Sunday, November 8, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Affair' - A Family Crisis Forces Noah and Helen's Divorce to Come to an End in '206'

Showtime's The Affair - Episode 2.06 "206"

A medical emergency with Martin casts Helen and Noah's litigation process in a new light. Helen makes a long overdue decision. Noah is surprised Alison wants to stay with her mother at the Sousanna Institute. Troublesome discoveries are made.

The second season of The Affair has done a fantastic job using Maura Tierney. The shift to four perspectives this season could have been very problematic. The use of only two during the first season created plenty of aimless moments where it wasn't clear what was propelling the story forward. That could have become much more chaotic with the need to juggle four perspectives. And yet, the show has done a really smart job building its narrative this season. Yes, it has focused on the expected pairings when it comes to episodic focus - Noah/Helen, Noah/Alison and Alison/Cole. But it has never felt like the narrative has dragged. The story has remained tense in a way that's emotional. There is the added allure of the flash-forwards that signal doom for all of these characters. But the present day material has offered so many captivating moments and performances.

Noah and Helen's divorce has been very contentious. They've tried peaceful mediation. They've gone to court. They have both made severe mistakes. Throughout this entire process, they have been so angry with each other. It has started to affect their kids in many traumatic ways. The issues with Martin coming to a head is what gets the two of them to finally put an end to their disagreements. It's horrible that it takes emergency surgery in order for both of them to realize just how bad they've done as parents because of this divorce. And yet, that's exactly what happens. The Helen side of the story in this episode feels like the culmination of everything that has been happening in this part of the narrative all season long. Now, Noah and Helen can no longer avoid taking Martin to the hospital. He needs surgery in order to repair his bowel. Otherwise it's only going to get worse.

At first, Noah and Helen want to blame each other for allowing things to get this bad with Martin. They both knew that something was going on with him. And yet, their disagreements meant they could delay dealing with the problems while they only got worse. They have both been there for him. But they honestly have no clue what's wrong with him. Noah believes it is a gastroenterological problem while Helen - conditioned by her mother - thinks it's just a psychological issue. Because of the distance between him and his family, Noah wasn't there to voice his opinion and get Martin to a specialist sooner. Because she put her trust in her mother, Helen turned out to be wrong about Martin's condition for three months. That's a horrifying realization both of them have to deal with. But right now, they just have to be there for their son. They are able to discuss their problems while he's asleep. This situation has brought clarity to their lives. They can no longer continue living the way that they have been. It has affected so many aspects of their lives. It's time to stop. They need to rally around Martin in his time of need and make sure nothing like this can happen again with any of their other children.

Coming to a resolution with Noah isn't the only thing that Helen has to deal with though. She wants to return home and get some sleep before heading back to the hospital. Instead she finally gets into the confrontation with her mother that has been brewing all season long. Margaret has always been unafraid to voice her opinion. She sees Noah as nothing but a deadbeat who is the sole reason why everything is wrong with this family right now. That's not true though. Noah is trying. Sometimes he does act irrationally. And yes, sometimes he's a huge jerk. But he does care about his family. Margaret's influence afforded Helen a sense of comfort during the separation and legal proceedings. This isn't the first time the family has had to deal with monetary and legal problems. It's an experience incredibly personal to Helen but all her parents want to do is make it about themselves. Helen gets lost in the shuffle. As a result, Martin almost died. That snaps Helen back into reality. Just because Bruce is divorcing Margaret as well doesn't make it right for her to come into Helen's life with all of her opinions and judgment. Enough is enough. Helen finally kicks her mother out. She does so with the hopes that Noah will be able to pick up the slack when it comes to raising the kids. But she also does it in order to get control back over her life. This is her family that is dealing with this crisis right now. Margaret means well but she has stepped over the line in a way that has damaged her relationship with Helen. Distance could be the thing that heals this wound. But Helen is mostly happy to not be so angry anymore. Now, her life can move forward.

Noah and Helen are able to have a happy family life again. When Martin comes home from the hospital, they are all united. Noah is helping the rest of the kids decorate the house. They all sit down to enjoy cake and the gossip from Martin's hospital stay. It's the kind of moment this family used to have together. Now they are in a place where it can happen again. When Noah and Helen are figuring out the specifics of custody, it's a civil conversation. Helen has no problem with letting Noah be with the kids at the brownstone while she's away for the weekend. Additionally, Noah no longer sees the brownstone as a tragic memory of the life he used to live. They are now living that life again. They are happy. It took a tragedy to create this newfound peace. But it's here nevertheless.

Of course, things are not able to be peaceful for very long. Noah is still very much committed to his relationship with Alison. And now that the divorce is over, the two of them can be together. However, he learns that Alison has been living a much different life with him away for the past six weeks. Sure, it's strange that they haven't been in contact all this time. But it's still important to understanding the mindsets for both of the characters. Alison wants to pull herself out of the darkness and loneliness of her recent life. That meant taking herself out of the situation where she felt most alone. After reading Noah's book, she believed he only saw her as a sexual object. When she retreated to Montauk, Cole felt the same way even though he was more emotionally open with her. Noah can be a jerk but he is committed to this relationship. He also did a destructive thing in keeping the premise of the book from her. He feels the darkness surrounding their relationship as well. It's something that he has to learn to embrace though. On top of all of that, this relationship has now produced a new baby. It's not a surprising twist given the flash-forwards. But it still provides crucial context that shows that both of them want this relationship to work despite recognizing it as something incredibly dark and tragic.

Noah's book has always been slightly creepy. He wants to make sure it's known that the characters in the book are vastly different than his real life with Alison. And yet, the similarities to their situation are striking. That's why he has had so much difficulty with the ending. He wants this relationship with Alison to be real and long-lasting. He doesn't want to admit to its inevitably tragic ending. The flash-forwards also suggest that the two of them are able to have happiness for a period of time. But even that may be building to a tragic ending. It's something that Noah embraces when it comes to his novel. He is no longer afraid to commit to his original ending. It provides plenty powerful and striking imagery. He does it with confidence. Now, he just hopes his relationship with Alison won't follow a similar trajectory.

Some more thoughts:
  • "206" was written by David Henry Hwang and directed by Jeffrey Reiner.
  • In the future, Helen agrees to pay Oscar the $100,000 he's asking for in order to get the evidence that could put Scotty in an unflattering light. However, her lawyer never says that Oscar is the man she is paying for this information. Plus, it could mean the family loses the brownstone - or she has to reach out to her parents again.
  • Martin has Crohn's Disease - a diagnosis made understandable with the added knowledge that Noah's mother had MS.
  • It sure does say something that Alison would rather live with her mother right now than Noah - especially after everything that happened last season.
  • That being said, the overall environment of the Sousanna Institute was a little silly. It brought interesting things out of the main characters but it easily could have gone array and brought down an excellent episode.
  • It was nasty listening to Bruce talk about various legal strategies in order to help Helen through her divorce proceedings. He wanted to bribe the judge and blame all of Helen's problems on Max.