after she mocks the idea of his writing making any money.
Fortunately, Helen’s waiting for him in upstate New York, with dinner and loving attention, and Noah’s able to just be a chill bro on a dock, chilling out. That’s not a long-term situation, though, as we know all too well.
TWIST! So in a deviation from last season, we don’t get Alison’s perspective on events. Instead, this week we focus in on Helen, who is coping with Noah’s affair by screwing their friend Max in a hotel room soaked in debauchery.
Helen doesn’t seem super-engaged with it, though, because Helen seems legitimately buried by divorce proceedings; a brutal process even when handled by a mediator. Helen’s perception of the mediator — played by Jeremy Shamos in an impressively chameleon-like manner — is that of a closed-off jokester who isn’t on her side. (Literally, in fact. In Helen’s version of the scene, he’s sitting on the other side of the table, while in Noah’s version, he sits at the head of the table, between them.)
In the end, pot and wine and sex aren’t solving Helen’s problems, but that isn’t keeping her from trying.
The Clearest Lie
Helen’s take on the mediator session, which features an aggressive and angry Noah stalling the divorce proceedings and crapping on her business, seems overtly unfair to Noah. Is it colored by her legitimate distress over the situation, or the pot she smoked in the park before the meeting? Maybe a combination of both. Point is, the first time we’ve gotten a peek into Helen’s head has come with one of the show’s clearest obfuscations, which is something to keep an eye on going forward.
The Closest Thing to the Truth
For Noah, that has to be the fact that he’s clenching on his new writing. The blank page never lies.
Shut Up, Mediator Guy!
“The Affair” is a show that doesn’t hesitate to feature unlikeable folk (including its ostensible protagonists). . Whether he was being cold to Helen or smarmy to Noah, Jeremy the Mediator, in either depiction this episode, was pretty much the worst in the world
Was It Good for Him? Was It Good for Her?
The major sex scene of the episode, between Max and Helen, was clearly not great for Helen. But also, she was hungover? And not in a great place, emotionally? But — if you might pardon this slightly inappropriate observation — viewers did get a peek at Max’s goods, and so hopefully things were better at an earlier point.
“That isn’t self-expression. It’s self-indulgence,” is something Margaret, Helen’s mother, shouts at granddaughter Whitney over the question of what Whitney should write about for her college essay. But it almost feels like a weirdly meta note, for a show famous for letting its characters navel-gaze.
Name the Episode!
Because “The Affair” does not name its episodes, we choose to provide our own. This week, we’re going with: “Completely Inevitable.”