TV: The Affair - Season 3 Episode 9 (Reviewed)

Learning to live with it

Completely shifting gears from last week’s episode, which focused on Cole and Allison’s ongoing, complicated relationship, the penultimate episode of the third and excellent season of The Affair focused on closing out Helen’s (Maura Tierney) arc, while answering some questions regarding Noah’s (Dominic West) troubling mental state.

As I mentioned last week, this season has been somewhat of a departure from the previous two: the mystery at the center of seasons one and two has been resolved, and the characters all seem to be headed in completely opposite directions. (There has, in fact, only been one episode that featured Noah and Allison - the two leads from whom the show gets its title - together, which is refreshing and quite ballsy.) Season three has largely been about the consequences each character faces from the choices they’ve made; the aftermath, as it were, and where they might go from here.

Helen is guilt-ridden over a crime she chose to cover up and Noah suffering from a major mental break after a three-year stint in prison. Tierney is fascinating to watch on screen as Helen. She’s an actress who successfully pulls off the trick of making a character likable and deplorable simultaneously. Noah, on the other hand, has been harder to sympathize with up until this season.

Admittedly, I never gave West enough credit for his performance. The genius of his portrayal of a tortured soul is that he convinces the audience - much like everyone around him within the show - that he’s one thing, when in fact he’s the opposite. Season two made it next to impossible for me to even care about Noah’s struggles. He had a brush with success that made him an insufferable jackass (to put it mildly), continued to hurt his family emotionally and with intent, yet he made a surprising sacrifice at the very end of last year’s finale.

Noah’s arc this year has been about peeling back layer after layer of his backstory, both as a young kid dealing with his mother’s cancer, and his stint in prison where he was beaten and harassed by a guard, John Gunther (Brendan Fraser, in a surprisingly menacing turn). What I, and likely the rest of the audience come to realize, is that West has played Noah this way all along and that whatever we thought we knew about the actor and his character cannot be trusted.

Dominic looks angry

It’s a nifty trick to pull off, and that duality is a strength of both Noah and Helen; clearly a joy for the actors to get to play. Unlike the previous seasons, season three of The Affair seems more comfortable leaving the characters’ stories unresolved; a possible set up for the fourth and (likely) final season. I admire this show’s ability to reinvent itself without sacrificing what it’s ultimately about. I was so intrigued by season one, but worried that it, like too many other shows, only had enough juice for one year. I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong.

-Matt Giles