If you are a Maura Tierney fan (and if you aren’t, we should talk and set you right) Showtime’s The Affair Season 2 promises to be, er, a splendid affair if last night’s season premiere is any indication.
Instead of adulterous couple Noah’s (Dominic West) and Alison’s (Ruth Wilson) dueling perspectives, this time we examined a stretch of time somewhere in between last season’s calamitous showdown at the Lockhart ranch and the unceremonious end to Noah and Alison’s happily ever after — from the points of view of the unfaithful dad and his beleaguered estranged wife Helen. (Tierney).
To remind us of the muscular storytelling world we are reentering after a 10-month hiatus, we begin with Noah, passed out at his desk in some artsy little waterside dwelling, and dreaming of a car speeding down the roadway on a foggy, moonless night, hitting its brakes too late to avoid a young woman in the road. It sure looked like a female, even though our Season 1 murder victim, who died under similar circumstances, was Alison’s brother-in-law, Scotty. Ah well. It’s a dream. Our sleeping minds sort things differently, right?
Wherever Noah is, he must catch the train into New York City, where his nonplussed agent Harry (Steven Kunken) is having none of his proposed new ending for his sure-bet novel. Too subtle, says Harry. Suggests an unimaginable secret between the lovers, counters Noah. Much more compelling than a run-of-the-mill murder. Which is pretty much the thesis statement for this series.
Harry tells him to reference Of Mice and Men and take another shot at that ending. Also, how much of this “novel” was actually based on what happened with him and …what’s her name? This is fiction, Noah growls. Well, whatever it is, says Harry, just say it. It’s powerful as it is.
Where we are in the chronology of things — given the show’s signature and sometimes puzzling non-linear nature — gets a bit clearer when, on the walk to the Brooklyn townhouse he once shared with Helen, Noah runs into his neighbor, who says they and their wives must get together soon. And when Noah reaches “home,” there are movers waiting to haul his things away.
There won’t be much to take. Noah rings the bell and finds the pugnacious Margaret (Kathleen Chalfant, who I super-love in this thankless/priceless role) there instead in place of Helen. She fibs to him that the kids are out of the house and tells him that he can fetch his things from the basement. There’s barely enough to fill the backseat of a Subaru, much less the truck that waits outside. Where’s the rest of it, asks Noah. He can come for it — what ever might remain — after the divorce is finalized and all the couples’ possessions appraised, says Helen. Or they can write him a check. Let’s be honest. Money is what he really needs, correct? Margaret. Margaret, Margaret.
Instead, Noah grabs a laundry basket and begins filling it. Books. Kitchen stuff. A painting made by his dad. Margaret flips her shit, in her signature Margaret way. Noah says she can step aside or he will push her down the stairs and tell the coroner it was an accident. Except that there’s a witness. Martin (Jake Sicilano). Would a Yankees game make him feel better, asks his contrite dad. Martin’s double booked: Grandma made him a psychologist appointment instead, which leads Noah and Margaret to exchange some energetic “How the fuck do you face yourself in the mirror each morning.” It’s a fairly solid question on both sides. And series does a more effortless job of getting its actors to swear like sailors and make it sound just the way we all do when daily conversations require it. Which is often.
Even its littlest ones. Trevor (Jadon Sand) races up as Noah is leaving. The Solloway’s younger boy bolted theater camp — too much movement, and you know … ticks — so he is perfectly available to hang out with dad. Noah says he has a meeting with Trevor’s mom, which the boy takes as a sign of reconciliation. Noah asks what his mom has been saying about the situation and Trevor informs his dad that mom says he’ll be home just as soon as he gets his head out of his ass. That’s a quote.
Noah sets his son straight: He loves someone else more than mom. It happens. How much he loves Trevor and his siblings will never ever change. Trevor bloodies his dad’s nose at the news.
This is where we get to the point in the episode where we get Noah’s and Helen’s very different takes on a very memorable situation — their first meeting with divorce mediator Jeremy (Jeremy Shamos, Better Call Saul’s Craig Kettleman). In both recollections, he is a real piece of work. In Noah’s, he’s worthy of a sitcom.
“I love rookies!” Jeremy chortles when he finds out this the first divorce for both Solloways. Then he tells them they are putting their marriage “humanely to sleep” and for that they should congratulate themselves. And yet they stay in the room. If this is actually how the day went down.
Jeremy says if they can agree on how to divvy up their stuff, this will all be over in no time. Helen says the house was bought with her trust, so it’s hers. Noah has no objection. She can have her store, too. Noah just wants joint custody and a clear, irrevocable visitation schedule — which results in an argument about Martin’s psychology appointment versus the Yankees game. Then the advance and ensuing profits from Noah’s book come up. Helen looks at Noah with amusement. “Somehow the word ‘profits’ strikes me as funny for some reason in this context,” she smirks, enjoying his wounded look. “He can keep the profits.” The mediator rejoices — if this keeps humming along just so, he might be home in time to score some afternoon nookie. Or … not.
Helen wants to know, should joint custody be granted, where Noah plans to cram all four of the kids in his little upstate writer’s cabin (which we find out Harry secured for him). Noah says he’ll get a bigger apartment in the city using the book’s $400,000 advance.
Looks like that ending may go Harry’s way after all.
On the way out of Jeremy’s office, Helen says she’ll talk Whitney into returning Noah’s cause. Oh, and one more thing — she doesn’t want Alison anywhere near her kids. That’s her sole demand.
When Noah arrives back at the little cabin on the lake, there is Alison making his dinner. When she tells him she could be happy here, Noah beams and asks her to dance right there on the deck, even though there is no music. Thankfully, we viewers get some (the oh so fitting Damien Rice ballad “Delicate” because this show does its music exceptionally, too). And frankly watching other people dance to no music is just weird.
As Noah ends his day alone on the dock with a beer, a storm is brewing on the horizon. Just like that, he comes to in his cell mere hours away from his arraignment hearing. An adamant Detective Jeffries (Victor Williams) tells him the judge in the case is a real SOB. Take a plea — might get him a year’s probation, since nothing can be proven. Plus the laws are about to get tougher.
Noah looks at him. “I want. A fucking. Lawyer,” he snarls. And he will get one — in the most surprising of ways.
Come time for Helen’s take on the day, we see her in bed with Max in his new hotel. That Max (Josh Stamberg). He is a talker. A sexual narrator, whose enthusiasm for the job almost makes up for the cringeworthiness of his banter. Afterward — and after a lingering look at Max’s junk — Helen is mortified by the state in which they left the hotel room on the way to the bed. This is Noah and Alison’s messy territory, not hers. Max is mortified by the idea of the room service fruit plate being padded with honeydew.
Helen also laments the idea of going to her mother’s benefit alone. Max tells her she doesn’t have to go to it. She says she does. “Helen,” says Max. “You’re too nice.” “I know,” Helen sighs. Then she cries in the shower. And vapes some pot while watching the world go by.
Cut to mediation — Helen’s take on the proceedings. Jeremy the mediator is now a flip, snarky prick (a far more realistic version of the truth, to my thinking) who slouches, fiddles with his phone and hates his job and the people who make him necessary. Present company included. In Helen’s version, the book and any resulting money don’t come up — it is she who offers to help Noah afford a kid-appropriate apartment in the city. No thanks, says Noah — he will not take another effing cent from her parents. When he finishes the book and collects the cash, there will be an apartment. For now they will make do. Not if Alison is a part of that, says Helen. That much remains unchanged
And Helen’s day doesn’t go much better from there. Arriving late at Stacey’s ballet class and slipping into a seat at the back, she overhears two other moms gossiping about the state of her family. After class, one of the mothers comes up with a quick apology and a long inquisition about how she knew Noah was unfaithful. Helen handles it just as she should — “a rainbow shot out of his penis.”
She and Stacey arrive home in time to catch the aftermath of Trevor and Noah’s chat on the porch. Also, Whitney (Juliana Goldani Telles) wants to write her college entrance essay about the very unique experience of having Cole holding a gun to her head. Margaret says if the girl insists on exploiting the family’s private shame for her own gain, grandma isn’t about to fund anything that comes of it.
Too much self-expression going on everywhere for Helen. And she’s about to get another dose. Pouring herself a glass of wine, while Margaret pulls something beige and casserole-ish from the oven, Helen is treated to her mother’s opinion on the “too humane” nature of mediation. Too bad/ Helen says that after a quarter century with Noah, humane is what she wants. Also, instead of arriving with Margaret, Helen believes she’ll have (a wildly awkward) dinner with the kids and then she’ll come to to the fundraiser.
She sits outside in her royal blue gown and smokes awhile instead. It’s an impossibly gorgeous shot, punctuated by Mazzy Star’s aching “Bells Ring.” If you DVR’d the episode, just freeze that sucker and look.
When Helen finally gets to her table — her blue gown standing out amongst the black-tie crowd — Max is seated beside her. (Oh, Margaret!) In this situation, too, Max is a talker. So is Margaret. Poor, poor Helen.
But Max isn’t entirely obtuse. He reaches under the table and hands Helen a pot lozenge. “For later,” he whispers. And when his car drops Helen and Margaret off at their door, Helen affords him a little make-out session on her stoop as a storm rolls in.
And again we are back at Noah’s holding cell, where no-nonsense attorney Jon Gottlief (Richard Schiff) appears, a suit for Noah in hand. He tells Detective Jeffries to take his leave, along with any notion of bringing up in the arraignment a word Noah uttered sans counsel.
Gottlief is not alone. Helen is there, too, a look of … what … compassion? … pity? … love? … eat it, Margaret? … I can buy you and you don’t even realize it? … on her face. Noah looks at her, then back at the attorney. “I can’t afford you, Jon,” he says quietly. “I’m paying,” says Helen.
I’m not sure if I’m more stunned that Helen offered or that Noah accepted. But accept he does, a look of gratitude on his face. At least in Helen’s version of the tale.
New episodes of The Affair premiere Sunday nights at 10/9CT.