Can anything ever satisfy Noah Solloway? More than anything else, this is the question driving season two of The Affair, and the more we see of Noah, the more the answer appears to be a resounding “no.” The exact root of Noah’s dissatisfaction remains a mystery, but it becomes clearer and clearer that his uneasiness with his life, his accomplishments—and most of all, himself—are like a slow-moving cancer that infiltrates every part of what he does and who he is.
After a stretch of episodes that were almost unbearably tense throughout, this one is almost calm and pleasant in comparison (or as calm and pleasant as an episode can be that features Noah getting drunk and making an ass of himself first in public, then again in private). It immediately distances itself somewhat from what came before by starting with a present-day scene featuring Noah’s lawyers, not introducing the expected “Part One” announcement until after Helen enters the scene. This scene basically sets up the idea that the entire episode is going to be about Noah, at least to some extent.
Take Helen’s half of the episode, which is essentially designed to get her at Noah’s book event so she can come full circle on her feelings about the destruction of her marriage. For her, it’s hearing Noah’s passage about the first big fissure in their marriage, when she accepted her parents’ money to buy the Brooklyn brownstone. The way Noah translates this moment in his book, it’s like the decision to step into this Brooklyn home was like stepping into an entirely different marriage, a different wife, and a different life. Whether or not that’s the whole case—and Noah’s underlying pathology suggests this is a thing that could have happened no matter what Helen did in their marriage—it’s certainly enough for Helen to take to heart, and their dinner after the reading is, for her, the chance to take a bit of ownership for her actions while they were married. Whether or not her apologies are warranted, that is smartly left up to us to decide.
How much of what Helen remembers about that night is real? In her version, they had a low-key, adult conversation about their marriage, their daughter, and how very much Whitney is like how Helen was at her age, which is an interesting little informational tidbit. Helen’s memories of that night are full of clarity and some kind of self-actualization. Noah’s, on the other hand, are full of messy emotion and confrontation. They’re drinking much more in his memory, encouraged by Helen. Instead of having calm, rational conversations where he’s confronting Helen about the reality of her own life, in Noah’s memory Helen is talking him down off his own ledge of self-pity and anger. This is a good example of The Affair using its primary device to great effect, without turning it into a mushy mess. Helen’s perspective of that dinner perfectly illustrates her emotional place after being confronted by the emotion of Noah’s reading. Noah’s perspective is stuck wallowing in his insatiable need to feel wanted, special, smart, and adored.
This is the aspect of Noah’s character that’s been slowly revealed throughout the course of the series, and this is the thing that feels like it will forever be his downfall. Last season, his relationship with Alison filled this void in him that desperately needed to feel wanted. At the beginning of season two, the afterglow of getting what he thought he needed was enough to carry him over. But now he has what he thought he wanted in Alison. He has what he thought he wanted with a wildly successful book. He’s adored by readers and women are throwing themselves at him. And yet, all it takes is one reviewer at a student newspaper to send him into a spiral of anger and self-loathing that is completely out of line with the criticism itself.
Noah’s publicist is on to him, asking if he needs universal adoration in order to be satisfied. Helen has his number, telling him she doesn’t understand why he hates himself so much. Noah, though, can’t get out of his own way enough to not attack the reviewer in the most public, embarrassing way possible. He can’t stop himself from making a pass at his publicist, turning him into the ultimate cliché. And it doesn’t stop him from being obviously unhappy that his exciting new love affair with Alison became so mundanely domestic so quickly. Where all this is leading isn’t quite clear yet, but between Noah’s continued disconnection from Alison and his lawyer’s work to pin the whole Scotty murder on Alison in the upcoming trial, things certainly do appear to be unraveling.
- Whitney was impossible and headstrong and unlikeable and totally great in this episode. Julia Goldani Telles is fantastic at portraying this very, very tricky character and making her feel real and fully realized.
- It’s seemed obvious for so long that Alison and Noah’s baby is actually Cole’s, but I am desperately hoping that is not the case. Simply because it’s been obvious for so long that it won’t be all that interesting.
- It is amusing to see the lawyers take Scotty’s “that’s our baby” statement as literal. I cannot imagine Alison ever getting close enough to Scotty to allow that consummation to take place. There is no love lost between those two.
- Noah literally said that he was the victim of affirmative action and “it’s impossible to be a man in 2015.” He is a parody of a parody of himself at this point. Helen mocking him for it throughout was absolutely fantastic, at least.
- The obnoxious reviewer seemed like a trope, but allowing him to constantly have the upper hand over Noah was a nice touch that kept it from being too much. (This is a selfish bullet point, obviously.)