This week’s episode returns to a magical device that the show used extensively in its first season. We see the same series of events through the eyes of both Helen (Maura Tierney) and Noah (Dominic West). While the previous six episodes had focused on aggressively moving the timeline forward, pushing these two characters in particular towards personal revelations after last week when they were both pushed to face perhaps their largest unresolved mental issues, this episode can afford to slow things down and examine where they are in their relationship with each. It also gives both characters a moment to determine how they’re going to deal with these huge revelations, if they’ll make any changes or continue down their respective paths, now that they’re no longer simply ill-informed. We begin with Helen’s POV, as she brings Noah back the home in New York City that used to be theirs together and now is hers with Dr. Vic (Omar Metwally). Note how disheveled she looks — her hair is a mess with gray showing and wearing a shapeless, oversized sweater in brown. This is a callback to how she saw herself so many times in the first season, as Noah had his affair with Alison (Ruth Wilson). It’s interesting to note that wasn’t just a reflection of the self-consciousness the affair made her feel, but perhaps is how she always sees herself. The first person she calls is Noah’s sister, Nina (Jennifer Esposito), because Helen already knows that Noah staying there is going to be a problem. She’s trying to do the right thing, but, as any savvy viewer would expect, from the moment Noah comes back into her life, everything starts falling apart. She sees Noah as distant, biting, childishly cruel (tip of the cap to that Dr. Oh La La joke), addicted to opioids, and at times downright mean. She continually beats her old refrain that he’s their father/your father to everyone around her as an excuse for taking care of Noah, but at this point, she’s got to know that’s total bullshit she’s only saying to fool herself. Then Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles), their oldest daughter, shows up to throw a wrench in things. She’s the same in both their eyes, recklessly running around and behaving like a child. The only difference is that her older boss/boyfriend Furkat (Jonathan Cake) beats Noah up for no reason in Helen’s recollection and is doing it to defend Whitney in Noah’s much guiltier recollection. The salient point comes when Whitney asks Helen why she hates herself so much as to continue to allow Noah back into her life. At that moment, she is all of us. Naturally, this ends with Dr. Vic leaving her, so at least one person in this house doesn’t suffer from a debilitating lack of self-respect, and her attempting to reconcile with Noah by having sex with him. It’s infuriating and nauseating to watch Helen regress after her revelation. Hearing Noah ask, “It wasn’t because of me, was it?” after she tells him that Vic is gone is surprisingly emotional, from the perspective of the viewer as well as Helen. The scene ends as they begin to have sex, with Noah pausing and Helen asking him, “What?” It’s unclear if, in her mind, they continued or it was just such a memorable look, but your appetite to know why the scene ends there will only be increased by Noah’s version of events.
Noah remembers a few things Helen doesn’t, like the stop he asked her to make on the way out of town at the Gunther family guns & beef jerky store where he talked to his deranged prison guard friend John’s (Brendan Frasier) mother. So when he remembers John visiting him in Helen’s house later, it’s hard for me to tell if that’s a fever dream from an opioid addict going through withdrawals or a real thing that happened. Either way, it’s becoming clear that John is a function of Noah’s inability to deal with his childhood and I’ve done a good job pretending I care about this storyline for at least two sentences, right? Good, let’s move on. One thing this show does an exceptional job with is showing the difference between how Helen sees herself and how others perceive her. Her character, in particular, is fascinating to watch. While she saw herself in this episode as messy and mousy, Noah sees her in a sleek, black turtleneck with perfect hair and seemingly in perfect control of all that happens. She feels like she's biting back her emotions constantly when we see things from her POV, but Noah sees her as icy and resilient. Truly, seeing all the sides of Helen is one of my favorite parts of The Affair. The real disconnect and drama comes, again this week, in the final scene. When Noah recalls having sex with Helen, he remembers something much darker. When she says to him, “I know you,” he objects, yelling at her that she doesn’t as he fucks her. She turns over and cries when they finish. If these two weren’t broken before, surely they’ll come apart now.