Cringeworthy: that is the only descriptor for the events that transpire throughout this episode of The Affair. I say that because I am watching it through the lens of all that we’ve all gone through with #MeToo, but also as someone who reported on it and has her own story. The show picks up where it left off last week, with Helen (Maura Tierney) on the phone with Petra (Mozhan Marnò) from Vanity Fair. Her questions aren’t as overt as I expected and Helen leaves the call in a cloud of “no comments,” but returns to ask Noah (Dominic West) if this is going to be a #MeToo story. Their exchange is also not what I expected, with Noah playing it down and straight-up lying despite being absolutely panicked in the last episode. He seriously still thinks there’s a chance the accusations against him won’t come out.
The episode gives us a harsh look at how intertwined Helen and Noah still are — it’s more than co-parenting. Helen acts as if their reputations are dependent on each other’s actions, in part because of the young children they still share and in part because she’s still something like in love with him. Or perhaps just dependent on him because of the big Scotty Lockhart (Colin Donnell) secret they are sharing and the sense of dependence that creates for her. Her fears prove to be founded when she gets fired from her new job because the story comes out on the same day she was to start at the decorating firm. And Noah acts as if its still Helen’s job to clean up his life or protect him, entirely because she lets him behave that way.
Watching Noah tell both Helen and himself that everyone else’s version of events are untrue or justifying his self-aggrandizing behavior — the shit we have all watched him pull throughout five seasons and over a decade on this show — is like watching a car crash in slow motion. But watching the world pull away from Helen, from her job to Sasha (Claes Bang) telling her what to do to Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles) yelling at her, is a bucket of cold water. Even worse is watching Helen pull back from the world — how the reports affecting her children and her attempts to explain it away turn her against the women accusing Noah. She’s trapped by what she owes Noah for going to jail for her and by their children. She’s trapped by the behaviors she has learned from a lifetime of living with Noah and his bullshit, and from watching her parents’ equally dysfunctional relationship.
Over the course of the season, I have started to really dislike Sasha. In this episode, I have to admit he’s right...although still cloying and smug. He wants Noah’s name off the movie — which is, frankly, the only way the movie can continue to live. Helen tells herself it’s because he wants the writing credit, which may be partly true but is far from the whole truth of this situation. He goes to pick up Helen’s kids, telling her he did it because it’s the kind of thoughtful thing she would do. But he doesn’t text her when his calls won’t go through to let her know he did it, which is insanity — especially when they’ve been evacuated in a fire. He tries to control her access to Noah, which seems aggressive but, in reality, he’s not wrong to insist she should keep her distance from him right now. He’s just wrong in how he goes about doing it.
As the story unfolds, Helen becomes convinced this happened because Sasha told Petra about Noah and Eden. The truth, if she’d look closer, is that it’s most likely Petra got wind of Audrey’s (Sarah Ramos) book and started digging. These accusations would have come out with or without Eden’s story — she got six women to talk about Noah abusing his position and instances of sexual misconduct.
Stacey (Abigail Dylan Harrison) coming in to read Erica’s (Megan Duffy), the script supervisor, #MeToo story about Noah leaving her at the Halloween party while crying is heartbreaking. She’s one of the few characters we have seen through the eyes of both Helen and Noah with vastly different interpretations of how she acted towards Noah, specifically.
As someone who has reported on, and read a lot of reporting on, #MeToo stories, I have to call bullshit on Busy Philipps only reading part of Helen’s statement on Busy Tonight (in this alternate universe her show is still on the air and I want to live there) while interviewing Eden (Brooke Lyons). That the two go on to discuss how she’s of a different generation and maybe doesn’t get it after not reading her whole statement feels doubly unlikely. What seems to break Helen is Eden saying she worshipped Noah, but didn’t really know him. That interview is the impetus for Helen declaring to the kids that all these women are lying and Noah is not to blame.
Then we flip to Whitney’s POV, with an episode that helps us understand why she got a POV this season and that ties into the idea of generational trauma that Joanie’s (Anna Paquin) storyline has been exploring. Whitney is struggling with how the world sees her, which we watch through her interaction with the airline attendant in which she tries to shrink herself to be pleasant and in the Uber Pool when she’s sandwiched between two strange men and feels like she needs to cover up so they will stop looking at her. Whitney is also struggling with her own #MeToo experience with Furkat (Jonathan Cake), who does exactly what Noah is doing with the women who accused him of abuse and misogyny: rewriting history to absolve himself and using his power to manipulate. And she’s struggling with understanding her relationship with Colin (Max Fowler), whose intentions it turns out she has gotten all wrong.
Whitney and Audrey having a conversation about the patriarchy on the plane, and how #MeToo is changing the status quo, is a bit ham-fisted but I felt so glad to see it because it was the only exchange in the episode that didn’t feel like it came from an upside-down world. Hearing Audrey’s take on outing Noah’s behaviors clearly has an impact. When the whole family shows up at her crappy L.A. apartment that night, Whitney yells down Helen’s protestations that this is all because she told Sasha about Eden. Then, she does something truly surprising and reminds Noah of that night at the party from season 3, when he got into the hot tub before he realized he was ogling his own daughter. “I saw the way you look at women,” Whitney says. “Like they’re prey.”