overnights

The Affair Recap: Real Tough Mothers

The Affair

Episode 505
Season 5 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****

The Affair

Episode 505
Season 5 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Eddy Chen/Showtime

We’re about to hit the halfway point of The Affair’s final season, which feels like it should be the point where the many pieces of this show come together to form a vague sense of an ending. However, episode five (of 11) feels like a step backward, and not just because, for the first time, there’s no update on what 2054-era Joanie Lockhart is up to.

Instead, Sierra gets her own long point-of-view section (another first-timer this season, following Janelle and Whitney’s individual segments). This feels like a wise choice on some level, as she’s a character who has always — as seen through the eyes of others — lacked a degree of depth, and is easily judged for her wealth, hippie-ish beliefs, or loose sexuality. Time is running out for us to get to know her better. However, this episode’s primary insights into her life include the reveal that, like everyone else on this show, she is prone to making terrible decisions.

Well, also, there’s this: While she was initially introduced in season four as the jobless daughter of a famous movie star, Sierra is now pursuing acting — and leaves her crying baby in the car when she goes into a casting office for a big audition. Sierra gets doubly lucky here: No one at the studio notices the infant in her back seat, and while she initially thinks she blew the audition, she later finds out she got the job.

Because this show is at times lacking subtlety, Sierra is cast as the titular Madame Bovary in a new film adaptation by hot new director Leif Devlin, winning the role after doing a scene in which Bovary, an unhappy mother, literally pushes her child away. A little more subtle, though, is the question of whether Sierra, in playing the part, is channeling her ambivalence toward motherhood or her feelings toward her own mother, who is finally introduced here. (Played by Jennifer Jason Leigh! One of the greats!)

Adeline pops by to finally meet her grandson and give Sierra some acting advice, saying things like, “This little daughter is like an albatross around her neck,” because again, subtlety is not always this show’s primary concern. The Affair has a track record of showcasing terrible mothers, but it is impressive how many different types of passive aggression the writers are able to build into these characters, ensuring that Vik’s mom and Helen’s mom and Sierra’s mom are all harsh in their own unique ways.

The next day, Sierra struggles with her scene on set but eventually manages to nail it, going out afterward to celebrate with the director — which leads to some fun with cocaine and bathroom-stall sex. (Sleeping with your director: better or worse than sleeping with your dying next-door neighbor? Either way, not a great idea.)

When she arrives late at the Solloway house, having left Eddie with 12-year-old Stacey as a babysitter, she has to face Helen’s disapproval, as well as Eddie’s continued tears … which leads to one of the show’s most emotionally stressful sequences of all time, as Sierra, probably still a little high, takes Eddie for “a quick little drive around the block.” The ride devolves into a frantic spin through the Hollywood hills, ending with Sierra slamming her Range Rover into a dumpster. Eddie appears to be okay, but the car looks bad and Sierra looks worse. Just utterly broken.

It’s a little hard to figure out how to feel about Sierra at this stage, because the show does do a thorough job of setting up just how tough this experience has been for her — new motherhood is a massive trial, especially when the father is no longer in the picture. While Sierra refers to Helen as being “like a second mother to me,” her perspective of Helen’s refusal to babysit is condescending and harsh; there are definite reasons to feel sympathetic towards her … though, also, she did nearly kill herself and her child, which is the furthest thing possible from a good look.

While there’s no word yet as to how this will resolve, when things switch to Helen’s perspective, Sierra’s emotional fragility is nowhere on display. Instead, she brazenly sweeps into the Solloway house to swipe coffee, demand free babysitting, and attempt to steal Helen’s vape pen. None of which is welcome, because Helen’s having a turbulent day already.

For one thing, that morning Sasha tells her that he loves her. Then, after meeting with Carolina, her new friend and decorating client — whose producer husband is hoping to work with Sasha on his next movie — she has yet another face-off with Noah, who is now convinced that he loves her and that they’re meant to be together. “I don’t want your love,” she tells him. “It terrifies me and causes me nothing but pain.”

But then, later, Helen seems to hit that point in a new relationship where you’ve gotten to know the other person well enough to see some of their hidden ugliness. Not that Sasha is particularly repellant, but he’s not at his best when dealing roughly with the untrustworthy daughter of his deceased fiancee. Later, at Carolina’s party, he coldly decides to prioritize a third Maze movie instead of a project that would help out his struggling friend. In neither instance does he come off as “the perfect man,” as previously advertised.

Which is fine. He’s human, and he’s allowed his flaws (especially if he wants to fit in with the rest of the characters on this show). But it leaves Helen ambivalent enough about him to go back to her place that night — where Priya, Vik’s mother, confronts her. Over the course of the day, Priya has been trying to get Helen to orchestrate a meeting between baby Eddie and Priya’s visiting brother (without Sierra being involved, since Priya doesn’t want her family to know about that whole aspect of Eddie’s existence), something which Helen doesn’t want to do. But not only is Priya upset, she’s also shocked that Helen has seemed to move on so quickly after Vik’s passing, sneering at her as she leaves.

It’s a scattered episode that ends with a ton of loose threads, random moments, and other distractions — there could be more setup for the ultimate ending here than is evident on the surface, but that’s the optimistic viewpoint. One fact shines out, though, among all this emotional chaos: Nothing good happens when someone on The Affair drives a car, especially at night. I mean, just this week, Sierra has her accident and Helen and Sasha have an upsetting conversation as they drive home. No wonder these characters use Uber so much. It’s self-preservation.

There Is No Objective Truth (Just Bullet Points)

• What purpose does it serve, having Eden the publicist come back for a brief appearance at Carolina’s party? It’s hard to say, but her astonishment at Helen dating Sasha (and her happiness that Helen “got away from Noah Solloway”) was a fun beat.

• Today in “why does that person look familiar?”: Jessica Hecht, Helen’s new bestie, has had a long and interesting career spanning several decades, but two roles of note — not only did she play Walter White’s ex-partner, Gretchen, on Breaking Bad, but she was Susan, Ross’s ex-wife’s lesbian partner, on Friends.

• Emily Browning faced quite the accent challenge this week, as a native Australian playing a Californian actress playing a character from a period drama — Madame Bovary is, of course, a French character, but in true period-drama tradition, Browning uses an upper-class British accent. The latter isn’t flawless, but given Sierra’s supposed lack of experience, it makes sense.

• For those trying to keep track of the timeline (join me in the madness!), we learn that Eddie is four months and one week old here, which means that Vik has been dead for the same length of time. Also, as this episode seems to take place largely the day after Sasha’s Halloween party, this means Eddie’s birthday (and Vik’s death day) was the last week of July.

• 12 might be too young to start babysitting, but don’t forget that the girls of The Babysitter’s Club ranged in age from 11 to 13. Admittedly, it was a different time.

The Affair Recap: Real Tough Mothers