The Affair season 5 episode 8 review: a healthy marriage?
Helen goes above and beyond for Sierra and Noah faces a major reckoning on The Affair season five. Spoilers...
This review contains spoilers.
“There’s a difference between poor judgment and being a criminal, right?”
Seasons back, during the initial release of Noah’s novel, Descent, an offended Alison tells Noah that he considers “nothing to be sacred.” It’s an accusation that follows Alison learning that her whole existence has been reduced to a sexpot temptress in Noah’s novel. He demonstrates that he is the master of his own universe by how he turns the people from his life into plot points and character tropes to bring him happiness. It’s a degree of narcissism that’s always been somewhat present in Noah Solloway.
The Affair season five has shown that Noah is (somewhat) improving in this capacity, but this episode flips the script on Noah. Now his whole life and existence has been diminished into someone else’s story, in which he’s without agency. It’s a terrible situation that Noah finds himself in and The Affair doesn’t shy away from his realisation that this latest turn of events could ruin his life. At the same time, this episode and this season of The Affair injects this situation with an unavoidable level of irony. Noah is now a character in someone else’s story and he learns the hard way how difficult it can be when “nothing is sacred.”
Noah has only recently learned that he’s the target of a sexual abuse scandal, which he finds especially hard to believe since he leads a “pretty fucking boring life” (an admission that made me laugh out loud). Noah goes through a series of increasingly tense meetings as he tries to properly navigate this disaster. Noah initially confides in his friend and former colleague, Ariel. Janel Moloney brings a soothing sympathy to her performance here where she tries to both comfort and inform her friend about the problem that he faces.
Noah’s scene with Ariel is delicate and careful, but his conversation with his publisher and publicist is much clunkier. Noah’s inability to wrap his head around this situation and his perceived guilt is pretty infuriating. He and his team trade battle strategies as they try to figure out the best approach here, but a sense of doom begins to set in. Noah is too much of a loose cannon for any of this to go well. It feels like whatever plan they decide on will be derailed by Noah’s impulsive actions, which is exactly what happens. He really messes up here. In the past this behaviour has gotten Noah into trouble, but at the moment it could destroy his entire life.
Eden was pretty much just an instigator when she hit the scene as Noah’s publicist for his Descent tour back in season two. Her brief appearance in season five, episode five didn’t feel very significant at the time, but it’s entirely possible that learning of Noah and Helen’s connection to high-profile Sasha Mann is what caused her to pull the trigger on this scandal. Furthermore, Noah pushing Eden into sex would be reprehensible, but it’s again worth pointing out that this didn’t happen in the series and that she’s always come across as opportunistic.
In that sense, The Affair has chosen the perfect victim here with Eden, since it’s a character that the audience already has a complicated relationship with. They’re put into a position of wanting to doubt her, even though her claims are serious and line up with Noah’s past behaviour. I almost wish that this season decided to do an episode that was set back during season two, episode nine, only from Eden’s perspective, rather than Noah’s, to truly show what played out. It’d also be a strong way to highlight just how much Noah has or hasn’t changed from that time period. That’s not as important as the revelation that if Eden’s claims are accurate, then can we ever really trust Noah’s point of view? Is it irreparably poisoned?
Even if Eden’s claims aren’t entirely true, what this episode makes clear is that other ones are. Eden is just a part of this story. Past inappropriate dalliances from Noah’s “pretty fucking boring life” are dredged up from the past and together they tell an obvious story. This reckoning that Noah faces almost justifies the poor decisions that he’s made in the past. It’s just frustrating that it happens at a time where Noah does seem to have improved upon himself. That being said, if there’s any storyline that technically makes sense to consume Noah Solloway during the end of The Affair, it would be a #MeToo scandal. It’s like the Seinfeld characters on trial for not being good Samaritans.
As Noah digs deeper into this Vanity Fair story he faces mounting hopelessness. At a point it’s not just Eden’s narrative that rewrites Noah’s reality, but he even loses control of his own “apology.” Noah’s words and recourse are stripped away from him as the process is micro-managed and handled by others to be as palatable as possible. When Noah has his disastrous meeting with Petra from Vanity Fair, the narrative that her article spins even holds Noah’s misogyny responsible for Alison’s death. Noah seems to have a grasp on his family again, but these events will truly test their limits.
Helen’s half of the episode is the inspirational emotional salve that makes it easier to take Noah’s painful portion of the episode. Helen has easily been the MVP of The Affair’s final season. She’s taken the biggest strides as a character and even when her stories don’t have her doing much she’s still a highlight of the episode. This hour demonstrates just how great Helen is and it’s her most powerful episode of the season. It happens to be Helen’s birthday and she just gets an amazing new designer job, but she uses her special day to look outward and help others instead. Characters present her with selfish ways to spend her birthday, but she continually rebukes them for smaller, more intimate fare. It turns out that Noah’s the only one who properly understands this by the end of the episode.
Helen doesn’t go out of her way to put out the fire in other people’s lives, but when she sees someone in need she can’t help but respond. The biggest dumpster fire of a life that’s in Helen’s immediate vicinity is Sierra’s. Sierra’s fallen into such disarray after her last appearance that Helen’s involvement becomes unavoidable. She’s in the middle of a landslide and her child continues to suffer for it. Helen administers some much-needed tough love to Sierra’s martyr act, but she still seems highly ambivalent towards motherhood.
Sierra severely screws things up and it seems more than likely that social services will take away her child. Sierra’s egotistical mother, Adaline, chooses to get involved when it looks like her reputation will be adversely affected by Sierra’s negligence. Sierra gets dealt an incredibly tough lot here, but as Helen explains, due to her extremely pathetic and helpless nature it’s hard to hate her. This is the episode that shows that Sierra isn’t just negligent, but suffering from more significant ailments.
As a result, Helen spends the majority of her birthday looking out for Sierra and defending her in front of her bile-spewing mother. Both Adaline and Sasha point out how this really isn’t Helen’s business, but she’s the only one who genuinely has Sierra’s interests at heart. In fact, the way in which Sasha so quickly commiserates with Adaline acts as more evidence for Helen that his image is a lot of smoke and mirrors. He openly slams children in this episode while Helen essentially adopts a new one. Their fundamental differences are made very clear here.
On that note, The Affair spent plenty of time making Sasha seem like the perfect prospective partner for Helen. The past few instalments have started to slowly buck that trend and hint at Sasha’s faults, but this episode goes so far in this regard that it almost feels like parody. He’s short with his temper and yells at Helen and her kids are shooting eye daggers at him the entire time they’re together. The Sasha rebellion has officially begun. These incidents make it a whole lot easier for Helen to believe Christiana, Sasha’s “daughter,” who does a thorough smear job on him.
Christiana certainly has reasons to embellish her story, but Sasha responds in a way where it looks like he does have plenty that he wants to hide. Sasha, like many of the other more artificial characters in this episode, becomes obsessed with their public image rather than what’s genuine to them. Sasha even attacks Helen over her capacity for empathy and says that it’s a way for her to avoid her own problems. This may have been true in the past, but Helen’s life is actually pretty great at the moment. She’s not bogged down by drama that she’s looking to repress.
508 doesn’t just slowly tear down Sasha, but it presents increasing evidence that Helen is about to shift back towards Noah by the end of the series (Whitney’s wedding will certainly make for a romantic occasion, won’t it?). The Affair is very blunt about all of this and while this foreshadowing isn’t subtle, it’s still very sweet. The way that Helen focuses on Noah’s proud face in the photo of Whitney in her wedding dress is adorable. It’s also hard not to smile at Noah’s birthday gesture for Helen, not only in how it’s so different from what Sasha does, but also in its sheer kindness. There’s even a highly on-the-nose story that one of their children writes that prophesises their reconciliation. They’re just two astronauts lost in orbit.
508 presents two very different stories, but much like Helen and Noah and their differences, they still complement each other and create a whole. Noah is in crisis as Helen supports others, but there’s a balance between the path that their lives are on. At a certain point it would have seemed ridiculous for Noah and Helen to get back together, but the journey that The Affair season five has taken—flaws and all—has made this romance once again seem believable and enjoyable.
Maybe they can even teach Future Joanie a lesson about how to maintain a healthy marriage.
Read Daniel’s review of the previous episode here.
Read about the new dramas coming to British TV here.