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Noah continues to sink, and so does The Affair

Photo: Nicole Wilder (Showtime)
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Anyone else see “Part One: Noah” on the opening title card and just groan internally? Or externally, for that matter? I had fervently hoped that we had seen Noah scrape the bottom of the barrel last week with his drunken karaoke ramblings and waking up in a burrito place booth across from Joel. But no. Tonight, we get to see Noah in a gorilla mask attempting to spread dildos all over his ex-wife’s new boyfriend’s bedroom. He gets a fleeting glimpse of rationality, then takes advantage of a woman who actually likes him to steal her lingerie and still frame the new boyfriend. It’s a move right out of his movie script. Just how dumb does Noah think everybody is? As dumb as he is himself?

At least he gets a few good dad moments, still far-from redeeming: insisting on staying with Stacey (who we’ve barely seen this season), and trying his best to get the right kind of lace for Trevor’s Halloween costume. But the Sasha terrorizing is, of course, about 1,000 miles over the line. And I still can’t believe Noah made out with the script supervisor just to get her lingerie for his Sasha prank. Except I can totally believe it. At first I thought he was still trying to get the right lace for Trevor’s costume, that’s how dumb I am. Yet another reprehensible move by Noah. And how is that poor woman supposed to get home from the party?

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Part of the frustration with the character is that if Noah was, in fact, growing, he would be focusing on positives like his new book, not getting into petty squabbles with his agents over the Descent movie. As even Trevor knows, writers hold very little power in Hollywood. So we’d like to think that Noah could grow up and move on, five seasons in—but when has ever really done that?

Noah’s segment was such an excruciating 25 minutes, I actually breathed a sigh of relief when it was over and the camera mercifully turned from his latest humiliation. And Whitney’s perspective (which I was requesting just last week!) had the potential to be really interesting. Showing this privileged, spoiled young woman, working hard for likely the first time in her life, even being civil to Mrs. Ari (Perrey Reeves), her bitchy boss, with a little window into the L.A. art scene. But as The Affair season 5 lurches onward, even that ends in emotional tragedy.

For thorough journalistic research, I rewatched the scene that Whitney refers to with Furkat, the last time they spoke when it didn’t go so well. That’s in the season three finale in Paris, when she told her she loved him, and he said he only said loved her while they were fucking because he liked fucking her. When she tried to get away, he slapped her across the face, twice. In one of his rare glory dad moments, the conveniently-also-in-Paris Noah rushed in, anxious to punch that guy’s lights out, but Whitney pulled him away. (Noah ends the episode by dropping Whitney off at home, where the family is celebrating Christmas with Vik, he and Helen smile at each other through the window, and then Noah has no idea where to go? Which would have made an excellent series finale, honestly. But instead we’re here.)

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So while Furkat’s apology does appear genuine, and the art piece is both kind of sweet and disturbingly invasive, Whitney should definitely not be going down this path. I get why she’s doing so. She’s tired of being broke, she’s young, Furkat and creepy voyeur guy offer her this amazing opportunity in New York. But an egotist like that isn’t likely to change, and the price Whitney has to pay to get there isn’t worth it. The look on her face at the end of her ultimately downer segment suggests that she realizes that. It’s an awful violation of one of The Affair’s best characters, who we’ve watched since she was a teenager: Whitney finally gets some overdue praise from her mom this week (love drinking-in-the-morning Helen) and the show can’t even let her have that.

And no, our weekly obligatory five minutes with Joanie aren’t going to make us feel any better, as she coldly throws away items from her family legacy, even poor Gabriel’s. Then, like her mother, she rides a bike to the cemetery to end the episode in what as pitched as a total shocker but can’t be to anyone who is watching this show even half-heartedly: Cole’s gravesite, thereby dashing any hope that a surprise appearance by Joshua Jackson would somehow absolve this horrific (four episodes in) season.

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I’m honestly curious, so I looked back at the writers/directors of these past two episodes to see why these episodes have felt so off: for the most part, relative Affair newbies. Maybe that contributes to the disconnect. This one was written by Ring Lardner’s great-grandson Donal Ward and directed by New Zealander Toa Fraser. Last week longtime show cinematographer Steven Fierberg got to step up to the directing plate, while Tony-award-winning playwright Itamar Moses—whose only previous Affair episode was my favorite ever, the one where Alison dies—penned the script.

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Judging from last week’s Twitter reactions, I am not alone in mourning what was once a series I really liked a lot. The initial seasons at least had an intriguing mystery to hook every thing on: The enigmatic murder in season one (remember all those scenes in the interrogation room?), the resolution of that murder in season two, Noah’s stabbing and mental disintegration in the (granted, tough-to-watch) season three (psych! he stabbed himself), and Alison’s death in season four (and all those amazing Noah, Cole, and Anton in a car scenes). The resolve of that death was pitched as the draw for season five, but 95 percent of the series doesn’t even address it (has anyone in Noah and Helen’s segments even mentioned Alison this whole time?). And in her silent scenes this week, Joanie appears to have nothing but contempt for her long-lost mother, so doesn’t really seem anxious to solve the mystery of her death. If the goal of season five is to eventually draw Noah and Helen back together, how is seeing him down around his insecure, controlling, lowest point not once but twice so far supposed to make that happen? If I were Sasha or Helen, I would be looking at restraining orders. Now if Helen does get back together with Noah—and why would she—they deserve each other, in the worst possible sense of that phrase.

Here’s an analogy this show would probably appreciate: At this point in season five, The Affair is adrift—lacking an anchor, and pointlessly crashing wave after wave with no resolution in sight.

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Stray observations

  • Far and away, my favorite moment this episode: “Oh for God’s sakes Trevor, if you have to be gay, can’t you be the elegant kind?” “You mean like Grandpa?”
  • Hey Noah, if Joel is giving you advice, just assume it sucks.
  • Have to shoutout Helen’s lovely aquamarine dress and cool boots, no wonder Noah is so smitten. And that quick snapshot of what the Solloway family was like when it was intact was nice. But how realistic is it that Helen already has an assistant screening her calls? She should just hire Whitney, who obviously has a gift for design, then all problems solved, you’re welcome.
  • Sasha’s last name is hilarious, just for all the references to “Mr. Mann.”
  • Oh god, there are seven episodes left to go, aren’t there.
  • Next week: Hopefully more Helen.
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About the author

Gwen Ihnat

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.