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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Maura Tierney once again shows why Helen is the only Affair character worth watching

Illustration for article titled Maura Tierney once again shows why Helen is the only Affair character worth watching
Photo: Paul Sarkis (Showtime)

There’s an old episode of Seinfeld wherein George Costanza realizes that every one of his instincts and decisions that have led him to his current situation in life has been wrong. He starts playing against his instincts, doing the opposite of whatever he would usually do, and immediately winds up with a girlfriend and a dream job, two things that usually eluded him.


Yes, George is a fictional character, but so is Noah Solloway. And ignoring his own disastrous instincts is something Noah should have realized at least three seasons ago, ever since he falsely pleaded guilty to killing Scotty Lockhart. In a season where we’ve already seen him embarrass himself at drunk karaoke, get himself kicked off the set of the movie he wrote, and actually consider stocking his ex-wife’s new boyfriend’s bedroom with sex toys, don’t you think there would come a point when Noah—supposedly an educated man, a thoughtful writer!—would realize, “y’know, my instincts are for shite.”

Sure, we got a nice Noah segment last week with some long-overdue bonding moments between him and Whitney, but this Affair season is content to only dole us out the teeniest slivers of happiness, far and few between. Because Noah ignoring the advice of three expert professionals this episode is just maddening. Explicitly told, “No, absolutely do not go back to the Vanity Fair writer. And definitely do not contact the person who is accusing you,” he turns around and does those exact idiotic, harmful things. Was anyone jonesing for a #MeToo storyline to round out The Affair’s tenure? Oh, no one at all, huh?

I went back and looked at the episode in question (I have been reviewing this show for three seasons, and I have never had to go back and do so much re-watching, just to try to piece together what in the sam hill is going on): The Affair season two, episode nine, the night of the hurricane/Robbie Callahan party, in which the show departed from its typical different perspective format, to show all four at once. (I turned it off before Noah spied Whitney in the hot tub again, because my nerves are not made of steel.) So if that night we were actually witnessing the truth (as much as the truth ever appears on this show), Eden did certainly seem to be into Noah. She was supposedly waiting for him in a guest bedroom when he spotted Whitney and freaked out, then headed back to his car, found his phone and realized poor Alison was in labor, and raced back to her.

Nevertheless, you would think that at some point Noah would realize how much damage he is doing to himself. That he would never be able to convince Eden, or Audrey, or Petra—who is a professional writer in search of a good story, not someone out to make friends with him—that he’s actually a good guy. That he’s just digging himself deeper and deeper into the same hole. Maybe he just can’t help himself, but it sure isn’t entertaining to witness. And having Noah ask Eden to remember how she was dressed that night makes me never want to turn on this show and see this horrific character again. Plus the episode contains so many insulting comments about the #MeToo movement, like it’s some vast trumped-up anti-male conspiracy: “in this day and age,” “it’s like the French revolution out there,” “These accusations are coming from anywhere,” not to mention Noah’s eyeroll at the mere mention #MeToo. What is this storyline meant to accomplish? To cast an unflattering, shady light on the women brave enough to stand up to their attackers? Because that’s what it appears to be doing.

Here’s my theory: Noah left Eden in that guest bedroom to try to get to Alison. Somebody else went in there and coerced her into sex, or whatever her official accusation is. Because it was dark (the hurricane had cut out the power) and because Noah was supposed to meet her there, Eden thought it was Noah. But I’ll be goddamned if I can spot the point of all of this with a mere three episodes left to go in the series.


But then, if I gave up The Affair, I would also be giving up Maura Tierney’s performance, which I really enjoy. The character of Helen is season five’s saving grace. Much has been made of Helen’s primary character trait—taking care of people—so that lost souls like Sierra and Christiana, relating to the maternal instincts that Helen can never fully quash, look to her for help. There’s something really refreshing this episode about Helen and Sierra banding together against Hollywood phonies like Sasha and Adeline. About realizing that having all the money in the world isn’t everything, that life is short and the most important thing in the world is connections between people. Maura Tierney easily absorbs and adapts to the gravity of her character—just watch how much she brings to silently watching the interaction between Adeline and Sierra. or telling Sasha to back off, probably the first time in forever anyone has disagreed with him. There’s a reason Tierney is this show’s sole Emmy nominee (back in 2016, but still).

But even Helen is not immune to The Affair’s machinations, so I see (and I suspect we all do) where all of this is going: Helen smiling at Noah taking a picture of Whitney in her wedding dress. Helen obviously touched by the birthday lasagna. Noah with the world crashing down around him, but Trevor still made a cake and Martin’s on the dean’s list, and Stacey still loves him. He’s about to lose everything, careerwise, but he’ll likely realize that with his family, he had what he needed all along.


Helen section: B

Noah section: D

Stray observations

  • Helen wisely doesn’t answer the “Why?” she has four kids question.
  • I really want Helen’s mid-calf boots.
  • You’re not supposed to let kids cry it out at naptime? Mine can bring up with their therapists later. Only randomly related, but the best shower gift you can ever give anyone is Happy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, which is the not-so-secret weapon of sleep training.
  • Just give the baby to Vik’s parents, do I have to draw you people a picture?
  • Still having trouble with the timeline of this show: The party with Eden was 10 years ago, but Stacey appears to be about the same age, or at least only a few years older. And if Alison died when Joanie was seven, and the party happened on the night she was born, it’s been three years now since Alison’s death?
  • On one hand, I would never interview somebody without at least sending them an email first. On the other, if you’re a Vanity Fair writer trying to catch someone off guard, maybe you call them (although how did she get Helen’s private number, a woman who’s barely on social media? From Noah?). But if it’s post-dinner, say about 9 p.m. in L.A., it’s midnight in New York, which seems like a really inconvenient time for Petra to be calling on both sides.
  • Yes, Stacey, I think we all get the big picture here with the astronauts sent off on separate missions who reconnect on the opposite side of the galaxy. Or the country, as it were. But the pressure of the balloon blowing up was a bit ham-fisted even for this show.
  • Some wise commenters are pointing out that the night of the hurricane was the break-the-format episode; thank you for noting that, have revised above.

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