Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

This Affair season takes an abrupt detour into greatness

The tremendous Brendan Fraser defends himself against some lunatic (Photo: Showtime)
The tremendous Brendan Fraser defends himself against some lunatic (Photo: Showtime)

Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • Wow, guys. Wow. This is definitely my favorite episode of The Affair this season by far, possibly ever. And with another Helen/Noah two-fer, I wasn’t even looking that forward to it, but both halves delivered in spades.
  • I have to start with Noah here, because I’m just so mesmerized by the whole thing. Gunther was definitely a guard at the prison, because he remembers Noah. But exactly which of Noah’s interactions with him that we’ve seen this season were real? And which were delusional? Since the actual Gunther appears to be a strong, quiet family man, affectionate with his special-needs child, can we equate any of the horrible things we’ve seen him do with this person? Even when Gunther has Noah in a chokehold merely as a defense mechanism this episode, he isn’t an asshole about it. He just wants to keep his family safe and get this crazy guy off of his front lawn, and he’s almost compassionate to this obviously troubled ex-inmate.
  • My working theory (just an hour or so after watching this once), is that the first interaction, when Gunther was nice, was real. But eventually John Gunther came to represent for Noah everything he had suppressed for so long, related to his hometown and the final fate of his mother. Driven to delusion in solitary (and maybe he had a psychotic attack to get in there, those bruises were real), Gunther becomes his Tyler Durden, the person who says the truths that he can’t.
  • All the kudos, by the way, to Brendan Fraser for this performance. Even in a single episode he goes from compassionate family man to Noah’s devastatingly truthful other half. He barely even seemed like the same person. I hope he gets some award noms for this, or at least, a lot of future work. I’m not going to forget this episode for a while, and it’s mostly because of him.
  • And starting out I thought Helen’s half was going to be the high point, as it swayed hilariously from horror to mania. Didn’t we all cheer from our living rooms when she locked her crazy parents in the Panic Room? (But how did they get out? And how are the kids? That was a lot for them to process.) Helen’s half highlighted how much her own perception may have been coloring her events: I think it’s unlikely that her awful parents came out and apologized for her disastrous life, but that’s the takeaway she got.
  • Although I loved the usually pulled-together Helen pouring white wine right into a tall glass.
  • I also loved her plea to Vic. As improbable as it seems that he might go back to her, at least she was finally honest with him, which is what she wanted all along. And even if she was lying about loving Noah before, she definitely doesn’t now, after one of the most painful sex scenes ever shown on TV. I’ve always liked Vic, and he probably deserves better, but am glad for Helen and the kids’ sake that it looks like he’ll be back. And Maura Tierney killed everything, as usual: Just Helen’s deep sigh of relief when he said he’d try to find her later was epic.
  • Looking back over what at first appeared to be an uneven season, we can now see that Sarah Treem and team decidedly set this all up; Noah’s unraveling mind, Helen crumbling under her guilt. This episode was bananas, but because of all the buildup, we barely blinked as our stalwart protagonist has now turned into a crazed, knife-wielding lunatic.
  • Gunther’s solitary speech to Noah was a meta nod to the show about perceptions, explaining that a lot of time, there are no easy answers. It really is just dependent on the way you look at things. From one side, Noah killed his mother; from the side Noah desperately tries to cling to, it was a mercy killing. Noah was only a trapped teenage kid at this point, so it’s hard to judge him too harshly, but: Showing your terminally ill mother TV movies on assisted suicide? It also shows how there are some things we can never really get over until we come to grips with them: That desperate act of Noah’s has colored his entire life, while Helen’s lie about Scotty has unraveled her current one.
  • Another excellent swapped perception scene: Helen and Alison together. Last week, Alison was the timid self she always is from her viewpoint, while Helen was the steelier one—with glasses? To indicate how smart she is? This week, Alison is tougher, truthful about what happened between her and Noah, while Helen is the mascara-smeared, crumbling mess. But, it brings up a huge contradiction, as has been the hurdle with this format: Helen finding out about Alison being on the scene of the accident is a huge reveal. Why, in Alison’s mind, does Helen leave without hearing it, when Helen obviously remembers it? Still, I loved seeing both actresses offer two entirely different interactions with each other, and wish we could have more Helen and Alison scenes, although I have no idea what else could possibly bring them together.
  • Those screechy violins kind of bug me (cue: “Noah’s losing his mind!”) but much respect for the direction and editing of that final scene, with the water from the sink (always with the water, this show) overlapping with the dirty dishes of the first episode, resulting in a reveal that would have seemed impossible weeks ago, and now makes perfect sense.
  • Some commenters pointed out last week that Sarah Treem has said that she already has a plan for season four, and it involves bringing all four characters together again. Please God, not another round of Who’s Alison’s Baby Daddy?
  • Next week’s finale brings back Professor SexFrench to top off the season. Really, show?