Like last week, episode six seamlessly connects perspectives of its leads. The show is at its best with the memories of its characters overlapping in tone, mood, and even personality traits, instead of playing a game of spot the difference. Even though the flash-forward, which caps off Helen’s perspective on Noah’s murder trial, still feels like an afterthought, there is a lot of narrative growth elsewhere. The show finally is making some progress instead of feeling meandering and ponderous.
Just to get it out of the way: The flash-forward isn’t too revelatory. Helen meets with Jon who apparently has a lead on Scotty and his murder. But the informant wants $100,000 in exchange for what he knows. Helen doesn’t hesitate in putting up the money even though it seems she doesn’t have much herself (I’m guessing she’s cut off from her parents’ money). But she’s willing to put up the brownstone to help Noah. It’s obvious the information is coming from Oscar whom Jon calls once he gets a moment alone. What I find interesting is that the flash-forwards feel far briefer and are no longer couched in someone’s memory — they’re objective. I wonder if the writers will expand on showing us events without the filter of one of the leading characters’ memories (I hope so).
Throughout the earlier parts of this episode, Helen feels voiceless in situations where her voice should be incredibly important. Margaret, back to her grey hair, spends her time needling Helen’s choice to let Noah take the kids to a baseball game. She doesn’t support Helen emotionally or personally. Instead it almost seems like she gets off being bitter and bringing Helen down with her. Margaret greatly influences how Helen is approaching her life, including the divorce, and it seems she’s finally realizing that. When watching Bruce and Margaret’s brutal argument during what is supposed to be a meeting with Jon about how to handle Helen’s divorce going forward, I felt great sympathy for Helen. No wonder she’s a mess, just look at her parents. Helen is able to shrug off the influence of her parents’ toxicity when it becomes apparent that Martin’s stomach issues aren’t psychosomatic like her mother says, but an increasingly deteriorating health issue.
Helen and Noah, at first, reflect her parents. They can’t stop going over old wounds even as Martin is vomiting an ugly, green mess on the hospital floor. Thankfully, he’s able to get the attention of a doctor so he’s seen quickly. Even then, the doctor has to act as a mediator as Helen and Noah argue instead of putting Martin’s well-being before their concerns. Noah is two steps away from saying “I told you so” about Martin’s condition. Helen is angry about Noah calling Alison and leaving her messages. Even the silences between them are painful. When the doctor comes into the waiting room, shutting down their argument to reveal that Martin has Crohn’s disease, the dynamics between Helen and Noah shift for the better.
It is Helen who compromises first by saying Noah can call Alison back. Martin nearly dying forces them to address their animosity and realize (finally) the people they’re really hurting are the ones they say they want to protect. A teary-eyed Helen admits she’s tired of fighting and will give him whatever he wants. The only thing Noah wants is co-custody. So, it’s settled. No more bickering. Looks like the show (and the lead characters) are evolving in very important ways.
This episode is as much about Helen coming to terms with no longer being with Noah as it is about her finally defining herself away from the toxic influence of her mother. Margaret isn’t really looking out for Helen’s self-interest by forcing her to be someone she isn’t.
When Helen gets back from the hospital, leaving Martin with Noah, things get ugly with her mother. Look, Margaret isn’t a good person. She's noxious, emotionally manipulative, and hysterical. Maybe Helen could have been gentler. But as someone who has a complicated, even toxic relationship with her mother, I understand her anger.
The argument first starts with Martin (“My son died almost died because of listening to you”), and then moves to the real issue: Noah. “You wanted my marriage to fail because yours was a sham and you’re jealous. I loved him, so much. And you convinced him that he wasn’t enough,” Helen says to her mother. Then Helen does what I thought she never would: She kicks Margaret out of the brownstone. She doesn’t waver or even show legitimate sympathy when Margaret mentions that Bruce is actually going to divorce her. The ideas of catharsis and motherhood continue into Noah’s chapter.
When we get to Noah’s perspective, it’s clear that Martin’s surgery has brought this family the closest they’ve been since the titular affair shifted their dynamics. There are still moments of awkwardness and weighty silence between planning the surprise party for Martin and eating cake. They may be closer, but things are still far from perfect. What most struck me from the opening scenes in Noah’s memory is the wistful look that crosses his face when looking back at the brownstone after he leaves. Is he regretting the decisions he’s made? Or has he come to terms with the fact that the life he once lived no longer really exists?
This may be Noah’s chapter, but Alison is the most interesting part about it. Noah goes to visit Alison at the Sousanna Institute. Which is a bit ... esoteric and new age-y. Unfortunately, when he goes to her room he finds her mother, Athena, instead. Noah is not good at hiding that he doesn’t like this woman at all.
After passing several naked people on the beach, he finally finds Alison. He watches her intently get out of the water. As the camera focuses on her I thought this episode would give us the same version of Alison we often see in Noah’s memory: part muse, part sexual dynamite, all mystery.
What I really liked was that Alison’s struggle with being seen as only a sexual object, and not a fully realized woman, from last week is apparent here. “Sex became a way of feeling things without talking to anybody,” she says to Noah. Reckless behavior was her way of feeling alive after her son’s death. Apparently, she hasn’t been having sex for six weeks (does this factor in what we saw with Cole?), and she’s rediscovering herself. A lot of this is about Alison admitting to reading parts of Noah’s manuscript and taking offense to how he writes about “her” character. He tries to make it seem like she’s only inspiration for the character not a direct translation, that there is even a happy ending. “I’m the asshole in the book!” he explains. Yeah, you’re the asshole here too, Noah. She doesn’t buy it, and neither do I.
The mood doesn’t shift even when Noah mentions that the divorce is finalized. It’s clear (to Alison at least) that they’re very different people. They don’t agree with the direction their lives should take. She wants him to stay with her here for a bit. He feels they should move in together to the place in Crown Heights. The animosity continues to build and refract in a multitude of ways. There’s a particularly telling moment when Alison introduces Noah to a friend she mentions earlier who happens to be Sebastian Junger (a novelist he actually geeks out over). She introduces Noah as her “friend” — not her fiancé, not even her partner. That’s cold.
Things build until Noah has a session about his chakras with Athena. At first I thought the writers would play this off as a joke, given Noah’s doubt of this kind of thing and his tense relationship with Athena. Instead, it sparks something. “You fell in love with her darkness,” Athena says. It’s interesting hearing her discuss Noah’s darkness and his fear/attraction to it as well as his carefully crafted imagery shattering. But I don’t agree with her reasoning. Noah’s problem is that he’s giving into this darkness and denying its effect. How else can you describe his impulse to have an affair with Alison in the first place?
The session with Athena awakens something in Noah, leading him to confront Alison head on. “I blew up my life for you,” he screams. “I’m not living in your book, you can’t control me,” she counters. It begins ugly, honest, which is exactly what these two need. But it devolves into Noah roughly having sex with her against a tree from behind instead of talking about all the issues between them. There’s no romance here, it’s purely primal. To make the whole scene even more intense, Alison drops a bombshell: She’s pregnant.
Considering we saw her together with Cole, I’m starting to think the theory that he's actually the father instead of Noah may be right. And a part of me really hopes the show goes there.
Noah has said throughout this season to Harry, Alison, and others that the female lead in his book isn’t Alison. But taking a peek into his imagination proves this is a lie. We’ve been seeing this dream of his — the shadowy winding road, the determined look on his face as he drives faster and faster, his grip tightening on the wheel, the woman in the middle of the road before him — in short spurts. We learn it isn’t a daydream or warped memory, but the ending of his novel he couldn’t write. Until now. He writes a new ending killing the Alison figure of his novel. She turns around in the blue moonlight framing her smiling face. Noah runs her over without hesitation, her body crumbling beneath his car. He gets a call (from whom I’m presuming is Harry) and says, “It’s done.” The happy ending he mentions to Alison earlier no longer exists. It may just be a novel. He may continue to lie to himself and everyone else saying that the female character isn’t Alison. But how will she feel when she finally reads the book learning that the man who loves her can only imagine an ending where he destroys her?