This review of The Affair contains spoilers.
The Affair Season 3 Episode 10
“This is not the real Paris.”
So here we are at the end of a somewhat controversial season of The Affair. With all of the heavy baggage now out of the way, the season is allowed to have a bit more of a methodical, laid back finale. It was exactly what I was hoping for from such an overly intense season. It’s wonderful that Noah gets to enjoy a dreamy vacation in Paris rather than us get an episode all about Noah freaking out and deconstructing the self-destructive epiphany he had last episode.
This finale allows the series to return to Juliette’s point of view, yet I still can’t help but feel like her perspective is a little awkward in the larger scope of the season. There’s no question that Irène Jacob does a fantastic job in the role, but we got to know Vic better than we did Juliette and yet he was someone whose perspective we never got to spend time within. With The Affair being renewed for a fourth season, I’d like to think that Juliette’s inclusion will come along with it. That would certainly give these vignettes of hers a little more resonance, but she still is left feeling like a bit of an ultimately unfulfilled idea.
This episode does some interesting work in regard to presenting scenes with Noah that are echoes of previous moments that he’s gone through this year. With the season’s previous episode largely resolving the narrative drive of the year, this finale is left feeling much like an epilogue that allows for a lot of reflection. Early on Noah is begging Juliette to skip away from her responsibilities and play hooky with him. It’s a routine that’s he pulled out with Alison earlier in this season, yet this time the romanticism in the gesture feels genuine as opposed to manic. Reality might set in on Juliette’s end and try to invade her romance, but Noah still does a commendable job at helping with the levity. This is something that can feel especially crucial when your husband is withering away before your eyes from Alzheimer’s.
Noah curiously finds himself bonding with Juliette over the topic of loss—something that he’s recently realized has been a connective tissue between all of the major relationships in his life. With Noah’s recently gained hindsight, he’s actually able to offer up some helpful advice to Juliette that he might have not been capable of at the start of the season. It’s also funny to see Noah accrediting Juliette for his recovery and recent success, with Helen’s laborious past few months apparently not having made an impression on him in the slightest.
The bulk of Juliette’s installment digs into the brutal pain of how sometimes things “improving” can actually make things more complicated and cause further problems. Juliette’s life could possibly be happy and simpler with Noah, but with her husband, Etienne, still showing signs of vitality the situation becomes frustratingly twisted. Health has a funny way of looking like it’s getting better right before it goes belly up, which leaves Juliette to work her way through the many complicated emotions that are felt with any terminal illness.
Also, is it not a little unusual that due to the show’s split perspective structure we don’t get to check in at all with Alison, Cole, or even Helen? For a season that’s felt particularly Noah-centric, this finale doesn’t do much to shake that feeling. Both Juliette and Noah’s own perspective highlight the two sides of his character in complimentary ways, but other characters very much still feel unresolved. Is the contemplative, unstable note that Cole and Luisa’s marriage went out on two episodes ago really supposed to be our takeaway from their storyline? The biggest problem with this season was its distribution of episode time for its characters. I broke down the math of this season and it falls down like this: Noah – 8; Helen – 4; Alison – 4; Cole – 2; Juliette – 2. And let’s not forget that Noah is also showing up in a good deal of both Helen and Alison’s stories, as well as Juliette’s.
I firmly believe that if Noah was bumped back a little with some more focus being spread around that a more consistent season could have been constructed. Last year’s finale revolved around an event that incorporated every character into it, causing the split perspective design to not really effect who was being featured. Here, the two characters that are being focused on are literally in another country, making any sort of crossover between other characters impossible. And yet, in spite of this, against all odds Noah does somehow seem to inexplicably run into Whitney while on his trip to Europe.
All of the material here between Noah and Whitney really resonates. Just like it was appreciated when the show took some time to devote to Noah fixing his relationship with Martin, it’s nice to see this thread with Whitney also receive some closure. It’s another nice reminder that this show doesn’t need crazy plot twists and sprawling murder mysteries to keep it interesting. These smaller moments devoted to character go so much farther than any knife-wielding hallucination. Tiny instances like Martin inviting Noah to go sledding with him on Christmas Day hit just as hard as a knife in the neck. It’s nice to see that these moments of reconciliation feel earned after the work done in the more recent episodes.
It’s likewise encouraging to see more genuine progress on Noah’s part. Rather than Noah heading into a fist fight that would likely send him back into prison, he walks away. Later on, he talks about being more careful with telling people that he loves them. This might have been a bumpy year for Noah, but he might actually be okay when we revisit him next year.
Seeing Noah and his daughter have a big meditation on love, abuse, and everything in between yields some enlightening results. Whitney gets the necessary catharsis to move on past her parents’ divorce and hopefully walk away from her abusive relationship in the process. I was so relieved that she was actually able to accept her father’s help in the end. Hope is not entirely lost after all.
As the season chooses to close out on the idea of families generationally improving and learning from their mistakes, an optimistic future is hinted at. Noah and Helen may still be far from perfect, and Whitney is certainly not done making mistakes, but as long as everyone is slightly getting better and building to something healthier in the future, maybe everything will be all right. This season of The Affair had its fair share of ups and downs and definitely went through a transitory learning period this year, but if it can heed its own advice, season four might end up being the strongest one yet.
To conclude on a bit of a tangent, the subject of “terminal lucidity” is brought up in this episode in relation to Etienne’s recovery and subsequent death. As the season was slowly closing in on its happy ending, I couldn’t help but think that the show was perhaps introducing this idea of getting better before the fall as a prediction of Noah’s future. Is this peaceful reprieve from the chaos that he’s been surrounding himself in only a brief interlude before he hits his bottom? We’ll be there with you next season to find out.