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'The Affair' recap: Crash and burn

Part One: Helen

We open in a courtroom, where lawyer John is lighting in to Noah, mocking his inability to finish his book, questioning his loyalty to his family and using the term "paramour" to describe Alison, again and again.

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You might say that John is in the misery business.

John also alerts the judge that Noah has proposed to Alison, meaning that Whitney spilled the beans. I guess when she said, "I got you, Dad," she meant that differently than Noah took it.

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"Now maybe it's just me, but I have to ask why a man who claims to want shared custody of his four children, who claims that he can't afford suitable housing for these children, is spending money he does not have on a diamond engagement ring?" John tells the judge.

He has a point. Am I alone in never buying what the Noah character is selling? I see him as the villain of this story.

In making his case for Helen to receive custody, John lets it slip that Helen and the kids live in a brownstone, worth more than $3 million. Noah's lawyer points out that they are privileged enough to attend a private school.

There are significant financial matters that still need to be worked out in the terms of the divorce, despite Noah's earlier claims that he isn't after Helen's money. John tells Helen that he'll have to meet with her, her parents and their attorney, before their next court appearance.

"Are you going to be okay?" John asks Helen. "Maybe," she says. "If you stop saying paramour. I mean, what the f--- is that, John? You said it fourteen times."

They toss around some more vulgar terms that they could use to describe Alison, before parting. "I hate him so much," Helen says of Noah.

I don't blame her.

Helen gets a series of texts from Whitney, telling her to hurry home to deal with her mother. "Noah wants money," Helen tells her mom. "Were you going to ask how the hearing went or were you going to talk about your hairdo some more?" Helen says. "He's going for half of everything."

Helen says that they need to meet with her dad and their business manager, but that poses a problem. "I don't know where he is," her mother says. "The last I heard, he was in Tulsa, with his former student ... he says he's in love." Mother and daughter down a glass of wine together, then Margaret leaves with Whitney in tow.

Later, Helen is gathering laundry when Max shows up. This guy.

He has a cartoon-sized bouquet of flowers for Helen and asks about the hearing. He surprises her with plane tickets for a trip to Buenos Aires around the holidays, and Helen seems taken aback.

"You don't look happy," he says. Helen insists that she is happy, but says that she can't think that far in advance. Clearly Max is moving at a quicker pace than Helen is ready for.

Max tries to press the matter, telling Helen that the kids can stay with Noah while they're gone, and that he's given Noah money to help him get an apartment, to help hurry the divorce proceedings along, hopefully.

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Helen can't believe that he he gave Noah money and decides to pump the brakes. "Yeah, I can't do this," she says. "It's too fast and it's too confusing and it just makes it feel not right," she says.

Max says that he always thought that Helen was too good and too rich for him, ever since they met in college. He says that he knew she was too good for Noah, too, but then she married him anyway. But eventually, they found themselves together.

"I mean, here's this angel in my bed, who's also real and down to earth and funny ... turns out, I was right the first time," Max says. "No one is good enough for you. No one can make you f---ing happy," he finishes.

"Noah left me, Max," Helen fires back.

Speechless, Max leaves.

With the house to herself, Helen pours herself some more wine, cranks up some Lucinda Williams and starts singing along. She happens upon a pot lozenge that Max gave her some time ago, pops it, then decides to take a trip down to her store.

High and under the influence of the wine, Helen tries to sell some kind of oil and vinegar contraption to a befuddled customer. "Well, it's revolutionary. It will change the way you eat salad," she says. The customer leaves, horrified.

Helen heads over to a hair salon, where she starts opening up to her stylist. She tells her that no one she called for support showed up at her court hearing that morning. "You start to wonder who your friends really are," she says. "People just disappear. They evaporate," she continues, dramatically.

Helen goes on, giving her stylist completely too much information about her life, before she receives a call from Trevor. Helen has her days mixed up and is supposed to pick up her kids from somewhere. She runs out of the salon, foil still in her hair, pot still in her system. She runs to her car and is off to grab her children.

This is interesting decision-making.

Things are about to get significantly worse.

Helen picks up the kids, but still very manic, she gets into a fender-bender in a parking lot, with Stacey unbuckled in the back seat. Stacey seems relatively OK, with just a knot on her head, but Helen is in trouble.

A police officer arrives to investigate the accident. He asks for Helen's license. When Helen is retrieving it, she lets the officer see her pot vape pen in her purse. After a brief struggle, and thanks to Trevor having absolutely no chill at all, Helen ends up bumping the officer and being detained.

As she sits in the back of a police car, Noah arrives to get the kids. He asks her in vulgar terms whether or not she's lost her mind.

"Why are you doing this to us?" she replies.

Helen sits in a holding cell, later, peeling the foil out of her hair.

Part Two: Noah

In court, against his lawyer's objections, Noah tells the judge that he plans to have Alison living with him, at least when his kids aren't there. "I'd never force her on my kids," he says.

The judge takes that matter out of his hands, issuing an order that Alison not have contact with any of the children until the order is lifted.

The judge urges Noah and Helen to come to a custody agreement before the next court date, which he sets eight weeks away. "I hope not to see you then," he says.

Noah meets Alison for lunch, and she shows him some places that she's been looking at with a realtor. Alison is excited at the prospect of sharing a new place with Noah, but he shuts her down quickly.

"I don't think we can live together," Noah tells her. "Just for now, for right now." He then tells her about the court order. "It's temporary, Al. It's just months. Then we have our whole lives together," he tries to assure her.

"I need you. Don't you get that? I don't want to be alone," Alison says. "Maybe we give Helen what she wants. Maybe the kids can come on weekends," Alison says. Noah is put off that she would suggest such a thing. He leaves the lunch without a resolution, when, in his memory of events, he gets a call from Helen to come to the scene of the accident.

In this version of the story, Helen is significantly more impaired and Stacey's head injury is more severe.

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Noah takes the kids back to the brownstone. He sees the laundry that Helen was gathering scattered about and Max's flowers, roses in this version. He starts drawing some conclusions about what had been going on there, especially after seeing two wine glasses in the bedroom. His imagination continues to run wild.

He gathers Martin, Trevor and Stacey, and decides to take them to visit Nina, his sister.
When they arrive at Nina's, her husband greets Noah and the kids in the driveway. The brother-in-law warns Noah that his father is there as well.

Inside, Martin and Noah's dad are watching a Yankees game. Noah walks in and Martin bails, leaving Noah to make uncomfortable small talk with his dad. There are clearly a lot of unresolved issues just beneath the surface here.

Noah's dad tells a story of passing up an opportunity to cheat on his mother, when his mother was older and facing physical challenges, and had even received her blessing. "Because I loved her," his dad says, letting his son know that he doesn't approve of his recent choices.

Noah leaves the room and goes off to find Nina. Nina tells a story of Helen's first visit there, when she turned up her nose at the wine Nina offered her, putting Noah at ease. They talk about Helen's DWI arrest. Noah says it's the best thing that could have happened to him. "If I wanted to go for full custody, I bet you I'd have a chance," he says.

Noah tells Nina that John had tried to make him seem uncaring in court that morning. "Surprise! I care a lot," Noah says. "So then, act like it!" Nina tells her brother. "You're going to take these kids away from their mother? On top of everything?"

She insists that Noah probably doesn't want the kids all of the time, that he really wants to live with Alison and that he should do what's best for them and give Helen what she wants. Noah doesn't want to hear that, even though deep down I think he knows it to be true, and tells Nina that they're leaving.

"You tell Helen I'm sorry," Noah's dad says, as he grabs the kids and storms out. He takes them to a motel, where it becomes even more clear that he isn't cut out for taking care of his children. Martin ends up doubled over on the bathroom floor with stomach pains, while Alison tries to talk Noah through what to do on the phone.

Later, with Martin's pains subside, he falls asleep next to Noah on the motel bed. Trevor and Stacey are asleep on the other bed. With the television in the room glowing, Noah calls Alison. "God, I miss you," he says. Alison tells him that she's in the parking lot.

He goes outside and they split a six pack.

"What's going to happen to us?" Alison asks.

Noah doesn't answer.

Epilogue

In court in Montauk, now representing Noah, John argues for a change of venue for Noah's trial. The prosecution counters that, with a large potential jury pool, Noah could absolutely get a fair trial there, and that their offer of a plea to criminally negligent homicide still stands. If Noah were to take the deal, he would face one to three years in prison.

"The motion for change of venue is denied," the judge says.

Noah will face trial in Montauk in four months.

Final thoughts

This was a fine Maura Tierney showcase episode. It seems to me that as successful shows go along, that there's a certain deference paid to its biggest stars, whether through a producer's credit or a fancier wardrobe. Look at the later seasons of "Friends," for example, when it looked like each character had been styled and dressed professionally. That didn't exactly fit with the six pals scraping out a living in Manhattan story, did it?

I give Tierney kudos for allowing herself to be portrayed in a vulnerable, embarrassing and messy way. It was a great performance, and one that I haven't come to expect form an actor of her stature.

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