Whitney comes out to her father in a horrifying way on “The Affair”

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Up until last night’s episode, Showtime’s drama The Affair has been fairly straight. All of the main characters are in heterosexual relationships, and the show is focused on their faithfulness (or lack thereof), their motivations, their fears, their perspectives on a situation that another person sees very differently. Season 1 introduced us to the major players: Noah Solloway, a novelist whose first book flopped; his wife Helen, who comes from a highly-privileged background and is a mother to their five children (more on them later); Alison, a waitress who begins an affair with Noah when they meet during his family’s summer stay in her Hamptons hometown of Montauk; and Cole, Alison’s rancher husband, with whom she lost a son to a tragic accident when he was just four years old.

Joshua Jackson (Cole), Ruth Wilson (Alison), Dominic West (Noah), Maura Tierney (Helen)the-affairall photos from Showtime

In Season 2, Noah and Alison are engaged and pregnant, Helen is trying to move on but is heartbroken and feeling lost as a newly minted divorcee, and Cole is estranged from just about everyone, including his large, entangled family. We’re already nine episodes into the season, so a lot has happened, but what you need to know in order to understand anything about last night’s reveal is that Noah Solloway is a selfish dick. After leaving his wife and children to be with Alison, he wrote a salacious book about their affair and became a literary star; a “bad boy” of fiction because Page Six found out just how true to life his novel was. 

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Now that Noah is achieving the fame he’s always been convinced he’s been due, he is cheating on Alison with his young publicist and ignoring her phone calls—ones that are telling him she’s in the hospital delivering his baby. Noah, however, is a hurricane house party at the New York home of a Hollywood producer who wants to make his novel into a movie starring George Clooney. Noah snorts some coke, takes more drugs from strangers and gets into a pool, naked, inspired by a nude, swimming woman that reminds him of Alison. 

Then he spots something inviting in the distance. It’s two women making out in a hot tub. Cue the hip hop music. (Seriously, it starts right then, like a music video.)

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Well, now, this looks like an invitation! Noah jumps out of the pool and settles into the jacuzzi where the women continue to kiss before turning to see who has joined them.

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And then it registers for both of them: It’s Whitney, his 17-year-old daughter.

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She screams, “Dad! What the fuck!?” And he can’t get out of that tub any faster. The absolute horror.

Up until now, Whitney (played by Julia Goldani Telles) has only professed interest in men, specifically the much-older Scotty Lockhart, aka Cole’s douchey drug dealer brother. But in last week’s episode, she went to visit her parents’ alma mater, Williams College, and found it completely lacking until she met Chrissy (Lyrica Okano). Though we didn’t see any of their time together, it’s now clear that Chrissy has inspired something new in Whitney. 

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Because The Affair is more about the relationships between Noah/Alison/Helen/Cole (and the eventual murder of Scotty, which we glean insight into from sporadic flash-forwards which also let us know Noah and Alison remain married), it’s likely Whitney’s bisexuality will not be a large part of the show going forward. There are only three episodes left this season, and Showtime has not yet announced a pick-up, though it seems likely as the show’s last few episodes have hit noticeable highs.

Whitney’s relationship with her parents have been strained even before their divorce, but it certainly hasn’t helped. As she waffles between teenage-hood and becoming an adult, she employs a sharp tongue and biting wit at the expense of both her mom and dad, letting them know exactly what she thinks and finding she’s doing them a service. She is led by impulse and passion and has always had the money and access to everything she wants in life. But she can’t keep her family from being torn apart, and she can’t force an adult man to accept that she’s under-age and be with her. She doesn’t have any control over her life, which is why she has no interest in going to college. Instead, she wants to move on her own in the city and become a model.

Dominic West as Noah and Julia Goldani Telles as Whitney in The Affair (season 2, episode 3). - Photo: Mark Schafer/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: TheAffair_203_6203

Whitney is the kind of messy teen in transition that so many of us have been at one point or another. Without truly knowing what’s best for her, but whole-heartedly believing its not what her parents decide, she’s feeling her way through what works for her; who she is and who she is going to be. She hasn’t had the best examples of stability, so fumbling is to be expected. And on a show where everyone is making suspect choices, she’s the only one at the age where it’s not only understandable, but forgiven.

The Affair‘s appeal is in those kind of blunders, though—in the moments where the characters are setting their world on fire (sometimes literally) and seeing what survives the flames. It’s never perfect, and it never will be, but a certain amount of selflessness could benefit every one involved. How Whitney will recover from this horrifying hot tub moment remains to be seen, but Noah’s being there says more about him than it does about his daughter. Will her bisexuality stick, or was it just a party ploy? Considering Chrissy was introduced in a prior episode, we can hope she’ll fare into Whitney’s future.

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