Previously on The Affair, “305”
Once again, The Affair has shaken up its narrative structure, but this time with much better success. Like “302,” the episode with Helen and Alison, “306” didn’t revolve around any shared memories. However, while “302” failed to offer any worthwhile parallels between the two women, the two halves of the hour in “306” (split between Helen and Noah) echoed and reflected one another beautifully. The tone in each POV was equally unsettling, as both characters searched for some mixture of closure, insight, and validation, only to be much worse off than where they started. Of course, as we should all be annoyingly aware of by now, all roads lead back to Noah. The majority of the subject matter, and the most obvious link between the two perspectives, revolved around him.
Helen continues to be Noah’s number one advocate, despite the awful way he’s treated her for so many years. It’s impossible to forget the intense guilt she feels for Noah’s false confession, but guilt cannot account for why she would defend her ex when he forgets to attend parent-teacher conferences or why she still uses the last name Solloway. Thankfully, this episode forced Helen to really consider why she still cares so much for Noah. The excuse, “because he’s the father of my children” is a poor one, and a flimsy shield to hide the truth. Even before Noah went to prison, most of his children were angry with him for his affair with Alison. Now, at least 3 out of 4 of them don’t want anything to do with their father. Helen may be holding out hope for a reconnection between her children and Noah, but there’s also something much deeper going on.
We begin to understand Helen a little better during a scene with her, Vic, and her, surprisingly, reunited parents. Helen clearly doesn’t approve of her mother’s choice to take back her father after he’s cheated, and yet, Helen would likely take Noah back in an instant. When asked why Bruce returned to Margaret, he explains that no one will ever know him like she does. Perhaps there’s a bit of envy behind Helen’s disapproval; she believes she knows Noah like no one else, so why aren’t they back together, too? After a visit with Nina, Helen begins to realize she may never have truly known her ex-husband at all.
Jennifer Esposito is the highlight of the episode. You can tell, even feel, that Nina has been waiting a few decades to really lay into Helen like this. Though her motivations are a touch confusing – last we saw, it seemed as though she still felt she owed Noah something – everything she said was true and exactly what Helen needed to hear. It’s also refreshing to see someone, other than Cole, who doesn’t buy Noah’s bullshit. The most revealing part of their scene was learning Helen has no idea how Noah’s mother died. Nina offers two reasons for why this is the case. Either Helen was too self-involved to ever recognize Noah’s grief went above and beyond the loss of a parent, or perhaps Noah was only using Helen to get away from his family and never felt the need to tell her. Either way, it definitely supports the idea that Helen only ever knew fragments of the man she married and their connection wasn’t as strong as she’d always believed.
Easier than believing this truth, Helen somewhat dismisses Nina’s words and goes in search of answers from someone else: Max. He’s loved her for longer than Noah ever did, and she assumes he’ll tell her what she wants to hear. When Max announces his engagement, it visibly crushes Helen, but it doesn’t stop her from trying to take what little control she can have over him. After they sleep together, she immediately brings up Noah; she wants Max’s perspective on what he was like when they were younger. At first he obliges, but once he realizes this surprise visit was never truly about him, that their connection will always be linked to Noah, he promptly tells her to get out.
Every attempt to find Noah only leads Helen further away from him. This increasing disconnection, both in a figurative and literal sense, was a nice way to demonstrate just how off base she’s been about him. When Helen finally discovers where Noah’s been, it doesn’t take long before she’s fleeing to him in the early hours of the morning. When she finds him, he’s thrashing around in the lake and screaming at no one. Noah has reached a new low and if Nina is right, Helen will jump at the chance to “fix” him.
After, seemingly, burning his final bridge with Juliette, Noah is forced to return to his childhood home. Unsurprisingly, it develops into a trip down memory lane, and it’s here where his story begins to connect with Helen’s. While she was desperately seeking the truth about Noah, he would have been happy to leave that truth in the past but was forced to face it head on. It quickly becomes clear that Noah likely did use Helen, in some sense, to escape his lower-class upbringing. During a dinner with two of his old friends, we’re shown a microcosm of how the people in his hometown perceive him. On the one hand, he’s a bit of a celebrity, and a success story for merely moving to the big city. On the other, he’s still just a small town loser, who always made others feel like he was better than them. Both are probably accurate in some fashion, but they’re mostly just illustrative of how Noah can’t escape his true self, no matter how far in life he goes.
Perhaps as a way of coming to terms with that fact, he tells Martin the details of his mother’s death. For the first time in who knows how long, Noah’s motivations feel selfless. He obviously doesn’t talk about his mother with many people – as far as we know only Alison and Nina are aware of what happened. He had no way of knowing that by revealing his deepest wound to his son, it would work in his favor. He was simply compelled to be honest, and at least try to be a better father to Martin than his own father ever was to him. And it does prove to be a small step in the right direction for their relationship. Martin even agrees to start going to school; an issue Helen wasn’t making much headway with. The Affair doesn’t deal in happy endings, though.
Despite his parenting win, Noah is still on an unnerving downward spiral. It’s unclear whether his paranoia as of late is simply caused by an excess of prescription drugs, or if there’s some deeper underlying mental illness, or maybe both. Regardless, Noah hallucinates a figure moving into the lake – looking as though they’re going to commit suicide – and it’s revealed to be the younger version of him. It’s a great scene, with the lighting, direction, and music all coming together to create a very eerie tone. Unfortunately, it also feels like another attempt to garner sympathy for Noah and, as usual, misses the mark. What was an otherwise enjoyable episode is, regrettably, left to end on a wildly flat note.
- Juliette’s character makes less and less sense every time we see her. What’s in this “aventure” for her? Noah has only brought chaos and destruction into her life, and yet she still offers him a place to stay, kinky sex included. Her purpose in this story remains unclear, too. When she opens up to Noah about her husband, it was far more emotionally affecting than when we saw it through her own perspective; just another reason her POV earlier in the season feels ultimately unnecessary.
- Poor Vic. Even if Helen hadn’t cheated on him, she was never going to treat him in a way he deserves. He can love her, give her ample amounts of emotional space, and be involved in her children’s lives, but he’ll never be Noah. To anyone else, that would be the selling feature.
- I thought for sure the childhood friends had drugged Noah and that the dinner was some elaborate plan to get him vulnerable and alone with Gunther. Noah’s paranoia must be seeping into my own subconscious.
The Affair S3E6
Starring: Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Maura Tierney, Joshua Jackson, Julia Goldani Telles, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Brendan Fraser