Last year there were far too many contenders for the title; Noah was the obvious choice, but I found myself leaning towards Alison at the time, mostly because she was being a selfish, unreliable idiot.
This time around, however, it feels like we’re not on the same playing field any more. A lot has changed in the years since we left off the characters in Season 2, and along with the situation, there’s been a tremendous shift in dynamics as well.
Not to absolve Noah of his past sins, but he has just finished serving a long sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, and that constitutes atonement in my eyes, considering he did it to save both his former and his current wife, had nothing to gain personally, and his decision ended up trashing his career as well as his relationship with Alison, his children and pretty much everyone else in his life.
Alison’s douchey behavior since we last saw her was somewhat (sloppily and, in my book, rather cheaply) explained away by addressing her mental issues, and she’s back in Montauk, paying her dues so she can be a loving mother to Joanie. (Don’t get me wrong, she’s still an asshole as far as I’m concerned; at least Helen seemed to feel guilty about allowing Noah to take the fall for her; Alison not only disappeared, but basically cut him out of her life completely in order to win back custody of the child she tricked him into believing was his in the first place).
I’ve made no secret that I’m not exactly amazed by the show’s third season (along with Shameless’ 7th, which really should have been the final one – that last episode read more like a series finale than any I’ve seen before, and the fact that it wasn’t actually over genuinely baffled me). The problem isn’t the slight change in tone, but the fact that, like seasons past, the writers couldn’t help themselves when it came to introducing the new ‘mystery’, this time focusing on a murder attempt (and authority abuse, and some good ol’ stalking) against Noah rather than a peripheral character.
Thing is, we didn’t really need it. The protagonists are screwed up enough as it is; the entire premise of this show was the central AFFAIR and its effect on the people involved. A whodunnit plot device that isn’t really central to the story subtracts and distracts instead of adding to it. I can do with the extra screen time of previously throwaway characters like Helen’s new squeeze doctor Vic, Cole’s bitchy new wife Luisa and even with the introduction of bland, unsexy french professor Juliette and her dinnertime debates about consent; what I don’t find relevant or, indeed, necessary, is an overweight Brendan Fraser popping in and out of Noah’s flashbacks and stalking him in the present. A connection with an inmate during his time in prison, a la Rectify, would have been much more interesting to see. Similarly, the fact that Noah’s family situation had been an almost complete mystery up until now and suddenly evolved into a story arc that seems to encompass every aspect of his past and present life seems to have come out of nowhere; every plot line introduced this season feels either like an afterthought or a hastily concocted story to make up for the lack of drama.
But I digress. It took the half of Season 3 to fully establish the status quo of all the main characters at present time, and as things stand right now, there’s one clear winner of the Biggest Jerk title in my book, someone whom I hadn’t considered, not even as an outsider, this time last year. I submit to you: Helen.
Noah’s ex has quickly gone from scorned wife to downright bitchy, adulterous jerk. Do I buy it? Not sure, especially since she appeared to be making an effort in the first couple of episodes of the season to show her ‘gratitude’ to Noah for taking the fall for the hit-and-run. Fast forward to episode six, and we get an out-of-control Helen, not in the way we saw her run around the streets of New York with her aluminum foil-wrapped hair half undone, eventually running someone over with her car, but still displaying a staggering amount of selfish, irresponsible, passive-aggressive and all-around awful behavior.
To wit: she treats her live-in boyfriend like crap; reacts like a petulant child to the news of her parents getting back together; cheats on her boyfriend with her ex fling, seconds after he reveals he’s getting married; as soon as they finish, she bombards him with questions about Noah… regarding things that happened 25 years before, no less (kudos to Max for kicking her the hell out, by the way.); she barges into Nina’s home to receive a reality check about her and Noah and naturally she doesn’t like what she’s hearing; she acts all huffy about Noah missing the meeting at Martin’s school and lashes out on Vic as though looking after her 19 year old son is his responsibility. To top things off, she’s done absolutely nothing to help bridge the gap between Noah and their children, and obviously hasn’t even considered coming clean and looking like the bad guy. The list goes on and on.
What was interesting about the last two episodes of The Affair was the running theme of the characters using each other; it began with Noah and Alison’s long overdue candid discussion about their relationship last week, where Alison pretty much calls it like it is: she was his mid-life crisis; he was her escape from the grief of losing her son. Noah doesn’t seem to think it was all such a cynical arrangement. Did he really love Alison? He certainly seems to believe he does, and even if he doesn’t, all signs point to him caring about her a hell of a lot more than she ever did.
This week, we got Nina’s revelation to Helen that, much like Noah was for Alison, Helen had been his own way of escaping his small-town life and dysfunctional family. But, after all, didn’t she use him just as much as he used her? Noah back in college wasn’t the successful man we meet in the first season of The Affair. She was a spoiled rich girl, probably screwed up by her clearly insane parents, and Noah was her own rebellion, just as she was his way into another life.
To drive the point home, Helen impuslively decides to look up Max to get the answers she wants. Her outrageous “I guess I wasn’t the love of your life” response to the news of his impending marriage was so obnoxious, second only to the fact that she threw herself at him moments later; Later, she berates Vic, who was actually at home looking after her children while she was screwing her ex’s best friend, completing the trifecta of some of the most ridiculously vile behavior we’ve seen on this show, and that’s really saying a lot.
(Also – and this is very biased and based solely on the actress rather than the character – those duck lips makes Helen one of the most punchable faces on television, which makes me dislike her even more).
So yep. Until further notice, and obviously discounting John Gunther, who’s not just a dick but also clearly insane, Helen is the biggest jerk on The Affair.