Tracking the timeline of “The Affair,” from week to week, is complicated even if you’re just focusing on the events prior to Scotty’s death. It’s because the show isn’t afraid to jump forward in time in fits and starts — sometimes an episode will pick up the day after the previous one. This time, we’re looking at a leap of about six weeks — at least, it’s been six weeks since Alison and Noah have seen each other. But when actual events, like Helen’s release from prison or Alison’s trip back to Montauk occur within that time frame, it’s a little blurry; just as we’ve come to expect from this highly subjective show.
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Helen might be home from jail, but her “one minor lapse in judgment, one mildly embarrassing incident” (in mother Margaret’s words), is still an issue. After Noah takes the kids off to a Yankees game, Helen and her parents meet with Gottlieb the lawyer over her legal situation and how it might affect the ongoing custody battle, but it gets interrupted by a call from Noah, who’s taken their son Martin to the emergency room.
Remember how Martin’s been complaining about stomach issues for a while? Things come to a head here. Turns out Martin has Crohn’s Disease, not (as Margaret loves proclaiming) “My Father Is a Dick Disease.” Martin finally gets the diagnosis and surgery he needs, and in the aftermath Helen decides enough is enough. She wants them to return to arbitration and share custody of the kids. And more importantly, she kicks out Margaret’s toxic presence, refusing to show any pity for her mother’s upcoming divorce. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she says.
Noah’s day begins in his old bed, in his old house. With Margaret gone, he’s been trading off looking after the non-hospitalized members of the Soloway clan while Martin is in the hospital. “The best 10 days ever,” as Noah refers to his time with his family, are now coming to an end with Martin’s return home. The Soloways have a nice little gluten-free party to celebrate, and then it’s time for Noah to leave… and track down Alison.
Alison has been living, it turns out, at a yoga retreat with her mother Athena and a whole bunch of very nice naked people who like yoga. Celibate since arriving, and devoting herself to the lifestyle, she’s reluctant to return with Noah to the city — in part because she’s found a new level of peace and self-awareness there, and in part because she’s still dealing with the glimpses she got of how Noah has depicted her in his book. At her request, Noah decides to spend a little time at the retreat and even submits to a reiki session with Athena after “The Perfect Storm” author Sebastian Junger (playing himself, because that’s the only way to make this cameo any weirder) recommends it.
During the session, the car crash we’ve been seeing flashes of all season long, through Noah’s perspective, coalesces as a vision of him mowing down Alison with his car. While Noah runs away to find Alison and get out of there immediately afterward, thanks to the final scene of his section it becomes clear that this is the ending for his book that he’s been driving towards all this time (pardon the pun). Harry calls him just as Noah’s typing the final words, and Noah answers like a contract killer: “It’s done.”
In the future, Helen pays a visit to Gottlieb, who says that “someone” (AKA our ol’ Season 1 buddy Oscar) wants $100,000 to provide evidence that could free Noah. It sounds like financially this will be tough for Helen (who talks about selling the house to do so) but she also doesn’t flinch. It’s clearly very, very, very important to Helen that Noah not go to jail. Which makes me wonder if her motivations go beyond her understandable concern for the father of her children.
Noah’s general reaction to Ashram Alison offers every appearance of him trying to accept her choices and be reasonable… But he really doesn’t seem to be listening to what she says, beyond things like “don’t apologize — you’ve been wonderful.” (Notably, Alison says that before he forcibly takes her against a tree.) Alison’s perspective on this day is, most likely, full of differences.
The scene where Helen tells Noah that he’s an excellent father to their children is a fascinating one because it comes from Helen’s perspective, not Noah’s. That, and the fact that Noah’s perspective features Helen being incredibly accommodating, indicates that Helen, for real, was committed to settling their divorce amicably.
Imagine being Margaret: In the sunset of her life, losing her husband to another woman, at odds with her only daughter, and otherwise lacking purpose. From that position, it’s understandable that Margaret is such a colossal pain, but for God’s sake, Margaret’s insistence that “the mind and the gut are connected” nearly killed her grandson. Kathleen Chalfant gives an incredible performance, especially when sparring with Maura Tierney, but it was deeply satisfying to see Margaret finally get put in her place.
Meanwhile, let’s be clear: This week, Athena is a lot more bearable than she’s been in episodes past. She and Alison have made some peace, which means that Athena is no longer using her New Age beliefs as justification for her selfish behavior. But asking, “How is your son? How are his humors?” Athena, the last time a medical professional seriously used the term “humors,” they were sweeping up after the Black Plague.
Maybe Noah wanted it, but Alison — who’d just told him that she hadn’t had sex for six weeks, and was happier for it — didn’t seem to be basking in the afterglow of their tree-side rendezvous. (In fact, just how consensual that rendezvous was isn’t clear.)
“It’s easy to feel at peace when you’re just eating quinoa and sleeping 14 hours a day,” Noah snaps at Athena as he stomps through the ashram. Noah’s allergic reaction to the yoga retreat proved oddly entertaining — every time he said the word “fuck,” I smiled.
Because the writers of “The Affair” choose not to name the episodes, we do it for them. This week, let’s go with one of Athena’s catchphrases: “Embrace the Darkness Within.”
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