Why ‘The Affair’ Bid ‘Au Revoir’ En Paris: Season 3 Finale Recap
The Daily Beast
January 30, 2017
For the most part, the third season finale of The Affair took place in Paris, city of love and lovers.
There’s probably a joke or at least an ironic side-eye, in there, because The Affair generally, and this season in particular, has been about the perils of what we do in the name of love, the lies we allow the word to conceal, and the damage and chaos it can leave in its wake rather than its trust, warmth, and security.
It was good to see Noah Solloway (Dominic West), charismatic horndog that he is of distant memory, back to a recognizable normal working order under the eye of writers Sharr White and series co-creator Sarah Treem.
While it was never clarified exactly what or who Gunther (Brendan Fraser), the evil prison guard, was—real but not as evil as Noah recalled, just as evil as Noah recalled, not real at all—Noah’s neck scar, which last week we learned was self-inflicted, had all but cleared up. It no longer threatened to spawn an alien from its pus-spewing maw to rival Sigourney Weaver’s nemesis.
There was no mention at all of his attempted murder, so although we know the truth (he stabbed himself), does everyone else, or is the investigation ongoing?
There was no Alison (Ruth Wilson) or Cole (Joshua Jackson) either, and Helen (Maura Tierney) was sighted only briefly.
All this after Alison and Helen have still only orbited around the whole truth of the car accident that killed Scotty and which Noah went to jail for. And who will Alison be with: Noah (yes, it has to be), or Cole (more disaster beckons)? There are plenty of unknowns for Season 4, and plenty more room for them all to screw up royally all over again.
In the first part of the episode seen through French academic Juliette’s (Irène Jacob) eyes, Noah woke up in bed with her, the Eiffel Tower visible through the window in the distance. The hotel Noah resided in kind of obsessed me, modeled as it looked to be on a medieval castle. Still, this strange abode had room service. So, tant pis.
No, Juliette said, she would not tell her 22-year-old daughter, Sabine, about her and Noah’s relationship; she still adored her father (and Juliette’s husband), Etienne, who was in the throes of Alzheimer’s. Noah, happier than we have seen him for many a moon and (bonus) not insanely hallucinating, said he would pretend to be Hemingway all day.
In a loved-up mood before parting, they wandered beside a canal, Juliette more cautious than he as Paris was “a small town.”
Too late. A couple of colleagues approached, one more bitchy than the other, skewering Juliette for her adultery. Subtitles were used throughout Juliette’s segment, which was right and proper as it was through her eyes. Noah remained oblivious to the hostility of the encounter.
Another surprise awaited Juliette at home: the apparent restoration of Etienne to full alertness and mental health, “like he came out of a time machine,” said Sabine.
The doctor was on her way, said Etienne’s nurse Margot (the only black character featured in the episode, and attending to white folks).
A fizzing Etienne trashed Americans as liars—no, they’re optimists, said his wife—and he gently said she thought they were all George Clooney. Then, suddenly, he did not recognize Sabine, and the cloak of Alzheimer’s descended again.
At the university where Etienne and Juliette worked and where Juliette had not told the truth about his condition, she faced tough questioning from Celia, the head of department, who eventually learned that Juliette had faked being her husband in correspondence. Juliette didn’t want to admit Etienne was sick, she said. But Celia accused her of fraud and said she might lose her job alongside her husband.
Celia even cast doubt on Juliette’s academic record, saying it was unclear where her and Etienne’s work began and ended. “I just simply have no idea who you are without him,” Celia said.
Her life in fresh turmoil, Juliette paid a visit to the Foucault pendulum at the Panthéon. Like the schoolgirls she observed underneath the grand building’s giant dome, she too made herself dizzy spinning on the spot while gazing up at it.
As evening fell, it snowed magically around Juliette as she went to meet Noah in a cafe. He, very happy to have gotten lots of writing done, had bought her a beautifully gift-wrapped book, Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory. Noah thanked Juliette for bringing him “back from the brink” these last few months.
Juliette received a message and left hurriedly. Etienne had died. What she and Sabine had seen earlier, a medic informed Juliette, was an example of “terminal lucidity,” a patient emerging from their terrible fug almost as a “gift” to their loved ones. Sabine was furious. She screamed at her mother that everyone knew she had been screwing Noah, the “American.” She even humiliated Etienne on his deathbed.
On her own with him, Juliette asked for Etienne’s forgiveness, before the arrival of Noah, who—of course, this being The Affair—screwed her against the exterior wall of the apartment. Post-grief counseling, the Parisian way. Incroyable.
The second part of the episode was from Noah’s perspective, and diverged sharply from Juliette’s. This was the new, healthier, hallucination-free Noah, a Noah determined to be good and do good, and to see himself doing so. There were no subtitles, to mirror Noah’s own French language incomprehension.
His and Juliette’s walk, in his mind, was not romantic beside a canal but through a touristy Christmas market. The women she encountered were not bitchy but all smiles—and moderately flirty. What had they discussed, he asked. “Current affairs,” said Juliette.
Seeing a copy of Peter Pan in a vintage bookstore, he recalled telling Alison he had read it to his kids. He found Le Morte d’Arthur but seemed to reject it.
Then he came across a sticker on a lamppost with a woman’s vagina on it (possibly his daughter’s), and the name “Furkat” alongside it. Yes, a Parisian gallery was showing the work of the hideous Furkat (the brilliant-at-being-revolting Jonathan Cake), sleazeball artist partner of his daughter Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles).
And there the scuzzy monster was. “Hey, my brother, what are you doing here?” Furkat asked Noah. He had last punched a vulnerable Noah to the curb. Whitney was running errands, apparently, for his show’s opening night. They were off to Prague tomorrow, and Furkat—in a masterful mix of torturing Noah and grotesque boasting—started going on about the bliss of being in the moment.
Noah went to the couple’s hotel, where Whitney soon appeared, laden down with glamorous errand bags. She didn’t want to see him: To her, her father is an adulterer, murderer, and creep—he was there in the hot tub the night she kissed a girl, finding himself watching her and only realizing it was her far too late.
Not in the early evening, with no snowstorm—and no cafe fairy-lights—in his version of their cafe meeting, Noah recalled arriving after Juliette at the cafe, not the other way around. Noah recalled her talking about how Etienne seemed alert. He told her to go home and be with him. The romance of her vision is supplanted by him seeming anxious she return to her husband.
“I don’t want to. It makes me sad,” Juliette said.
Noah responded, with all that he had learned after his own affair, that Juliette shouldn’t do anything she might regret. “I’ve been here before. You haven’t. These things can turn quickly.”
Juliette disputed his expertise. She and Etienne had an open relationship—he thought monogamy was a bourgeois conspiracy. He had his affairs, she asked no questions.
It was at that moment Noah recalled Juliette taking the fateful call that would lead her to go home. Then he gave her a very plainly wrapped gift, and she left quickly. It felt final.
Outside Furkat’s gallery opening, Noah watched his daughter serve drinks and look depleted. Furkat at first ignored Whitney, then they argued. He was vile to her. Noah, intervene for heaven’s sake, we thought. Eventually, Furkat hit Whitney and—chillingly—told her to learn her place.
At this point, Noah sprang into action, but Whitney begged him not to make a scene. Instead, it was father and daughter—not father and lover—whom Noah recalled walking beside the canal, and talking in a way we have not seen them do.
Noah said he had learned to be careful of the word “love” but was very fond of Juliette. Whitney defended Furkat’s behavior as that of a passionate artist, but Noah told her that what she was receiving isn’t real love. And he’s right: Furkat is an abusive user. A real man, Noah told Whitney, would make her feel safe and appreciated. (This viewer’s thought: Yes, and doctor, heal thyself.)
Noah said he never hit Helen. Whitney said he may as well have, given his behavior. At least she knew what Furkat is feeling.
Noah said, disbelievingly, that she was defending a man who had just hit her. This made Noah feel as if he had failed in his most basic task: to protect his daughter from men like him. That was a damning admission for him as much as her.
Despite her protestations, Noah successfully convinced Whitney not to go to Prague with Furkat. Father and daughter wandered, in peace and moving rapprochement, back to his hotel.
Just before Whitney fell asleep, he said to her that he had not been a perfect parent. Neither were his parents. Whitney would learn from him and Helen, and so on, “until someone someday many years from now has a perfect childhood.” This will take so long, it could well mean 25 more glorious dysfunctional years of The Affair.
And Whitney—brattish, awful Whitney—was suddenly transformed. Understanding and love twinkled from her eyes. And—gosh—she smiled. Whitney Solloway smiled!
In Noah’s memory he then went over to Juliette’s place, having learned of Etienne’s death. They hugged, she was desolate, and there was no violent fucking against walls. Instead, in line with her academic passions, Juliette mused on King Arthur and Guinevere. Juliette had been the one waiting for so long for her troubadour to rescue her, when—watching her infirm husband—she realized she had been the troubadour all along.
Honestly, this felt like too much information making too little sense too late in the day for a character we kind of liked but were never that deeply invested in. Sorry, Juliette.
Noah, who helped his mother kill herself (his motives and method still cloudy), tried to reassure Juliette she had done all she could for Etienne.
But Juliette told Noah she had prayed for Etienne to die. “But that’s not why he’s dead,” Noah said. And just as he and Alison shared true intimacy when talking about death and grief, so it was here. In Noah’s view of events, he was not the sexual conqueror of yore but a wiser, gentler man.
The next day, Noah left with Whitney and Juliette with Sabine, the exigencies of parenting and family superseding those of passion. Whitney snuggled into her dad on the flight home.
And so, for The Affair, Paris became the city of love, if not lovers. It was here that Noah discovered his true potential for love in its most redeeming sense. I know, pass the tissues.
In the last reel, we were back in Brooklyn, Noah dropping Whitney off at his old marital home. Inside there were Christmas decorations and sightings of his kids and ex-wife. Hot Dr. Vik (Omar Metwally), now reunited with Helen, was there too. Noah knew he could not go in, and his yearning was offset by a knowledge that he needed to find another way now—one that can work for them all.
He told Whitney he loved her, and she thanked him. His son Martin (Jake Richard Siciliano) came out and asked if he would go sledding the next day in Central Park (where’s the snow?). His broken relationships with his children seemed to be mending. Helen smiled, tentatively, at him, fresh from being near-raped by him the last time we saw them together. They respectfully waved at each other.
And so, when the episode ended, with the cab driver’s question, “Where are we going, buddy?” it was the perfect, and really only, question to ask Noah Solloway. His awful guilt, self-harm, and self-generated demons now at bay, he seems a more at-peace individual. Where does he go? Back to Montauk to try to reunite with Alison? Somewhere else entirely?
Well, we know there will be a Season 4. We know how incredibly adept these characters are at seemingly learning a lesson, only to make even worse mistakes afterward.
With so many questions left outstanding—just who was the creepy prison guard; will Noah and Alison get back together; will Cole stay with Luisa despite his feelings for Alison; will Helen and Vik be happy, or will Vik come and live with me; will Furkat die, suffocated by his own hideousness?—we shall just have to wait and see.