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Over the course of 5 seasons, The Affair’s Noah Solloway has learned very little

Photo: Paul Sarkis (Showtime)
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Just when you think Noah Solloway can’t get any worse, tonight, he commits one of the most heinous crimes imaginable. He bogarts someone’s turn at karaoke. Just when I forget Noah is the worst, he always comes up with a way to remind me.

There are eight episodes of The Affair left after tonight, and, as even the promo poster can tell you, it seems pretty clear that the ultimate goal of the series will be to get Helen and Noah back together again at the end. Janelle’s speech to Noah about her reunion with Carl foreshadows this: They have a history together, they have a child, and she’s finally fallen in love with the person he is now, not the person she thought he had the potential to become. Hey, guess who also has a history together, along with four kids?

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This despite the fact that Helen doesn’t actually seem to be that fond of her ex at the moment, wondering only a few months ago after Vik’s funeral why it couldn’t have been Noah who died. Noah, who wants what he wants when he wants it, isn’t going to take something like his ex-wife’s grieving feelings into consideration. Or the fact that just seems happy with Sasha, and doesn’t she deserve that after all she’s been through? Nope, not if that means it makes Noah unhappy. It’s straight-up maddening.

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Granted, the two perspectives this time out seemed, as they often do, so disparate as to be from two separate evenings altogether. Helen’s relatively tame, tightly wound karaoke night hardly compares to Noah’s free-fall tour-de-force. In a way, it’s kind of funny—after a drunken evening, many of us imagine that we’ve behaved much worse than we have. But I found Noah’s mangling of a Tom Petty classic more cringeworthy than anything Larry David ever pulled on Curb Your Enthusiasm. At this point in the series, do I possibly have an unrealistic resentment toward Noah? Sure. Am I sick of the way he careens around from various points in his life, making attempts to improve himself while lacking the conviction to actually do so? Absolutely. Did I have to turn the volume down on his karaoke warbling because it was so painful to witness? Yep.

It all goes back to the interview that kicks off the episode: the redemption of Noah Solloway. (I know in Noah’s perspective it always seems like everyone is hitting on him, but did he actually think that reporter was hitting on him by asking if he was single?) He tried to find it by going to prison, taking the rap for Helen after feeling so guilty about abandoning his family. All that did was cause some severe mental problems and a drug addiction (which pops up again this episode, with the pills in the car?) At the end of season three, he does redeem himself somewhat by saving Whitney from an abusive relationship in Paris, realizing that the most important relationship he should be having is with his children.

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The series could have ended right there, but then we wouldn’t have gotten the surprisingly excellent season four, mainly thanks to Joshua Jackson and Ruth Wilson’s performances, and the loss of Alison. Again, Noah gets his comeuppance when he spies that lookalike waitress in the diner at the end of episode eight, sobbing at a loss that maybe wouldn’t have happened if hadn’t blundered into everything. But maybe it would have anyway.

Sasha gets Noah in a way that he himself can’t see, aiming for a moralistic high bar that always fails to get him what he wants. He keeps lurching forward, fueled by a combination of guilt, ambition, and id, without thinking of any of the consequences. It led him to the affair with Alison (nice flashback in the movie filming to “Daniel” telling his mistress that he’ll never leave his wife) and now, he goes full rageaholic into Helen’s new relationship, without any consideration of what he might be messing up for her. I’m so irritated by the character that I fear I may be losing some perspective here, but I can’t figure out why there are some TV anti-heroes so easy to root for—your Tony Sopranos, your Don Drapers—while I am now just straight-up puzzled why anyone would make a character like Noah the centerpiece of a show. It may be this latest grandstanding (screaming at a young, female p.a. on set? Really?) that makes me think that even after everything he’s been through—Divorce! The death of his second wife! Prison!—he hasn’t learned anything at all. Which is depressing. As is witnessing Noah self-destructing yet again.

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And yet- there was Helen’s little smile after she turns Noah away from her door. Because she thinks her ex-husband is in love with her again (well, he’s sure acting like it), or because she’s enjoying, as the actress playing her character suggests, a bit of revenge? Likely, a little of both. As Vik called out in his final message to her, Helen is a caregiver, someone who continually puts everyone else first before herself. We can feel for her, even as she is a woman of tremendous privilege (when was her last job—that boutique in Brooklyn?) who is stuck juggling the problems of various family members. And if Noah is bottoming out again, that’s traditionally catnip to Helen. But if these two are destined to reconnect it would be nice if they are able to come together from an equal position, with the realization that this is after all, what they really want—and not just a reaction to everything else swirling chaotically around them. Which is what I predict the next eight episodes will attempt to iron out.

Montauk: These Joanie segments are feeling less and less like they belong in the same show, even as the character returns to the series’ most consistent setting. For her few minutes on the show each week, Anna Paquin sure has a high proportion of sex scenes. And did Joanie ask the bartender to choke her, as a way to evoke her dead mother? I honestly am not sure what’s going on in this storyline (props to everyone who pointed out last week that Joanie was throwing up the bunch of pills that she’d downed, not because she was pregnant), but I am losing more interest every week. Maybe if she runs into Ben at the cemetery or something.

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Stray observations

  • Any Noah Solloway fans out there? What am I missing? I do think that Dominic West is doing really well with what he’s being given.
  • I have an interview with Sanaa Lathan (Janelle) coming out in a few weeks with some interesting insight into how you play the same scene (like Vik’s funeral) three different ways on a show like The Affair.
  • Margaret’s best-line ever, as well as a cautionary tale for Helen: “You give someone the best years of your life while they fuck anything with a hole, and you finally get them back, and for what? The worst years of theirs. It’s definitely not fair.”
  • Am hoping that Whitney gets her own perspective one of these weeks, she fascinates me.
  • That was a nice meta joke at Dominic West’s own accent, calling out Sasha for letting the English slip through sometimes. For the record, I think he hangs on to his American accent really well, and so did Ruth Wilson on this show.
  • Was that really a B12 shot? Or heroin? But if you were a famous movie star/heroin addict, wouldn’t you be shooting up in a stall?
  • It was pretty funny that the poor script girl was just getting started on how much her karaoke song meant to her when Noah comes up and rips the mike right out of her hands.
  • Next week: Halloween, I guess?
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About the author

Gwen Ihnat

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