A few thoughts on last night’s episode:
Could Helen’s parents be more insufferable? (said in my most indignant Chandler voice). Seriously, you’d think old people would be able to get a divorce without acting like children. I don’t know who is worse: Helen’s horrible bitchy mother, who seems to think trash-talking about Noah is an effective parenting method, or her adulterous father, who can’t imagine anyone can refuse a pay off. Jeez.
Helen and her mother can obviously afford a $300-an-hour therapist for Martin, who instantly proclaims his symptoms are psychosomatic, but don’t even consider getting a second opinion from an actual doctor other than a (presumably equally expensive) pediatrician, after two months of severe abdominal pain and vomiting? Also, how incompetent are these doctors that can’t diagnose actual medical problems? Crohn’s disease might be easy to miss, but a perforated bowel sure isn’t. is this entire story arc supposed to make us like Noah more, seeing as he (and Alison) had the right idea about taking the poor kid to a hospital all along?
The fact that it took a big scare like Martin’s emergency surgery and subsequent diagnosis with an auto-immune disease to make Helen and Noah finally talk about their divorce in a civilized manner is par for the course. It’s also quite realistic, even if Helen’s complete 180 on the matter of shared custody seems extreme at first glance. But when she eventually explodes on her mother, it makes perfect sense. It’s in human nature to look for someone to blame when things fall apart; Helen wasn’t wrong to blame Noah for their divorce – he’s the one who had an affair, after all. Having realized that he’s not the incompetent father her mother kept making him out to be, she needs to blame someone else, and her mother fits the bill perfectly.
I don’t know if she was motivated by genuine dislike for her son-in-law or if it’s because she saw in him the man her husband eventually became, but her insistence on blaming Noah for everything, even Martin’s ill health, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Helen’s outburst, although slightly unfair, is completely understandable. If she hadn’t allowed her mother to poison her against Noah for years, their marriage could have had a shot. Unfortunately, the timing for this confrontation is awful: you don’t tell your own mother you hate her on the same day your father announced he’s divorcing her.
Switching to Noah’s perspective, he seems perfectly content with this temporary arrangement. He and Helen get to play house with their kids for a few days, while Martin recovers from the operation, almost like the good old days. Helen even goes out of her way to accommodate Noah, allowing him to stay at the house while she goes away for the weekend, as the kids aren’t too keen on getting crammed into his new apartment.
Noah’s good mood doesn’t last very long: after six long weeks without seeing Alison, he arrives at a… what is this place, exactly? The signs suggest it’s a yoga retreat, but in Noah’s mind it’s probably more along the lines of nudist colony meets spiritual mumbo-jumbo. Whatever it is, her crackpot mother is involved, as is eating quinoa, attending reiki seminars, working on your chakras and sleeping 14 hours a day.
It seems to be exactly what Alison needed: some time and space away from everyone, to ‘find herself’, as the cliché goes. It also seems to be a lot less like the weird cult Noah expected, with one of the guests being a fellow writer Noah admires (real life writer Sebastian Junger making a cameo!).
Just like Noah found a temporary safe place at his old home, caring for his family, Alison found temporary respite from her relationship woes at the retreat. Whether she believes in Athena’s therapeutic energy methods is beside the point (Noah clearly doesn’t): being away from Noah gives Alison peace. Or maybe it’s not that simple at all: she had no place in his life in the city – Helen had made that clear when she forbade her from being around her children – and she has no place at her old home in Montauk with Cole, either. As committed as she claims to be to Noah, she is almost ready to move on after having spent six weeks apart, not knowing if they even have a relationship to commit to at this point. Precipitated by her feelings of shame and inadequacy after reading excerpts of Noah’s manuscript, she finds a version of herself who would rather teach yoga classes and not have sex at all, in fear of being labeled a slut. Except she is the only one in need of a label for herself: she’s no longer a wife or a mother, and she is no longer employed, either. Being a mistress isn’t a label she’s comfortable with, and Noah’s book made it all the more easy to project the role of the slut onto herself.
All this new-found ‘clarity’ doesn’t sit well with Noah, as was to be expected. Trying Athena’s way of focusing his energy doesn’t work for him, either: all it does is flood his mind with the same flashes he’s been having all season. I kept linking these images to the accident/murder of Scott Lockhart, but it’s not Scotty he’s speeding towards; it’s a smiling Alison.
Noah’s had enough of the retreat, and I can’t really blame him. He might be a self-absorbed jerk, but he’s right about two things: one, he really did blow up his life to be with Alison; two, the book is about himself, not Alison. Skimming over a work of fiction can’t possibly give you a clear understanding of the character, let alone the author’s intentions in crafting the character just so. Alison’s conclusions as to Noah’s perception of her, drawn by reading just a few pages of his book, are as much on her as they are on him.
It’s no surprise their conversation ends up with the couple having hot sex up against a tree. Just when I wanted to cut the guy some slack, he confirms once again that she’s little more than a sex object to him. It’s what they do best, after all – and it’s been six weeks! And then Alison drops the bombshell: she’s pregnant. Wait a minute: whose baby is it? We already know that Noah’s super-fertile, but she hasn’t slept with him in 6 weeks. She has, however, slept with Cole. Uh-oh.
Noah’s reaction is as bad as could be expected, but it does help him finish his book. Once again, he’s having flashes of the ‘accident’, resulting in his running Alison over. By zooming in on Noah’s laptop, you can make out the ending: Alison dies. Double Uh-oh.
Does this mean the end of their relationship? According to the flash-forwards, it’s clearly not. Which just makes last night’s episode even sadder: one the one hand, Noah was and still is Helen’s one true love. She may have decided to let him go and finally get rid of her mother’s influence, but that doesn’t make it less painful. On the other, it becomes clearer and clearer that whatever Noah fell in love with – whether it’s Alison’s darkness, as her mother suggested at the retreat, or her sex prowess – it’s not the kind of steadfast foundation lasting relationships are built on.
One last thing: in Noah’s Part 2, when he leaves the city to go to Alison, he turns and wistfully looks at the brownstone before he starts the car. Is it just him contemplating the life he gave up for Alison, or is it maybe foreshadowing of what will happen next? Remember, in the flash-forward at the end of Part 1 (Helen’s POV), the lawyer tells her about the deal Oscar’s trying to strike, handing over evidence that will shift the focus on another suspect (Cole). The price is 100 K. Helen will come up with the cash, even if she has to sell the house.
As interesting as it is to follow the characters’ arc so far, I feel like the mystery part of the show is dragging on. We’ve known for a while that Scott was killed, but so far nothing else is clear about the circumstances of his death, other than the fact that Noah is being tried for it. As incidental as this is to the story, seeing as it’s clearly not a whodunnit but a portrayal of the relationships and each character’s perspective, I’d rather see the murder story come to a resolution instead of hanging over our heads indefinitely as a secondary plot point.