In retrospect, it seems inevitable that the #MeToo movement would come for Noah (Dominic West). How many times have I written about his perceptions of women — that they all want him, that everyone is flirting with him, that his world is so highly sexualized it makes my head spin? And how many times has this show given us another perspective, usually from a different woman, that doesn’t show all these ladies flinging themselves at him — namely, Erica (Megan Duffy), the script supervisor on Descent, this season? And the flashback reminds us of Alison’s (Ruth Wilson) intense dislike of how he portrayed her in that book. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
This week, The Affair starts with Helen (Maura Tierney) and her path back to being a giving tree and navigating the shitty side of Hollywood. The future cast of The Real Interior Decorators Of L.A. (listen up Netflix, I would watch this show) who are interviewing her for a designer job hit at the heart of “why?” when one of them notes she has four children and the other rudely gasps out a why. Helen is a maternal figure and has been one for more than two decades. Sasha (Claes Bang), who later declares he never had kids because he’s useless without sleep, can’t wrap his head around this why as the episode goes on. But, he also continues to expose himself as a short-tempered manchild, so that breakup is one step closer to happening.
Sierra’s (Emily Browning) life is not going great after she totaled her car with Eddie, the baby, in it. A social worker comes to visit, first Helen and then Sierra, because she’s being investigated. Naturally, her mom, Adeline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), gets involved and wants to send her to rehab. It seems like an extreme reaction and they have a little bough of weird emotional abuse in front of Helen, who pushes Sierra to just get some help with the baby and counseling for possible postpartum depression instead. Everyone keeps asking Helen a question she doesn’t have an answer for: why does she care about the woman Vik (Omar Metwally) cheated on her with and their baby?
Helen also takes a meeting with Christianna (Dana Drori), Sasha’s daughter. That’s a black hole of misinformation — as she talks to each of them, she gets more of their backstory that, at its core, is a fight about money. Whatever the reality is, none of it makes Sasha look good. There seems to be some truth in Christiana’s warning that it’s all about his image with Sasha. And some truth to his allegations that she’s a liar.
There has been a thread of Helen romanticizing her relationship with Noah through the last few episodes that come to a climax in this episode. As her daughter, Stacey (Abigail Dylan Harrison), tells a story that seems to be about their relationship, she gets starry-eyed. Looking at a photo of an extremely happy Noah with Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles) as they prepare for the wedding, she zooms in. And when he shows up on her doorstep with a lasagna for her birthday, she’s happy to see him.
That’s where we flip to Noah’s story, which picks up where those allegations left off and rolls forward. His life right now is a blueprint of how to make all the wrong turns — truly every horrible, misguided bad choice is made. In addition to Eden (Brooke Lyons), other women are talking to Vanity Fair about him. He gets schooled in his own reputation by Ariel (Janel Moloney) and finds out that his former student Audrey Nelson (Sarah Ramos) is writing a memoir about how he was a misogynistic dickhead to her. He finds out in the VF offices that it’s called How to Break a Girl.
Noah takes these concerns to his editor, who has him meet with an in-house lawyer. What’s striking is how much Noah only sees his own point of view, especially when it comes to Eden’s accusations. He absolutely insists they never had sex at all. And, even worse, he doesn’t hear what Joyce has to say about the difference between the court of opinion and a court of law — and refuses to apologize. Noah decides to ignore all their advice and go see Petra (Mozhan Marnò), the Vanity Fair writer. He is not prepared for her questions. Noah realizes this is so much more than he can fix when Petra asks if Alison’s suicide may have been related to his depiction of her in Descent.
His lawyer, Jon Gottlief (Richard Schiff), saying, “You’re fucked,” sums it up, but watching two white men dissect how to rip his accusers apart is a Silkwood shower moment that feels all too real (hearing the #MeToo movement described as “the French revolution” is especially galling). Noah heads to L.A. to tell his family, but makes one more incredibly bad decision first by stopping at the Los Angeles Times Book Awards to find Eden and confront her. SERIOUSLY! Through Noah’s eyes, we have always seen her as a willing participant in their fling. When she explains their encounters to Noah, she makes it clear that she felt the need to appease him as a subordinate — in a way that many women in P.R. across so much of the arts surely have.
From there he goes to Helen’s house to tell her about all of this. ON HER BIRTHDAY. Before he can, she takes a call from a New York number that has been calling. It’s Petra. Fade to black...on everything.