I Like It Here
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The Affair Season 2 Episode 6 recap
One of the reasons this show is so incredible is that the stuff that makes up an episode is only important in the lives of our characters. Such day-to-day happenings. My kid was sick, we were kind of worried, he’s better now. I went to a retreat with my mom. I missed a couple of calls from my editor. If you didn’t know the insides of their lives the way we do, these people would be like anyone else.
Helen is the closest to showing who she is on the outside. There’s something so winsomely defiant about keeping the white-blonde streaks in her hair instead of dyeing them over, something about not hiding the mistakes she’s made, which is new for her. Because this week, Helen and I are in the same uncomfortable position of having to realize that Noah perhaps isn’t the worst. At least, not all the time. More on him in a minute, but first, you know who’s the absolute worst? Helen’s terrible parents, who throw money and terrible accusations around in order to get their way.
I was struck by two things in that scene, though. Watching her parents bicker and bitch and agree only to throw money at the problem, you realize that Helen is only different from them because of the other massive influence in her life, Noah. Did he make her see that throwing it around that way is distasteful? Had she always thought that, and chose Noah because it was a behavior she was sure wouldn’t be ingrained (unlike, say, with Max, who casually buys hotels)? Helen has a lively horror of turning into her parents, but she echoes them in the ‘future’, when any amount of money brought up in the lawyer’s office is worth paying to get out of trouble – but this time it’s in support of Noah. Does that make it better?
Maybe it does, because as Helen points out this episode, Noah is an excellent father. I always feel secure in that, actually, and the fact that all he’s ever wanted from the divorce is co-custody is a testament to this. That is, Noah remains the worst, of course, but this episode wants us to see that he’s specifically the worst around Alison, and not around his family and Helen. In fact, both Noah’s and Helen’s memories support Noah’s in-book assertions that if not for Alison, the family life would have been unchanged—even if that’s too simple to really be true.
On the one hand, you believe it. They enjoyed each other. It was just the outside pressures that were too hard. Noah’s backward glance as he leaves the house tells us how wistful he is. If only there weren’t so many outside pressures. Her mother. His work. Her money. Probably his family, too.
But the reality is we could all be in a perfect relationship, if there weren’t any outside influences. If there weren’t pressures and people’s mothers and rules and things. But there always are, and I am most intrigued by the way people in this episode try to get rid of them. Helen literally turns her mother out on the street, on the same day, as it turns out, as her husband tells her he’s divorcing her. Again, Helen sees becoming her mother as the worst case scenario – which is also why she decides to make the brownstone ‘the kids’ house’, letting Noah spend time with them there rather than force them out to Crown Heights. She knows who she would become if she didn’t.
Meanwhile, Alison has apparently run away to a yoga commune retreat-thing. I am obviously a lot like Noah, because the place gave me annoyed vibes just about immediately. Not that I want to be agreeing with Noah, of course. His self-satisfied smile when he discovers Alison is one of the only ones wearing a swimsuit is infuriating, and then I remember that I share Noah’s thesis: Alison is why he’s the worst.
This is utterly unfair of course, but this week, he’s reasonable until he’s around her, because she’s so damned expensive. She costs him so much all the time. His family. His delusions. When she confronts him about her characterization in the book, he’s almost incredulous. “I’m the assh-le in the book,” he tells her. “I’m the one who ruins my whole family.” He’s taken great pains not to make his sex object the villain, because he knows it’s himself, in fiction if not in life.
Mostly, though, Noah is furious with Alison all the time because he’s angry at himself for being in this scenario with her at all. “I blew up my life for you”, he barks at her. Be worth it. Be worth it. Be everything I need you to be, and nothing more complicated. Be effortlessly interested in sex when I am, be perfectly in tune with my wants and thoughts, so I don’t have to think too much about the fact that sometimes I fantasize about driving a car straight at you, removing the problem I myself constructed in my life.
This is, of course, the fantasy we’ve been seeing all season. Not driving toward Scotty Lockhart, but towards Alison. Oh, and she’s pregnant. Which means we have a timeline for ‘the future’—it’s about 18 to 20 months from now, judging from the size of the baby in the courtroom scenes. So, expect that driving fantasy to get a lot more complicated, especially since the ending of the book has just become much more prescriptively sinister, and probably much more sellable.