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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Affair kicks off its final season with 2 birthdays and a funeral

Illustration for article titled The Affair kicks off its final season with 2 birthdays and a funeral

Frankly, I am as dubious as anyone going in to The Affair’s fifth and final season. Mainly because I loved the fourth one so much, the episode with Alison’s death reveal a shocking and sad series high point. Even though I get that the show creators left the mystery of Alison’s death unresolved for a reason, I already miss Ruth Wilson and even more so, Joshua Jackson, who had become far and away my favorite actor on the show. Plus a side step into the future with now-adult Joanie? Really?


Going into season five, we (I) can’t imagine that there is really anything left to explore in Noah Solloway’s wholly self-interested, destructive exploration of himself. At least he will get to see it all played out on screen—in a meta move, as Descent is being made into a movie—led by stereotypically obnoxious actor Sasha (Claes Bang), who even mimics the way Noah eats his eggs on toast in an attempt to get inside his new character. The “This is my story,” “It’s my story too” exchange indicates that Sasha and Noah will be duking it out over the ultimate entitlement of Descent. Noah is still the interminable horndog, smiling at beautiful young women young enough to be his daughter at breakfast, only to realize that they’re after Sasha instead. If season five contains a multitude of similar Noah Solloway smackdowns, I’m all for it.

But Noah, really only has one woman in his sights right now—and it’s his ex-wife. With Vik’s death, Helen is now available, and Noah thinks he can simultaneously try to atone for all of his former misdeeds/worm his way back into Helen’s life by cleaning up her kitchen and wheeling out her garbage cans. You gotta admit, it checks a lot of boxes for him: He and Janelle don’t seem to be getting along very well, he’d be closer to his kids, and he’d get to live in that beautiful seaside house. And let’s face it, throughout these several seasons, where vulnerable Alison could make things complicated, strong Helen was the one who understood Noah completely, because she’d known him and had lived with him for so long. Even the promo posters for this season—showing Noah and Helen almost holding hands amidst a sea of people—seem to indicate that The Affair will end where it started, with Noah and Helen together. (If so, he would definitely be getting the better end of that deal.)

After all, Noah admits as much to Sasha at their breakfast (did he really name Helen “Ellen” in his book? Jeebus. And do you think Alison decided on some level that she was done with Noah when he titled his book about their relationship Descent?). Noah/Daniel thought “the relationship was what was holding him back” because at the time he was a frustrated one-time novelist. And it was easier to blame the mother of his four children than his own inadequacies, leaving him open for the possibilities someone like Alison could bring. But as Helen states by the garbage cans, and judging by his kids’ chilly reception after Vik’s service, it’s not going to be that easy for Noah to undo the years of hurt brought on by abandoning his family 10 years ago. Helen asks, “Why wasn’t it you?” instead of Vik, a kind, commendable man, who was there for Noah’s children even though he wasn’t even connected to them by marriage.

Somehow my mom’s death comes up much more often than I would have ever imagined on these pages, but I want to give The Affair credit where credit is due. I was (the only one) in the room with my mother when she died—like Vik, after a long illness—and the show nailed it. There is a change in breathing, that gets slower and slower, until the body just gives out. You’re told that they can still hear you, so you keep talking (or singing, in my case), until they can’t hear you anymore. So I agree with Vik’s nurse Regina that he knew his son was there at the end.

That scene was really well-done, but the Helen segment lost something afterward. I don’t need to see Helen wandering around to the tune of Dar Williams’ “The Beauty Of The Rain”; obviously, she’s going to be devastated after Vik’s death, and Maura Tierney is an amazing enough actor to convey that in a single moment so the three whole minutes that ended the episode seemed unnecessary.


I did like that the three segments appeared to be united by celebrations: Vik’s service, Sierra’s labor party, and Joanie’s kid’s birthday. Am kind of loathing the show’s insistence on reminding us that this plot plays out a few decades into the future (cue Helen and Noah in the old-age makeup), what with the 3-D kid-friendly fireworks, and the home tech, and the prescription bottles that light up. But the parallel references across timelines are a helpful way to tie things together (again, prescription bottles), and at least adult Joanie’s participation indicates that she will uncover the truth about her mother’s death. Which, so far, seems to be the most compelling reason for The Affair’s fifth season.

Stray observations

  • Maybe this was just on my screener, but I found it disconcerting to still have Wilson and Jackson in the credits. At least no more Cole means no more Luisa, yay.
  • Affair humor: Helen to Vik: “The problem with you dying is that I hate everyone else I know” (Noah knocks on door.)
  • “I miss my dad” is an odd thing to say after an unsatisfying (and extended) round of sex with your husband. Or anyone, really.
  • I give Janelle a lot of credit for being able to walk calmly out of that party. 
  • When The Affair started out, it offered different perspectives of the same scene, which was a very interesting hook to hang a show on. This episode had only slight tweaks on that formula—Noah seeing Helen laugh with the kids, while Helen watched Noah laugh with Janelle. Helen’s hair is up in Noah’s version of the funeral, down in hers. And why the two different pictures of Vik: official doctor portrait or relaxed, casual shot?
  • If Noah sleeps with Joanie, I swear I’m done with this show, I don’t care what episode we’re on.
  • Welcome to The Affair’s fifth and final season, everyone! I have been on The Affair beat since the season two-finale (remember Professor SexFrench in season three?) and look forward to wrapping up this series’ 11 final episodes (10 after this one) with you all. And your comments per usual.
  • Next week: Sasha takes an interest in Ellen—I mean, Helen—and you’ll never guess who’s bound to get all territorial about that.

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