Seen from her perspective, the ceremony is an onslaught of racial microaggressions. Some of these are more symbolic than literal, as when she and Noah arrive to discover everyone else is wearing all white.
Others are the unthinking racism of people who believe they’re better than all that: Helen asking her to liaise with the valet, who is also black; Helen’s father Bruce mistaking her for a waitress; Helen and Noah’s daughter Whitney telling her that dating a woman of color might be “one of the coolest things” her father has ever done. Who doesn’t love to be judged based on how cool their existence makes another person look, am I right?
Matters get more severe, career-threateningly so, when Janelle receives long-awaited word of her fate at the charter school. The board has decided to make her “co-principal” with Joel, a condescending upstart with only a few years of experience compared to her decades. In congratulating her (though, really, congratulating himself), he raises a fist in a faux Black Power salute. It makes her quickly deleted email to the head of the board — in which he tells him in less-than-gentle terms what he can do with his decision — look reasonable.
Uncertain of what to do, Janelle turns to her ex-husband, Carl, of all people. (Their relationship has been depicted as testy at best.) He looks over her contract and tells her it’s on the level, though its stipulations stink. But he refuses to tell her not to sign it, which he argues is what she really wanted from him.
Always the more militant of the two, Carl says he is tired of being the uncompromising one, a sort of racial-political carbon offset for her reform-within-the-system approach. But eventually, he does advise Janelle to turn the job down — so that she can aim higher and run for the board. That way, she can bring her values and vision to the school system from above, not from inside.
This being “The Affair,” their heart-to-heart leads inevitably to a kiss, though the segment cuts to black before we see just how far she takes things with this man who is emphatically not her boyfriend. “Out of sight, out of mind” has long been how relationships rise and fall on this show. With the sight of ruined Montauk on my mind, I wonder whether those relationships will weather the show’s boldest moves yet.
Odds and Ends:
Pity Janelle not just for her job situation, but for the insane hurdles Noah makes her leap by introducing her to (deep breath) his four children, his ex-wife’s parents, and his ex-wife’s dead partner’s parents — at that dead partner’s funeral. Do they give out medals of honor for reaching that relationship level?
Helen has a lot of insight into, well, Helen. She advises Sasha, who’s directing the “Descent” film as well as starring in it, to make her character “more of a bitch” in order to elicit audience sympathy for the Noah figure.
At long last we hear her unvarnished opinion of Noah’s book, too. She dislikes it not “because it’s about male ego,” as Sasha guesses, but “because it’s not very good.”
After vomiting from a combination of bad tea, wine, exhaustion, grief and getting bonked in the head with a basketball, Helen delivers a beautifully facetious account of how she never quite grasped that Vik’s death would truly take him away from her forever: “I get it, he made his point, he died. Now when’s he coming back?”