Another relatively slow episode of The Affair comes at the exact wrong time, in the eighth hour, with only two more to go before season one wraps. Episode seven was solid and did much to dispel fears that the show had been strong out of the gate only to lose steam along the way to the finish line. Hour eight, however, seemed to lose a bit of that footing.
One thing that the show kind of flirted with early on but never fully succumbed to was the way-too-common device of having every family member have a massive number of personal problems. The elder Son of Solloway Martin is angsty and inimical in the way most teenage boys are, Whitney is angsty and inimical in the way most teenage girls are, and poor little Trevor just wants someone to pay attention to him — this was the set-up, more or less, over the first chunk of episodes, and it was believable and relatable.
Now the Solloways are Superproblem Family, as Whitney’s bulimic AND probably pregnant AND just kind of a bitch. Every possible issue suddenly seems unnaturally attracted to her. In the past Martin caused problems just by being there, forming a bridge between the Lockharts and the Solloways that Noah clearly felt could someday threaten the carefully separated portions of his life. Now he’s beating around the bush in telling Noah that he’s being bullied at school, and on top of that the kid’s academic performance is leaving much to be desired. Bulimia/probable pregnancy is one thing, but Martin’s grades really suck. Trevor’s still just a whiner.
I’ve made comparisons between The Affair and Homeland before, usually in an unfavorable light, and it’s no different with this everyone’s-suffering bit. I like both shows, of course, and I hope that The Affair remains a more cohesive series than Homeland turned out to be. Dana Brody from Homeland wasn’t too dissimilar from Whitney Solloway in that a lot of screentime was devoted to her issues and personal perspective on the main plotline. That’s great in theory, but in practice it always felt like sitting through the Frodo and Sam scenes in The Two Towers (“just get me to Helm’s Deep already!”) — it just wasn’t as interesting or exciting. Add to that the fact that Dana is no longer on the show, and her entire arc just kind of felt like a waste of time.
I hope Whitney Solloway isn’t a Dana Brody, but I’m pretty certain she is. The kids are only part of the problem, of course, as Noah’s affair is out in the open and the air between he and his wife is still very sour. He takes her to dinner and tries to give her a piece of jewelry, but she knows it’s a one-of-a-kind I Cheated On You pendant and refuses to accept it. Noah’s miserable now, and, again, so is everyone else, but at least Noah’s conundrum feels real. We’ve watched his life come apart and are with him as he deals with the consequences, regardless of whether or not we’re actually rooting for him.
And seeing Noah in the classroom for the first time makes his pain and suffering all the more interesting, because in the classroom he’s undeniably happy. Whitney, Martin, Trevor, the grandparents — they’re miserable 24/7, which not only makes them exhausting to watch but serves to make each successive issue seem more and more insignificant, like the flavor of the week. Noah’s dynamite at his job, and he seems to have forgotten about his troubles as he stands in front of his students. He’s teaching Romeo and Juliet (of course) and even though the Shakespeare comparisons are totally unsubtle, it’s still the most subtle scene in the episode due to Noah’s oddly pleasant demeanor.
Here’s to hoping the final two hours of The Affair knock the first season out of the park and wash out the bland taste of episodes like this one.