This review contains spoilers.
“You don’t understand. This is all my fault.”
“Can this man be redeemed?”
The opening question that’s posed in Petra’s Vanity Fair piece on Noah Solloway and his bad behaviour is, “Can this man be redeemed?” This is a very important question and it’s one that the series has been silently asking now for five seasons. It’s illuminating to see how The Affair’s central characters go about answering this. Helen would say that Noah doesn’t even need to be redeemed because it’s her fault in the first place, and while Whitney would argue that even if Noah can be redeemed, he’s just a symptom of a much larger problem.
The opposing perspectives that Helen and Whitney bring to this episode do incredible work highlighting the type of women that are out there. 509 is sure to have a full conversation on the matter, but the most important thing here is that Noah is relatively without a voice through this crisis. As Noah’s story goes public, it gets processed through both his ex-wife and his oldest daughter, which brilliantly illustrates just how dangerous his actions have been. In a lot of ways, 509 is the most important episode that The Affair has ever done and it sees five seasons of selfish actions come to light and dismantle the Solloway family.
The previous episode of The Affair hinted at the #MeToo madness that was about to hit with Noah, but 509 makes that its entire focus. There’s a lot of pressure around an episode of this nature, especially one that’s centred around the character assassination of the show’s main character in front of his friends and family. In that respect, The Affair deserves some credit for an episode of this magnitude, but fortunately they’re able to also turn it into a triumph that provides a lot of therapy and insight for its cast.
Helen is blindsided and devastated by this news, yet still spends the day by Noah’s side. Even if she doesn’t outright support him, the subtext is clear. Helen’s actions and point of view through this episode speak to a woman who just wants to shield her family from this information. It’s a solid example of how scandals like this hurt many people far beyond those directly involved. Various members of the Solloway family get hurt, whether it’s emotionally, physically, or professionally. It’s rough when Helen learns that she’s lost her new job because of her association with Noah, but it’s heartbreaking when Stacey, in tears, reads a news story and finds a way to blame herself for Noah’s actions. This episode thoroughly shows how issues can set in for impressionable youth.
Sasha initially appears to be the ideal boyfriend during this trying time. However, it does feel like he’s taking advantage of Helen’s vulnerability in the moment. He does have ulterior motives in this, which apparently are so strong that he’s actually the one that masterminded the whole Vanity Fair piece.
Sasha’s betrayal here is too much for Helen to bear, but this episode does explore the full complexity of this decision. Even if Sasha is acting in his own interests and Eden is being opportunistic, that doesn’t discredit the merit of the other women that have come forward. The Affair understands just how complicated this entire topic is and doesn’t try to cut it short. The episode’s extended runtime of nearly 80 minutes makes this a mini-movie in its own right, but also allows it the proper time to say everything that’s necessary on this topic.
Helen’s response to Noah’s actions here hammers in how she persistently enables him. Now, her blind loyalty to Noah comes at the detriment of some of the women who have come forward. There’s absolutely some credit to that theory, especially since Whitney is the one that brings it up, but it does feel like during the prime of Helen’s marriage with Vik she was truly past Noah. She’s shared what’s perhaps been an unhealthy connection with him because he’s the father of her kids, but she’s always seemed like the more levelheaded of the two.
It’s definitely valid that Noah’s affair with Alison messed Helen up in such deep, repressed ways that she can’t fully comprehend. On that note, it’s equally devastating when Whitney has a moment of clarity and accounts Noah’s bad behaviour and Helen’s enabling of it for all of the unhealthy relationships in her life. This episode makes it clear just how similar Furkat is to Noah and that revelation is enough to open Whitney’s eyes and inspire change.
I was genuinely excited when 509 reveals that the second half of the episode is through Whitney’s perspective. Whitney has been the secret MVP of The Affair’s final season and Julia Goldiani-Telles is on fire here. It’s easy to heap a lot of Emmy praise on Maura Tierney, but this episode proves that it’s time that Goldiani-Telles starts getting her due, too. Not only does she stand up to all of the major forces in her life—both male and female—but she pushes a startlingly sober, progressive perspective that’s important through all of this.
Whitney goes through a complex relationship with the news about her father. She’s initially skeptical to some degree, but she ends up learning a valuable lesson that’s more about repressive patriarchy in general. Both of the major conversations that she has in this episode are eloquent meditations on power and gender. Goldiani-Telles’ earnest look as she listens and takes all of this in is also such a nice touch. She goes to some aggressive places in this installment, but her gentler moments resonate just as much.
Right from the start of Whitney’s story it’s fascinating to see how she processes this seismic news differently than Helen. Whitney goes through a highly cathartic journey here that takes her to some unexpected, but necessary, places. Whitney initially turns to Furkat for support, which is such a bad idea that it made me wants to scream. Furkat’s behaviour here is so, so slimy and it’s awful to see how he attempts to take advantage of Whitney. It’s highly unsettling when his act appears to initially work on Whitney, but she soon figures out just how disgusting he is.
The minute that Whitney shows independence and speaks up for herself and her father, Furkat begins to turn on her. It says everything about his lack of character and in a poignant moment, Whitney turns the mirror to Furkat’s own predatory behaviour, only for him to outright deny it. Whitney learns so much from how other people condemn the very behaviour that they see in themselves.
Whitney’s exchange with Furkat is eye opening, but she has an even more insightful conversation about her father’s action and power dynamics with Audrey Nelson. Whitney addresses how Audrey is one of Noah’s more vindictive accusers and she does own up to her own indiscretions. However, what’s important here is how Audrey’s situation with Noah is emblematic of a much larger problem and one that Whitney has been enabling without even realizing. It’s a powerful message that has even more weight after the words that she’s shared with Furkat. All of this elegantly comes to a head when Whitney returns home and gets to see both Colin and her family.
I was not prepared for how much Whitney’s reconciliation with Colin would affect me. I’ve been ambivalent on Colin from the start, bit I was in tears by the end of their talk. Who would have thought that this guy would be so amazing? Go and marry this man!
The family meeting that follows at the end is as good as The Affair has ever been. Not enough can be said for how incredible Whitney is through this scene. It’s a culmination of the two different point of views that Helen and Whitney bring to the table as Noah gets stuck in the middle and has to observe the unintentional damage that he’s inflicted on these two women in his life. What’s arguably the grossest moment in Noah’s entire life—when he unintentionally pervs on his daughter—finally gets addressed and it’s the final nail in the coffin for both of them. Even if everything that’s been said about Noah isn’t true and it was put into motion under unscrupulous pretenses, Whitney’s seen him at his worst and knows what he’s capable of, which is enough for her.
509 is an articulate, gruelling, important instalment of The Affair that in many ways is the perfect culmination of the series. Noah started this show with staunch toxic masculinity, so it’s only fitting that it’s what takes him down in the end. It’s Chekhov’s hard-on. The episode adopts a smart approach by how it relegates Noah to the sidelines of his own meltdown and instead focuses on those that have been hurt by the fallout. There’s never been more honesty between the Solloway family, but with only two episodes of the series left, it’s unclear if they’ll be able to persevere through it.
Read Daniel’s review of the previous episode here.
Here’s a selection of the new dramas coming to British TV over the next year or so.