The Affair Season 5, Episode 2 Recap: Janelle Can't Take The Solloways For Another Minute

Photo: Courtesy of Showtime.
While Noah (Dominic West) and Helen (Maura Tierney) are dealing with the biggest event in their day, Vik's (Omar Metwally) funeral, Janelle (Sanaa Lathan) is dealing with a very different big issue. She's been demoted at work to co-principal after the board determined that the policies she put into place last year were too controversial — despite achieving great success with actual student performance. Even worse, her new co-principal is the insufferable Joel (Adam Shapiro), who insists on Facetiming her during the funeral even when she asks him not to. And when he excitedly tells her about his plans for how they'll work together (bear in mind he's a first-year teacher with no administrative experience to her years of it), she feels she has no choice but to be gracious. She obviously wants to rage at the slight, but can't because she's trying to avoid falling into the angry Black woman stereotype.
The first act of the episode, where the funeral is told from her point of view, is a study in how little white people notice the microaggressions they mindlessly perpetrate. It starts with Janelle remembering that she came into the diner to get Noah from his meeting with Sasha (Claes Bang), not texting him that she's outside as he remembered it. When she doesn't recognize the incognito actor (she remembers him in a baseball cap, while Noah's recollection was of him holding court), Noah can't stop laughing about it. He has no conception that a white male action star might not be part of her experience, or even in movies she cares about seeing — Noah just assumes that the broad reach of his films, which sound like The Matrix trilogy, mean everyone would know and care who he is.
Then, at the funeral, Janelle is obviously uncomfortable when they show up in outfits that don't adhere to the dress code. It's not just the clothes (her turtleneck dress is very different than the low-cut one both Noah and Helen remember her wearing in the last episode); Janelle's knowledge that she's the only Black person at this event makes her sensitive to standing out even more. And then there's Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles), who is generous and warm when the two sit down by her at the funeral but afterward says to Janelle, "Hey, I just wanted to say I think it's so awesome that you're my dad's girlfriend. Dating a woman of color might be one of the coolest things he's ever done."
The casual racism of it, not to mention her surprise at being called Noah's girlfriend, is exasperating. It treats Janelle like an accessory and not a human. There's hardly time for Janelle to process that moment before Helen's father, Bruce (John Doman), asks Janelle to clean up after mistaking her for the help. Meanwhile, she's trying to figure out how to respond to her work situation. Naturally, Noah blows both the Bruce thing (not mentioning he suspects the man is suffering from dementia) and her job stress off. The hits keep on coming as Helen, or the impossibly perfect version of her that every woman involved with Noah seems to see, pops over to say hello and complain about the valet. She asks Janelle if she'd speak to them, saying, "Would you mind going and talking to the valet? You might have more luck than me or Noah." When Janelle gets to the valet stand, she sees a young Black man and the expression on her face says she's had enough racism from the Solloways today.
She pops back in to look for Noah and, not seeing him, sends a text explaining that she has to leave to meet the board. There, she faces more critiques with racist undertones from the all-white board members, whose criticisms of her work amount to coded ways of saying she's been an angry Black woman. They want Joel to be the public face of the school while she stays behind the scenes doing the hard work. While that's happening, Noah sends her a bunch of needy and self-centered texts that would make me, also, say if this is being your girlfriend then no thanks!
So Janelle heads over to her ex-husband Carl Gateway's (Russell Hornsby) house to ask for advice — and some emotional backup that turns into a fight they've been needing to have. It gets loud, but it ends on a note Janelle needs to hear: "It's not you, it's them." And he plants the seed of an idea in her head: don't sign the contract, run for head of the school board instead. Become the boss of all the white men who have ungraciously insulted her in this process. That, and some trust building conversations about who he's not fucking since he cheated on her and ended their marriage, lead to what looks like a reconciliation for Janelle and Carl.
From there, we cut to three months later and Helen, who is on the set of Noah and Sasha's Descent movie. It's the scene when Noah tells Helen that he was in love with Alison (Ruth Wilson), which Noah invited Whitney and Helen to set to see — not on purpose, they were supposed to catch a less inflammatory moment. She meets Sasha at the crafts table and, since he just ended the scene quickly saying something was wrong, he can't wait to pick her brain about "the dynamics" of that moment. Helen is either so removed from this event (it did happen what, 8 years ago?) or so lacking in fucks in her grief after Vik's death that she straight up tells him that if Noah's character, Daniel, is who the audience are supposed to empathize with that her character needs to be more of a bitch. Then Sasha asks her to lunch, right in front of Noah, to discuss it further and she gives him an "eh, nah." We know he reacted incredulously because she saw it. She knew she made a power move with that pass felt good.
In the Uber after (Helen's out here getting the extremely nice Uber upgrades by the way, because every Uber I've ever had in L.A. has been vaguely disgusting), Whitney wants to know if that scene is how their breakup went down. "You shielded us from so much," Whitney says. It's a gratifying moment where her kid finally acknowledges how complicated that whole situation must have been for her. There's a bit of ironic housecleaning as Trevor (Jadon Sand) finally did get the rights to put on his production of Fun Home in the wake of Vik's death. One of the other moms at the preview tells her how great Sasha is, and a seed is planted. So, when he texts Helen later that morning (of course Noah gave him her number), she's sends some "no fucks left to give" level of honest texts that are charming enough, to him, to end up with her going to his house even though she's been up all night and is exhausted. Long story short: that takes a turn for the absolute worst, he hits her in the face with a basketball, she pukes up her grief, and they end up hanging out in some yoga swings (is that really a thing?). This is going to be a weird romance. Helen gets home and finally watches that drive Vik left her; his dying words giveher permission to concentrate on herself and "be a little selfish." She cries with relief at being told to be happy and live her life — it's something a lot of women, who are charged with being the caretakers in the lives of everyone they know, can relate to.
Finally, we find Joanie throwing up into a smart toilet and desperately trying to hide it — is this morning sickness? She begs her extremely pregnant boss (who she shames for having a kid) to give her another assignment that requires some travel. And she gets it: she's going to Montauk, where she grew up. She goes right to her father, Cole's (Joshua Jackson) house and her path into the past. This isn't going anywhere good.

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