So here’s something interesting I just noticed this week: Whereas last year “The Affair” only occasionally let the female perspective kick off an episode, almost consistently this season, the ladies have been leading the action. In the eight episodes to air so far, the ladies (either Helen or Alison) have gotten to lead in all but two of them. How that affects our faith in their narratives versus that of the men (Noah and Cole) is an issue worth considering in greater depths, but for right now let’s just note that while the women speak first this year, the men are getting the final word most of the time.
Also, a random moment of disclosure: Brooke Lyons, who plays Noah’s publicist, is a friend of friends. Brooke, congrats on getting to make out with McNulty! An actor’s dream, I’m sure — especially in an episode that might have seemed pretty tame, until some momentous events intervened.
It’s a rite of passage familiar to anyone who went to college and even more familiar for parents with teenage children: The senior year college visits. Helen’s brought Whitney to her alma mater, which just so happens to be the small college town where she and Noah met and fell in love. But Whitney (surprise) isn’t into something her mother wants her to be excited about. In fact, Whitney takes this opportunity to inform Helen that she doesn’t even want to go to college. Instead, she wants to move to New York, be a model and unlike Helen “not live off my parents for the rest of my fucking life.” And there’s only one way to make this whole trip even more special: Noah just so happens to be in town that night as well, as it’s one stop on his publicity tour promoting “Descent.”
When Whitney hares off with a tour guide for more of the authentic college experience, Helen’s on her own… And decides to attend Noah’s reading at the local bookstore. The passage he reads for the crowd is surprisingly not one of the sexier ones. It’s instead about a character who’s clearly modeled on Helen and his confliction over leaving her.
Maybe that’s why Helen ends up hanging out with him after the reading, the two of them drinking a pitcher of beer at one of their old college haunts. It’s an honest conversation between two people who’ve known each other intimately for decades. Not only do they reminisce about old times, but Helen comes to a realization about how badly she’s been dealing with Whitney, compared to the way her parents handled her adolescent rebellions. Helen leaves Noah on the street to walk back to her budget-priced motel room, the two of them having enjoyed a sweet but awkward evening.
Noah’s side of this episode tracks the exact same day, but with some major deviations. Things begin with him in his hotel (a nicer one than Helen’s), proud as a peacock over established successes — like a brand new glowing review from the New Yorker — as well as pending ones, like the yet-to-be-awarded Pen Faulkner. Dragging down his good mood, though, are events like a Skype call with Alison where she reveals that his office has now been converted into a nursery for the baby and a scathing review of his novel by the local college paper’s pretentious lit major. But trusty publicist Eden is there to buck him up, suggesting that he read “the shower scene” that night, a particularly sexy bit of “Descent.”
Unfortunately for Eden, when Noah spots Helen in the audience of the reading, on stage he abruptly changes his reading to a part of the book clearly related to her. We see more of the Q&A between audience and author here, including both a smitten fan who later slips Noah her number, and more importantly the local college paper’s pretentious lit major is there to ask Noah some tough questions (including his book’s relationship to real events) and let him know that “Descent” lost the Pen Faulkner to a book written by an Asian woman. (More about that in a bit.)
Noah and Helen drink much harder at the bar than Helen remembers, doing shots and shouting over their shared past, including the memory of a fight they had in that bar about Helen getting an abortion at the age of 19. When she leaves (Noah remembers it less sweetly), he staggers back to the bar and attempts to slug the pretentious lit major, a moment captured by social media. Eden comes by his hotel room to scold him/compliment him on becoming a literary bad boy — no points to you if you guess that this scene ends in the two of them making out. Eden walks away, and Noah digs into his book-signing duties. But…
Meanwhile, In “Law and Order”-Ville
Our good friend Lawyer Gottlieb is all about proving Noah innocent, even if it means proving that Alison is guilty. After the last episode’s revelations (and some phone records), he wants to spin a narrative based around the now-uncertain parentage of Alison’s child, and now he’s getting Helen’s help, courtesy of the baby’s stolen pacifier. Helen might have had her doubts, but as Gottlieb reminded her, “She stole your husband.” And it’s now getting scary, how much Helen does not want to see Noah go to jail.
The Clearest Lie
Beyond Helen going behind Noah’s back to create paternity issues for Noah’s case, I have a logistical question: How is a published author, on a book tour, only now getting in book reviews? I am not an expert on the publishing industry, but let’s just say that I bet the New Yorker probably could get their hands on a galley proof of a significant literary novel a few weeks before a college paper. There have been rumblings that “The Affair” doesn’t quite understand how the publishing industry works, but this episode was the one that pushed believability for me.
Also, while Helen can’t admit to Whitney any details about “Uncle Max,” it’s clear that her teenage daughter has a clue about her mother’s former lover. Given Whitney’s track record for keeping secrets, that’s a lie Helen’s going to have a hard time maintaining.
The Closest Thing to the Truth
This season, “The Affair” hasn’t featured as many episodes that tracked the exact same events — including the exact same scenes — from different points of view. Which makes things like the bar scene between Helen and Noah so fascinating. Helen’s version has no memory of him whining about losing the Pen Faulkner Award. Meanwhile, Noah’s version of things has no Whitney, but plenty of drunk Helen in it. Usually, this is a place where we acknowledge places where the episode’s two storylines clearly agree, but this week it feels safe to say that these are really just two interlocking puzzle pieces. Beyond the exaggerated drinking on Noah’s end, both versions of the scene combined seem to offer a complete picture. And Maura Tierney and Dominic West make for a joyful, tragic, beautiful and destructive combination.
Helen says goodbye to Noah by saying that she’s proud of him. Noah says goodbye to Helen after she says that he might be drunk on power. And both things might be true.
Shut Up, Noah!
In an episode with at least a solid 15 minutes of unadulterated Whitney being Whitney, it takes quite a feat to win in this category. So congrats to Noah. He might not have won a literary award because of “affirmative action,” but at least here he’s a winner. Noah’s reaction to losing the Pen Faulkner is so classic #NotAllMen white privilege malarky that it’s a relief to not only hear Helen defend the book that did win, but laugh in Noah’s face. That laughter is what keeps the moment bearable, especially because Noah’s novel might be a literary firestorm, but it’s not revolutionary subject matter.
Was It Good for Her? Was It Good for Him?
Eden only pulls away from Noah for professional reasons. But they seemed like they were having a good time, otherwise.
“It’s like Hogwarts without the magic.” Yes, Whitney. Welcome to the world of the liberal arts college. Though, from what I hear, you get to have a lot more sex at a liberal arts college.
Name the Episode!
Because the writers of “The Affair” choose not to name the episodes, we do it for them. This week: “Drunk on the Power.”