TV review

It Can Be Murder Crossing a Wronged Wife: ‘The Affair,’ S2E8 Recap

The Daily Beast

November 22, 2015

Could Helen (Moira Tierney) be about to get revenge on Alison (Ruth Wilson) for helping break up her marriage by getting her arrested and charged with murder?

And has Helen used her nemesis’s baby’s pacifier, concealed in some tissue and sequestered during a wrestling tournament, to do it?

Aye-aye-aye. Affair fans, as my top daytime goddess Wendy Williams would say, “how you doin’?”

The twinning of the stories in this second season—Helen and Noah (Dominic West), one week; Alison and Cole (Joshua Jackson) the next—seemed simply structurally clever until now, meaning the threading of strands away from the primary relationship of Noah and Alison—but it suddenly seems there may be something of a premonition about yoking the characters together like this.

If the title of the show was about the original affair between Noah and Alison, the fallout seems to be leading Noah and Helen back to each other. Suddenly this week, Helen came to have the ammunition to destroy Alison and save Noah from jail for the murder of ne’er-do-well Scotty Lockhart (Colin Donnell), who may have been the father of Alison’s baby, not Noah—hence Helen getting her hands on the baby’s pacifier for a little bit of covert genetic testing.

It would be a shame if a drama as mischievous and unexpected as The Affair went down the predictable route of reuniting the family unit in the way it seems to be doing with Noah and Helen, and “the other woman,” Alison, is left punished, as usual. We shall see.

Is Season 3 going to be Noah and Helen having an affair behind Alison’s back? If a new murder victim is needed, I think we’d all volunteer Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles) quite happily.

Sunday’s episode was full of zip, both light and dark, and began with a break in tradition—a jump forward to the future, traditionally left as the end brackets for each week’s story.

Here John (Richard Schiff), Noah’s lawyer employed by Helen, was mulling the thought-bubbles left by last week’s cliffhanger—that Alison had been fighting with Scotty over him possibly being the father of her baby.

John and his assistant wondered aloud where the link between Scotty and Alison had come from. Had they been the meant-to-be couple, at least in Scotty’s head? Was he blackmailing Alison, or so delusional that he thought they could be together?

Helen suddenly entered the office (she is not only paying her ex’s legal fees, her support is fierce, too)—and then we were thrown back to the past and her shepherding Brat of the Year Whitney on her college visit to Williams, the Massachusetts liberal arts college both Helen and Noah attended.

Whitney, true to form, was utterly obnoxious, more immersed in creating a Tinder profile for her mother. Writer Sharr White deployed some deliciously vicious teenage lines, such as, “You have at least five good years left. I am just trying to help you maximize them.” There was a hot dad with his son, checking Helen out, so maybe Whitney wasn’t wrong.

Both mother and daughter observed a student poster of women’s pert asses differently: Helen, as she did throughout the episode, with more than one eye on the past, and Whitney more sharply because she suddenly told Helen she didn’t want to be a student after all and, having met an older male photographer, wanted to model.

Helen, like many of us of a certain age at home, wanted the photographer’s name and details to possibly pass on to the authorities. She also wanted her daughter to continue her education. Whitney informed her she didn’t want a life spent in cubicles, or a life like Helen’s, which had been insulated by her parents’ money.

This viewer was proffering a boxing glove to Helen through the TV screen to knock her ungrateful, vile daughter’s block off when suddenly Noah popped up with his minxy publicist Eden to give a talk at a bookstore. Eden is basically a walking shampoo ad, with terrifyingly adept organizational skills.

Noah’s autobiographical novel, Descent, has made him as famous as intimated last week, and Helen initially dismissed his invitation to attend the reading. What could be gained by standing there, listening to details of her marriage to Noah and its decline, and his adultery, written as an entertainment?

A lovely moment had Noah asking Helen of Whitney: “Do you understand her?”

Helen replied: “Not really.”

The sheer appalled frozenness of their faces—all those years parenting and nurturing, and look at what selfish, nasty hell has emerged, oh shit—mirrored ours, and was a treat.

Suddenly, and tellingly, we flashed forward to the future, and Helen saying resolutely to the lawyer that she couldn’t let Noah go to prison.

Back in the past, and after a martini, Helen went to the reading. The passage she recalled Noah reading—very different from what he remembered—was about their life, and her, and the girl she was when they met.

Noah’s charm, which Helen rather amazingly said Whitney shared (really? has anyone ever seen her exhibit this?) was on display in the audience question-and-answer session that followed, where he fielded questions on love and faith with sensitivity and self-deprecation, as his adultery was so well-known now.

Afterward he and Helen went to the student diner they spent endless nights in when they were younger. In Helen’s memory, this was a quiet and intimate and warm evening. He asked why they shouldn’t let Whitney do what she wanted—they had messed their daughter up and didn’t want to take responsibility for it.

He reminded her she walked naked through the library once, and wanted to spend time in Africa…but, Helen remembered, her parents wouldn’t let her.

Helen now apologized to Noah for making him forsake the Harlem walkup he sketched in the book, their life in that apartment.

She said she was relieved when his first book failed, because she thought it would make him a more present husband. Helen said she was now proud of Noah, and outside—in a clear evening—he asked for the hat back he lent her earlier. But he did this putting his fingers to his lips, and for a moment she thought he meant for them to kiss.

Later in the future, as she watched son Martin at a wrestling match with Noah and his and Alison’s baby (or so he thought), Helen recalled the lawyer saying there was no physical evidence linking Noah to the murder—hence her taking the pacifier. Could it genetically prove the baby is Alison and Scotty’s?

Again in this scene, sneaky as Helen’s actions were, it was the new, easy intimacy of Helen and Noah being foregrounded—life and family kept throwing them back together, and now with the learned lessons and confessed shortcomings of mistakes past, their relationship seemed richer and healthier. However, he was with Alison…

In Noah’s half of the story, even his perception of events showed him to have grown quite the vain fat-head in response to his publishing success.

He loved that the woman next to him on a hotel treadmill was reading it, and then cursed The Kite Runner when someone in the hotel was revealed to be reading that rather than his book.

He was more focused on winning the PEN Faulkner Award than Alison and their then-unborn child. She live-chatted with him, and he was horrified that his office has been converted into a nursery: his life as a famous and gloried writer was more important to him than family.

Could Alison be about to learn exactly the same thing that Helen learned in exactly the same hard way as Helen learned it? Would Helen become the “other woman” to Alison?

In Noah’s version of his reading at the store, he recalled nothing of meeting Helen on the street, and talking, but she was present at the reading—and in his version of events he didn’t read about her immediately, but sex with Alison. Then he recalled early married life with Helen in Harlem.

The questions he recalled from the reading were either ones from flirty women or from the flinty critic who had just rubbished him in the Williams campus newspaper.

The review infuriated Noah, but he claimed to the critic’s face not to have read it. “Do you see anyone reading your books in five years?” his questioner asked Noah, before informing him that the PEN Faulkner had been awarded to another writer.

The student critic also suggested Noah was a pulpy hack—he might consider his work to be literary fiction, but the critic clearly felt it was soapy nonsense.

Noah got a number from one of his flirty questioners, which Helen requisitioned from him (she said to help Alison; Helen knew what it was like to be cheated on, after all) at the same diner she recalled.

But their evening there was way drunker and looser than in her version—Helen even cried out to the students standing at the bar, “What does FOMO mean?”

Noah bemoaned his PEN Faulkner loss, claiming to be a victim of reverse racism—the new victimized straight white male—and in his version made an apology for wanting Helen to abort a baby at 19. Interesting that in each version there were meaningful apologies offered, and not mentioned by the other.

Helen also discouraged Noah from punching out the student critic, now standing at the bar; and noted what a big-headed asshole Noah was becoming, although she—with only the sympathy and soft edges a lot of drink can produce—said he was not that kind of person (the self-regarding asshole), when that seemed to us to be quite a lot of him.

Out on the street, it was snowing in Noah’s version, and Helen told him she couldn’t read his book without crying. He called her “Helly belly,” and she didn’t walk back to her room as she did in her version, but hopped in a cab. Helen saw herself as in control and forgiving that night; in his version she was raucous and a friend now to Noah, and he still saw her as tenderly as she saw him in her version.

The tenderness—if not all the story details of that night—both did share.

Still, unleashed asshole Noah went back into the bar to punch the critic—someone who had called him out for his sins, and someone who was the voice of the viewer; well, this one, at least—but Noah’s drunken punch missed, his humiliation was filmed, and soon he was an online sensation.

Eden, the annoying publicist, was happy—she said this meant he got to be the literary bad boy of the moment. We had thought she was flirting with him, but now, just as they got into a passionate seduction scene, she withdrew, saying she didn’t mix business with pleasure.

Noah did, obviously, and instead signed his books into the night: they and the fame they had brought him were his kingdom, vindication, and his nourishment now.

If in his own version Noah saw himself as desirable and not just flirtatious but actively happy to have sex with other women on the road. What does that say about his commitment to Alison?

Flashing forward to the future, we saw Helen ask the lawyer if the baby’s pacifier would be used in evidence. Only if it needed to be, said the lawyer—meaning, only if Alison and Scotty were shown to be the baby’s parents, giving Alison a motive to kill him.

If that were the case, the wronged wife could—either deliberately or by default—avenge herself on her husband’s mistress in a spectacular fashion. Helen’s priority was to ensure Noah didn’t go to jail for Scotty’s murder. But was it just because he is the father of their children, or because events we have yet to see took her to the point of her wanting him back? That was a reunion this episode edged us toward contemplating, especially with its near total erasure of Alison.

But hey, this is The Affair—for which bait-and-switching viewers is a way of life. Bless it, and the bumpy ride it has created.