“Where are we going, buddy...?”
The cabdriver’s question to Noah Solloway -- Dominic West -- in the closing seconds of “The Affair’s” third season finale Sunday is met with a blank stare, mouth slightly agape. Who knew the a cabbie could be so profound? Who knew this particular one had apparently watched the third season of “The Affair,” too?
Where are we going, buddy? The third season of “The Affair” established that “we” is the right pronouns -- two Noah’s, two POV’s, both unreliable. The question implies Noah now has a choice. That long stare into darkness suggests he may not. That’s your setup for the fourth season, along with your question mark that ends the third.
The third season of “The Affair” belonged to Noah -- really belonged. How lucky could the guy be anyway, ending it in Paris with Juliette Le Gall (Irène Jacob) who -- like Noah -- discovered that the universe was not only indifferent but had a sense of humor as well.
How else to explain Furkat? (the scene-stealer Jonathan Cake).
On Sunday’s finale, both Juliette and Noah were finally confronted with their self-delusions: “All these years I thought I was Guinevere,” she tells Noah after the death of Étienne – her husband of many years, who “better loved” his first wife, and finally awakens from the darkness of Alzheimer’s to have that moment of “terminal lucidity,” when he promptly mistakes Juliette ... for his first better-loved wife.
Juliette continues: “I felt I had been cheated of passion, of devotion of true love ... waiting for some troubadour to rescue me. When I was alone in the room with him (I) suddenly realized I just had it all wrong. He was the one who was trapped. I was the troubadour. I am such a fool.”
Guinevere: Of the Arthurian legend, married to King Arthur, but in love with Lancelot, and whom history has treated unkindly, or ambiguously, as either the great queen of Camelot or the adulteress. Juliette had obviously embraced both Guineveres until the death of Etienne finally freed her from her own prison.
This may be why we’ll never see Irène Jacob again on this series -- a shame. She was wonderful Sunday night, but her part in the story of Noah Holloway and Helen Holloway has been played. She had her epiphany, her unburdening. Because “The Affair” is all about those who are psychically burdened, it’s hard to see where her story goes from here.
Hard also to see where “The Affair” goes in the fourth season, too. “Where are we going, buddy?” almost sounds like one of those questions with an answer or answers that could be crowdsourced. There are plenty of “Affair” fans who still want Noah to go to hell. Plenty who think the show really ended at two seasons. Sunday’s wrap offered complicating, conflicting factors.
We now know that Noah’s “assault” at the outset of the season was Noah’s own suicide attempt, in prison. We know Brendan Fraser’s memorable “Gunther” -- the sadistic prison guard set up as Noah’s possible assailant at the beginning of the third season – was essentially, or at least on some fundamental level, Noah’s alter-ego, or “shadow self.”
“Affair” showrunner Sarah Treem essentially gave that away in an interview with Indiewire before the season started, saying: “This new idea came up about how somebody could even split within themselves. It’s not just about you think of yourself one way and I think of you as someway else. It’s almost like you don’t see some of your own darkness or you don’t see that there’s another self in you, a shadow self, in you, somewhere...”
Noah’s shadow self was perhaps sustained, or energized by guilt, notably the death of his mother, in 1986, from MS, her demise hastened by him: “After someone dies,” he tells Juliette, “I think we want to tell ourselves a story of how it was our fault because at least that gets us some control.”
But “control” over what, or whom? In the end, Noah’s shadow self was really about “The Affair’s” control over its most critical character. Almost by the end of the first episode of the first season, he became the villain -- a despised, double-timing, whiny, miserable homewrecker who wrote bad books and wondered why the world still refused to recognize his glory.
Every character’s POV (with the exception of Noah’s) seemed to agree on that fact.
The end of the second season began Noah’s rehab -- as a character with more going on inside than the nourishment of his id and ego. The third completed The process: He began as a reflection of Meursault in “The Stranger,” who refused to express any emotion at his own father’s funeral, and ended as Lancelot, legendary swordsman -- ahem -- who steals the queen, ruins lives, but finds a measure of self-awareness, too, or his own version of terminal lucidity.
Noah’s lucidity isn’t terminal -- thankfully -- but it is finally paternal. He becomes a good father, who saves daughter Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles) from the clutches of comic malefactor Furkat, and even son Martin (Jake Siciliano) has finally forgiven him.
The third season finale could have even worked as a series finale.
Where to now, buddy? Who knows.