Sunday, December 4, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Affair' - Juliette Learns That Being With Noah Will Be Very Complicated in '303'

Showtime's The Affair - Episode 3.03 "303"

Running from secrets she left behind in Paris, Juliette finds Noah an alluring prospect. But a terrifying event shatters all hope of an easy affair. Noah must fight like never before to make sense of what just occurred.

The Affair has added yet another prospective to its narrative this season. Juliette Le Gail is a new character to the show this year. And yet, she is given so much importance right away because her perspective is being seen. It's a bit unexpected as well. The second season added Helen and Cole to this intimate focus in order to help their stories and personalities shine through in their own unique way. That was greatly appreciated. However, they were already major characters on the show before that. Meanwhile, Juliette is a complete newcomer. The audience doesn't really know what to expect with her. That uncertainty definitely makes for an intriguing episode this week. Her presence allows the show a different vantage point to Noah's new world as a college professor. As last week's episode proved, Helen and Alison are largely off in their own, separate worlds dealing with their own issues. Yes, Helen is still important in Noah's life right now. She wants to be there for him during this challenging time. But this has been such an isolating time for him. The show needed this new perspective in order to put a different spin on a familiar character. Sure, the show is struggling to explain why so many female characters want to sleep with Noah Solloway. He's not that great. And yet, multiple people are still attracted to him. But it also represents something new that could be good for Noah as well as he tries to figure out the life he left behind when he went to prison.

Juliette's story opens the third episode of the season. It largely shows her perspective to her first meeting with Noah and the dinner party that followed. That was a crucial part of Noah's story in the season premiere. Over the years, the show has largely gone away from showing the same event from two different perspectives. It was important in the early going to show how people see things differently even though they have the shared experience. But it also became an easily manipulative tool for the show to lure the audience into a sense of comfort only to reveal something completely big and dramatic later on. It wasn't a great way to tell stories even though the details and performances were strong. However, the show does repeat the dinner party here to show what the world was actually like around Noah. He attended the party and was called out to defend his depiction of sex in his novel. But it was still an isolating experience for him. That opening episode was all about loneliness and a looming sense of dread. Meanwhile, Juliette's story is one filled with romantic hope despite some personal tragedies.

Juliette came to America as a professor and to also examine potential new pages to an ancient text. That project isn't as exciting or enticing as it once seemed to her. She instead is simply drawn to Noah. His presence has caused discussion on the campus. A recent rape has done the same. And yet, Juliette largely exists outside of all of that. A couple of her students are appreciative of her class. But she's much more engaged with Noah's novel. That's the world that pulls her in with its excitement and worldview. It may not be a great novel. It's certainly not one that's above criticism and strong arguments. But it's a piece of writing that Juliette enjoys because she can connect with it. She has escaped a life in France that includes caring for a sick husband. It's noticeable that she mentions her husband and daughter several times in her interactions with Noah. That never came up once during his side of the story. But she's still the one who initiates a romantic connection. She's the one who wants to have sex. She's wanting something nice and easy as a distraction from the complicated mess she has back at home. Her views on sex may not be appealing to the younger generation though. It's such an interesting conversation around the dinner table. It's different than Noah's version from the season premiere. His was all about Audrey questioning his depiction of rape. With Juliette, it's about the murky details of the rape on campus. Audrey is arguing for consent at all times while Juliette disagrees saying that ruins the appeal and desire of sex. She says it clearly wanting Noah. But she can't have him due to his own complications. So instead, she settles for Mike. But that's a moment about fucking instead of the intimate and unpredictable romanticism Juliette is really looking for.

Of course, things are never going to be predictable or boring with Noah. Juliette sees him as a kindred spirit. Someone who she can ask if her views on sex are outdated. Someone who she can genuinely connect with and understand on an intellectual level. They've both lived complicated lives. However, Noah's is still very complicated. He pulled away from sex because of his fears and isolation. He seems unobtainable and the desire of everyone's sexual fantasy. When Juliette sees that Noah left his jacket behind, she sees it as a way to build something more. Instead, she finds him bleeding out in his apartment. When that moment occurred at the end of the premiere, I questioned whether or not it was real. It could have been a fantasy to show just how traumatized Noah's mind really is. But it did really happen. It's a horror that breaks the illusion of something sweet and romantic for Juliette. And yet, their bond is still quite strong. This attack is destructive but could pull them closer together.

Overall, this is a strong introduction of Juliette's perspective to the narrative. However, the episode does suffer a little bit when it shifts to Noah's story. This is the hour that finally digs deeper into what happened to him in prison with the guard played by Brendan Fraser. He's a cool menace that's apparent throughout the story. But it's also incredibly creepy and one note. John Gunther comes across as a twisted stalker from the very first moment he appears. The story follows a predictable route of Gunther first being able to get things for Noah and build a connection with him. But it doesn't take long at all until he starts abusing his power. It's yet another story about someone in a powerful position mistreating those below him. The show really doesn't add an interesting twist to the mix either. It's basically just this guy stalking and abusing Noah no matter where he goes. That's enough for him to be nervous and paranoid all the time. But it also just feels too simple to take all that seriously.

But of course, Noah needing surgery to survive this murder attempt brings a couple things into focus in his life. Helen is the one there for him when he wakes up. When he hears that his wife is there, he expects Alison and not Helen. He still refers to Helen as his ex-wife even though he clearly sees that she wants something more serious again. And yet, the man now lying in this hospital bed isn't the same person she was married to. He's not even the same person who had an affair, wrote a bestselling novel and went to prison for murder. He was changed because of that experience. The root of that change is lackluster and uninspired. But that ultimate change is still important. Noah doesn't find himself drawn to either Helen or Alison. They have to actually show up in his world in order to be important to him. He's just trying to do his own thing in his own little world. He's leaving the past behind because of what he did to so many people. Juliette is allowing him to feel again though. He is attracted to her as well. Once again, the circumstances are too tantalizing to act on. They can't sleep together because she's a suspect in his assault case. He doesn't believe she did it. He believes it's Gunther. He even tells the police that. They want to focus on the threats from his life before imprisonment. But it's now clear that his time inside is what's truly motivating everything for his story this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "303" was written by David Henry Hwang and directed by Jeffrey Reiner.
  • Is there any truth to Gunther's back story of growing up in Noah's shadow? Or is it all apart of his stalker ploy to get close to his subject because he is fascinated by him for some reason?
  • It's not surprising at all that Audrey voices her desire to fuck Noah. She hates him as a person but still wants to sleep with him. She puts it rather bluntly too. Of course, that was largely the Juliette perspective of it all.
  • For Noah, the dinner party conversation was all about the philosophical debate over rape. It was largely civil even though it did get heated. For Juliette, it's much more crass with sex being an underlying tension between all of the characters.
  • At first, the police suspect that Cole was the person who attacked Noah because he was released from prison. But that seems unlikely considering his life in Montauk. Though this investigation could be an interesting way to bring those two together again.
  • Noah's sister is with him when he's released from the hospital. He even takes the keys to his father's house from her. A trauma of some sort happened there. Noah claims to be over that but that doesn't seem likely.
  • Noah doesn't even go to his sister's house in the end. He instead chooses to stay with Juliette who welcomes him in despite how complicated this dynamic has become all of a sudden. Again, they don't have sex but the desire to is palpable.