Sunday, November 27, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Affair' - Helen is Unsure About Her Relationship While Alison Struggles to See Her Daughter in '302'

Showtime's The Affair - Episode 3.02 "302"

One year earlier: after a stern request from Noah leaves Helen devastated, various pressures cause Helen and Vik to reexamine their relationship. Alison returns to Montauk after a crisis only to have her worst fears realized.

The Affair started its third season by jumping ahead in time by three years. That's a long time for these characters. Their lives could be drastically different this season. They've been changed because of new experiences they've had offscreen. That means these opening episodes of the year will be more than a little expositional as they set up what these characters' lives have been like. It has to be shown how their lives have changed since Noah confessed to killing Scotty. It made sense to pick up the story with Noah in the premiere. It was a dark and mopey episode. But it was still very effective in showing Noah in a very different place in his life. He was broken down because of his time in prison. That torture is still present in his life even though he is now living in the outside world once more. And yet, Noah's confession doesn't have to be the only life-changing event that has affected these characters' lives in the years since. Noah is the connective tissue between every major character on the show. They have been impacted by him one way or another. So yes, him going to prison does have an impact on their lives. It doesn't need to be the defining though.

The second episode of the season takes things back from the grisly end Noah faced in the season premiere. It does not show what happened to Noah after being attacked in his new apartment - or whether that was actually real. Instead, it picks up Helen and Alison's stories. They have been the two most important women in Noah's life throughout the series. They were both close to him during the trial. Alison stood by him as the picture perfect wife. She did so out of guilt for her own involvement in Scotty's death. Meanwhile, Helen made sure Noah had the best lawyer because she was truly guilty for killing Scotty. She was the one behind the wheel. So, the trial was a way for her to face punishment as well. But neither one of them went to jail. That was all Noah. He took the blame for this crime so the truth wouldn't come out. He was protecting Helen while also betraying Alison. Both of them have had to move on with their lives since the trial. It's interesting to see that that was easier for Alison to do because of her daughter while Helen really struggled even though she seemingly has a good relationship with Vik.

Helen is the only person in the family who still wants to see Noah in prison. She hasn't completely forgotten about him or is ashamed of him because of his actions. Whitney and Martin both refuse to see him because he's a murderer who deserves to be punished. To them, he's a despicable man who isn't worth their time or effort. Helen can still get Stacey to draw artwork for her father. But Helen has also faced a reality where the kids should no longer see their father in prison. He's no longer the confident and cocky man he was when he first went in. He's in the middle of the abuse right now. He's being tortured by a guard. It's apparent for all to see and there is nothing Helen can do to stop it. Noah just has to survive for another nine months. But more importantly, Helen has to understand why it's still so important for her to visit. She comes as a form of punishment for herself. Noah told her to wait for him until he got out. Afterwards, they could figure things out between them. They thought that would be easy but that's not so. Right now, it's difficult. Helen is torn over her life because she is presented with so many options. Her life is chaotic because she's the one raising the kids. She's happy with Vik but choosing not to get too close to him because of Noah. She's keeping secrets from him.

All of Helen's issues come out during a dinner with Whitney and her new boyfriend, Furkat. Once again, it's clear that Whitney is drawn to older men because of her own father issues. That's plain for all to see. She may be more of an adult right now. But she's still just the same immature teenager lashing out at the world because of her father's actions. She may be getting more professional experience because of this relationship. It's just such an alienating world for Helen. She walks in and sees photos of naked women all over the place. She sees Furkat and knows that Whitney hasn't changed at all. But neither has Helen. She's still just keeping Vik at arm's lengths while hoping that Noah will one day return home to her. She never wanted him to leave even though he cheated on her. She still loves him. He pushes her away. He no longer wants to see her in prison anymore. But that means she has to carry the burden of her secret all alone. She can't tell anyone the truth. She killed Scotty. The closest she can come is saying that she could have stopped Noah from driving away. That's still not the full truth though.

And yet, Helen does commit to Vik in the end. At her new job, she confesses that she is extremely happy with her living arrangement with Vik. He lives in the basement as a tenant. He pays rent and she has sex with him whenever she feels like it. She's in control of her own life. She tells him when he is able to finish during sex. She has control over their relationship. And yet, the story slowly reveals that Helen really doesn't have control over anything. She sees Noah for her own reasons. She tries ruining things with Vik to simplify things. Noah makes things easy for her. He pushes her away and it's heartbreaking to her. It leaves her in a limbo. She's not able to linger in it because she needs to get back to the city. But then when she pushes Vik away, he decides to stay and become even closer with her. This is the moment he decides to commit to this relationship by officially moving in. It's a significant change in their relationship. But it all just happens in front of Helen. She watches Vik move his things into the bedroom and go to sleep in the bed. And yet, she just has a stunned look on her face. She's wondering if this is really what she waits. That ambiguity makes for a very exciting close to her story.

Meanwhile, Alison's story is a bit more straightforward and introductory. It introduces a completely different element to the narrative this season. Alison had a breakdown which forced Cole to take sole custody of Joanie. The breakdown was not because of Noah though. In fact, it seems like Alison has had very little contact with Noah. She's completely ignored him since he's gone to prison. She hasn't even been receiving the letters he's sent. Instead, her story is fueled by the death of her previous child, Gabriel. His death was a huge motivator for her at the start of the series. Her uncertainty of how to move forward without him changed her marriage forever and lead to her relationship with Noah. Noah was the man who pulled her out of that even though he ultimately wasn't a whole lot better for her. And now, all of those emotions about Gabriel's death are coming up again. She did share custody with Cole for a long time. But all it took was Joanie getting sick when she was 4 years old for Alison to immediately be plagued with self-doubt all over again. She freaked out and had a mental breakdown. She went to an institution to get better. And now, she's trying to re-enter her daughter's life in Montauk.

Alison's story is a bit perfunctory because it keeps going back-and-forth over whether Alison will be able to see her daughter. She's trying to make amends and face up to the consequences of her actions. She knows she did a damaging thing to her daughter. She knows she has to work hard to make it up to her and Cole. It's just unclear if Cole will be willing to give her that chance. At first, he invites her over to see Joanie. Then when she arrives, Cole has changed his mind and Joanie is nowhere to be found. Alison uses that as a way to break down the backstory of this current conflict when she bumps into Oscar on the street. Oscar should never be the voice of reason with anything. And yet, he fills that role here telling Alison that she'll need to hire a good lawyer in order to see her daughter again. That's something that she truly hears. But then, Cole just brings Joanie over the next day. He does so not because he thinks Alison has changed but because he needs to do the right thing for Joanie. It's just a little too scattered of a story to be all that effective though. It makes things clear where Alison and Cole stand at the start of the season. But again, this was all a year ago from when Noah's story took place last week. Things could have gotten better or worse in the time since. The ambiguity isn't as present or effective as it is with Helen's story. Alison looks up at Cole after being reunited with Joanie filled with hope. But that could all be misplaced. There's no clear indication of where this story is going.

Some more thoughts:
  • "302" was written by Anya Epstein and directed by John Dahl.
  • Will Helen be able to keep everything together? Or will the truth about Scotty's death come out at some point? It's clear she wants to tell someone about it. She would like to have an open and honest relationship with her daughter. But the truth is still keeping her from having that.
  • Did Martin, Trevor and Stacey really not know about Helen and Vik's relationship? With the younger kids, it makes more sense. But it seems unlikely that Martin is fooled, right? Whitney isn't even living there and she knows the truth.
  • Vik actually buys one of the pictures from Furkat. That makes for quite the amusing image when Vik and Helen are sitting in awkward silence in a cab together. And yet, he just leaves the picture by the steps and goes to bed with Helen. Is no one afraid that one of the kids might see it?
  • It's also clear that if Alison wasn't able to get her daughter back that she would once again fall into Noah's orbit. Cole showing up at her door with Joanie is the only reason why she doesn't read the letters Noah has sent.
  • Who was Alison talking to when she needed to be re-motivated into reaching out to Cole and Joanie again? She was unsure about doing it after seeing them together at school but that phone call got her to accept that she is a good mother once again.