Part I: Drew
Man, did you miss The Affair, Vinnie? I can’t tell if I did or not. Mainly because my memory of last season goes: “Something, something, Carmine Falcone’s still summering in Montauk (totally plausible), something, A+ Franzen joke, something, OH MY GOD IS HE GOING TO SLEEP WITH HIS DAUGHTER?, something, kid with appendicitis, something, great episode with Maura Tierney and a pot lozenge, something else, Scotty doing a great “Chris Isaak in a David Lynch movie” impression, something, *mock fart*, and then “HOLY SHIT! THAT ENDING!”
That was literally the whole second season, as best as I could remember it. I mean, there were like eight solid Franzen burns total, but I condensed it.
This is NOT the show that we returned to. But before we get to that second half of the episode, which didn’t take a different narrative gaze so much as became a MUCH MORE HORRIFYING SHOW, let’s just go over the parts that I wrote before I watched Dominic West (spoiler alert) SLIT HIS OWN GODDAMN THROAT in a shitty, off-campus apartment at…I want to say Rutgers? I know you went there, Vin, but I’m pretty sure it’s Rutgers. No offense. It’ll be fun, because my notes for the first half of this premiere have a drastically different tone than my notes from the second half, which is a kind of fun mirror to the approach Sarah Treem has taken to the final season of “Noah Solloway experiences what it’s like to be a woman when he is (probably?) prison-raped, but then is still somehow terrible at not being a misogynist pig to his students.”
Interestingly, the “previously on” playback at the top of the show didn’t make it at all clear what the stakes were for Noah Salloway or his extended dysfunctional family. So if you’ve never seen the show before, but accidentally taped this episode, here’s what you’ll see: that Noah takes the fall for Helen, but not the part where Alison pushes Scottie into the street, inadvertently causing the hit-and-run. As best I remember it, Noah’s falling on his own pen (get it? Because it’s mightier than the swo…*MOCK FART*) and confessing to MURDERING his brother-in-law worked not because it was the right thing to do–obviously, manslaughter 2 for Helen, even with her DUI for “pot driving in a school parking lot,” would carry a far less serious sentence than Murder, especially if it was established that Scotty was thrown in front of the car by a push from the former sister-in-law he was trying to rape–but because it was the heroic and noble thing to do.
Which is idiotic. But Noah Solloway is a man whose story of self is more important than just about anything. He needs to prove that he’s a good guy, willing to sacrifice himself for the women he loved, even though he’s actually just a pretentious, doleful idiot with a giant hard-on for anything in a skirt. Noah Sollaway would be a tragic-comic figure if this show took itself only slightly less seriously. (Serious note: I…wrote this having seen the first half of the show. My god. Why couldn’t the above just remained true??? I miss how naive I was, thirty minutes ago.)
But because this is The Affair, we aren’t allowed to find it funny that we open on a bearded Noah, staring across a NEW table at a NEW woman (with a terrible secret between them? Who knows!) (okay, it becomes clear that’s Noah’s sister, but was she EVER in the show before?) (asking for a friend), the immediately cuts to our main character–a writer!–not having prepared anything for father’s funeral. My god, his face when the priest (or whatever) calls on him during the service. Whoopsie-doodles!
Let’s talk about how terrible that speech was by the way. It started with the world’s most generic anecdote about fishing on a lake, then immediately calls out his sister for a) having a better relationship with their dad because she was more “his type” and b) abandoning the family. (Or something?) Then it ends with a classic Solloway shrug of “To be honest, I didn’t really know my dad. Kay, byeeeee!”
Look, I’m not saying funeral speeches are easy, but Noah looks like he was informed his father had passed away somewhere during the actual service.
Also, Noah’s dad’s favorite song that he requested at his funeral was “Take me out to the ball game.” A solid reminder that Showtime programs aren’t spending money on the rights to Radiohead albums (since the song is free to use under Public Domain.)
We also find out it’s been three years that Noah spent in jail, and three months since he’s been out. Which doesn’t explain why all his children are still pre-pubescent. (Plus, there seems to be more of them now?) Helen is still kind of thirsty for him, especially since Noah went to prison for her (hawt), but he rejects her in a cool “I don’t know, I guess maybe one day I’ll get around to talking to our children and taking an active interest in their lives, but in the meantime I need to go eat a lot of muscle relaxants and get berated by a friend of the family near the sympathy lasagna. Puh-puh-peace!”
Oh yeah, and his son, Martin, with the impacted bowels is STILL NOT OVER IT.
Though to be fair, Martin started this show as a piece of shit who liked to fake his own death, a la Harold and Maude. So I don’t know how much we can blame Noah for Martin’s increasingly antisocial behavior.
As shitty as life is for Professor Womp-Womp, we shouldn’t forget that Noah still exists in a fantasy land of white male privilege, where you are allowed to teach college courses to nubile young collegiates (which should be illegal for Noah, regardless, because that dude is a creeper) after spending only three years in prison for MURDER WITH INTENTION. (Because remember, the case against Noah wasn’t that he just accidentally ran down Scotty, it was that he purposefully murdered him, which was bolstered by Oscar’s claim that Noah had become aware that he was not the father of Alison’s child, and mistakenly thought Scotty, not Cole, to be the culprit.)
Three months out of prison, and this convicted felon is a professor. Who is allowed to shirk any sort of financial or parental responsibility and openly mock his students for their “very dull” prose, which reveal how “unoriginal (their) inner life really is.” Says the guy who literally has PTSD about dudes in trucker hats.
Oh also? Noah’s dad left him the house in his will, even though it was his sister, Rita, who spent the final years taking care of him. No biggie! Just another gift from the heavens for Mr. Mock Fart. (Not to say anything of the cash we can assume Noah is getting from his book sales, which were already doing gangbusters before their author was convicted in a high-profile, sensationalist murder case.)
So forgive me, but can we assume that Noah Solloway’s life is, even in its darkest moments, a million times better than my best days? If only I could grow a beard….
But wait! The second half of this episode reveals that Noah isn’t the same piece of entitled garbage masquerading as a guy in your MFA as he appeared. Prison HAS changed him! We see in a flashback that at first, he even liked being in jail, which is apparently not too unlike a writer’s retreat? (Oy jesus, this guy.) But after eviscerating one of his student’s for her “diary entry” paper and then randomly waking up in a French professor’s lecture about Merlin (who was apparently the main character in Stephen King’s The Dark Half, who knew?), we see that Noah’s skittishness, and the trucker hatted-figure he imagines lurking behind every tree–and literally, like EVERY tree–is somehow tied to an experience he had with a guard while incarcerated.
Is this interesting? I don’t know. The fact that on the one hand, Noah can have open disdain for his students rallying for safe spaces, and on the other, desperately crave the loss of his own protected status as a powerful white male author, seems to touch on something more important than the show has dealt with before.
Side-note: I am SO so very glad I’m not in college anymore and, with any luck, will never attend a dinner party where any college-age students are in attendance. Woof.
Part II: Vinnie
First all: That is definitely NOT Rutgers. Rutgers is not a “famous University”, unless you count that time our basketball coach was throwing balls at the players, and our French Medieval Literature professor didn’t so much “organize dinner parties” as much as she “sold us weed behind the Grease Trucks.”
And second of all: Holy Bearded Solloway, Drew, The Affair just went from zero to disorienting throat-slashing nightmare in less time than it apparently takes a convicted murderer to find a full-time Creative Writing position at Princeton (TCNJ? Doesn’t matter). This isn’t our same-old Affair, where Noah Solloway was slipping on banana peels and falling into his own daughter during hurricane hot-tub sex parties. This is, much like Brendan Fraser, a much more terrifying version of its former pleasant self.
As a coping mechanism, and because my millennial brain is fueled entirely by jelly beans and fan theories I read on Reddit, I am going to recap this episode under the assumption that season 3 of The Affair is utilizing the EXACT same plot twist as Mr. Robot season 2. That’s right, Noah Solloway is still in jail, and everything we’re seeing is altered by his tortured, fracturing mind.
I mean, if you think about it way too hard–and sort of ignore how the criminal justice system operates on any level–it almost makes sense. I see it like this: Noah was released from prison for a day, just one day, to attend his father’s funeral. He assumed, rightfully, that he wouldn’t be allowed to speak at the ceremony–he’s still an incarcerated felon, after all–which is why his eulogy was so awkward, terrible, and relied a bit too heavily on pointing out his sister was his father’s “type.” Which is gross, but prison changes a man.
Look at Noah’s conversation with Helen. “What about us?” Helen asks.
“What about us?” Noah responds, which seems cold-blooded, but makes more sense when you realize Noah is genuinely confused. “What about us?” is what Noah said, but what he clearly meant was “Helen, I’m still in prison.”
The next day, after Noah’s brother-in-law explodes when he finds out Noah was given a house in his father’s will (rightfully so…what does Noah need a house for? He’s still in prison), it’s back to the Big House for Noah, where he teaches a Creative Writing class for other inmates (Which is totally a real thing). Notice the exact moment Audrey begins to cry as Noah critiques her story. It’s right after he says, “Better yet, leave campus.” But she CAN’T leave campus. Because campus is jail.
That mysterious, hat-wearing man Noah keeps seeing around school? Not so mysterious! He’s not a hallucination, either, he’s just a prison guard walking around doing his job. (My theory is supported by the fact the prison guard is played by Brendan Fraser, who we all know has been in jail since 2008 for the crime of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.) Plus, that hat style sure looks familiar:
Also, take a look at that dinner-party which, surprise surprise, was attended by a number of the same people in Noah’s Creative Writing class. Take a second look at that loooooong conversation, which was filled with some truly terrible opinions. “All this talk of consent is demoralizing” is something a dumb liberal arts college sophomore would say, yes, but it’s ALSO something someone would say if they’re currently in jail for sexual assault.
Finally, pay EXTRA close attention to what Juliette says to Noah, up in her bedroom, when she’s talking about the French author who wrote his great work while incarcerated. She says, “You’re in good company.”
So, taking everything, all of what I just wrote plus the scene where Noah tells Helen that being locked up is basically like a “writer’s retreat”, and the result is my latest Random, Outlandish The Affair Theory of The Week: Noah is in jail, working on his next book–”The Autobiography of Jack Hunter”–and everything we’re seeing is him rationalizing and compiling the experience to help finish the work. I mean, when Noah finished his first masterpiece, Descent, he was stuck in a boring after-school program as punishment for having sex in a classroom, so imagine how great THIS book is going to be.
As for that final scene–which I should point out was as dimly lit and claustrophobic as Noah’s flashback to prison–I think the explanation is pretty clear…prison shank. I mean, come on. Got to be prison shank. If you had to spend your sentence in any proximity to Noah Solloway, would you NOT shank him with a sharpened tooth brush?
Now, if anyone needs me, I’ll be hiding in our Westworld recaps, because that show is also bloody and depressing but everyone’s a robot so it’s kind of okay. Actually, that’s not a terrible Affair theory…