The Affair: 204 Review

The Cautionary Tale of Helen Solloway, or, How I Learned That Pot Lozenges and Rash Parenting Don’t Mix...

The Affair Season 2 Episode 4

This review of The Affair contains many spoilers.

“Turns out I was right the first time. No one’s good enough for you. No one can make you fucking happy.” 

So much for Whitney having Noah’s back, huh? 

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As the episode begins on Helen’s side of the story, we’re in the middle of witnessing a complete legal decimation of Noah. Things could not be going more poorly in his favor when all of a sudden some pedantic phrasing ends up becoming his savior. There’s also some value in seeing Gottlief hate Noah’s guts here as he tries to take him down as opposed endlessly having his back like the guardian angel that we’ve seen in the flash-forwards. While the scene might seem preoccupied on Noah, it in fact ultimately reveals more about the growing ulcer that is Helen.

Points really need to be given to The Affair for the beautiful job that it’s doing at having Helen’s mother annoy us just as she does everyone else in her orbit. The tension amidst the two of them is palpable and growing until Helen is finally able to empathize with her mother. Margaret lets loose what we’ve already known about her former husband and his paramour (concubine, slut face, what have you…). They don’t dwell on for too long, but the simple gesture of Helen passing the wine glass to her mother is the perfect, subtle reaction. Maybe there will finally be some commiseration between the two after all, and these collective experiences will help bring them closer together. 

Someone who certainly isn’t coming closer together with anyone in the near future though is Whitney, who continues her tirade from last week to the point that I’m even surprised I gave her the benefit of the doubt. In her sparse amount of screen time she manages to backstab and seem more interested in money and pissing people off than anything else. Why wouldn’t Scotty want to get back with her? 

Elsewhere in sociopath land, Max continues to be a question mark that’s constantly in flux between hitting his mark and completely shitting on it. From what we’ve seen of him he certainly seems like a big gesture sort of guy and for someone like Helen that can kind of be a nightmare. Him just casually mentioning to Helen that he gave Noah $50,000 last episode, and then being bemused when she’s upset about this almost feels like the distillation of all of the dissonance in their relationship.

Things with Max certainly ended sooner than I thought that they would (but with his connection to Noah as well, I’m sure it won’t be the last that we see of him), but it might almost be worth it for the work that Tierney churns out as a result. To see the cracks slowly form in her and start to rapidly spread as Max pours his heart out over how much he loves her is brutal, but at least Helen is taking some agency here. Companionship doesn’t always mean that you’re not feeling alone. In fact, it can even accentuate your loneliness sometimes. Helen might be alone again, but at least it’s on her own terms. 

The following scene with Helen is one of my favorites from the entire series thus far as Tierney shifts from brokenhearted to drunken stupor, as she glugs down white wine and belts out love songs while stumbling out of her clothes. Initially this seems like it might be signaling a shift towards a less somber version of Helen, but this innocent day drinking on her part ends up becoming the first domino in a terrible chain reaction. 

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It takes a bit of time for the stoned, hazy remaining half of Helen’s segment to get moving but once it does, Jesus Christ. Initially this feels like an example of an overdone trope where a woman like Helen lets loose and has a “Free Day” where she indulges in the darker sider of things, but it quickly sheds this skin. Helen’s trip (and by the way, there are some great drug effects subtly worked in here) turns into a meditative look at how lonely she is and her need to keep people in her life before they “evaporate.” This is married with all of Helen’s issues with her mother and what she ultimately fears she’s becoming (which is handled in both subtle and in-your-face ways). 

Then the huge tonal shift takes place and all of this is made drastically more poignant as Helen’s story morphs into a nightmare and easily one of the more horrifying things the show has ever done. It feels like with each passing minute things get exponentially worse for Helen that you can’t believe how it eventually gets to the point that she’s “assaulting” a police officer. Just as upsetting is seeing her children collectively turn on her, almost wanting the police to catch her on something. The Cyanide icing on the poison cake is when Noah shows up to be the hero, their children gladly embracing him, and Helen somehow tries to blame all of this on him leaving the family. In spite of everything that she’s tried to accomplish here, at this exact moment, Helen’s never been lonelier. 

Helen has shown staunch responsibility in the past, especially when it comes to her kids, so to see her putting their lives in danger here and Noah unequivocally being the better parent is kind of bonkers. Choosing love over them might not have been the most chivalrous thing to do either, but at least he’s not putting their lives in danger. While it’s clear that Helen definitely didn’t want to end up with Max, perhaps his presence was affecting her more than she realized. 

When the second half of the episode rolls around, it’s a welcome surprise that it’s devoted to Noah and not Cole, as we might have been led to believe. First off this excites me because it means all bets are off structure-wise at this point. We could get three straight weeks in a row of Cole and Helen stories if the show felt like it, and this unpredictability suits the show well. Secondly, I’m actively hungry for more Noah after his beautiful love declaration in the last episode, so a second helping of him this early is more than fine by me.

While it might have been more interesting to see the courtroom scene only play out from Helen’s perspective without gaining Noah’s half to reflect on, considering its severity, it does ultimately make sense to indulge in Noah’s side of the story here. This version of the scene is much more of a conversation than the way that Helen presents it, but it still is very chastising of Noah’s recent actions. The interesting addition this time around though is the judge issuing a court order that Noah’s kids can’t be near Alison until the whole divorce is settled, which naturally means that the two of them can’t be living together if he expects to spend any time with his children.

It’s a devastating blow to both Noah and Alison considering how many strides they made last week with their relationship. Seeing Noah tell Alison that she’ll have to wait until the trial is over to receive her happiness evokes memories of when she was told to wait for Noah to leave his wife last season. He consoles her by saying, “It’s just months, and then we’ll have our whole lives together,” but you could swear that he said the exact same thing last year. Alison’s again slotted into an unfortunate position of uncertainty. 

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There are some beautiful parallels here where we see that Alison is just as traumatized over the notion of being alone as Helen is, albeit through entirely different means. At the same time, as Helen is worried about the similarities between her and Margaret, Alison is guilty of sharing the same unwanted association with Helen. The agency that Helen elects for herself here completely blows up in her face, but hopefully Alison will have more success in finding what she needs. 

Noah’s half of the story is basically delegated to cleaning up the pieces of Helen’s mess and it’s nice to see him do a good job with it all. Choosing to take the kids away to a safe place with friends and family, rather than back to his Fortress of Solitude is an entirely selfless decision that reflects a rational version of Noah at play here. It’s nice to keep getting evidence that he’s just a guy that married the wrong person rather than being inherently bad. It’s especially hard to watch everyone essentially tell Noah that he’s not a good parent, and noses being turned up at the idea of him requesting full custody. He’s more than proven himself at this point and you can begin to see the fissures that are forming in him from continually having to justify his justness. People like Nina seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s going on here, continuing to invalidate Noah’s love with Alison. She basically equates it to a fantasy—some celebrity crush—whereas in actuality this is a very real thing for Noah. It’s not just some dream. He’s finally awake, if anything. 

That being said, all of this Noah worship might be going on just so the rug-pulling of a certain murder that’s on the horizon is made all the more shocking. None of this Dad of the Year behavior means anything if Noah’s eventually trying to hide a homicide. Granted, the end of the episode does see Noah spiraling out of control in his own mini-version of Helen’s tornado. His heart is in the right place here, even if he does step out briefly, away from his family, to share a moment with Alison. It’s an entirely sweet scene, and one that feels earned for him. 

In the coming weeks, the true test will be who Noah ends up choosing between his children and Alison when the pressure is really put on. Things seem clear at this point, but on The Affair they have a funny way of murkifying. Only time will tell.


3.5 out of 5