Sunday, January 29, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Affair' - Noah Travels to Paris with Juliette and Becomes a Changed Person in '310'

Showtime's The Affair - Episode 3.10 "310"

Noah's visit to Paris provides Juliette with a distraction from unpleasant realities at home. A chance encounter offers Noah the possibility of healing a relationship in desperate need of repair.

The third season of The Affair either succeeds or fails largely on the audience's tolerance for Noah Solloway. He has always been an important character of the show. But this year, his story was the main storyline. It did lead to some memorable interactions with the other characters. And yet, so much of it was him being isolated and very troubled because of the trauma he's endured for his entire life. It was a huge character arc that makes sense in theory and fell apart somewhat in execution. He swallowed the narrative whole this season. His tragic spiral was the whole point of this season. However, the show ends the year with a very uplifting story about Noah suddenly being perfectly fine and able to help Juliette and Whitney while in Paris. It's a startling way to end the season. It's somewhat disorienting too. I had to check to make sure that I hadn't missed an episode. But the season genuinely ended the ninth episode with Noah returning to the apartment and realizing that he stabbed himself in the neck and wallowing in that misery and opened the finale with him suddenly in a happy relationship with Juliette. It's polarizing and is never really about what the rest of the season was about. So that makes it a very odd ending even though it has its moments.

Of course, the effectiveness of the finale also hinges on whether or not the audience believes Juliette to be an important enough character in the narrative and Noah's life. Her importance this year largely came from her being the fifth character to have her own perspective portrayed. Her addition to the story meant that other characters had less screen time. Plus, there were only 10 episodes this year compared to the 12 of the second season. So, everything felt a little too truncated. That's ultimately what Juliette's character arc feels like. It seems like an idea that the show mentioned in the beginning, forgot about for large portions of the season, then suddenly remembered it in the end. Her addition to the show really isn't that necessary at all. She could just be seen as one big plot device to make Noah and Whitney meet and talk again in Paris. Her addition also means the show has an excuse to fly to Paris to film most of the finale. And yet, she's not a character who needs to be seen again in the future. The season doesn't end with Noah being hopeful about this new relationship. It ends with him hoping for brighter days with the family he left behind all those years ago. He was able to mend his bonds with Whitney and Martin. He addressed the problems of his past. This could be a satisfying conclusion to the entire series. It just focuses on weird things that haven't been important over the last few episodes.

Personally, Helen, Cole and Alison had much more interesting character arcs this season than Juliette did. Of course, that comes from having known them for the two previous seasons. It was a rough year for everyone as they had to figure out how to move forward after Scotty's death and Noah confessing to murder - even though Alison and Helen are more responsible. Cole and Alison's story was largely separate from what was going on with Noah and Helen. That felt deliberate. It made it more special when those characters finally did interact. It shows how interconnected these people will be even though the narrative is no longer about the affair between Noah and Alison. It now focuses on what their lives are after that. Cole and Alison have a complicated custody arrangement and uncertainty over their relationship. Meanwhile, Helen had to accept killing someone and not being able to tell anyone about it. This has really been a good season for Maura Tierney. Her work in last week's episode was so great. She's seen only for a second in the finale. It appears that she has been able to put her life back together after finally confessing her secret to everyone. And yet, that could just be Noah's perception of things. He needs things to be alright with the rest of his family so he has the potential to earn their trust back after everything he has done. The audience will have to wait and see until next season to know if Helen and Vik are really back together and how things are working out between Cole and Alison after he made his choice to stay with Luisa.

Because once again, this finale is all about Noah Solloway and his ability to sweep women off their feet. His charm is less powerful than ever before. That makes it difficult to understand why Juliette is so drawn to him. She came to America hoping to have an easy affair. That happened largely just so the show could have an affair somewhere in its world. It never really happened though until this finale. She wanted to sleep with Noah but he was too tormented to ever let it happen. It's happening now. The first scene is of the two of them in a Paris hotel. It's still annoying that whenever a show travels to Paris for an episode it has to have the characters in a room with a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower. Juliette mentions it's the tourist version of Paris. It's not the real city. Of course, the show does capture some of the remarkable beauty of the city's architecture. It really is stunning to look at whenever the characters are outside. So, the venture works in that regard. But it's still an episode that focuses on Juliette half of the time and her motivation hasn't been satisfactorily built and maintained. It makes it possible for her to have two completely different reactions to learning that her husband has died. In her perspective, she's heartbroken and devastated because she spent her time with Noah instead of Etienne. But in Noah's, she treats it so casually and wants to be with Noah out of spite for all the affairs and lack of affection Etienne has shown. It's all just too complicated and messy to really work at all. It's suppose to mean something when her life is falling apart - with her job in question and her husband dying. But it's hard to muster any feelings whatsoever because she is still such an unknown.

Meanwhile, Noah's side of the story largely focuses on his relationship with Whitney instead of with Juliette. Noah and Whitney have such an interesting dynamic. They really haven't been together since the incident in the hot tub. Yes, Furkat punched Noah a few episodes ago. That showed that there was still a lot of animosity and tension. But here, Furkat suddenly becomes a one-note bad guy who Whitney needs to be saved from. He's much more accommodating to Noah than the last time they saw each other. That's weird. It possibly shows that Furkat has fallen out of love with Whitney which makes him indifferent to Noah. But again, it's weird because the show doesn't really explain how much time has passed since the previous episode. It's just important that Noah and Whitney are both in Paris. Noah needs to step up and be a father once again. It really is such an interesting and powerful moment when he's comforting her after Furkat hit her. It makes him realize that he failed as a father because he didn't teach Whitney to value her own worth. It's also important because it features him accepting his own failures as a human being. Whitney holds so much anger at her father because she dealt with Helen in the aftermath of the affair. Of course, she was largely just there. She wasn't all that helpful to her mother. She's still largely just causing problems and making mistakes. The future may be brighter because Noah parents her and Whitney accepts it. That's the first step for things becoming healthy between them once more. It was once thought impossible. But now, it could be good again. Of course, Noah doesn't come into the house to celebrate Christmas with the rest of the family. All he does is make plans to be there for the kids. It's a weird ending based on the season that occurred before it. But it's still an interesting place to end for the year - especially with it being unclear of where Noah will go next.

Some more thoughts:
  • "310" was written by Sharr White & Sarah Treem and directed by Jeff Reiner.
  • But again, this version of Noah is just radically different from the character seen throughout the season. Plus, it was a easily predictable character arc as well. Way back in the premiere, I questioned whether Noah actually got stabbed by somewhere or if it was just his mind and the trauma playing tricks on him - which it ultimately was.
  • It's problematic that the show just casually waves off Noah's addiction problems though. Just because he accepts the trauma and torment of his entire life doesn't mean he is suddenly no longer addicted to painkillers. And yet, he's a stable and healthy man once more in Paris.
  • The moment Juliette came home and learned that Etienne was awake, it was clear that he was going to die soon. It's a nifty narrative trick that has been done before. It largely just makes her priorities clear to the audience. She abandoned him and enjoys her relationship with Noah even though it cost her in the end too.
  • Juliette's boss questioning her ability to continue at the university largely just sets up a way for her to return to America next season in order to continue dating Noah. She'll have to mourn the death of her husband. But the window has already been opened for how she'll return to the story.
  • The show has already been renewed for a fourth season. This finale largely leaves things looking up for the characters. Yes, this world is still full of pain and misery. That defined all of the stories this year. That will continue in the future. But how much story is realistically left in this show? One more year could be stretching it.