The Affair Recap: She Knew Me Better Than Anyone Else

Photo courtesy of Jeff Neumann for Showtime.
In the future when we contemplate just when it was that The Affair jumped the shark, we will point to this episode. Which is a shame, because the episode that preceded it might have been one of the best in the series so far.

It’s not apparent just how far into the land of psychological metaphor we’ll be going when the episode begins with Helen (Maura Tierney) out to dinner with her parents and Dr. Vic (Omar Metwally). Her parents announce they’re getting back together after a horrible and contentious separation in which he cheated. What we’re seeing as her father explains that her mother just “knows me better than anyone else” are the wheels turning in Helen’s head — how can she get Noah (Dominic West) to get back together with her? She obviously won’t be happy until that happens and she’s doing everything she can to push Vic out of her life and keep Noah in, as exemplified by the parent/teacher conference with their son Martin (Jake Siciliano) in the next scene. He’s been skipping school, for no reason he admits, and Helen invokes Noah repeatedly and then gets into an argument with Martin about his father after. It’s one more incidence in which she comes very close to telling the truth about what happened the night of the accident. Surely she can’t keep this secret much longer, she's constantly about to burst with it.

Her search for Noah, who was supposed to attend the conference, takes her to his sister Nina’s (Jennifer Esposito) house. Nina finally asks the question we all want to know of Helen: Why does he still matter so much to you? After Helen gives a bullshit excuse about the kids, Nina says it’s time for them all, her and the kids, to let him go. Then comes the big bombshell, the reason this sister character exists. She explains that Noah was using Helen to get away from his own family and that Helen was too much of a narcissist and control-freak to notice. She points out that even Helen doesn’t know what the big fallout between Noah and his father was about — making it obvious that Helen doesn’t really know Noah. Then Nina makes it known that she doesn't think Noah killed Scotty Lockhart (Colin Donnell). It’s a a ham-fisted way to move the plot ahead, but this show’s writers love to do that exactly that.

The hits keep on coming for Helen. She then goes to visit Max (Josh Stamberg) who was Noah’s best friend with whom she hooked up (and nearly married) after they split up. Max is getting married to an editor at Vogue which shocks Helen, despite the fact that she’s moved on as well, and he accidentally rubs it in her face that they looked at the spot where Helen and Noah got married as a wedding venue. To make up for all her hurt feelings she fucks him, just like a control-freak narcissist would do. Then she has a postcoital cry and asks if Noah was fucked up before she met him, when Max knew him in college. When she point-blank asks if Noah was using her, he tells her that he’s sure Noah loved her but he was also aware of who she was (a rich girl with a father who was a famous writer) and she blows. This is all followed by a fight with Dr. Vic that’s easy to anticipate (for everyone but Dr. Vic), given all that came before it.

This has been the longest 26 minutes of my life. Time moves very slowly when you’re watching someone realise their life is a lie.

Despite, or perhaps because of, having reality shoved in her face by everyone, Helen goes to find Noah. Ostensibly she goes to talk to him about Martin, who went to Pennsylvania for an unscheduled visit with his dad the day before, but really she went to find Noah and let out all of her feelings. She arrives to find a bathroom full of blood and Noah in the river, screaming at nothing like a madman.

Cut to Noah’s POV. He returns Juliette’s (Irène Jacob) crashed car and they find that they’re sexually incompatible at present (because what is this show if someone isn't trying to fuck Noah?). He peaces out for his parents’ house on what appears to be the Amish side of Pennsylvania on the world’s most pensive bus ride. Noah is back in the life he wanted so badly to get out of as a child, but this time he’s popping prescription pain pills and has a stalker.

When Martin shows up, it’s not to see Noah after all. He had no idea Noah would be there, he was just looking for a place to hide out. Noah finds the letter he wrote for his mother the night she committed suicide just as Martin informs his dad that he hates school and wants to join the Army to be “like Grandpa.” It’s a mind fuck of a moment for Noah. That evening, there is dinner at an old friend’s house and high school yearbook photos. The only thing missing is someone to tell us where that crazy prison guard Gunther (Brendan Frasier) fits in to the past, which the writers throw in like a scrap for dogs who are hiding under the table during dinner. Thanks for that nod to the plot point that no one cares about, and this reveal (when it finally comes) had better be worth it. The bloody bandages were from Noah’s neck, we learn, when he tried to clean his wound while he was woozy from mixing beer and pain pills. He comes clean to Martin about helping his mother die, but we still don’t know what exactly happened between Noah and his father. It feels like the writers are labouring the point on that one.

The next morning Noah wakes up to find Martin gone. There have been at least three prominent photos of Noah as a teenager in the episode but if you thought those were so that you’d know how much he and Martin look alike, the last scene is here to prove you wrong. Noah walks to the river and sees a young man with a hoodie wading in. He assumes it’s Martin and runs in after to stop him. When he catches up to the boy, he sees that it is himself.

Yes, the writers of this show really executed a metaphor that idiotic. They really manifested the unconscious desires of a character into a conscious representation of himself. They really said screw it to symbolism and blew the whole thing up in order to force Noah to have some self-awareness.

It seems like two different teams of people must have written Helen’s storyline, where she takes a journey to self-awareness by asking people outside of herself what they think, and Noah’s, where he goes full Carl Jung Man and His Symbols in a way that suggest years of therapy won’t undo this breakthrough. So here we are, on the other side of the shark.
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