The seventh episode of The Affair season five encapsulates so much of what makes this show so interesting, and also how it can be so messy. While it returns to a two-part format instead of trying to juggle three different narratives, the two parts are so different in tone that it’s almost like watching two different shows, united by only one common thread — complicated people facing the consequences of their terrible, terrible decisions.
Things begin with Noah bringing Whitney back to Montauk for some hardcore wedding planning, as she initially still wants the backyard wedding at her grandparents’ estate. The catch is that, as previously hinted this season, her grandfather’s bad investments (and extreme mental decline) mean that the family has no money in a very upper-class way, constantly having to remember that they can no longer afford the finer things.
We’re in Noah’s POV, but even Whitney full-on calls him out for being in serious atonement mode for all the hurt he caused the family. Her pressuring him to explain why, exactly, he completely upheaved their seemingly happy family life for Alison gets no answers, perhaps because he just doesn’t have them, beyond this one basic truth — as he tells Whitney later, he was only thinking about himself. Perhaps that’s why Whitney is able to confess to him the fact that she cheated on Colin, and while he cautions her against confessing to him, it’s still quite awkward, especially after Noah abruptly departs to try to reconnect with young Joanie, who’s just about to move to Vermont with Cole.
Noah ends up missing his chance to say hello/goodbye to the young girl he “raised as his own” for years (his words), for many reasons, but perhaps this most important one: a call from Petra, the woman writing a profile about him for Vanity Fair. While she uses the term “fact-checking,” what she’s actually doing is getting a comment from him about the accusation from his former PR representative, Eden. (Hey, turns out that her appearance in episode five wasn’t that random after all!)
Eden says that he coerced her into having sex while they worked together, and while the season-two scenes we saw featured Eden seducing Noah during his book tour, those scenes were always from his point of view. And one of The Affair’s go-to talking points is that nope, just because you see things from one perspective doesn’t mean that’s accurate — at least when it comes to the other person involved.
Noah finally arrives at Cole and Joanie’s house to find it empty, and also now knows that he’s in the Me Too crosshairs, and we leave him on a low note, albeit one with a win: For at least a brief moment, he was able to truly reconnect with his long-estranged daughter. That’s a pretty big accomplishment, given that he once accidentally hit on her at an orgy. (Man, season two was a wild time.)
Noah Solloway might be on the verge of getting canceled, but before that can really sink in, it’s time for an abrupt transition into adult Joanie’s timeline. And here’s where things take an abrupt shift from complicated adult drama to full-on psychological … something. Having deduced that Ben Cruz might have been responsible for her mother’s death, Joanie finds her way to the doorstep of Ben’s rural clinic, where PTSD patients (largely veterans) toil in a garden as compensation for their room and board.
Ben, still working as a therapist after all these years, is all about unconventional therapies, lulling Joanie into a state of vulnerability by offering her therapy well after he’d figured out that she was the daughter of the woman he killed decades ago. Here, the show makes a choice it probably should have also made with the appearance of 2053 Luisa last week: Instead of Ramon Rodriguez in not-great prosthetic makeup, Tony Plana plays the older Ben, who presents himself initially as a comforting presence before a truly brutal twist.
I confess I had a moment, after Ben’s full confession to Joanie, when I genuinely thought that this was it, that the full mystery of Alison’s death had been resolved, and that the rest of the season would be spent on Joanie having to come to terms with it. I am, at times, supremely gullible, but there was something honest and believable about both his stated reasons for why he never turned himself in, as well as why he might be willing to finally face judgement for his actions.
(An important detail comes up here that was only hinted at last week — per the autopsy report, Alison had water in her lungs, meaning that she was still alive when Ben dumped her in the water. It might have been an accident, Alison hitting her head, but there’s a chance she could have been saved.)
Of course, when Joanie returns to Ben’s clinic the next day with the cops, he’s had enough time to prepare his trap, one which neutralizes Joanie and protects him. To call this segment a thriller is to perhaps exaggerate the degree of real danger Joanie was in while trapped in Ben’s web, as his scheme was designed to discredit her, not to cause her physical harm. But that doesn’t make it any less creepy, especially how he used his abilities as a therapist to make her open up. Rewatching these scenes, knowing when exactly Ben figured out who she is, it’s clear — there is something wrong with this guy.
Not that Joanie is doing much better, her death wish flaring up again when Ben pins her down (and she’d made such good progress with EJ last week!). He lets her get up, saying he “won’t do her the favor” of putting her out of her pain, and the episode leaves the two of them mid-confrontation, Ben calmly admitting that “I’ve paid for my sins. I can live with myself. You’re the one, apparently, who can not.” It’s hardly a satisfying conclusion to the episode, but now Joanie has a true enemy to fight, even if he’s forcing her to acknowledge that her biggest nemesis might be herself.
There Is No Objective Truth (Just Bullet Points)
• Real talk: Helen’s old wedding gown is so beautifully timeless on Whitney. These characters are frustrating so often, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still be happy that someone was able to say yes to the perfect dress.
• Speaking of which, Whitney exploding at the wedding boutique employee over being pressured into spending thousands of dollars on a dress was perhaps the most I’ve ever liked her as a character. Not that the C-word should be used often, but this was a moment that felt earned.
• The fact that Ben’s clinic actively treats veterans in the year 2053 means that American military conflicts between then and now are ongoing — it would be interesting if the show made mention of what nation-states we’re fighting, down the line. Have we always been at war with Eurasia? Or is it Eastasia?
• Today in “why does that person look familiar?”: The great Tony Plana was a series regular on Ugly Betty, and has made a ton of TV appearances in recent years on shows including The Punisher, Madam Secretary, and One Day at a Time (playing the dearly beloved and deceased husband of Rita Moreno’s character).
• The moment when Joanie takes off her sunglasses and Ben figures out who she is stood out in just the right way, subtle yet deliberate. Full credit to both the actors and the direction for making it work.
• Also, I am never, ever again going to sign a document without reading every single word. The Affair teaches us so many important lessons about life, but that one might be the most valuable.