“You can’t survive without him. You’re a co-dependent nightmare.”
I am genuinely curious what Sarah Treem and her team of writers think of Noah Solloway. The past few episodes attempted to push the narrative that in spite of Noah’s many indiscretions, he’s still not a bad person. Helen, who has lately been seem as the series’ moral barometer, believes this more than anyone else and it really feels like the show wants us to forgive him. Whitney screams at Helen that she and Noah deserve each other and more than ever The Affair seems to be preparing for reconciliation between Noah and Helen as the show closes its doors. I think there are many viewers out there that would argue that that is not a happy ending and that Noah actually is a bad person.
This penultimate episode does something very smart by turning Whitney into ostensibly the angry voice of the audience. Whether you support Helen’s actions or not, both sides of this discussion are covered here and there’s a team to rally behind. What’s even more rewarding about this episode is Whitney’s perspective argues that Helen is so addicted and clouded by Noah’s actions and the false notion of a perfect family that she’s progressively become an unreliable narrator. After the fiery ending of the last episode, “510” examines and unpacks the heated accusation that Whitney launched at her mother; that Helen has never been able to fully let go of Noah.
“510” powerfully decides to not lose any of the momentum achieved from the end of the last episode. This installment literally continues from the same conversation that Whitney was having in the previous episode. It’s a tactic that works – everyone’s performances were so electric in “509” that I was actually excited to spend more time in that destructive, cathartic place. I wish the episode spent even more time there. And seriously, Julia Goldani-Telles continues her goodbye tour of awesomeness as this series comes to a close.
Whitney’s words launch Helen into a tailspin, whether she realizes it or not. She acts petty and irrational towards people, which only makes Whitney’s point of view seem more accurate. It’s seriously disappointing when she abandons her goal to get Whitney’s birth certificate, jeopardizing Colin’s green card status in the process. She’s much more preoccupied with her own problems at the moment.
The arguments that Noah and Helen have feel long overdue for these characters and it’s easily the best work that both Maura Tierney and Dominic West have done on this show in years. For that reason alone these explosive confrontations have real weight to them, even if the results aren’t entirely satisfying. All of Noah’s damage gets scrubbed away with a surprising amount of ease.
For one brief, fleeting moment it looks like Helen may finally get over her unhealthy obsession towards Noah, but then the episode begins to jump through hoops to remind them of their once-pure love. They revisit old love letters that actually bring Helen to tears and then later she has to coach a newlywed couple on what it means to be a team. It’s needlessly sentimental and this episode ricochets between extremes as Helen and Noah move between anger and love.
Noah’s portion of the episode isn’t any less subtle than Helen’s half. He watches news stories that literally tell him to move forward and that staying still will kill him. It’s of course talking about the flash fires, but it’s hard to not see these words apply to his recent dismissal of Helen. Noah’s narrative paints a much more solitary story. He has a pity party with his thoughts and reflects on the many moments from his past.
It’s appreciated to see Noah grieve a little more on Alison and reflect on how her life played out. He goes through the same process with his past life with Helen where he hears his own words tell him how perfect his life used to be before he blew it up with his affair. There are absolutely moments through the course of the series where Noah didn’t feel this way and he was positive that Alison was his soul mate, but all of this evidence continues to push him back towards Helen. Admittedly, Noah is a weaker, different person than he used to be. In some ways, so is Helen. This feels less like these two realizing that they were always meant to be together than it does two wounded individuals cutting their losses.
To solidify Noah and Helen’s bond, the episode presents a portion from their shared perspective. This overwhelmingly speaks to their unity, but it kind of betrays the series’ original core concept. In a way it’s fitting that Noah and Helen would dismantle the show’s very structure. This joint venture is all sorts of ridiculous and it still seems completely random that the end of this series revolves around forest fires and an evacuation of Los Angeles like it’s the apocalypse.
Helen and Noah reflect on the past and go through blatant and shoehorned trust exercises that somehow prove that they were always meant to be together. This is all while they also exhibit never-before-seen hiking and rock climbing skills. I know that Helen’s empowerment speech as she finds the courage to scale the rock wall is supposed to be encouraging, but it just made the scene feel more ridiculous to me. Nearly everything is overwrought in this entry and it’d be much more palatable if it had a little more faith in its audience. At one point in this penultimate episode, Helen stares at death and destruction as she wears a hat that’s brandished with THE END. Okay, we get it.
Even though the final portion of the episode revolves around the threat of danger, there’s a comfortable calm that fuels it. Noah and Helen just get to be themselves around each other and have some leisurely conversations. However, the fact that they choose to psychoanalyze one another and break down exactly who they are and why they contain such a duality doesn’t really feel necessary. Helen’s questions to Noah act as if he’s some notorious serial killer. There’s nothing special about him. He’s just some poor old sucker who made a mistake. There’s nothing that complex to grasp there. Collectively the two of them go through the events of Noah’s affair and it does seem to provide them with a kind of peace. During the beginning of the episode Stacey bombards Helen with the question of “What now?” Helen and Noah have now reached a new level of understanding, but what’s next?
“510” will no doubt be a polarizing entry for fans depending on how they feel about Noah Solloway. It’s easy to see what this episode attempts to do and what it wants to set up before the series finale, but it’s a very chaotic, messy installment in terms of its execution. A real breakthrough is made in Helen and Noah’s relationship, even if it’s achieved in a highly unexpected manner. Noah and Helen collectively take up four perspectives of the episode, which all say the same thing. It’s a manipulative entry that’s full of silly obstacles, of both the physical and emotional nature. Furthermore, it feels like Future Joanie’s story has just been forgotten right when it got to its most interesting point. I have no doubt there will be plenty of her in next week’s finale, but spreading some of that story out over the past two episodes would presumably give The Affair’s series finale a little more breathing room.
Or maybe she died off camera after getting bitten by a snake.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, and Bloody Disgusting. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and that Hannibal is the greatest love story ever told. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.