The Affair season 5 episode 7 review: back to the source
The Affair looks to its past when considering the future in a cathartic entry that’s a high point for both the season and Noah...
This review contains spoilers.
“That’s not how I remember it…”
There’s a scene in this episode of The Affair where Noah attempts to give a peace offering to Whitney, only to discover that he’s essentially brought her poison ivy. This thoughtful, yet ultimately unhelpful act, perfectly distils Noah through this episode. He’s trying to help and it’s a flashy performance, but he may actually just be getting under people’s skin.
Making amends is typically seen as productive behaviour, but that’s not always the case. It’s possible for people to make amends, but use that as just another way to justify their actions and help them sleep at night. It’s more for themselves than for the ones that they’ve hurt. 507 is a busy and deep episode of The Affair that explores this question, as well as how empty amends can be without the proper selfless behaviour that’s required.
I didn’t think that an episode where Noah and Whitney complete errands in Montauk would make for the season’s best episode, but this hour’s a strange triumph that finds a comfortable energy. Just reading the logline that Whitney is still going through with this marriage to her deadbeat artist boyfriend caused a serious lump of sadness to form in my stomach, so it’s easy to imagine how messed up Whitney’s head is during all of this.
A few episodes back Whitney subtly weighed Helen for life advice about her future, but 507 sees her spending all of her time with Noah and getting more of his opinion on the romantic matter. Back in 504 it seemed like Whitney’s relationship was a toxic lost cause, but this instalment carefully examines it from a different context.
I’m still not sure if it’s in Whitney’s best interests to get married (especially when a visa situation is a factor), but this episode at least leaves her better emotionally and psychologically prepared for what’s to come.
507 makes Whitney’s impending wedding its focus and it’s a strong enough core to give Noah and Whitney plenty to do here. Whitney has an endless list of tasks to get done, many of which only exacerbate her doubts over this wedding, Noah fully commits here and is determined to champion Whitney and make her wedding as perfect as she’s always imagined. Noah Solloway has had a messy past few episodes, but this is the version of him that works.
Maybe it’s the fact that he’s removed from Helen and Sasha during all of this, but he’s much more helpful through this instalment. He just wants to make his daughter happy, which means even more considering he’s made it clear he’s not fully on board with this wedding.
Noah has faced repeated setbacks this season, but the one area in which he’s excelled is his relationship with his children. He’s genuinely trying here and he’s finally starting to see results, especially since Helen’s become increasingly detached due to her new job and relationship.
Noah ricochets between locations as he tries to create a perfect celebration for his daughter, but he also helps put out (literal) fires within the Butler household. It’s been a stretch of episodes since The Affair has checked in with Bruce and unfortunately his condition has become much more dire. Margaret is doing his best with him, but he’s at a point where he doesn’t even remember who Noah is anymore.
These moments are just gutting and John Doman really does exceptional work in this meek, glazed over performance. In the past it’s felt like Bruce’s storyline was just more “tragedy porn” being thrown into an already depressing dumpster fire, but its purpose now becomes a little more clear. This is arguably Helen’s world more than it is Noah’s, yet he’s the one that’s present.
It’s no coincidence that Margaret has shared more empathetic scenes with Noah this season than her own daughter. Margaret loathed Noah and everything that he represented. She has pictures of Vik in her home, not of Noah, yet now they’re sharing secrets and feel like family (her jab over how the last time that Noah drove a car in Montauk led to the death of Scott Lockhart also made me laugh out loud).
Noah has the purest of intentions through this episode, but his return to Montauk makes him confront a lot of his past. In what’s one of the most important and cathartic moments in the episode, Noah and Whitney return to the Lobster Roll, the location where Noah and Alison first met and the whole series started. Noah and Whitney marvel over just how much has changed, but they learn that even the permanent details that are ingrained in their memory are open to interpretation.
It’s been a while since The Affair has heavily played around with perspective in the way that it used to, but this is a powerful scene that re-frames the events of the pilot. Whitney’s memory differs from Noah’s, but this concept goes even further when they run into Luisa. Noah gets a melancholy update on the state of Luisa’s life and where Cole and Joanie are headed, but also a brutal clarification that they’ve never been friends and that she’s always seen their relationship as transactional.
Luisa’s news weighs down on Noah, but if anything it only helps him be more honest with Whitney. In what’s not only the most profound moment of the season, but also perhaps the most eloquent that either Noah or The Affair has ever been, Whitney confesses that she cheated on her fiancée to Noah.
It’s a beautiful, careful exchange where characters are raw and express their doubts. Noah doesn’t infinitely praise or condemn marriage, but rather discusses how it’s a perpetual decision that needs to be made. He listens to her about why she acted destructively and Whitney seems to actually be stronger and more confident after their talk. The conversation naturally circles back to Noah’s relationship with Alison, that he acted selfishly, and that he doesn’t want Whitney to succumb to the same mistakes.
What makes this so special is because Noah’s mature answer here is absolutely not the same advice he’d have given back in season one of even at the end of season four. Furthermore, I’d be terrified to see how Helen would have handled this same situation. It feels like her advice would have most likely ended in no wedding happening at all.
Noah does a lot of good work in 507 and it feels like he’s actually been able to make amends and repair some of the damage from his life. This makes the final minutes of his story so devastating. Noah receives a distressing phone call that implies that he took advantage of Eden, his publicist. Not only would a #MeToo level scandal tear down everything that Noah’s built, but it may also be the final nail that knocks him out as a writer.
It’s also extremely fitting that this incidence of abuse again comes down to a difference in memory and perspective. Noah truly doesn’t remember doing anything wrong here (and it’s worth noting that back in season two Noah didn’t sleep with Eden, but got close). The way in which The Affair plays around with perceptions of memory have been more insignificant in the past, but turning it towards something on this level isn’t just timely, but it almost feels like that’s the purpose of a series like The Affair in the first place.
The Affair’s previous episode finally provided some traction on Joanie’s journey to discover what happened to her mother, but Noah also oddly receives some evidence. The fact that he randomly opens up some literature at a bridal gown boutique and comes across a relevant news story on Ben Cruz is a massive coincidence. That being said, this feels more like The Affair is just planting its seeds and preparing for its final episodes more than it’s going to have Noah actually use this information.
On that note, Joanie’s storyline accelerates forward and she wastes no time in confronting Ben Cruz after her recent suspicions of his role in her mother’s death. An elderly Ben Cruz has gone all in on his therapeutic teachings, which Joanie infiltrates as a way to get answers.
Ben looks to have a peaceful life and attempts to expose Joanie to EMDR therapy that focuses on one traumatic memory or event and dissects it so that it doesn’t control your life. Joanie comes in saying that she feels like she has an inability to feel love, and while this may be true, it’s all just subterfuge to get closer with Ben Cruz and learn what really happened with Alison.
It’s chilling to watch Ben work through similar PTSD exercises with Joanie that he did with Alison (just as Noah’s storyline creates a similar synchronicity with Whitney wearing Helen’s old wedding dress). What’s especially impressive here is how Joanie’s encounter with Ben plays out. He calls her on her bullshit almost immediately and then willingly admits to Alison’s murder when Joanie questions him on it.
After so much of Joanie’s storyline progressing at a snail’s pace, it’s a major surprise to get these revelations now, rather than the final episode. An unexpectedly calm and respectful conversation takes place between Joanie and Ben that for a moment really makes the trajectory for the rest of her story this season feel like a mystery. Then Ben reveals his true colours.
It’s awful the way in which Ben manipulates and gaslights Joanie, just like he did to her mother. His whole life has been cultivated around an existence of helping others, but it’s clear that it’s all a self-serving act. Ben believes he was justified in killing Alison and probably even got off on telling her daughter about it (the fact that his perception of how the murder went down doesn’t match Alison’s is also very significant). He’s exactly the kind of psychopath that Joanie didn’t want to believe that he was. Now her mission seems more impossible than ever before, but there’s never been more motivation and drive pushing her story forward.
507 is a high mark for The Affair’s final season and it properly services all of the show’s disparate storylines. The episode finds a careful humanity in radically different figures, as well as tying back to the series’ original themes in a very symbolic way. Most importantly, it also gets Noah Solloway back to the place that he needs to be in order to be seen as any kind of sympathetic hero, only to then tear him back down.
The first half of this season struggled with establishing its pacing, but it looks like the tail end of this year will be able to stick the landing. There’s a lot of drama that’s about to hit a boiling point and numerous lives that could be ruined in the process. Everything may be okay at the moment, but sometimes it takes time for the rash of poison ivy to appear and start to itch.
Read Daniel’s review of the previous episode here. And read about all the new British drama on its way here.