This The Affair review contains spoilers.
The Affair Season 3 Episode 6
A lot of The Affair’s sixth episode this season is about the pressure of second chances—whether they’re a real thing or just lies that we tell ourselves as we accept our consolation prizes. Late in the episode Noah runs into an old acquaintance at Gunther’s hardware store and Noah learns that he’s married to the girl who would never give the guy a second glance in high school. People change. Times change. You never know what ingredients are going to cause a second chance cocktail to brew, only that they so often do. Helen seems to be on a warpath this episode to disprove the validity of second chances (“Oh my God, and all of that bullshit about second chances?”), but you can’t help but feel that she’s rebelling so hard here because she’s petrified that her options in life are drastically dwindling. She might be stuck with her own second chance that she’s none too eager to make.
The episode pointedly begins with a dinner between Helen, Vic, and Helen’s parents, the latter of whom have apparently gotten back together. Bruce and Margaret’s reconciliation is a move that seems to scream that not only is Helen becoming more and more like her mother, but that moments that seem like endings have a very funny way of merely being ellipses until the benefit of hindsight is gained. It’s absolutely no coincidence that as the season’s narrative continues to give us teases of Helen hoping she can somehow slip back into her old skin of being married to Noah, that her mother has managed to go exactly down the same route. Especially when the circumstances involved with her parents have seen her father getting rejected by his young student suitor and more or less crawling back to where he came from.
It’s a move that’s not exactly chivalrous, yet another event that hits a number of parallels within Helen’s own life. If anything, her reluctance to accept what’s going on with her parents reads like a stubborn child embarrassed to admit their own mistakes and that they’re no better themselves. Helen doesn’t want to give herself the permission to go back to Noah. She’d be more than content to have a black hole just open up and rip her away from all of this as her parents are nonchalantly saving each other’s lives during dinner while showing what a power couple they are.
The meal that Vic, Helen, and her parents all share together is full of Bruce and Margaret propping up Vic and voicing their support for him as they all share a laugh at Noah’s expense while making jokes about how it’s a wonder that it took this long for someone to stab him. And yet, Helen deflects the accolades that are heaped on Vic and finds herself still reflexively acting as Noah’s cheerleader. Later on, her own children are reminding her that Noah is technically her ex-husband as more pillars from her life continue to try to tear Noah down.
We’re officially past the mid-way point on this season of The Affair and while Helen’s behavior has been fairly stagnant through the year, this episode’s opening scene is a powerful distillation of where her head is at. I’m just not sure if we needed another reminder of this. At one point Vic’s casual mention of marriage to Helen is quickly met by him adding, “You look like you were going to have a heart attack.” I don’t need to see Helen back together with Noah, but I don’t want her treating a number of more-than-decent guys unfairly because they’re not him either. At this point The Affair is doing a fine job at showing us that nothing makes Helen happy other than her ex-husband and accomplice in crime.
It’s beyond depressing to watch Helen ricochet between boroughs as she tries to figure out what the fuck has exactly happened to her life. The true moment of desperation hits when she learns that even the unscrupulous Max has gotten over her, become engaged, and somehow managed to grow up. I was cringing so much as Helen repeatedly tries to put chinks in Max’s armor by belittling his new romance by asking things like, “Was she your trainer?” He very nearly turns down her booty call and this is Max that we’re talking about. Helen just can’t help but also bring Max into her self-destructive Noah-flavored orbit as well.
This series may delight in presenting altered versions of the same events with the truth hidden somewhere in between, but this episode goes as far as casting Helen’s entire marriage with Noah in a new, disingenuous light. After the details that we got about Noah and his mother last episode, I fully believe the account of Helen and Noah’s marriage as his sister paints it (whether Noah is aware of his motivations or not). In fact, the revelation becomes all the more interesting after Noah’s breakthrough last week where he realizes that it’s because of his relationship with his mother that he fell in love with Alison in the first place. Well, it’s those same complicated feelings for his mother that pushed Noah towards Helen too, only in her case he was using her to run away as opposed to running to her. Alison was a safety net. Helen was an escape hatch.
I don’t know if it’s really necessary to get another episode that puts Helen through the wringer for the bulk of its runtime, but the emotional gauntlet that she goes through here is a necessary component in her finally reaching Noah and the big ol’ can of worms that he’s gotten himself into now. Still, it’s not easy to watch her be a complete asshole to Vic while the father of her children is off conceivably drowning someone. Helen, things could be so much easier…
As the episode settles into Noah’s half of things, his journey is certainly not as self-pitying and sanctimonious as Helen’s (thank God), but it’s still a bit of a chore to get through when it first starts moving. Fortunately, it turns into a rather sweet, important bonding session between father and son by the time that it’s over. As Helen is self-destructively leading on men from her past and making poor decisions, Noah respectfully balances out the episode by dismissing Juliette’s advances on him and actually exhibiting a good deal of restraint and judgment. Juliette is breezed past this week—although getting any of her at all is appreciated—but the knowledge that she has a husband that’s suffering from Alzheimer’s continues to add to the series’ perspective that people lead layered lives that you know absolutely nothing about from an outside glance.
The growing topic of Noah losing favor with his children, particularly Martin, really gets to blossom this episode. In Helen’s half of the story, Noah continues to look like an absentee parent with the narrative pushing the realization that it might be too late for Noah to save this relationship (children aren’t as easy to persuade as ex-wives and jilted lovers, evidently). However, Noah’s portion of the episode shows off the caring, responsible parent that is also very much a part of who Noah is. Ironically, in spite of Noah doing a stupendous job at missing the important events in Martin’s life, he ends up getting the perfect catch up session with his boy here. The plotting around it might seem a little artificial, but it’s worth it to get such a thoughtful, methodical tone poem on Noah’s high school life.
Amongst all of the painful choices that Helen makes in her half of this entry, it’s comforting to actually see Noah helping Martin out and trying to give him a normal evening for once. After all of the bullshit that Martin endures during Helen’s portion of the installment, Noah is the one that is finally able to break through to the boy and get him to take school seriously. Much like Helen, Noah, and the rest of the people in this show’s universe, Martin is getting a second chance. It’s just going to matter what he does with it.
So. Anyone thinking we’re dealing with time travel or an Earth-2 version of Young Noah next week? Yeah, me neither…