When we left off, Noah (Dominic West) was in Paris with Juliette (Irène Jacob). That storyline, and her character, are wiped clean from the scoreboard of women whose lives Noah has fucked up, and we join him as he tells Cole (Joshua Jackson) that someone, presumably Alison (Ruth Wilson) is missing — presumably because she hasn’t checked on Joanie (Reagan and Savannah Grella).
Cut to Noah driving in California. Los Angeles, to be exact, which is the kind of city where East Coast intellectuals like Noah do not fit in easily. (Why yes, I am already relishing the idea of seeing him loathe the traffic, the sun, the lack of worship there is likely to be around the cult of Solloway in L.A.) The season starts, as it too often does, with Noah’s point of view. His move was prompted by Helen (Maura Tierney) and Dr. Vic (Omar Metwally), the latter of whom got a prestigious job as chief of surgery at the L.A. children’s hospital. It’s interesting that he’s on the phone fighting with Helen about not seeing his kids (er, the two he has left), and that he moved to L.A. to be near them since he spent most of seasons 2 and 3 not being bothered with them much while he obsessed over life with Alison. But now he’s taken a much less prestigious job at a charter school, where he is teaching George Orwell’s Animal Farm to disinterested high schoolers.
Showrunner Sara Treem told Variety this season is about taking the characters out of their comfort zones, and I suspect that’s what is happening with Noah and the student he accuses of cheating on his paper, Anton (Christopher Meyer). Apparently the kid is a remarkable writer and literary analyst, but was held back the previous year for allegedly plagiarizing a paper. Treem also said this season show is going for some self-imposed, and very welcome, diversity in the cast. Lord, please don’t let Noah turn Anton into an insufferable literary beast. Or, even worse, don’t let Noah fall into a Stand & Deliver or Dangerous Minds hero teacher trope.
Fun note for Noah: if your book agent doesn’t get back to you about your manuscript in a couple of months, not even to say they’re backed up but going to get to it, you do not have an agent anymore.
Over in the interior of Helen’s mind, who is the second POV of the episode, there’s a lot of angst about moving away from an entire life lived in New York City to the West Coast. And I get that, as I blew up my life and moved to L.A. for a time. I hated it; it took going there to realize I was an East Coast person, given the choice between the two. Her reaction to her therapist in L.A. telling her to “scan her body” to identify the tension by saying, “In New York, we talked. We didn’t scan,” tells me this might not be the place for her.
Helen is feeling her anxiety about earthquakes, Noah, her sexy (female) neighbor, her mother-in-law. But her real anxiety is saved up for worrying about her son Trevor’s (Jadon Sand) sexuality. She has a very not-woke conversation about it with her therapist and does her best to encourage Trevor to come out. Both she and Noah have memories about that moment, in the restaurant, that indicate this is a space they feel uncomfortable navigating, which is interesting — isn’t Gen X supposed to be accepting? Especially those from liberal enclaves?
The other thing Helen is clearly struggling with is having a life without work or any obligations other than mothering in L.A. It has fucked her up so much that she doesn’t even like the perfect weather in Southern California. Telling her therapist that the Pacific Ocean is an attention whore is the most NYC conversation I could imagine, until she tells him, “Fuck you.” Okay, and that’s our 50 minutes.
It’s fascinating that Noah doesn’t remember the part of their bathroom conversation that is probably most important to Helen, when she realizes he is the earthquake she’s tensely waiting to get leveled by. Full circle to: why is Noah here, really? Oh yeah, because his new family with Alison didn't work out.
We end on a cliffhanger, with Vic passed out on their bathroom floor at home. Next week I’ll be back with some WebMD guesses about what makes someone rapidly lose weight and then rapidly lose consciousness.