Omar Metwally (left), Maura Tierney
Photo: Paul Sarkis (Showtime)

The promo posted for this Affair season is telling: You can hardly tell who’s sleeping with whom, as every embrace contains traces and shadows of another person (it also nicely integrates the show’s water fixation). To paraphrase a former surgeon general, when you sleep with someone, you’re sleeping with everyone they’ve ever slept with. He was referring to the physical effects of that, but there may still be other people invading your partner’s mental state. As in this first episode: Helen may be with Vik, but Noah is as much a part of her life as ever, even after their divorce.

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What’s great about The Affair is—other than tossing us a considerably long “previously on The Affair”—we are left like Helen to stew in her unreasonable juices when she realizes in California therapy how annoyed she is by Noah’s mere presence. The guy who broke up their (relatively) happy family, cheated on her, became super-successful author after their breakup, and then, both best and worst of all, from Helen’s perspective: took the rap for killing Scotty Lockhart. Yes, Noah saved her from probably going to prison, but also created a guilt trip that will never end as long as he’s around.

So when Helen calls out Noah in that great restaurant bathroom scene because she’s tired of waiting for the next disaster he drags them all into, Noah (rightly) responds: “Jesus Christ, Helen. That’s little unfair to me, don’t you think?” The pregnant pause that follows clearly and silently involves Helen factoring in the fact that he’s gone to prison for her. “No, I don’t.”

A lesser show would have dragged in a “I wasn’t so disastrous when I was doing time for you, was I Helen?” but The Affair, thankfully, has more faith in its viewers than that. And in TV, as in life, we all have to move on eventually (and hopefully never hear the name Scotty Lockhart ever again). Noah is out of prison, his pill dependency hopefully a thing of the past, taking a lesser job than he’s used to thanks to his convict status. In an interview with Variety, showrunner Sarah Treem reveals that Noah’s teaching in an urban high school was a focused effort to get more people of color on The Affair, so that we’re not just watching the trials and tribulations of these rich white people and their real estate porn (Helen and Vik’s new house though—wow). Once again, Noah seems in over his head, but it’s worth it for a character like Anton; I could listen to him talk about Animal Farm for hours. Hopefully this plot won’t turn into a cliched tack of Noah finding redemption by saving the future of a troubled teenager, who happens to be a more brilliant writer than he is. (After all, Anton was probably called out for plagiarism incorrectly the first time too, right?) Still, even then it would be nice to see Noah focused on someone who isn’t himself for once.

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As The Affair gets back to its basics, it’s fun to see Dominic West so hapless and vulnerable in his half of the episode, and such a raving lunatic in Helen’s. There’s a lot of humor in this Affair hour, something the show has lacked for quite a while (Professor SexFrench was the opposite of anything humorous). Love Helen’s Noah grabbing a beer from a waitresses’ tray and motioning toward Vik’s tab. But Helen, of course, is the star of her half, and Golden Globe-winning Maura Tierney continues to excel on this show. West Coast Helen is frustrated and unhappy, even though she’s surrounded by absolute splendor and a man who adores her. Fortunately this makes her therapy appointment with “scanner” Dr. Ezra (Family Ties’ Michael Gross), frequently funny, as she rants against the whole of the Pacific Ocean. Eventually, she realizes that her dissatisfaction—her pending earthquake—has a single solitary source: Noah Solloway.

Can you ever escape the person you used to love, fully shedding those traces and shadows? (Maybe if they don’t follow you across the country.) At their ages, Noah and Helen are going to have considerable baggage—even though perfect Vik doesn’t seem to have any, except for a domineering mother. Another funny-because-it’s true moment this episode is when Ezra unfurls the ludicrously long lists of reasons for Helen’s possible trauma. Helen can’t unpack all that at once, but as we’ve learned on previous episodes of The Affair, whatever we don’t deal with is bound to haunt us (like Noah’s mother’s death). Despite her plan to ignore him as much as possible, Helen has to deal with her walking ghost Noah eventually. But how?

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Stray observations

  • Vik is the nicest person on this whole show by a long shot. If he’s actually dead (especially in a plot twist to facilitate Helen and Noah’s eventual reunion), I will be very upset.
  • What’s with the weird neighbor and the avocados?
  • This episode was directed by Leaving Las Vegas’ Mike Figgis in a rare foray into television.
  • Damn, you know Noah must be lonesome if he’s even calling Max.
  • Looks like it’s time to re-read Animal Farm again: “What do none of the other animals stand up to Napoleon or his mouthpiece Squealer?”
  • That guy with his ginormous manuscript was funny, but in this day and age, does anyone still do that anymore? Dude, email.
  • “How’d you know I’m divorced?” “Wild guess.”
  • “Was that an earthquake joke?” Ha. Happily, this is not Michael Gross’ final appearance as Ezra.
  • I wish the rest of this conversation had been fleshed out: “My other son is like Gary Cooper. It’s awful.” “It’s awful because…?”
  • I need to use this maneuver in my daily life: “Will you excuse me? I have to do… something” [grabs bottle of white and wine glass].
  • In that same interview with Sarah Treem in Variety, she admits: “We introduced a new character and her point-of-view with Juliette [Irene Jacob] last season and people were not happy.” That is a considerable understatement.
  • Welcome to weekly coverage of The Affair season four, as we return to long-form reviews. As I said at the end of last season, as nuts as it gets—and last season was in fact super-nuts—I just can’t quit this show. And it looks like this isn’t even the last season; Treem hinted in that interview that it will likely wrap up in season five. So buckle up for these final 20-odd episodes, and please feel free to comment accordingly.
  • Next week: Looks like it’s Alison and Cole’s turn, so I predict we’ll be left hanging about Vik’s fate for at least another week. Dammit.

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