Perhaps one of the most shocking reveals of The Affair’s final season has been this: If at the beginning we’d known Whitney Solloway would become one of the narrative’s most important players, with multiple sections devoted to her point of view, it would have sounded like the worst idea possible given her character’s unfortunate selfish, narcissistic tendencies. Yet here’s episode 509, and with two left before the series’ end, it’s Whitney’s perspective that proves pivotal, illuminating, and ultimately fatal to Noah’s cause.
This installment focuses on the day Noah gets his Me Too moment, when Vanity Fair publishes Petra’s long-brewing exposé before Noah fully prepares his family for what’s going to happen. Appropriately, the episode puts the focus on arguably the two women who mean the most to him at this point — Helen and Whitney — and it’s tough viewing to watch them grapple with their already-complicated feelings about Noah alongside these new allegations.
There are a lot of feelings to unpack (which is probably why this episode runs more than 15 minutes over), but we begin by picking up immediately after the end of episode 508, with Helen on the phone with Petra, answering what to her are a series of odd questions about her relationship with Noah. Only after she gets off the phone does Noah sheepishly acknowledge that the story might make him not look so good — though of course, because he still refuses to believe he did anything wrong, he fails to communicate the full extent of what’s to come.
Helen finds out the hard way, after driving through a gauntlet of judgmental looks from the other moms at school, that the Vanity Fair profile has been published, and it includes stories from six women (three anonymous) about Noah’s, uh, “bad boy” behavior. “Oh my God, I’m going to fucking kill you,” Helen mutters as she makes him read the article out loud on her drive back to the house. You can hardly blame her.
Noah and Helen meet up at home to continue fighting this out — Noah still insisting he’s not to blame — but complicating the day is a phenomenon that’s increasingly a part of daily life for Angelenos: A brush fire has shut down the city, meaning that when Trevor gets into a fight at school, Helen and Noah can’t pick him and Stacey up themselves because of road closures. They experience a moment of panic when they can’t figure out where their kids have gone, until Sasha Mann calls to say he picked up the kids and brought them to his house in Malibu. He’s happy to send a helicopter for Helen to join them (the perks of dating a movie star), but Noah isn’t welcome.
At Sasha’s house, Helen realizes just how serious this situation with Noah is, especially as an effort is now being made to take his name off the Formerly Known As “Descent” Project, spearheaded by Sasha. At Sasha’s urging, Helen releases a statement that gets brutally truncated by the publicist with the aim to distance Helen and the children from Noah … but everything changes as she watches Noah’s former publicist Eden on a talk show discussing what happened. Remember how Eden told Noah in episode 8 that she hadn’t contacted the reporter — the reporter contacted her? Yeah, that was because a few weeks earlier, Helen had made a comment to Sasha about how Eden had probably had sex with Noah during his book tour and Sasha made the connection.
So now Helen sees this nuclear meltdown of bad publicity as Sasha’s manipulating the press to get Noah kicked off the movie, so she grabs her kids and takes Sasha’s car and gets the hell out of there. But then it’s Whitney’s turn.
That day, Whitney is trying to fly home to L.A., but flights are being canceled (because of the fires) so she’s alone in the airport when the Vanity Fair article breaks; a flood of text messages and calls keeps interrupting her attempts to read it. The one call she does take is from her former lover Furkat, whom she decides to meet up with instead of hanging out at JFK.
This proves to be a bad choice. Furkat initially seems thrilled to see her and is even enthusiastic about the news that she’s getting married … until she pushes him about the night at the Chateau Marmont when he let his friend/financier watch them have sex. Then Furkat gets cold. It’s quite a feat to watch a man simultaneously try to make it seem as if he’s not exploiting a young woman while he 100 percent is threatening her career if she doesn’t play along. The power differential between them is now even more askew thanks to his reminder that, because of her father, her career is pretty much dead (if we needed evidence of this, there’s Helen losing her interior-design job earlier in the episode) — and he might be her only lifeline.
When things go sour, Whitney’s left to schlep back to the airport in a ride share (and gets so grossed out by her fellow passenger gazing at her cleavage that she buys a hoodie for the ride home). But an interesting confluence of events arises because she’s on the same flight as Audrey, the woman who turned her spirit-breaking experience as one of Noah’s students into a published memoir.
The conversation Whitney and Audrey have on the flight is dense and intense, bringing up a ton of questions that get into what happens when a person is dragged into the court of public opinion, especially regarding the collateral damage dealt to friends and family. But Audrey’s bigger point — about how men like Noah are the enemies of a world where women like her and Whitney can have real, substantial power — makes an impact.
When Whitney gets home, things really come together. First, she finally confesses her infidelity to Colin, and the ensuing fight ends with them more closely connected than ever. “I need a green card because I fucking want to be with you,” Colin yells, and after she sees the luminous portrait he has painted of her (perhaps the first time she’s ever actually seen his art), she really believes him.
Then, of course, Whitney’s family storms in, with Helen putting the full blame on herself for Noah’s disgrace, since she had tipped off Sasha to the fact that Eden might have a story worth telling. There’s a lot of talking in this episode about some very complicated issues and some very complicated emotions — you know, The Affair’s bread and butter. But the way things crystallize around a confession literally a decade overdue ultimately makes things very, very simple.
It’d be nice, especially after watching Noah and Whitney bond in episode 507 over plans for her wedding, to forget that time, y’know, when Noah accidentally hit on Whitney at an orgy. It might be years in the past, but the final season is the perfect time for a show like this to unearth these sorts of secrets and dole out the consequences. “I saw the way you look at women … like they’re prey,” Whitney says of that night, and that one sentence from her does more damage in the long run than however many thousands of words Vanity Fair published.
As someone who has been covering this show since the beginning and has devoted thousands of words to shouting about how Noah might be the absolute worst, I find it fascinating to see the series engage with that to this degree. Like, this episode directly confronts how, in episode 504, Noah made out with Erica, the script supervisor, then stole her bra and left her naked in the yard! That was awful!
The Affair premiered years before powerful men became publicly accountable for their actions, so we shouldn’t assume this was always a part of the endgame. But the way in which the show has brought forward characters it seemingly discarded years ago and has given them a moment to shout feels well justified.
It’s not that Noah deserves to be burned at the stake. But while The Affair is all about multiple points of view, what’s becoming clear this year is that some basic truths will find their way to the surface. And they might be inescapable.
There Is No Objective Truth (Just Bullet Points)
• God, honestly, poor Trevor and Stacey, especially Stacey. The scene where she tells Erica’s story to Helen is just heartbreaking.
• When Helen initially presses Noah about the secrets Petra aims to dig up, his comment about how she learned “nothing about weddings in Montauk, if that’s what you mean, and she never will,” was quite the underhanded blow.
• Whenever we talk about the Me Too movement, it always feels important to mention that the term well predates the fall of 2017 and the Harvey Weinstein bombshells and that activist Tarana Burke doesn’t get nearly enough credit for launching the campaign in 2006.
• Sierra is almost an afterthought this week, having enlisted Vik’s mother, Priya, for help with the baby as she tries to sort out her situation with Child Protective Services. Season five has done a lot to try to help us understand her as a character, but with only two episodes left, it’s hard to see what kind of end to her story is a happy one.
• Did we miss 2053 Joanie this week? Maybe not, except her story’s latest cliff-hanger is pretty crazy given how it ended with her and confessed murderer Ben face-to-face.
• In case you were curious, the movie the Solloway children are watching before switching to Busy Philipps’s talk show is either Kick-Ass or Kick-Ass 2 — I can’t be sure given the amount of screen time, but Aaron Johnson’s green costume is unmistakable.
• Also, does The Affair take place in an alternate universe where Busy Tonight wasn’t canceled in May 2019? (Presumably, the choice to make that the show on which Eden makes her explosive guest appearance was made before then.) For the record, Philipps was a solid talk-show host, and if The Affair does take place in an alternate universe, it’d be a universe worth living in.