The good news is that Dr. Vik Ullah (Omar Metwally) is back in The Affair, and Vik’s return—he is no longer Dr. Ullah—was heralded by him naked in bed, bucking away enthusiastically with Helen (Maura Tierney), a hot doc on the verge of orgasm.
Lucky Helen, sigh.
But still, for Helen and for Alison (Ruth Wilson), whose viewpoint took up the second half of Sunday night’s episode, all roads lead back to Noah Solloway (Dominic West), first Helen’s husband and then—after “the affair”—Alison’s.
Then Alison pushed Scotty Lockhart (Colin Donnell) into the path of a car driven by Helen. Noah took the rap for it, and began a three-year stretch in jail for the crime.
But who did he take the rap for? Helen? Alison? Both women? Different reasons? General guilt for all the selfish, shitty things he did?
This episode took place a year before his release, which we saw unfold last week, when—despite her overtures—he rejected Helen, and started cavorting with a French academic, while haunted by what we imagine to be a sadistic prison guard.
Neither Helen nor Alison seem rooted in their worlds, and both comport themselves with resolutely sourpuss expressions (a rare smile is a burst of sun appearing from behind clouds). Vik is renting the basement of Helen’s place, and was popping upstairs for sex when he felt like it.
What sounded like a great, fun arrangement was now irksome for Helen, especially as he texted away to mysterious strangers. Her expression spoke volumes: If this was merely casual, what could her expectation of their relationship be? Her children are bustling, unreadable balls of chaos; she looks exhausted, angry, and puzzled—all underpinned by guilt.
Vik himself is totally over the Noah’s ark (geddit) he has incidentally bought into, mulling that it feels like Helen has 11 children. The oldest is a withdrawn screw-up, the middle son is trying desperately to marshal order, and it seems only Stacey, the youngest, has miraculously kept any sweetness to her: Helen begs her not to become a teenager.
Armed with a sweet picture of Stacey’s (which Noah leaves on the table), Helen went to see her ex-husband, who was being patrolled by that menacing prison guard who may or may not be responsible for the cheek-gash and eye injury he sported this week, and an unseen wrist injury the last time Helen was there—and which freaked the kids out so much they didn’t want to come to jail to see him.
Noah told Helen he didn’t want to see her; he only wanted to see her if it meant seeing their kids. He sacrificed himself for her in court, so she believes he must love her; and she wondered aloud had it really been for their children he had done so, meaning that she wouldn’t go to jail.
He left the question hanging, she left her own thoughts hanging: She had so wanted him to say he had done it for her.
Helen’s new career is rooted in lying too; she’s a real-estate broker, more than willing to lie that her partner is not all she seems. She’s suffering huge personal tragedy, but still appears—just as the apartment she wants to encourage a couple to remodel for staging—sleek and shiny.
It’s a lie, encouraged by her colleague. For Helen, a lie based on appearances; a lie that emphasizes personal subterfuge and dissemblance is all too real. The lie, and the construction of the lie, is all too easy to craft.
More upset awaited Helen as she visited daughter Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles) and her older boyfriend Furkat (there was a lot of joking about that name). Furkat (Jonathan Cake), a ridiculously languid Brit in a show already packed with Brits playing Americans, sailed perilously close to the stereotype of exactly the kind of awful hipster photographer that would indeed live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in an apartment decked out entirely of his work—photographs of women’s breasts and vaginas.
Helen is in no mood for his pretension (she says “Furkat” in the nearest American proximity to “fur cat”), his more than vague creepiness, or her daughter totally giving herself over to him as an assistant at the expense of her own education.
Surely she wants more than to delightedly inform guests she is serving “Patagonian toothfish with caramelized shallots and kumquats.”
Whitney, Affair fans will be delighted to know, lives down to her most extreme brattiness by spitting out at Vik one of the best lines of the episode. “You’d have to bring your own waterboard to fuck them up more than my dad did,” she says of him becoming a parental figure to her siblings.
Helen remains racked by guilt that she was driving the car, not Noah. She invites Whitney to hate her, not him, but cannot tell her why.
Later, after another argument about trust and what their relationship is about, Vik does indeed move some shirts into Helen’s closet. And brings his cactus too. They promise not to lie to one another, and so clearly believe themselves to be in another TV show entirely.
Elsewhere, Alison’s train journey returned her to a very familiar platform: Montauk, site of many a dramatic Affair entrance and farewell. She looked miserable (so no surprises there—Alison’s face is set in a permanent silent scream), and in disguise.
She watched her daughter Joanie play from afar, and be picked up from school by her ex-husband Cole (Joshua Jackson), her father, who has made a go of local restaurant, the Lobster Roll. So many ghosts: This restaurant was the locale where “the affair” between Noah and Alison had taken seed, when Noah, Helen, and the kids had visited…
It turned out that Alison had signed over custody of Joanie when she went a little mad after believing—following a fever—Joanie would die, just as her son Gabriel did at the same age.
Cole and Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno) say she abdicated her responsibility as a mother and now cannot have Joanie back, and the only friendly face available to her is Oscar’s (Darren Goldstein). Oscar! The creep who has outcrept all creeps on the show has been reborn as a kindly pub sage. “All you need is a good lawyer,” he advised Alison, adding he is terrified of both her and Cole.
The only other comfort for Alison is a cache of letters Noah has sent Alison from prison, which she picks up from the local post office. And then Cole brings Joanie round for an hour-long visit. And Alison runs to her, one of those brief smiles fluttering—but still a character who is more acted upon than active; still a character bounced around by plot and circumstance, and seemingly without any agency of her own. She’s an adult defined by a fractured, child-like neediness. She disappears for six months because she felt like she had to. We should sympathize with that, but instead feel the validity of Luisa’s fury at her selfishness.
Still unknown is what happened to Noah and Alison’s relationship; what happened in jail; and whether Helen and Vik make it through the next few years, with his little cactus proudly installed on the bedside table.
That’s not a euphemism, but in a battle of spikiness between the cactus and Helen, I do not fancy that cactus’s chances.