It’s something that’s been said plenty of times while watching The Affair, but it remains eternally true: Oh, Noah, you idiot.
For those invested in the “present day” narrative of this show, a fair amount of details get dropped this week — in fact, there’s no mention of the future, beyond Helen listening to a news radio report about drought issues. (Which is fine, we got plenty of 2053 Joanie last week, though an update on that storyline is hopefully coming soon, given the inconclusive way it ended previously.)
It’s Helen’s birthday across both parts of this episode, which catches us up on two important situations: Sierra struggling with motherhood, and Noah’s potential impending cancellation. That’s because, while many people choose to make their birthdays all about themselves, Helen instead is focused on the needs of others — perhaps because she hates her birthday, or perhaps because of her deeply rooted need to help others.
The day starts off as a good one for Helen, as she manages to get a job with an interior design firm despite a falling-out with a key client. But then she has to contend with a social worker investigating Sierra after the car accident from Episode 505 (which, to be fair, is justified — that was a messed-up situation), and doles out some rough talk to her next-door neighbor/baby mama of her deceased partner.
However, it’s all to try to make sure that Sierra continues to be Eddie’s caregiver, which is not a given after a poor performance in front of the social worker (even though, to Sierra’s credit, she did get off the couch and clean up her house). Sierra is clearly overwhelmed, and Helen wants to help, which is why she invites her to stay over for an unspecified period of time.
This conflicts, however, with Sasha Mann’s effort to surprise Helen — and when the movie star finds out that his girlfriend won’t abandon her pre-existing low-key birthday plans to be whisked away for a romantic dinner at the legendary French Laundry, he gets pretty pissy. It ties in pretty well with something the daughter of his deceased fiancée tells Helen during a clandestine meeting earlier in the day: He needs control.
As a factor in that, Helen learns that Christianna is quasi-blackmailing Sasha with the story of his relationship with her mother — or, from her point of view, she’s trying to get the money her mother left to her, which Sasha controls. Helen thinks Sasha should just let it go, give Christianna the money and let her write her book; Sasha, though, is worried that she’d try to destroy his career. It was clear a couple of episodes ago that Sasha is just as flawed and messed up as any of the other characters on this show, and this week, he’s never been uglier, especially when Helen steps up to protect Sierra from her mother’s influence (as Adeline, another movie star obsessed with her image, wants to institutionalize her).
Whether or not Helen’s making the right choice in taking Sierra in is unclear, but at least she’s behaving like an adult. The same cannot be said of Noah, who over the course of his section of the episode is a petulant child. It’s honestly hard to watch someone who’s theoretically intelligent make the worst possible decisions. In this episode, Noah is surrounded by people who are giving him good advice — his old school friend Ariel, his publishing associates, his lawyer — and he doesn’t just ignore it, he actively rejects it.
Why? Because he is convinced that he did nothing wrong, once again proving himself to be the platonic ideal of straight white male privilege. Except this time, he’s doing so during the Me Too era, and he might … actually face some consequences for his actions over the previous seasons? It’s a shocking idea, especially in an era when the men who do get “canceled” for far worse acts actually don’t experience much in the way of real repercussions.
But as Petra from Vanity Fair picks through Noah’s past and pinpoints elements that highlight some of his worst decisions and actions, his reaction is to get more and more defensive, making things worse and worse for himself. Noah’s story checks off perhaps every cliché about men defending themselves against allegations of this sort, to an almost shocking degree — reader, I howled when he told Eden that “I have two daughters!”, because the “I am a father of daughters” defense in the context of sexual harassment scandals has basically become a joke. (Because, after all, it implies that a man can’t see women as people unless he’s fathered some.)
The most fascinating thing about so many of Noah’s POV segments is that you’d assume that he’d put himself in the best possible light — and, instead, he actively makes himself seem worse. Imagine Eden’s POV on Noah coming to her work event and accosting her over coming forward! It would be a literal horror film.
In the episode’s final moments, with Noah surrounded by his family, Helen happily telling him that their son made the dean’s list — “we did good, Solloway” — before getting the call from Petra, I did feel a little sorry for him, knowing that the happiness and success he’d been so close to achieving was about to slip away. But also, it’s hard not to say that thanks to ego, hubris, and poor judgement, he ultimately did it to himself.
There Is No Objective Truth (Just Bullet Points)
• Two! Two West Wing alumni in the same episode! Always lovely to see returning players Janel Moloney and Richard Schiff, even if they don’t share a scene together.
• A key detail, one the show will hopefully loop back to explore, is the fact that it wasn’t Eden who went to the Vanity Fair reporter with her story, but the other way around. That means someone tipped the reporter off to the fact that Eden would have something to say, and who that person is could be an interesting reveal.
• Real talk: Why, in Helen’s POV, does Noah remember to bring lasagna for Helen’s birthday, while his version of the evening includes her getting a birthday cake? Perhaps for the same reason that this scene includes Helen telling him about Martin making the dean’s list at school and in general congratulating him on doing a good job raising their children together — it’s like, in Noah’s memory, all the happiness of their lives got mashed up in one scene.
• Of course Sasha and Adeline know each other. Hollywood is the tiniest town.
• Did anyone else go from “oh cool, good for Christianna for writing a book!” to “oh, no, she just wrote a tell-all about her almost-stepdad?” Between this, Descent, and the memoir written by Noah’s student, it seems like no one involved with The Affair believes that authors sometimes make stuff up.
• While writing this recap, I joked with a friend that I was struggling because “I am pretty sure Vulture won’t accept an Affair recap where I just type NOAH DUMB 500 times.” His response: “I dunno, it’s undoubtedly accurate.”