With just nine episodes left, The Affair is looking down the barrel of its own demise. The sudsy Showtime series has been littered with complicated, well, affairs since the very beginning. So, it’s only natural the drama gives us one more messy romance before its swan song. Sunday night’s “Episode 502” signaled which coupling will be the final atomic bomb to go off in the winding life of the Solloway family: the baffling pairing of Helen Solloway (Maura Tierney) and superstar action hero Sasha (Claes Bang).
There is nothing more The Affair than these two getting together (and then inevitably falling apart in an epic catastrophe).
The Affair has always been about the way perceptions and our own narratives can poison relationships. Through Sasha, who is playing the movie version of leading man Noah Solloway (Dominic West), Helen finally has the opportunity to rewrite her tragic story with her ex-husband, the man she resents but can never full quit.
“Episode 502” starts setting up this chance for Helen when she visits the set of Descent, the movie adaptation of Noah’s novel of the same name. You know, the novel Noah wrote about his own affair and the death that was birthed from the chaos of his betrayal. The production was meant to shoot a happy Solloway family breakfast scene, which represents the parts of their marriage Noah wants Helen to recall. But, the schedule changes and Helen is forced to watch a recreation of the day she found Alison Bailey’s (Ruth Wilson) bra in her husband’s dresser.
Yet, unlike the time this happened in real life, Helen is able to critique the scene as an outsider. She tells Sasha the movie version of Helen needs to be more of bitch. Sasha, a needy actor desperate for feedback, listens to Helen’s criticism in a way the real Noah, a defensively sensitive author, never could. When Sasha asks Helen out, she turns him down, giving herself the higher ground in this situation. Immediately, Helen is able to start changing her story with the idea of Noah more than Noah himself, which is peak The Affair.
While it's unclear if Sasha is pursuing Helen as some extreme, bizarre form of method acting, she eventually agrees to go to his unsettlingly bare mansion. There, she listens to Sasha sermonize over the benefits of yoga, Buddhism, and matcha. She hates all of it openly, filling the “powerful foil” role she recommend Movie Helen play in Descent. But, Helen also softens with Sasha, opening up to him about her grief over Vik’s (Omar Metwally) death in a way she hasn’t with anyone else. The Affair hints there’s a promising spark between Helen and Sasha in their final scene, where Helen agrees to try Sasha’s ridiculous yoga swing. She playfully drags him for it.
“I know nothing,” Sasha sighs. Can you ever imagine the real Noah saying something so boldly self-critical?
This excursion pays off for Helen since she finally watches the video Vik left for her on his deathbed. It has taken three months. In the clip, Vik begs Helen, “Would you concentrate on yourself now? Be a little selfish … I want you to spend the rest of your life enjoying yourself.”
Everything about the few spoilers we do have about the rest of the season suggest Helen will find that enjoyment with Sasha. In the season 5 trailer, we see Real Noah and Helen arguing over her relationship with Sasha. “He’s pretending to be me!” Noah yells. “He’s you, but he’s better,” Helen shoots back, making subtext into text. Similarly, upcoming episodic images show Helen and Sasha hanging all over each other in the way that only couples do.
However, we shouldn’t expect to see Helen and Sasha evolve into The Affair endgame. The series has always been Team Noah, no matter how often it drags him. After all, the anchor question of the all-important season 5 trailer is, “If pain can echo through the generations, so can love.” Of course, it’s Noah sharing that hopeful little message, hinting he'll find real love once again.
So, sorry, Sasha. You may win a few romantic battles this season — but Noah will eventually win the war. For better or worse, it's his show and we're all just watching it.