Sunday, January 1, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Affair' - Helen Spirals All Alone While Noah Returns to His Father's Home in '306'

Showtime's The Affair - Episode 3.06 "306"

An unexplained absence sends Helen on a journey of increasingly troublesome discoveries. Compelled to return to a place he's spent his life trying to escape, Noah attempts to repair his relationship with Martin.

Helen has tied her personal happiness to Noah. She seemingly has a good life right now. Yes, her kids still frequently cause problems for her. But her relationship with Vik is stable. It's progressing in healthy and organic way. He's meeting her parents and caring more for the kids than ever before. Helen has seemingly replaced Noah from her life. And yet, she still desperately cares for him. In the past, she wanted their marriage to work even after he cheated on her with Alison. After all of that, she was free to be herself. It was a chaotic time in her life. But it was one filled with more passion - first from Max and then from Vik. She no longer needed Noah even though he was still a part of her life. And then, he went to jail for a crime she committed. The weight and guilt of that action has really affected her this season. It's as if she saw that as his way of showing that he still cares about her. And yet, three years have gone by. When he was in prison, he didn't really want to see her unless she brought the kids. And now that he's out, he's made very little effort to be a part of any of their lives. But Helen is still clinging onto the hope that Noah will be the important man in her life. The person who she knows better than everyone else. Life keeps moving forward without him. And now, it's moving without her as well which is starting to be very disorientating for her.

It's definitely a weird story arc for Helen this season. It's clear Scotty's death has affected her in some pretty profound ways. The beats of story where people start questioning why Helen cares so much about Noah despite him being a murderer are a little too heavy-handed. They are meant to amp up the tension that her secret may be revealed at some point. She's now the one carrying around a secret. Like many other characters can attest, secrets don't stay buried forever on this show. But it's still awkward and weird when random people just seem to suggest that Helen's feelings for Noah suggest something more sinister is going on. They are right. It's just odd and manipulative writing that doesn't always work. Yes, Helen believes she has a perfect cover story for her feelings by saying that Noah is the father of her children. She wants them to have some kind of relationship with him. That's a good explanation for a little while. But as her feelings for him only continue to grow in his absence, it's becoming harder and harder for her to keep saying that line over and over again.

Helen being questioned if she should have these feelings for Noah is an important and interesting story arc though. She has these feelings regardless. But she's trying to dig deeper and understand why she feels this way. Is she romanticizing the past? Is she rewriting their history together? Does she really know him better than anyone else if she doesn't know the tragic details of his estranged relationship with family? They built this life together. That means something. But was it all just a lie? Was he masking his true feelings from her? Does she truly know who he is? Does she understand just how dark and twisted his psyche really is? That's why he was drawn to Alison. They could connect through their shared misery. Helen has been through a lot over the course of the series. She's had to deal with some dark times too. Does that mean she's better equipped to deal with Noah's realities now? All of this is unclear and uncertain. Helen wants things to work out with Noah just like they've seemingly worked out between her parents. That's so surprising and fake to her. But her feelings for Noah are real. That's what she believes. And yet, every opportunity he has to be with the family, he chooses to be elsewhere.

Nina calling Helen out for not knowing anything about Noah's past is a slap in the face of reality for Helen. To Noah, Nina and Helen have always had a good relationship. But here, it's clear that Helen is only using that familiar bond to try and track down Noah. She's going out of her way to find him and Nina sees that desperation and doesn't understand it. Nina knows the full truth. Helen doesn't. That sends her spiraling. And yet, what happens next really isn't that inspiring or interesting. She runs back to Max. He served his purpose as a character last season and has moved on from the narrative this year. He has built a life away from the Solloways. Helen just comes in and potentially messes everything up for him. Their love was real for a little bit too. And now, Helen can't even recapture that magic. She's trying to force these dynamics into working and that only pushes them further away. That's abundantly clear with the Max portion of the story. It's a little too on-the-nose. It will hopefully mean something more when she spots Noah splashing around like a crazed person in a lake. That's a chaotic final image for her side of the story. But hopefully, it sends the message to her that Noah is not alright at the moment and she shouldn't be wasting this much energy on him.

Similarly, it's odd to see Noah start his story right back on the front steps of Juliette's apartment after crashing the car in Montauk. That story is starting to seem a little too forced in order to have some kind of affair aspect in play in the narrative. It's important that she tells Noah that her husband has Alzheimer's and that's why she's so interested in having sex with him. She wants a non-complicated affair where the two people don't really get to know each other. Noah has proven to be more complicated than that. So, it's somewhat of a mystery as to why she's still interested in sleeping with him. It's all just a little too weird and has little to do with what else is happening in the story. It just plays as plot details that needed to happen right now before the next stage of story can take place. Noah's story isn't about his torn feelings regarding his love life. It's instead focused on his past and reflecting on everything that happened to him in his hometown. That has been a big story this season. It's caused him so much pain both physically and mentally. He's being tortured by the memories of his mother's death and by the prison guard who also came from this town.

So, it's very fitting that Noah finally returns to the house where everything happened all those years ago. This is a time in his life that Helen only knows a little bit about. His father left the house to him. He's struggled with what to do with it. And now, he has returned to Pennsylvania to clean the place out. There are a lot of personal memories here but he's not interested in keeping anything. Of course, it's surprising when Martin shows up at the house as well. Noah was expecting it to be Gunther once again. Instead, it's his son who wants nothing to do with him. Martin hasn't been doing well in school. He's 19 and repeating his senior year. He may not be able to finish yet again either. That's information that the audience has but Noah doesn't. Noah isn't trying to get Martin to take school more seriously or to love him again. Noah is too caught up in his own issues to be a good father. He simply lets Martin stay at the house and doesn't care how Helen will react at all. He's very nonchalant about the whole experience. The two ultimately do bond because Noah opens up to Martin about his tragic past. He shows off the suicide note he had to write for his mother. He shows off the type of city he came from. He managed to get out of this place for a long time but still managed to fulfill the same kind of expectations as his classmates all those years ago. He may be more famous but he's just like the rest of the town. Though he's probably worse because he's also passing out and seeing hallucinations. Those are clearly getting worse and it's unclear if he'll be able to get any kind of help whatsoever. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "306" was written by Alena Smith and directed by Agneiska Holland.
  • Now, Helen is pulling away from Vik because he's making an effort to get to know her parents. She loved the bond she had with Noah where they both openly hated them. Vik is just now meeting both of them. But he's happy they are getting married again and has even started reading one of her father's books to feel closer to him. 
  • And yet, Helen is so out of line for saying that Vik doesn't know or do anything for the family. He has more than proven himself to be a good influence for the kids. He has stepped up and helped Helen care for them when she's off chasing the illusion of Noah.
  • Max is settling down with an editor at Vogue. That may be great for him. It should probably be the reason why he never appears again. He gets sucked back into Helen's orbit here. But now, he has all the proof he needs that he shouldn't spend any more time with the Solloways.
  • So apparently, Noah got a tow from Montauk to Juliette's apartment pretty easily. That's surprising. How did he pay for that? Plus, he'll have to deal with the school who gave the vehicle to Juliette in the first place.
  • Noah isn't able to escape his famous reputation even in his hometown. They all know that he went to prison for killing a man. And yet, he still gets invited to dinner by a friend from high school. Sure, it doesn't go all that well. But he still has friends in this area. 
  • Noah even makes sure to ask his friends from high school if they remember John Gunther. The show seems to be suggesting that he really did grow up nearby to Noah and has been in his shadow for his entire life. It was unclear earlier if that was true or if Gunther was just a stalker after Noah was incarcerated.