How do you get from being ignored by a stock boy at the grocery store to becoming an impromptu guru in Joshua Tree? Just ask Helen (Maura Tierney), who takes that trip and also goes from taking a pregnancy test to accepting she is going into menopause. That condescending “sweetheart” from the guy ignoring her and the negative pregnancy test are the start of her journey with Sierra (Emily Browning), which leads straight into a night at Joshua Tree for a Moon Circle. Their conversation preceding the trip is remarkable; given that its from Helen’s POV it’s perhaps not as West Coast wacky in reality as she perceives it, but Sierra manages to hit on every cliche about 20-something women in Los Angeles that exists. And Sierra confesses to fucking Vic (Omar Metwally), without naming names. It’s either ballsy or stupid, probably both. But her confession of why she did it is so heartbreaking that you almost want to forgive her — not that I think Helen would if she knew the whole truth, but Sierra is most certainly building a case for herself.
The cliches keep on coming when her guru wears a feathered head dress and shakes sage over everyone. Helen, who is by far the eldest stateswoman in the Moon Circle, sees through the incredible amounts of bullshit and ends up offering a very pregnant moon sister some actual advice gleaned from...you know, life experience. No shade to present and past Incan princesses, of course. That leads to some serious lowering of inhibitions and Gael giving her guru baton to Helen.
I can’t quite get over the wistful look on Helen’s face when she tells the group she used to have a shop in Brooklyn, and the way she swallows her wine in that moment. The conversation, and possibly some laced weed, open Helen up to processing the idea that menopause means she doesn’t have to devote herself to pleasing a man anymore, and I hope this becomes a turning point for how she grapples with Noah (Dominic West), the earthquake in her life. Helen, from her own POV, with a lot less giving a shit and a lot more doing what she wants, will be fun as hell to watch. I felt relieved just hearing her speak on the matter; frankly, it’s how I’ve felt about not caring about becoming a mother.
Sierra’s girl crush has morphed into a real crush; you can see it all over her face at dinner. She’s been setting her intention to sleep with Helen the whole episode, mostly fumbling as she tries to lay the scene for a seduction. Using the Patti Smith song that Sierra said was from the album she listens to while she’s depressed is surely an act of foreshadowing; it’s only a matter of time until Helen finds out she fucked Vic and this dream comes to a swift and probably harsh close. Helen doesn’t feel that way about Sierra anyway, as her “lay of the married guys” advice makes clear. She feels something protective and maternal towards her; that does not a relationship make.
Helen’s reaction to the deprivation tank (and the ‘70s-esque, hedonistic house party it’s in the middle of) is to run away, find Vic, and make him promise not to die in a deeply emotional moment. Watching it has made me realize that I’ve refused to process that they’re killing Vic because it’s too damn sad.
In the back half of the episode comes Noah, and we can sum his time up with: well, that was a fuck up. Open mouth, insert foot, rinse, wash, repeat. His relationship with his kids remains forced and he fumbles his relationship with Helen, who makes him feel like a real shit with the way she tells him about Vic’s cancer. He can’t get anything right with his own family, so he jumps at the chance when Anton (Christopher Meyer) asks if Noah will take him to Princeton for a college tour. Anton has decided he’s going to take his GED and join the Marines unless he likes Princeton, strong arming his father into letting it happen despite his anti-Ivy League stance.
The madcap duo get waylaid somewhere in the Northeast when they miss their connecting flight, only for Noah to discover he’s got several missed calls from Cole (Joshua Jackson). Alison (Ruth Wilson) is missing.
Next week: we catch up to the present.
Odd note: two mentions of the prodigal daughter Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles) this week? I smell a guest star appearance coming up.