Previously on The Affair, “308”
It seems that for every fantastic episode focused on Alison and Cole, we also get 40 unbearable ones centered on Helen & Noah. OK, that may be an exaggeration of the truth, but it’s an accurate representation of how it feels. Though “309” finally gave us a concrete answer as to just what the hell has been going on with Noah, the payoff wasn’t at all worth the dreadfully lengthy buildup to it. It’s not because the “twist” – Gunther is a manifestation of the truths Noah can’t face – was blatantly obvious early on, it’s because after spending so long trapped inside Noah’s POV, and seeing just how horrible he is, it’s virtually impossible to feel any empathy for him. In saying that, I feel like a broken record, but as long as The Affair keeps trying to redeem Noah, I’m going to keep calling the show out when it doesn’t work. Which, so far, is always.
It’s not even that Noah needs to be redeemed for the show to work. He’s been somewhat awful since pretty much day one and that’s fine. Characters don’t have to be good people, nor do they need to be constantly striving to obtain that status for an audience to like them. The problem is the frustrating dissonance between who Noah clearly is, and the Noah The Affair wants him so badly to be. It’s unclear if the writers are oblivious or aware of this gap, and though the latter of the options is definitely worse, Noah is pretty FUBAR at this point. Perhaps the worst part is that the subject matter being explored through Noah is super intriguing. The nature of his mother’s death, his shifting perspective on it, and the intensifying guilt because of it all, is the exact kind of material The Affair often tackles so well. Unfortunately, the opportunity and, more importantly, the desire for analysis is completely lost on a character like him. There’s little encouragement to look closer, but a strong impulse to turn the TV off and never look back.
With all that said, credit should be given where credit is due. I honestly never thought I’d say this, but Brendan Fraser was the highlight of Noah’s twisted plot this season. Gunther at work and Gunther at home were two entirely distinct characters and a lot of that is due to Fraser’s delivery of dialogue and use of body language. Though I believe everything we saw this week from prison guard Gunther was only in Noah’s head, Fraser made the ambiguity of the character convincing, as he moved effortlessly between innocence and malevolence.
Similarly surprising, was the show’s ability to make me think twice about Helen. Two weeks ago she was sinking to the same depths of character failure as Noah, but she seems to have been saved from that fate, for now anyway. By coming clean to her family and Vic, she may finally be able to move on from this tortured phase of self-destruction, and get rid of her nagging sense obligation to Noah. These confessions allow her character to move on to the next arc, where she’ll hopefully be hitting more than one-note for an entire season. And, unlike Noah, who will likely also be moving on to a new arc, the likeability of her character is still salvageable. Especially since she was stopped from telling Cherry the truth, too. As ridiculous as Bruce and Margaret’s behavior was in this episode – the panic room scene nearly pushed the whole thing into farce territory – they weren’t wrong in saying it would be selfish to tell the Lockhart Matriarch. In fact, Helen only narrowly toed the line between confessing for herself and confessing for the greater good of honesty.
It’s hard to tell what good, if any at all, will come from Helen’s confessions. In terms of character growth, it was the right move, but this revelation will no doubt be difficult on her children. It could definitely be argued as to whether she should have even told them, but I don’t think she could win either way in this situation. Now that they know, they’re going to have complicated feelings about both parents, though they probably already did. If she had never told them and they found out when they were older, it would feel as though they’d been lied to their entire lives. Luckily for her, she may have Vic by her side to help get through it.
Two weeks ago I was ready to never see Vic again, for his own sake. Now, Helen may have said all the right things for him to come back. Her confession to him was maybe the most genuine thing we’ve ever seen her do. From admitting to being a total coward, to the fact that she let Noah take the fall because it was “his turn to hurt,” and, the most surprisingly believable part, that she let Noah back home out of a sense of debt and a desire to fix everything and not because she still loves him, it’s a side we’ve rarely, if ever, seen from Helen. It looks good on her, too, despite how ultimately pitiful she remains. Though it’s a fraction of the payoff we deserve for all the time spent with Helen this season, at least she fared better than Noah.
- More Meta commentary in the dialogue, this time from Gunther/Noah. “Memory can be very faulty, Noah.” Once in a while this kind of inward nod is OK and can even benefit a scene or character. Two weeks in a row, though, is crossing a bit too much into self-congratulatory terrain. We get it, The Affair; your show has unreliable narrators and is open to interpretation.
- Speaking of which, what are we supposed to make of the huge discrepancy between Alison and Helen’s memories from that night at the bar? Does Alison simply not remember telling Helen about her role in Scott’s death? Helen clearly knows the full truth; it helped her come to terms with the fact that Noah taking the fall wasn’t out of love or devotion to her. This is one of those times where leaving memories open to analysis doesn’t quite work.
The Affair S3E9
Starring: Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Maura Tierney, Joshua Jackson, Julia Goldani Telles, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Brendan Fraser
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