The Affair, Season 2, Episode 1: “201″
Written by Sarah Treem
Directed by Jeffrey Reiner
Airs Sundays at 10 pm ET on Showtime
The first season of The Affair focused on the budding relationship between Noah Solloway and Alison Bailey, two individuals going through individual troubles who engaged in an extramarital affair with each other, resulting in the dissolution of both their marriages. The second season premiere picks up more or less where the first left off, but shifts the focus to the divorce of the Solloways and how it affects Noah, Helen, and those around them, particularly their children. The writers shift the perspective from Alison to Helen, allowing for a stronger episode in the process in a solid return for the series.
Watching Noah cope with the divorce is a fascinating aspect of the season premiere. Much of the first season put the focus on the relationship between Noah and Alison, and the mindset both individuals were in when they decided to cheat on their respective spouses. The premiere, however, by showing the fallout from the divorce proceedings, allows the audience to see a different side of Noah, the one that’s concerned about his immediate family and is trying to juggle the different stresses of his life. The first season made it apparent that it was his relationship with Helen and her parents that caused Noah to seek an affair with Alison, but this episode highlights all the reasons he liked his family, namely his children. With circumstances keeping him away from his children, whether it’s his current arrangement or the interference of Helen’s mother, it’ll be worth seeing how this weighs on Noah as the season continues. Noah is not only already losing time spent with his kids, they’re turning on him and getting ill in his absence, neither of which he can have an active hand in diminishing in his current situation. Between those and the conflict over the ending of his book, Noah’s relationship with Alison seems to be the only calming, smooth thing in his life right now. The chances of that being the case, however, are slim, particularly if he perceives the relationship with Alison as being the thing that keeps Noah from seeing his children, as his perception of his interaction with Helen on the street suggests. How he reacts to this and the pushback on the ending to his book, and how it affects his relationship with Alison, will be developments worth following.
The focus on the divorce is especially illuminating in showing Helen’s viewpoint for the first time in the show’s run. While Noah’s growing unhappiness in the marriage has been illustrated, it was clear last season even from Noah’s perspective that that dissolution of the marriage came as a shock to Helen. Watching how she copes will thus be a promising aspect to the season, one that the premiere does realise, to an extent. Helen feeling both abandoned in having to take care of four children on her own, and the subject of heated gossip and curious questions, is a good glimpse into her mindset and how she views Noah. It is, however, very interesting to note that they each blame the other for the breakdown of the joint custody talks. Helen’s perspective in this is perfectly understandable, given that she’s now raising all four children with no assistance from anyone else, and her mother hindering things to boot. The fact that she can’t get assistance from Noah now, when she needs it most, makes both the reason and the promise of future distribution of duties both irrelevant. As the season continues and Helen continues to feel more isolated, it will be intriguing to see how she responds. While her own affair with Max is giving her some degree of comfort and a shoulder to lean on, he is not going to be around all the time, especially given the fact that the children are still not fully adjusted to the idea of the divorce, let alone the idea that either parent may be in a new relationship. Thus, Helen will be on her own for longer than she’d like to be, and how that affects her perspective on Noah is a storyline with promise.
Overall, this is a strong return for the series. Despite Ruth Wilson’s strong performance in the first season, the shift in viewpoints to allow for Helen’s perspective is to the show’s benefit, not only because it allows for a richer portrayal of the character, but also because it allows the show to take better advantage of Maura Tierney’s talents. Helen’s relationship with Max is an intriguing turn for the show to take with regards to the character, as last season showed both that Max is a philanderer and was aware of Noah’s relationship with Alison before Helen was. His unexpected appearance at the benefit to support Helen, and his deflection of the spotlight away from her, could either be indicative of a change in her demeanour, or the difference in how he conducts himself around Noah and Helen. Even if he has left his philandering ways behind, however, how Helen reacts to the knowledge that he kept Noah’s affair from her for however brief a time, given that the three of them were longtime friends, will say a lot about how Helen is adjusting to men following Noah cheating on her. It’s worth noting that, despite their differing outlooks on their respective situations, both Noah and Helen see Margaret as more of a hindrance than a help, though in varying degrees. While Noah and Margaret’s antagonistic nature has been well-documented, the stress in Helen’s life may cause her to ironically see her own mother in a similar light to the way Noah views her, particularly if she continues being a source of conflict. Helen viewing Noah as disrespecting her shop’s profits, and Noah seeing Helen as disrespecting the profitability of his book, is wonderfully frustrating in how it shows both individuals having similar problems with each other that could perhaps have been solved by open lines of communication. The season is off to a fine start, and how things progress from here will be worth seeing.