This is a bizarre episode of The Affair, no question. While I always love me some more Helen time, I don‚Äôt think I really need to see her in the desert attempting a transformative experience. It‚Äôs good for a bunch of East Coast eyerolls from Helen about the moon circle at the Joshua Tree, though, and one of the most claustrophobic scenes I‚Äôve ever witnessed.
One of the main themes of The Affair is other people‚Äôs perceptions of us: Helen in Alison‚Äôs viewpoint, like last week, is inimitably calm and wise. According to Helen this week, her life is a total fucking wreck, but to Sierra, she‚Äôs a smart, sophisticated, beautiful woman who appears to have it all. She‚Äôs hating this new age summit until her age and knowledge from experience wins over all of the other (younger) women: They immediately glom onto her like the font of wisdom that she is. To them, she‚Äôs a much better guru than young, clueless Gaella.
About that experience: We also learn this episode that Helen isn‚Äôt over, and will likely never get over, Noah‚Äôs affair with Alison: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not just a moment, it‚Äôs years of his life and hers and the promise they made to each other and their kids, and it‚Äôs everything.‚ÄĚ Noah remains the love of her life, and she is not about to overcome the loss of that family she spent all those years building, and everything horrific that happened afterward.
Now, Noah is just an interloper into not one but two families. Helen‚Äôs (now explained) lingering resentment means that he is not really welcome in her home, and Trevor, at least, has his own resentments toward Noah‚Äôs abandonment of their family. It‚Äôs like those long-term effects that Helen was explaining to Sierra personified: Much as he wants to, Noah can‚Äôt walk right back in to his family after leaving them for Alison and Joanie years ago.
Maybe that‚Äôs why he‚Äôs so eager to help Anton, who actually wants Noah‚Äôs help so much he tracks down his address in his mother‚Äôs files. Anton who actually is psyched to drive Noah‚Äôs car, unlike Trevor. Maybe there‚Äôs something here about the families we make versus the ones we‚Äôre related to, and I really do like Anton as a character. I also respect the showrunners‚Äô desires to expand The Affair past the problems of ridiculously well-off white people. But Noah feels shoehorned into that storyline; in all of those scenes with Carl and Janelle he‚Äôs standing foolishly in the background, until we are all as flummoxed as Carl as to what he‚Äôs actually doing there.
As the show does every season, it tries to propel Noah into a meaningful relationship. Alison, again with Helen, SexFrench, and now Janelle (Principal Stern). The show‚Äôs worst conceit is that Noah Solloway‚Äôs magical penis is enough to make these otherwise reasonable women lose their minds and jump right into bed (and why does Noah get such a long sex scene, when Helen‚Äôs sexual encounters this episode were so much more meaningful?). He apparently loves Janelle so much that he‚Äôs taking her son cross-country, but we know the real reason. It‚Äôs that helping the prospectively brilliant Anton makes him feel important (he even listens to Noah‚Äôs book!), something Noah hasn‚Äôt felt in quite some time.
It‚Äôs a bit ironic that the backup characters from season one‚ÄĒHelen and Cole‚ÄĒare now the most interesting of the series. Both of them went to California and at least got some traction on what they‚Äôve been grappling with, by burning sage or incense or whatever. Cole realized that he‚Äôll never be happy until he works things out with Alison; even after all the moon circle mumbo jumbo, and especially the terrifying floatation tank, Helen can‚Äôt go on watching Vik die without at least some effort on his side to stay alive. Interestingly, her matter-of-fact tone with Noah, though, means that she‚Äôs already accepted the loss on some level‚ÄĒyet another scene this episode (along with a few affecting monologues) that make Maura Tierney absolutely compelling to watch. In comparison, Noah and Alison are just flailing, caught in their old familiar patterns, not even actually realizing what they need to change. Helen and Cole are far ahead.