Part One: Helen
This week on "The Affair," Helen packs up the kids and heads to her parents' house on Montauk, returning to the scene of her crime — and the center of the most impactful moments in this show's history.
Helen's mom and dad ask about Vic and tell her that they were impressed with his class at the dinner they shared. "Does he practice yoga? He looks like the kind of person who practices yoga," her mom says, while practicing yoga herself. "Vic left me," Helen says matter-of-factly.
Her mom springs up to hug and console her, startling Helen. Her mom apologizes for failing her as a parent, and her dad announces that they've been seeing a therapist, which would explain the hugging and the yoga. "He's made us see we're responsible for how utterly disastrous your life has turned out," her mom says, in a way that only the most self-righteous people can.
They offer to help in any way they can, and Helen responds by calling the kids over to take them to the Lobster Roll for lunch. While there, Helen grabs some pies with Cole's mom's face splashed across the labeling, furthering the weird connection her family has with the Lockharts.
Back at home, over dinner with the family, Helen's parents continue their intrusion into Helen's relationship with Vic, urging her to patch it up with him. While the verbal shots are fired, Stacey lets slip that Vic was mad at Helen because she allowed Noah back into the house, which sets everyone at the table off.
While her parents pass judgment and Helen fires back at them, Martin notices that Stacey is in tears, which halts the argument. "I'm sorry, Mommy. I'm sorry," Stacey says. "No, I am," Helen says. "You didn't do anything wrong. And neither did your dad."
"It was me. I hit Scotty Lockhart. I was driving. It was an accident. I don't know what I was thinking. I'm sorry I lied, but I can't keep lying. I'm sorry. I need you all to know," Helen says, stunning the table. "And I need the Lockharts to know. I mean, his poor mother. ... I have to tell her."
Before she can do anything hasty, her parents usher her to their panic room, to try to calm her down. ("What do you need a panic room for?" Helen asks, adding some levity to the grave scene.) "Please listen to me. I killed someone," Helen says, before her mother slaps her across the face. "Don't you ever say that again," she says.
"It would be truly selfish if you confessed," her mother continues. While her parents try to talk her off the ledge, Helen escapes the room, shutting her parents in, and runs off to deal with her guilt. She drives to the Lockhart family home and stops outside, remembering the night Scotty died. But rather than face the music, Helen drives off, and heads to a bar.
While drowning her sorrows, Alison sees Helen; it's their encounter from last episode, this time from Helen's point of view. "You stole my husband. Are you even sorry?" Helen asks, while Alison orders them a couple of drinks. Alison explains that while she doesn't feel solely responsible for everything that happened between them, she doesn't like that she caused anyone pain. "But how much of that matters now?" she asks.
"It matters to me. A lot," Helen says, with her liquid courage kicking in. Things escalate a bit more before Helen starts feeling some remorse, and she apologizes. Alison waxes philosophically about the person she was when she met Noah, how Joanie changed her, and how now she sees that nothing lasts forever. "And everyone — you, me, Noah — we can only control our own choices," she says. "We can't save each other. We can only save ourselves."
"I have to tell you something about the night Scott died," Helen says, preparing to confess. "No you don't. I know," Alison says. Alison explains that she was there — that Scotty was attacking her that night and she pushed him in to the road, causing Helen to stammer and curse.
Helen insists they go to Scotty's mom's house right then to tell her the truth, but Alison says that won't do any good at this point. She says that Scotty was troubled, trying his best to harm her. "Take care of yourself, Helen," Alison says, and steps away.
Helen leaves the bar and goes back to the Lockhart house. She sits outside, torturing herself and crying, but, presumably, she doesn't go inside.
We see Helen outside of Vic's hospital the next day, waiting for him to arrive for work. She stops him, trying to explain herself. She has pictured herself as a good person her hole life, but now she knows that's not true. "No, it's not. Goodbye," Vic says. He tries to walk away, but Helen stops him. "I killed Scott Lockhart," she blurts out. "It wasn't Noah. I was driving, because he was drunk."
Helen continues explaining, saying that Vic was right — she had been lying to everyone, including herself. She says that she was scared to go to prison, and she thought that Noah deserved punishment for ruining her life. She let Noah back in because she felt that she owed him, not because she loved him, Helen explained, and she needed to let Vic know that.
"OK, thank you, I guess," Vic says. He starts inside, but Helen has more for him. "I don't know how to live with this," she says, looking for a push in one direction or another. "You just do," Vic says. Wow, not very helpful, doc.
He says he'll find Helen after work, and I guess we'll have to see how their relationship plays out.
Part Two: Noah
Noah is stalking Gunther's wife, naturally. He goes to her hair salon and asks for a haircut, but she insists she has to get home to get dinner ready. Noah follows her home, wearing his best stalking outfit. This dude makes my skin crawl under normal circumstances, and now he's following women home from work? Great.
Noah knocks on the door at the Gunther residence, and a child answers. The boy has special needs and is clearly confused by Noah's presence, and his insistence on speaking to Gunther. His wife comes to the door and freaks out, seeing that Noah followed her home.
Gunther steps outside and recognizes Noah, asking him what he wants. Noah confronts him, asking why Gunther's been stalking him and why he came to his house and hit him with his car. Gunther insists that he hasn't seen Noah since prison, and asks him to take a walk, grab a beer and talk things through.
Noah pulls a knife, which he says he got from his mother, and continues about how Gunther is jealous of him and has been trying to kill him. Gunther grabs the knife from Noah, throws it away, and puts him in a chokehold. He tells Noah to walk away, to leave his family alone, and to get some help.
Noah sees that his hands, which Noah thinks that he slashed with a knife the day before, aren't scarred. He picks up the knife and runs away, with voices and visions in his head.
As Noah drifts off on a train, a prison flashback comes up. He recalls Gunther reading his manuscript to him, including a passage where Noah describes scheming a way to make his mother's death look like an accident. "He had the kind of charm that was irresistible. He could convince anyone to do almost anything," Gunther reads. "So he set about finding a way to convince his mother that she wanted to die."
Did Noah kill his mother? We have heard him claim that he assisted her suicide, but did he actually murder her?
Gunther keeps reading, describing how Noah swapped out his mom's pain medication with sugar pills to convince her that the end was near. The text continues with Noah grinding up the pills that ended his mother's life, but he insists that she asked him to.
"If we go with your interpretation of the truth, it was mercy," Gunther says. "If we go with my belief, it's murder." The conversation moves to Noah's then-current sentence, and why he ended up there. "I took the fall for my wife ... because I had an affair," Noah explains. "I met a girl, thought I could save her." "
And you needed to save her, because you murdered your mother," Gunther says.
Noah's vision ends, and he arrives back at his apartment. He ignores the crime scene tape around his door and enters the residence. He pulls his knife out and heads to the kitchen, where his blood stained the floor. He steps to the sink, and rinses the wound on his hand, the one that he thought he had inflicted on Gunther.
He stares at Gunther's reflection in the window, but turns around and finds no one there. He has a vision of his father chasing him through the woods at the lake house, asking him again and again, "Noah, what did you do?"
He holds the knife to his throat and flashes back to stabbing himself in the neck, before dropping the blade in the sink and dropping to the floor in tears.
Helen's story was fascinating; we got to see her wrestling with her guilt in a much deeper way than we had to this point.
The big reveal that Noah probably killed his mother was definitely more of a payoff than learning that Gunther's stalking was imagined, which we knew almost from the beginning. What are we to make of this?
It makes sense that these characters would need to spend years dealing with the ramifications of their awful collective decision-making, and the twist that Noah has even more to answer for only adds to that.
If this season's purpose was to lay the groundwork for more interesting storytelling in the future, I'm willing to give the show a clean slate going forward. Follow-up is key, though, and we're going to need some fresh material. I'm not all that interested in seeing Noah wrestle with something from his childhood, no matter how horrific.
Maura Tierney's work here was stellar as usual, but I want to shout out Dominic West for doing some fine acting. I find his performances to be far more uneven than those of his castmates, but he did great work here — even if the material was suspect.
What rabbits are there left to pull out of the hat in the season finale?