Karaoke, Kerouac, and choking — just another laid-back, fun night with The Affair, which presents an episode tailor-made to gratify a very specific set of viewers: the Noah haters. As anticipated, the production of a film based on his thinly veiled autobiographical novel about what really happened during that fateful Montauk summer has unleashed an opportunity for the Showtime drama to dig into the fact that, yeah, Noah sucks. This week, he sucks for some pretty specific reasons.
Things start off well, with Noah being interviewed by a Vanity Fair reporter about his upcoming new book, but more important, being asked the question of whether “the redemption of Noah Solloway is complete?” It’s a massive ego stroke for him, but it’s quickly followed up by a series of back-and-forth head-butting scenes with Sasha Mann, the movie star (and at this point, while it’s never been explicitly stated, let’s assume he’s also the director) driving the film adaptation of Descent.
Sasha’s frustrated by aspects of the script, including the ending, and his frustrations over the character of “Daniel” eventually bleed over into real life, as Sasha puts it to Noah like this: “You can’t see yourself and you never could, and that’s why you never get what you want.” It fits, because much of the conflict Noah experiences over how Descent is being interpreted for the screen speaks to that essential cluelessness.
Unfortunately, this episode doesn’t do a lot to indicate whether Sasha’s words make Noah recognize that hard truth, because instead what we get is the reveal that after that final confrontation, a rewrite of Descent’s script happened (probably Sasha’s rewrite) while Noah blacked out. Unless the pages that were submitted were Noah’s, written in a Kerouac-esque (Joel’s comparison) haze? It’s unclear as presented by the episode, along with the new issue of how much more Noah will be allowed to be involved with the production, given his behavior here. Screaming at PAs, dude — not a good look.
Noah’s version of events doesn’t make him look good, but Helen’s section of the story makes him look even worse, even though her version doesn’t align much at all with Noah’s. With many Helen versus Noah episodes, there’s at least a little more sympatico between their individual sections, but the clash between Noah’s memory of a silly karaoke night and Helen remembering a Negroni in a quiet bar before a confrontation with Noah feels like a rare miscalculation for this show’s otherwise balanced approach to unreliable narrators. It’d be one thing if the two of them remembered different people singing different songs onstage, but this instead feels like we’re looking at two completely separate nights, except that they’re presented side-by-side.
Of course, Helen’s got a lot more going on than just hanging out with Sasha Mann and the film crew; Sierra, mother of Vik’s child, is leaning on her hard for help (even if that help comes in the form of “traditional” methodology like making sure a baby doesn’t go hungry and feeding it with formula when breast milk won’t suffice). Plus, her mother Margaret is pressuring her hard to move back to the East Coast so that Helen can help with her father’s descent into senility, and Noah can’t stop hassling her.
“I have a house full of people,” Helen says at one point. “I have a life here,” she says at a different juncture. And there’s a beauty to that, to this strange and unconventional existence she’s cobbled together, with so many different people she cares about under her roof. Helen has been through so goddamn much, and seeing her get a new grasp on happiness with Sasha, even as she brings into balance all of the other elements of her world that threaten to collide, creates a whole new level of appreciation for her as a character. This woman has been through a lot. But we never worry about her ability to get through it, whether or not it’s fair that she has to do so.
I mean, we knew the lady was cool, but then (at least according to Noah’s memory) her karaoke song pick was Liz Phair’s “Divorce Song”? Who cares if she can sing — that’s a flat-out baller choice.
Meanwhile, in a completely other place and time, Joanie Lockhart is fumbling her way around Montauk; breaking into her father’s house to discover it empty but full of family photos, especially photos featuring her dead mother Alison. Between that and the lack of power, she ultimately seeks out a new place to stay, and a local bartender to keep her company. Joanie gets to reiterate her anti-kids stance (it should be a crime to have them, she says), put a bit more future tech on display (her foldable screen, able to store both photos and video, is pretty nifty) and also remind us that past, present, or future, the solution to your problems is not dangerously rough sex, no matter how bad the climate might be, or how screwed up your family history is.
So far, Joanie’s sections of the narrative have been playing more like vignettes than fully fleshed-out stories, but as occasionally frustrating as these brief glimpses can be, there’s real potential for them to add up to something fascinating, once the full story is told. Just another reason to be excited for the fact that this is going to be the final season — it’ll be sad to see The Affair go, but it feels like we’re in for a hell of an ending.
There Is No Objective Truth (Just Bullet Points)
• Should Whitney ever get her own POV section? On the one hand, the eldest Solloway child has been a pivotal character for this series, one who has only ever been seen through the eyes of others and thus never gotten her due. On the other hand, it’s Whitney. The fact that she’s really attempting adulthood now doesn’t make up for years of being one of TV’s most annoying teenagers.
• Between the casual reveal that Joel is now the sole principal of Noah’s school and Noah coming by Janelle’s house to find it in full campaign mode, the quick catch-up on what Janelle’s been up to since ghosting Noah three months ago was handled pretty well. I’m curious how much more of the season will involve her, even though she’s still a series regular.
• Speaking of series regulars, Omar Metwally is still in the opening credits, but maybe it’s a good sign (for Helen, that is) that Vik’s ghost didn’t end up haunting her this week. She might really have a chance to move on.
• If you live in L.A., then you know that this show is not shy about showcasing familiar locations. “The best restaurant in Los Angeles,” according to Margaret’s friend, was I believe filmed at Ysabel in West Hollywood, and of course, the nightclub Los Globos in Silverlake was host to Sasha’s karaoke night.
• Sasha’s “gift” to the crew of a night of karaoke and drinks is definitely well-intentioned … but he literally began his speech with the mention that a lot of them had been working since 6 a.m. Maybe, Sasha, they’d more appreciate going home early?
• Also, a karaoke night that’s not overrun by musical-theater kids is wildly out of character for Los Angeles (even on the east side of town).
• Because Showtime released its screeners for the first three episodes without the new credits, it wasn’t until after the premiere that I was able to watch them. And the starker use of chiaroscuro hues, along with the back-and-forth dissolving of faces, is striking in its beauty, in this show’s uniquely dark way.