Previously on The Affair, “306”
Structurally speaking, this week’s episode of The Affair was exactly what I’d been waiting for all season. The insight into character that’s so uniquely offered by the show’s dueling perspectives, especially when those perspectives cover almost entirely the same material, was on full display this week. Despite that fact, “307” still fell flat on its face, and Helen and Noah are to blame.
Unlikeable characters aren’t a new concept, but they seem to be popping up a lot more often in TV shows these days. Part of their appeal is understandable; sometimes it’s an interesting experiment to explore particular themes through the lens of a loathsome person. It’s especially intriguing when an awful character can still manage to garner sympathy from the audience, even if it’s only a small amount. Bu there is a line, however vague it might be, that shouldn’t be crossed with these types of characters. Otherwise, you end up with people like Helen and Noah, who are so far beyond likability you can’t even pity them anymore. These characters, who were at one time or another both obnoxious yet understandable, have become entirely unwatchable.
While she’s never been the most enjoyable character, it’s been easy to feel some sense of compassion towards Helen throughout most of the series. Her downward spiral of depression after Noah betrayed and abandoned her was both understandable and worthy of our sympathy. Even Helen’s loyalty to Noah, driven by guilt after his false confession, was mostly reasonable. After all the truth bombs that came her way in last week’s episode, though, it would have been nice to see her take a new path. But, as we are all painfully aware, all roads lead back to Noah. It’s her decision to still stand by him, even though that meant putting her children in danger, putting further strain on her relationship with Whitney, and losing Vic all together, that pushed Helen over that aforementioned line.
Here’s the thing: Helen had options. She could easily have dropped Noah off at Nina’s house, or taken him to a hospital. Hell, she could have left him in that lake screaming at ghosts. Instead, she brings him back to her place and treats him as though they were still married. She even slips up on the phone with his probation worker, identifying herself as his wife before hastily correcting herself. Vic is justifiably angry and wants him out, but he’s also kind enough to check on Noah’s stab wound and write him a prescription for antibiotics. That Helen would later lie to his face about Noah being gone is infuriating. It’s a wonder Vic stuck around for this long and I hope this is the last we’ve seen of him, for his sake.
Someone we are likely to see again, however, is Whitney. No matter how much she thinks Furkat loves her, and maybe he does, I’m betting it won’t last. I mean, he does refer to himself as her “lover boss” and that just doesn’t scream lasting relationship. Whitney is a good example of an unlikeable character that you can still sympathize with. She’s privileged, annoying, and so ignorant sometimes, but Noah Solloway is her father. Her desire to distance herself from him is understandable, as is her reluctance to keep trying for some type of normal relationship with Helen. Though it was harsh, Whitney was definitely on to something when she asked her mother “why do you hate yourself so much?” Normally by now I’d be feeling pity for Helen. Her daughter can be added to the list of people throwing truth bombs at her, and she lost the love of a damn good man. She was this close to worming her way back into my heart, and then she had sex with Noah.
Noah barely has a lucid moment during his part of the hour, so it’s hard to take any of his perspective seriously. He is perhaps at his soberest when visiting Gunther’s Hunting and Fishing store, where he learns from John’s mother, that the prison guard rarely travels far from work. Honestly, though, did we really need that to prove Noah’s just been hallucinating all this time? Not in the slightest. Just in case that wasn’t enough, though, there’s another hint during a flashback to Noah’s time in prison. Gunther is, yet again, torturing Noah while he’s in solitary confinement. When Noah refuses to stroke his ego, Gunther is enraged and breaks Noah’s shoulder. He promises that now Noah will never, ever stop thinking about him. It’s clear Noah has some kind of PTSD, and the overuse of prescription drugs is only exacerbating the problem.
It’s only after Helen gives Noah a number of pills that he hallucinates Gunther inside the downstairs apartment. Noah had triple-locked the downstairs door earlier in the episode, so how could Gunther have gotten in without Noah hearing him? The only audio clue we’re given is that of the side-table drawer opening, which could easily have been Noah himself. The whole altercation between Gunther and Noah was just silly. We’re 3 episodes out from the finale and it’s still unclear what the purpose of this storyline is. If it’s to mess with Noah’s psyche, then mission accomplished, but, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, it’s not very narratively rewarding.
Aside from these events, Noah’s story coincides with Helen’s, but with a few distinctions. First of all, Noah sees himself as far more grateful to both Helen and Vic – even more evidence that we can’t take him seriously. Helen’s behavior is also wildly different. She sees herself as lost, desperate, and struggling to keep it together, while he sees her as polished, flirtatious, and acting as though she takes a weird pleasure in having Noah under her watch. Helen’s barely even upset when she tells Noah Vic has left her for good. In fact, she seems thrilled. She coaxes Noah into hanging out with her by dangling Vicodin and red wine in his face. The two of them eventually make it to the bedroom, but their sex is way rougher than Helen remembers. Not just physically, but emotionally.
Helen repeats the words, “I know you” until Noah can’t stand it. While putting his hand over her mouth he says, “you don’t know me at all.” Now, because we never saw this from her perspective, and because her voice is muffled in Noah’s, it’s unclear what Helen says next. There is a shake of her head, though, implying she may be saying, “no.” Again, Noah is nowhere near in his right mind – further evidenced by the directorial choice to blur the edges of the screen in his scenes – so it’s hard to take any of this as truth. Helen sobbing after they finish isn’t conclusive of anything, either, since she could be just emotionally exhausted. As much as I don’t look forward to any more time with either of these characters, a little clarity on what the hell happened here would be welcomed.
- To be clear, I don’t think Dominic West and Maura Tierney are the problem. In fact, if they weren’t doing such a great job at playing these deplorable characters, the episodes featuring them would be that much worse.
- Is there anyone out there who was fine with, or even looked forward to, having Noah and Helen share the screen two weeks in a row? If so, I would really love to hear your perspective on why.
- Ruth Wilson and Joshua Jackson’s talents are being wasted, and it’s a damn shame. These actors have amazing chemistry and the characters they play have such a rich emotional story between them. Why all of this greatness is constantly sidelined, I will never understand.
The Affair S3E7
Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Maura Tierney, Joshua Jackson, Julia Goldani Telles, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Brendan Fraser