“The Affair” is at its best when it’s letting its characters breathe in the moment, dig into the truths hiding behind the lies of their relationships. Let’s be blunt: This week was not “The Affair” at its best.
This is due largely to what we may look back on as the assassination of Helen as a likable character. Maura Tierney’s commitment is total and incredible, and visually director John Dahl has a lot of fun with depicting her stoned and drunk gaze, but Helen’s breakdown and subsequent arrest is over-the-top painful in a way that actively works against what the show excels at.
You know what’s not fun? Getting divorced. We begin with Helen’s perspective on their latest hearing, which doesn’t go well; now that they’re not mediating, Noah seems to be coming for Helen’s money — something their judge supports, as Helen has so much more of it than Noah does.
This gets followed up by Helen finding out about her father leaving her mother, and Max showing up for a nooner with flowers and a present: A ticket for Buenos Aires. But Helen finds out about the $50,000 that Max gave Noah, which leads Helen to end things between them: “It’s too fast and it’s too confusing. And it just makes it feel not right.” Max storms out and Helen gets day drunk. Too drunk. And stoned. And then she goes out into the world, leading to a world of embarrassment: She’s a mess at her store and at her hairdressers and then drives inebriated to pick up her kids, which leads to a car accident and her subsequent arrest. Helen ends up in jail, with bleach still in her hair, completely screwed.
Noah’s version of the hearing includes a major twist for Noah and Alison: The judge delivers a court order saying she can’t be near Noah’s children, which means that Noah and Alison can’t move in together for months if Noah wants to share custody of his children. It’s upsetting for Alison, though Noah doesn’t really have time to deal with it, getting the call about Helen’s accident just after he’s broken the news.
Whitney is traveling with her grandmother, so Noah takes his three kids out to the suburbs to stay with his sister Nina (Jennifer Esposito) and her family (including Noah’s estranged father, played by Hector Salamanca! I mean, Mark Margolis). Things go sour between Noah and Nina, though, and he flees with the kids to the glamorous Comfort Castle Inn. Alison eventually meets him there, and they sit outside with a six-pack, not sure what happens next.
Meanwhile, In “Law and Order”-Ville
Man, things developed legally in two different time periods. Let’s start with the simplest update, which is that the attempt to move Noah’s murder trial out of Montauk was a failure, so he’ll be tried by a jury of locals… And also, there’s a plea deal on the table for Noah, but he’s refusing to accept it.
More complicated is the fact that Helen’s arrest this week gives Noah the fodder he needs to get sole custody of his kids, no problem… If he wants it. Noah’s fight with Nina was over whether or not he’s really ready to become a full-time single parent — especially since he’s also in the middle of starting a brand new life with Alison.
The Clearest Lie
When Noah looks around the brownstone after picking up the kids, there’s significant evidence to suggest that while in Helen’s version, she and Max broke up before commencing with their nooner, in reality they had sex first, then had their big fight. Of the two options, I’m more inclined to believe Noah’s version — especially since now Noah knows that Helen hasn’t exactly been celibate, and the big showdown between him and Max looms even closer.
Also, what little kid living in the year 2015 wants to watch “Mrs. Doubtfire”? More than that, what little kid living in the year 2015 has watched “Mrs. Doubtfire” more than 80 times? Okay, maybe it makes sense because that film is also about a rough divorce. And it could be worse: could have been “The Parent Trap.”
The Closest Thing to the Truth
Oh man, was Helen fucked up when she fucked up this week. From Noah’s perspective, she’s completely unhinged, but even when we’re in her point of view, the events of that fateful afternoon are hazy, chaotic and blurred.
Shut Up, Martin!
Maybe Martin’s crappy attitude is understandable. Between not feeling well and being pissed off at Noah, it makes sense he’s lashing out, but that doesn’t make him at all fun to watch or relevant to the show’s action. Unless his constipation this week is setting up future health issues at a later date. We’ll wait and see on that.
Was It Good for Him? Was It Good for Her
No one got any this week on screen, sad to say, though Noah and Alison did have a nice moment at the end of the episode. And if Helen and Max did have sex, it probably wasn’t a very satisfying conclusion.
“There is nothing worse for children than litigating custody” is how the judge caps off his instructions to Helen and Noah about making sure they really really really want to take a legal approach to resolving their difficulties. They’re wise words. Unfortunately, no one is listening.
Name the Episode!
Because the writers of “The Affair” choose not to name the episodes, we do it for them. This week, in honor of Lucinda Williams, let’s try “You Can’t See Me Anymore.”