I am a highly suggestible person where schools and universities are concerned. So this episode guarantees that I will be making an excuse to visit Williams College as soon as possible.
It’s official now that Helen-and-Noah episodes are by far my favourite kinds of The Affair episodes. It took me a second to figure out why, but I think it’s twofold.
Number one, I firmly believe that they were a unit. They have jokes and rhythms and shared beliefs that make me think they were together because they truly enjoyed one another. It’s there when they lean in, look at each other incredulously. “You haven’t talked to your mother in how long?” They tease each other. There’s an interest in each other’s lives that feels palpably real.
Number two is that the joy they once shared is much closer to the surface. That’s patently unfair, of course, because much of that joy comes in the form of their kids. Alison and Cole don’t have anything happy to look back on, by comparison. But even when Helen and Noah are furious with each other, they can look at 'the other four’, as Noah calls them, and feel pride.
That’s also why this episode was so focused on Whitney, who she is and what she wants. The bratty teen from over a year ago is turning into a compelling young woman. Still self-centered and entitled but also fairly sage and intelligent (or ‘too f*cking smart to be a model’, as per Helen) and perceptive. Remember her look as she asks Helen not to say ‘Uncle’ Max anymore. She knows, and Helen knows on some level that she knows. She’s been underestimating her. Whitney’s not a child.
In fact, Whitney’s an experiment. She’s the first (official, the show lets us know) combination of Noah and Helen. She has Noah’s incredible charm. In fact, even as Helen says Whitney’s intelligent, she downplays the importance of that. Noah got into Williams not because of great swimming skill, but because of great personality. Helen, we learn, had a personality of her own—but unlike Noah’s, it seems to have been snuffed out.
I buy that Helen and Noah are naturally divergent in their approaches to rules, to the expected. Helen feels better when she embraces them, Noah needs to shrug them off to feel like he’s really being himself. On the one hand, maybe that’s why it’s Noah who’s had the mid-life crisis (“It’s over?). On the other hand, maybe that’s why it’s Helen who feels like she never became anything.
Whitney is not the problem here. While maybe not destined to be a model (despite what she looks like beside Maura Tierney, Julia Goldani Telles is apparently only 5’7”), she’s smart, savvy, and charming. She’ll be fine, give or take how much her parents control her.
Helen, on the other hand, might not be fine. She realizes she was stifled from becoming the unusual person she might have been. “What had become of her, that wild, bold girl?” She could have been unusual, and she chose not to be, so she wanted Noah not to be, either.
“I never in a million years could have seen that you’d be…this guy.” What a thing to say, but it’s not that she doesn’t believe in him. It’s that she thought they’d agreed, together, not to try.
And Noah doesn’t seem bitter about it.
In fact, another reason why I love a Noah-Helen episode is because in his memories, consistently, he portrays himself as kind of the worst. He’s obviously still into Helen, but it’s in his memories that he gets obstreperous about her father, that he threatens a poor obnoxious undergraduate. It’s in his memory that he tries to get Eden into bed, and gets thwarted a blue-balls amount of time later.
Helen kept herself safe from doing or being anyone crazy. Noah didn’t—he pursued all the crazy dreams and look how well it’s done for him—but sometimes he doesn’t like himself very much.
Which is better?
There’s a lot of evidence that Noah feels safe around Helen. Around her he says crazy things like that he was a victim of ‘affirmative action’ and she still listens to him. He apologizes for horrible fights, and it’s clear she’s not holding anything against him. In fact, she builds him up. “You’re a fundamentally decent human being”, she says, even though she sees his flaws.
By contrast, he and Alison are so far from intimate that when she shows him a nursery, all he can think about is his desk. His writing. His ambition. Which is what I would be worried about, if I were him. Noah wrote his first book to prove he could, and his second book to prove people were wrong about his first one. But now that he’s celebrated, and has this fiancé who adores him, what will there be to prove on the next one? If all the strive and struggle of his life while stuck between Helen and Alison gave him ‘Descent’, what will he have to do to get the next book?
That’s what I’d be worried about, if I were Noah. That, and the fact that he may be raising a child that’s not his. Oh, and the impending murder charge.
Speaking of which, Helen’s stealing soothers to try to prove Noah’s not the father. That gives rise to motive for Alison, if it’s true. A lot of you wrote last week to say Scotty Lockhart might have been saying the baby is ‘ours’, as in a Lockhart family baby, not Scotty’s in particular. Maybe, but that’s definitely not what the Oscar wanted us to believe, or what Gottlief will be trying to prove. He certainly seems…taken…with the theory, doesn’t he?
Attached- Ruth Wilson and Dominic West at The London Evening Standard Theatre Awards last night.