Photo: Paul Sarkis (Showtime)

Dammit, The Affair. Every season I get suckered in, and every season something happens and I remember, “Oh yeah, these people are really terrible.” In season four, we made it all the way to episode three, in which Noah insanely and stupidly starts a student riot and Helen does the exact wrong thing to help her dying partner.

Let me get a tad personal here, but it’s one of the reasons that Helen’s decision to tell Vik’s parents against his wishes made me so angry (I actually screamed “Noooo” at the screen, which is not something I do often, not since Under The Dome was cancelled). I found out that my mother had decided to quit chemotherapy not from her, but from her doctor. Unfortunately, I was driving at the time (I know, I shouldn’t have answered my phone while doing so) and almost crashed the car. My crying quickly went from sobbing to out-and-out keening—that’s how hard it was for me to accept her decision. Yes, I begged her to give chemo another try, even throwing my kids at her (an absolute low point), but ultimately, it was her decision. She’d done chemo, it was hellish, she didn’t want to go through it again to keep extending what to her was now a limited life. Now that she’s gone, and I miss her so much, I still have trouble with what she decided to do, but ultimately have to accept that it was her choice to make. I’ve never had cancer; I have no say in how hard it is. A friend of mine told me the night before her memorial how much he respected my mom for being brave enough for going out on her own terms.

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I went right back to that crying moment in the car when Vik told Helen, “I’m not getting treatment.” Not to equate my mother with a fictional character, but Helen needed to give Vik the same respect that I got to eventually, even though it’s the most difficult thing in the world to do. He’s a doctor, for god’s sake; he knows much better than she does what his actual odds are like to beat pancreatic cancer. No trials or second opinions are going to change that. When a person is dying, they get to call all the shots. Ezra the therapist is absolutely right, Helen’s goal is to support Vik in the way he needs, and not the way Helen wants. And in her longstanding life of entitlement, she has a hard time getting her head around the fact that she’s not going to get what she wants this time.

So Helen’s question to Ezra about who he couldn’t live without kind of gutted me. Because, excluding kids, my answer is still my mother, even though I’m still doing so, seven years later. But even more surprising is Helen wordlessly realizing who the anchor in her life still is, as much as she wishes it wasn’t: It’s Noah. In their brief encounters with each other this episode, Noah instantly knows that something is wrong with Helen, even though she can’t express it. Even (or maybe especially) after all they’ve been through together, the two are still tied together irrevocably.

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As much as I hate Helen this episode, that’s how much I love Maura Tierney’s performance. She’s just compelling, impossible to look away from as Helen runs through this insane gamut of emotions this episode. But possibly even more impressive is Omar Metwally as Vik. His lecture to Helen in the car on what “denial” really means for his parents and how badly she fucked up was masterful (and he’s not actually in denial at all about his short future). I’m sure he’s right about his diagnosis, which means I’m really going to miss seeing him on this show, but hopefully they can spread his illness out over the season.

Vik and Helen may be my favorite Affair couple to watch, actually, more engaging than the removed folks in Montauk, and certainly leagues ahead of Noah hooking up again with the first woman who crosses his path. Janelle is apparently powerless against that frickin’ Noah Solloway magnetism and his magical penis, just like Professor SexFrench, just like Alison, just like Helen.

An intelligent woman, Janelle is conveniently overlooking the fact that he’s a goddamn idiot. In an effort to empower his students kids in his Blackboard Jungle/Dangerous Minds/Up The Down Staircase narrative, Noah incites his Compton Academy students to protest: “She can’t suspend all of you… collectively, you’re not as powerless as you think you are.” I wanted to wipe that sick smile as the kids walk out of his class right off of his face, as the protest led to school-wide, police-attended walkout that easily could have ended with a kid getting shot, yet another person whose life has been worsened due to knowing Noah Solloway. At least he points out to the cops that they’re all being filmed, dissipating the crowd. Like Helen, Noah is coming from a position of privilege: What did he think was going to happen?

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Then he white-knights Janelle in front of the cameras, making up some bullshit about how the kids were protesting their curriculum, almost loses her her position, and she still makes out with him after going off about “your looks and your credentials.” What if one of the many teachers inside saw them, on a day that she’s already had to fight for her job? The conceit about Noah’s impossible-to-resist attractiveness is my least favorite thing about this show.

Much as the baby teachers may protest (Megan: “When I was at Stanford, I took a whole class in restorative discipline”), Janelle is absolutely right. No one is going to offer these kids talking circles if they mess up at their jobs in real life, so mollycoddling them at school isn’t going to help. Noah’s bound to learn some valuable life lesson from all of this (possibly some long-overdue humility), but Compton Academy already seems a bit tiresome. At least Noah is better off than Helen, who now has to try for kid number five out of guilt.

Stray observations

  • Anton outlining all of Alison’s life choices that have led us here may be my favorite part of the whole episode. “Girl’s got a type.”
  • Second episode in a row with an almost fully-clothed couple having sex on the kitchen counter. Is this really so common? My kitchen counters are usually too packed with stuff for this to be anything less than a wholly dangerous proposition.
  • Still not sure what the deal was with Anton’s plagiarism: If he’s so brilliant why did he need to steal someone else’s essay?
  • “I must have got the science gene from Vik.” “I’m not sure if you did if you think that’s how genetics works.”
  • Lots of Stanford talk this episode, almost like a product placement.
  • Helen and crazy avocado girl Sierra are inevitably going to hook up, right? She may be the most Californian stereotype ever put on screen, with her healing crystal ritual under the full moon at Joshua Tree.
  • Have you ever seen anyone snap fingers in meetings? What in the hell.
  • Next week: Back to Montauk, thank god.

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