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The Affair winds up in Montauk with some valuable life lessons for its series finale

Photo: David Giesbrecht (Showtime)
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Well, friends: Welcome to the end of the world. After five seasons, The Affair wrapped up tonight and, all considering, did so in a fairly expected but exemplary manner. Turns out the theme of the series was forgiveness, as Noah Solloway finally faces all his wrongdoings and eventually lives out his life in a peaceful, Lobster Roll existence.

Best not to dwell on the dropped plot threads here: Ben waltzing away free, having gotten away with Alison’s murder; Noah gives up his writing career after all the #MeToo stuff, I guess, only to have Stacey pick up where he left off years later. But as the show has been steering us since the start of the season (and even before, really), Noah and Helen find their way back to each other at Whitney’s wedding.

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Honestly, you would think that saving her mother’s life would be a ticket for Noah’s entry back into Whitney’s wedding, but we’re not going to get out of this series without one more appearance by Whitney the hellion. Still, that makes the inevitable Solloway family reunion all the more valuable, as Helen leaves her own daughter’s wedding, realizing that she’ll never stop loving Noah, after all. There’s so much behind them now (Divorce! Prison! Rattlesnake!), but the constant is how important they are in each other’s lives. I was admittedly dubious about their inevitable reconciliation, but the Affair finale sold me.

Forgiveness aside, my favorite theme of the Affair finale is the importance of living in the moment. Alison strove to do it, Helen has failed until now to do so. Now as she and Noah face the final chapters of their lives: “We’re not here for long at all, and when we’re gone, we’re gone forever—those are the days that I forget to remember that it all happened for the best.” Especially when we get older, if we fail to focus on the present, we’re likely to miss it: When Helen finally does so, she easily realizes the person she’s meant to be with all along.

The Solloway portion of the finale is such a nice, dreamlike package, it’s a painful intrusion when Joanie reappears. Gawd, she can’t be nice to anyone, not even the kindly old man who gives her coffee. “I wasn’t actually asking for your advice.” Joanie’s portion tries to weave in the intergenerational element of The Affair, as E.J.-Eddie convinces Joanie in a two-second speech to give up her plan of killing Ben in favor of letting the sins of the previous generations go, tied to the climate change disaster: “We didn’t fuck this planet up, they did.” In classic Joanie fashion, she then turns on Eddie just as quickly when he reveals who he really is. He throws the old “Nothing’s changed, I’m still the same person I was thirty seconds ago” line that Joanie used on her husband, and it still doesn’t work. But at least that leads her back to the Lobster Roll for her vital conversation with Noah.

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I’m not a fan of the version of Cole that shows up in the finale, that he bad-talked Alison to Joanie growing up, possibly in a futile attempt to convince her that they were better off without her. But it’s impossible not to be swayed by Noah’s summation of the Affair story cycle, how it’s “so easy to go off with someone new. Reinvent yourself in their eyes,” but it turns out what you’re really avoiding is death. Then once you realize that, what “you yearn more than anything is someone who really knows you, who really knows every inch of you.” So in Noah’s version of the story, change is possible: Alison did it, and even Helen and Noah morphed into a couple meant to last forever. For Joanie, that means that she’s no longer doomed to a loveless life; learning how much her mother really cared about her means that “if trauma and pain can echo through generations, then so can love.” Really, after all we’ve been through this Affair season (the dildos episode seems like it appeared on a different show altogether), these are excellent, tear-inducing messages to go out on.

But let’s not forget the theme of The Affair overall: other people’s perceptions of the same story. How other people see us may not match with how we see ourselves at all. Joanie’s life shifts because she goes from someone who believes her mother abandoned her to someone who learns that she was the real love of her mother’s life. Noah stopped focusing on himself so much, turning everything outward toward Helen and the kids in an (eventually successful) effort to make amends. Helen realizes that she is fighting her feelings for Noah based on what everyone else thinks, but only he will make her truly happy, so who cares what they think?

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Honestly, in this almost-feature-length final episode, there are a ton of valuable life lessons, even Bruce’s advice to Whitney on how it’s so much easier to feel anger than love. I fervently wish that The Affair’s last season hadn’t wasted so much time on Sasha Mann and the like, but a finale this good helps wash a lot of that away. And it says a lot for the show that all the actors, particularly the main four of the first four seasons, were never anything less than riveting to witness. Sure, it was kind of ludicrous that Noah stabbed himself and Luisa was a total drain on the show’s momentum every time she showed up. Like Noah, I wish he’d never seen Whitney in the hot tub and that he’d never performed drunken karaoke. But did I ever miss an episode of The Affair? Not a single one.

Stray observations

  • “Ride the tractor. Kick the puppy.”
  • Martin’s right, Whitney is a lot.
  • Nice nod that The Waterboys was the band Noah and Whitney were talking about in the car in Montauk a few weeks ago.
  • Eddie has to pointedly explain why he likes Joanie, because the rest of us don’t have a clue.
  • A bit cruel to have Helen and her mother die the same year, with Margaret lasting all the way to 100. “I didn’t say I had a dog, I said that there was a dog on the property that seems to be perilously close to its final demise” was gold though.
  • I totally forgot that that guy (Geoffrey Arend) was Sierra’s director.
  • “Pringle?”
  • Also: “Sorry, what?”
  • Honestly a little pissed at Julia Goldani Telles for Instagramming a picture of Dominic West in old man makeup, so I knew that he would be showing up in future Montauk at some point.
  • And that’s a wrap on my Affair reviews everyone! Shout out to Carrie Raisler, who reviewed the majority of the first two Affair seasons. Even with my (considerable) ups and downs with this show, I’m actually going to miss it a lot, and I definitely will miss your comments. Thanks so much for reading. We’ll always have Professor SexFrench.

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About the author

Gwen Ihnat

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