The Affair season 5 episode 5 review: dysfunction galore

Helen tries to picture what her future looks like and Sierra fails at parenting in a frustrating episode of The Affair season 5. Spoilers...

This review contains spoilers.

“I am enough”

Human beings, especially when they’re together in relationships, are messy. The Affair is a show that’s all about channelling that energy and demonstrating how it comes to life and affects people in different ways. Well, both human beings and The Affair have never been messier this season than in 505. It’s an episode that’s painfully destructive in many ways and even if it’s a hard pill to swallow, it’s a reminder that people often make mistakes and that life is sometimes making the worst out of an already bad situation.

Sierra learns, for better and for worse, what it takes and what it means to be a mother in this instalment of The Affair. Her first scene in the episode pretty much says it all. Sierra repeatedly prays for the strength to be a good mother while her child cries, in need of attention, off camera. Sierra is very much trying to avoid her child, but the idea of praying to be good at something when she can just walk over, pick up her kid, and do so much more is emblematic of Sierra. She has good intentions, but she’s one to hide behind dramatic performances and flashy life plans instead of the unglamorous actions of actually doing the work.

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At one point Sierra easily dismisses Eddie’s constant crying as colic, but even that just feels like an excuse she’s created to justify her inadequacies as a parent. She fires it off in the same manner that she casually lies to a security guard later on. She’s playing a role where this doesn’t need to be her fault because her kid has a problem.

It’s easy for Sierra’s beliefs and lifestyle to make her initially think a baby is some miracle from God or a sign from the universe, but it’s a lot harder for her to cling to those ideas when her acting career suffers and she has to accept her responsibilities. It’s almost too ironic that when Sierra abandons her child in the car to go on an audition it’s for a scene where she’s negligent to a child (but don’t worry, it later makes this connection as obvious as possible).

To be fair, it’s obviously entirely normal for new, young mothers to feel overwhelmed and even scared of their child, but Sierra is just the worst here. This episode wants you to rage over her actions and it’s behavior that’s probably making Alison roll over in her grave considering what she went through with Gabriel. The end of Sierra’s story is maybe the most irresponsible that the show has ever been and the angriest that it’s ever made me. It is a terrifying, manipulative final act and maybe it will teach Sierra something, but maybe it won’t. At the start of the scene I honestly thought that she was just going to abandon Eddie on the side of the road somewhere.

Sierra experiences many lessons in parenting here, but I’m just not sure why her struggles with motherhood are fundamental to The Affair’s story at all. I know that the series doesn’t want to waste Emily Browning, but this really just feels like artistic padding. Maybe if it made any kind of allusions to Vik’s legacy or if Helen was called to babysit and got to meet Sierra’s mother, but none of that is present and all of the deeper introspection and consequences are saved for Helen’s portion of the episode.

The same story could even be told with adult Joanie in the future (who’s entirely absent this week). Why not do an entire episode set in Joanie’s timeline that chronicles her struggles with being a mother while she’s without her own mother, Alison, to help her through it? There’s plenty of drama and tension as Sierra butts heads with her own mother through this episode, but Joanie’s situation where she doesn’t have any parents to help her still seems richer in potential (especially when we’ve seen Helen war against Priya and Alison bristle with Cole’s mother in the past).

Additionally, in a rare move 505 foregoes its opening credits, but it’s not exactly clear why and what’s so important about Sierra’s story to justify this treatment. It doesn’t feel like the episode was overly long and had to cut the credits for time, which just makes this decision more confusing.

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Helen’s content continues to be one of the sole triumphs of this season, but even her storyline has started to tread water and heads into murky territory. Helen still struggles to admit that her world has turned into some kind of fairy tale and is perhaps the most idealised version of her life that’s possible. So of course, when she finally does start to settle into that reality, this perfection starts to crumble.

Helen faces a gushing love confession from Noah that has been percolating over the past few episodes and it actually seems to make an impression on her. Helen’s statement that Noah’s love “terrifies” her is powerful stuff and probably the truest thing that she says all episode.

It’s also extremely narcissistic that Noah suggests that the only reason that Helen could love Sasha is because he’s playing him in a movie. In spite of Noah’s sloppy game here, I’m now pretty convinced that The Affair’s end game is Noah and Helen together again and everything back to where it started. An adult Joanie will run into an elderly Helen and Noah in Future Montauk and no one will be aware of the significance of the encounter.

505 heavily emphasises the importance of having someone who believes in you—something that’s absent in Sierra’s story (she even needs to tell herself that she is enough)—which Helen explicitly knows that she has with Noah. That may not be as impressive as being a major movie star, but for Helen it’s all that she needs right now. Helen’s told from every direction that’s Noah’s bad news as people still trip over Sasha’s amazing nature.

This is the first time that Helen witnesses real cracks in Sasha’s perfect image and while they’re far from the wealth of sins that Noah’s committed, they’re definitely enough to have Helen start to consider if she’s maybe made a mistake. If Helen does return to Noah, this leap will at least be more palatable if Sasha’s faults are first shown, but it still seems like it’s cheating her. Get ready for the narrative to slowly start to turn in Noah’s favour.

505 is bound to be a controversial episode of The Affair’s final season. The Sierra material holds this one back, even if it does tell a flawed, honest story where Browning delivers a crushing performance. The larger impact of Sierra’s actions aren’t fully realised until Helen’s side of the story, but it still doesn’t feel necessary, especially when Sierra’s place in this series has already been tangential at best. In her story she’s billed as a problematic, cautionary tale and in Helen’s story she’s rendered nearly invisible as Priya treats Helen like the de facto mother.

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Sierra’s woes may resonate and not fall flat for some people, but even if they connect they’re still filtered through Helen and are strangely used as part of the catalyst that helps her realise that she still wants to be with Noah. Even if many of the decisions made in this episode aren’t enjoyable, The Affair remains fascinating as it holds a mirror up to just how dysfunctional people can be.

Read Daniel’s review of the previous episode here.