After the storm, the calm. Ish.
Last week on The Affair, Noah (Dominic West) missed the birth of his daughter Joanie because he was at a party drenched in drugs, booze, and self-love that culminated with him perving on his daughter Whitney (Julia Goldani Selles) in a lesbian clinch. This week, we found him—thank goodness, about time—on a therapist’s couch.
Before we met him there, the show—back to its traditional dual character perspective structure, with glimpses into the future and past—began with one of the former, and Noah and Alison (Ruth Wilson) running the gantlet of the cameras on the opening day of the Scotty Lockhart (Colin Donnell) murder trial.
“Sign my book” and “Fuck you, Solloway,” voiced by crowd members, summed up Noah’s double-edged fame—he wrote his autobiographical novel, Descent, with the trial happening in its setting, and its population was seething at their depiction.
Back in the past, the therapist was played by Cynthia Nixon (Miranda from Sex and the City), and it was a year after the events of the stormy night of Joanie’s birth.
Noah was no longer the party-feted novelist but trying to make up for his douchebaggery by attending these couples’ therapy sessions with Alison (Ruth Wilson).
He was teaching creative writing and working on a new book. After the crisis that led them to therapy, he felt he and Alison were now doing OK. He did not know his baby may not be his but Alison’s ex Cole’s (Joshua Jackson).
The breakneck pace of last week’s cavalcade of shocks gave way to an opening half-hour that was a two-way discussion between Noah and the therapist.
We learned that Helen (Maura Tierney) and Daily Beast swoon-swoon-swoon favorite Vik (Dr. Ullah, played by Omar Metwally) were on safari in Africa, which made anyone with a pulse and feelings briefly think of Dr. Ullah in shorts and a summer shirt, or waking—with a film of sweat—beneath a single sheet under a mosquito net, his back arching as sunlight streamed on to his smooth skin, and his eyes fluttered…
Erm, anyway, so Noah wondered why he couldn’t tell Alison—now studying to be a doctor—that his divorce from Helen had come through two weeks earlier.
Fatherhood was suiting him, he said mordantly, despite the lack of sleep and trying to be a good house-husband—and that Joanie had not said “Dad-da” yet. All about him, folks, all about him, all the time.
The therapist noted that Noah dwelled on the scornful looks he felt he had received from three key women in his life at different times, which led Noah to remark that he was considering sleeping with one of his students, that he had thought of sleeping with his publicist, and that he perved on Whitney. “I’m a terrible, terrible, sick, bad guy,” he said.
The audience said yes.
Noah said his behavior had made him want to die—he hadn’t seen Whitney since.
But Noah was combative, as well as regretful. He talked about his father, who did not commit adultery but was a terrible husband in other ways, as his sick wife needed care, which Noah helped supply—and just because Noah cheated on Helen, he was perceived as the villain.
Perhaps Noah’s skepticism of fidelity was rooted in this knowledge of, and bitterness toward, his father, the therapist suggested.
Noah noted that Helen read the obituaries to see who loved and was loved, whereas he looked at the person’s achievements—what makes a life, he wondered.
His new book, he said, was focusing on World War II military hero Omar Bradley—would Bradley’s achievements be deemed less than if he turned out to have committed adultery with Marlene Dietrich?
If Bradley had been simply a good husband and stayed home, would he have been such a brilliant military technician? Is it possible, Noah wondered, to be a good man, and a great one?
He mulled the examples of Jefferson, Hamilton, Picasso, and Hemingway—all great men, all cheaters. They did what they wanted, and were brilliant.
Good grief, this viewer thought, you are so none of those men, Noah Solloway. But you have a great ass.
Noah said he wanted to be a good husband and father, but also to go to France, research Bradley’s life, and fuck a lot of women. He just didn’t want to be dishonest about this intention.
Miranda from Sex and the City—who we all know has Steve at home waiting for her, so why on earth should she listen to this vain scumbag prattle on?—gently reminded Noah to think of the great men who were not rampant adulterers; and also that the rampant adulterers she saw were all desperately ordinary, too. Adultery does not a great man make.
Still, she congratulated Noah for seeing the session out without Alison, leading Noah to ask the still-unanswerable, “Who am I?”
At home, he found Alison washing up, apologetic for missing the session, and they continued cleaning plates in companionable harmony—two secrets between them (hers over the possible paternity of Joanie, his over his desire to be a culturally ennobled man-whore).
Another glimpse of the future saw Richard Schiff’s lawyer character address the courtroom, filled with a full retinue of scary Lockharts giving him severe look-daggers.
This lawyer noted a key feature of The Affair itself: the need we all have for stories to have proper endings, and how in this lawyer’s version Noah is a scapegoat, and in fact is a committed husband and father, and hard-working teacher—all of which we snorted at knowing what we know.
In Alison’s version of the day, she missed the therapy appointment after her own day took an unsettling diversion. Taking care of Joanie’s disturbed nights was one factor to her not feeling she could do the necessary study to become a doctor.
She left a key lecture and came across a drug-dealing, skeevy Scotty, who wanted money from her to buy into his plan to convert The Lobster Roll—now on the skids—into a nightclub.
Scotty seemed as askew as always (Was he on drugs? Alison asked), and he angrily insisted that Noah owed him money given all the trouble Descent had caused in Montauk.
When Scotty saw Joanie—and noting the nanny’s casual remark that Joanie looked like her daddy—Alison caught his expression of recognition: He immediately connected Joanie to the night Alison and Cole had sex, which he interrupted.
(By the way, The Affair is terrible with black characters: In this episode black actors played a nanny and barman, respectively.)
Spooked, Alison arranged to meet Cole—he was now living in Brooklyn with Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno). But she didn’t tell him that he might be the father of Joanie. He seemed happy, and it was a nice meeting, until Luisa arrived. She was polite but cool (“This is good for him,” she commandingly told Alison about Cole’s move to the city), and Alison skedaddled.
When Alison returned home in her version, it was not night—as Noah imagined—but daytime. Noah’s kids were there. They weren’t in his. And he had cooked, rather than he coming home to Alison cleaning up, as he imagined.
In her version, Noah told Alison he had left the therapy session after her no-show and gone to see Captain America, the kind of heroic character he could never be in any conceivable aspiration. He suggested they quit therapy, implying—he did stay, as he imagined—that the session was far too penetrating for him.
They agreed they were happy. Then during sex, the baby monitor recorded Joanie saying “Dad-da” for the first time.
In the future, finally, Noah’s lawyer finally got the results of Joanie’s paternity—sequestered via Helen’s surreptitious theft of her pacifier—but what those results were we will have to wait and see.
The lawyer’s “My oh my oh my” might imply the child is Cole’s. The rumbling theme of this episode—who’s the daddy, and what makes the daddy—came into its sharpest focus before the screen flashed to black.
If Noah is not Joanie’s father, the relative peace and quiet of Episode 10 will be blown to rancorous smithereens next week—even if the fallout helps Noah get off the murder charge.
Anyway, I really think—like surely many of you—Dr. Ullah could be key to this whole thing. I think we all need Dr. Ullah back from safari now/yesterday.