The Affair: 206 review

A packed episode of ‘The Affair’ complicates its relationships in a whole new way while having everyone long for familiarity

This The Affair review contains spoilers.

The Affair Season 2 Episode 5

“The mind and the gut are connected.”

So all of those times that I shouted that Margaret was the absolute worst ended up amounting to something!

Margaret continues to wear that role well, but this episode (or at least Helen’s side of it) is almost a treaty on the idea as she’s turned into a Frankenstein’s Monster of a creation that must be expelled. She continues to be a thorn in everyone’s side in her usual way, but she’s then pushed into some new territory when Helen’s pot lozenge exploits require both of her parents—who are basically in the same situation Helen and Noah are—to help in her custody case.

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Watching Margaret and Bruce squabble with Gottlief is painful stuff as Helen loses more of her mind by the minute. This season of The Affair has reflected parallel affairs and situations going on in peripheral characters’ lives fairly aggressively, but it’s never been more of the case than in this scene as Margaret’s collapsed marriage spills over into the crumbling remains of Helen’s. Thank God she’s saved by the terrible news about her son!

The ticking time bomb of Martin’s recurring ailment finally comes to its boiling point when Noah takes his children out to a Yankees game (doesn’t he know that the Mets are all the rage right now??). It’s not too long when all of a sudden Martin’s crippling over in pain and being rushed to the emergency room while vomiting out bile that looks like it should be out of a cartoon. As Martin is going under the knife it’s illuminating to realize that there is obviously something very real wrong with him and this hasn’t just been psychosomatic grief over his fractured family. Surely the trauma of all of that didn’t help things any (it can’t be ignored that his symptoms did seem to increase when he’d be with Noah), but Martin’s condition ends up being crucial in a wholly different way.

His diagnosis seems to be one that almost begs for Noah and Helen to get back together, with them needing to have a watchful, caring eye over him now more than ever. Just as Alison and Cole grew closer last week, it’s fascinating to see their binary couple heading much in the same direction. Noah and Helen’s bonding here is in an entirely different way, but it still represents a togetherness of sorts. While I do not see the show heading in this direction, it’d kind of be amazing if after three or four seasons here, the show ended up with Noah and Helen, and Alison and Cole being paired back together again, with all of this craziness ultimately bringing them back to where they started. We’re still far from being at that point, but as variations on that theme are being played with, it does highlight not only the fluidity of relationships, but also the fluidity of breakups.

Martin’s diagnosis more than anything though acts as an underscoring of how much of a poison Margaret’s been on everything (and even adds some more poignancy to Helen’s drug hallucination of her literally becoming her mother). There’s some wonderful wish fulfillment at a near fan fiction level in the form of Helen bitching out Margaret, and in spite of how much it seems to take out of Helen, she’s absolutely stronger by the end of it. This entire ordeal may have arguably been more traumatic for her than what she went through two episodes ago, but the difference here is that she’s actually in a better place by the end of this. Finally she’s figured out what is good for her life and what is venomous, and even though she might be battered from the discovery, she’s finally ready to move on.

I can’t wait to see what’s next for Helen—and especially how this newly independent version of herself syncs up with the version of her we’re seeing in the flash-forwards—and these final few episodes should provide the most interesting version of the character that we’ve seen yet. Noah’s half of the episode doesn’t do much to disabuse the notion that he and Helen are being much more civil to each other, and I’m curious to see how this develops in the coming weeks, too.

And speaking of Noah’s side of things, it’s a pleasant surprise when we don’t re-do the events that we’ve just watched, even though there’s a glaring blindspot in the form of the Yankees game that we never see. Instead we jump ahead a week to when Martin is coming home from the hospital, and it feels somewhat telling considering how the past few episodes have shown Noah to get the “glass half full” side of the perspective. Helen is breaking down left and right, and Noah is eating cake and trying to even out a banner. Honestly though, after all of the pain and heartbreak that’s been going on, isn’t it just nice to watch these people have fun for a little bit? When Helen brought up homework, I was almost as disheartened as the children were. I just want to see this family feel like a family again, too.

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Noah’s bliss doesn’t last too long as his much-anticipated visit to Alison goes up in flames around him. The shattered state that we saw Alison in at the end of last episode has only intensified, with her living with her mother at a retreat, and her not even sure if her and Noah were still together. It’s a difficult scene as Noah finally has his life together in the right way, yet the final piece that’s never been a problem in the past is suddenly no longer fitting into the picture. Noah debates fiction versus reality with Alison, much like the series has been doing since it began, with this crucial fight almost being a literal manifestation of how you can’t write your own story. With how things are currently poised, it would make more sense than ever for Noah to return home to the life he knew and that’s what makes his genuine love for Alison so tragic.

In a funny way, this more callous version of Alison is the same self-actualized, truest version of herself that we’ve seen yet, much like what we see in Noah and Helen this week. Alison more than ever seems lucid and aware of how she works, it’s just a shame that it appears that it’s coming at the cost of Noah. He basically watches his relationship disintegrate around him, voiceless in the manner, as Sebastians are mentioned and Helen invests deeper in her new life.

The end of this episode is a fairly bold move for the show and one that I certainly didn’t expect them to be making this early. Noah is essentially told on every level that Alison isn’t right for him and he’s been attracted to the wrong aspects of her and overcompensating accordingly (as we simultaneously see that Noah might have just been a reaction for Alison, too). However, in spite of Noah following this advice, the two of them double down on their darkness and enhance the most reckless aspects of one another. It’s a fully toxic decision and one that hints at a dangerous final few episodes.

Even without the bombshell that Alison drops at the end of everything, matters are already considerably wrought. As we continue ahead in the second half of the season, The Affair’s focus seems to be a little less tight (as are its hold on the flash-forwards), but an exciting new narrative is being built here that has these characters heading in a direction I certainly wouldn’t have expected. And while a lot of this episode was interested in moving our characters into positive, constructive places, we know that soon enough Whitney is going to be the envy of her younger brother because she’ll be able to say, “I knew a guy once…But he died.”

Clock’s ticking, Scotty.

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4 out of 5