In The Affair‘s third episode, the show laid out its own premise through Noah’s novel (which is, of course, doing it’s own life/art, art/life thing). Noah meets with Bruce’s literary agent, and tells him his new novel is about “the death of the American pastoral […] about a coastal town that get co-opted until it becomes a parody of itself.” Of course, it’s also about Noah and Alison, or at least, their fictional foils. “I’ve read it before, why is this different?” the agent asks. “Because … he kills her in the end,” Noah replies. Well, someone dies, anyway. Hit the jump for Helen, “who makes the world seem good.”
In Noah’s narrative this week, his feelings of being judged and of his inadequacies (as defined by Helen’s parents) are forcing him into Alison’s arms. Bruce stops him after a swim, and tells a story about avoiding work that seems meant to both encourage and chastise him, while later, Helen’s mother openly discusses with Whitney how she got hives on the day of Helen and Noah’s wedding, and was “lighting candles day and night” that Helen might marry a gay man she approved of (“I didn’t realize that was a deal breaker”). She calls Noah an idealist, and insinuates he has not “evolved” into pragmatism (which Noah interprets as meaning money). The whole thing ultimately drives him out of the house to find Alison.
As I mentioned before, Noah’s story is the cliche here. He’s approaching middle age, feeling inadequate, and looking for something (or someone) to take him out of it. As the literary critic asked, what makes this different? The answer is all in Alison’s story. Her relationship with Cole, the town, and even regarding the death of her son, all make her a dynamic character with very complicated motivations for wanting to involve herself with Noah.
Though their versions of events again differed wildly (almost to the point of it being absurd, especially after the town hall meeting), there were many things that thematically measured up. In both of their recollections, they were the ones hesitant, and pushing away the other. Noah feared losing his family and jeopardizing the life he’s built (illustrated nicely, if a bit obviously, by the scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where Cameron loses control of his father’s car, and it goes crashing through the window). Alison, on the other hand, is more concerned about the small town of Montauk, and how her relationship with Noah could haunt her forever. “You can leave; I live here.”
Just like in the second episode, “3” did some excellent world-building, by weaving in the bad blood between Oscar and Cole (and their families), as well as the realities of small-time fishermen in the area, at a time when deep-sea trawlers are destroying their landscape and livelihood. Cole is trying to fight that change by not allowing Oscar or others to turn Montauk into the Jersey Shore, while Oscar is of the opinion that to survive they all need to move forward (and eventually doing what so many coastal towns have, which is turn their primary industry from fishing to tourism).
In some ways, The Affair mirrors a series like Gracepoint , which also addresses one crime throughout the season. But where Gracepoint fails (one of the many ways) is in its lack of place — which should really be its point. The Affair makes Montauk a character — it has depth, it has history, and it has pain. It facilitated this affair starting because of its small size, and it’s also a place where an idealist like Noah can let his imagination run wild in such a charming locale. For Alison, though, it’s also a kind of prison, where she can’t really be free because of watchful eyes, and can’t return to her old job because it has too many sad memories (and yet, her current job is also untenable because of Oscar).
“3” created a sense of desperation around Noah and Alison that only their affair (as it has been portrayed) can alleviate. It’s an old story, the agent was right. But The Affair makes it different both in its narrative structure, and in the complexities of its characters’ motivations and recollections. Let us not forget, either, the murder itself.
Episode Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— A few more clues were dropped in the present day. There is a wedding that seems important, that the detective was surprised both Oscar and Alison were invited to (meaning that it wasn’t hers). She mentions her kids again, while Noah mentions his wife expecting him home for dinner. These vagaries are, of course, the answer to some things, but even if we knew them, the how-they-got-there would still be unknown (and the whole point).
— Helen trying to decide between the merits of a bowl made by a women’s collective in Kenya and a recycled bowl that looks identical from Brazil was kind of amazing in juxtaposition with her wealth and leisure.
— There were so many great little moments in this episode, like when Noah goes to find his book in the library, only to discover it had never been checked out. The conversation around the dinner table, too, where Whitney was complaining about the spoiled kids, and Trevor repeated Noah’s cursing, and Stacy yelled at him for it … just awesome and natural.
— “Is the anywhere private on this whole fucking island?” – Noah.
— $100 for four t-shirts … yikes, even for inflated vacation prices.
— “It’s cold and wet, and the ocean is mean […] I think you’re a summer person. I think you have an idyllic idea of what life is like here. We’re a small town, simple folk, we love the sea …” – Alison to Noah.
— “I know this sounds like an asshole, but I want to be in charge, ok?” – Noah, because he doesn’t seem to be anywhere else.
— “You could never quite believe anything he said” – Alison, about her grandfather who raised her (also sums up the series).
— The discrepancy between Alison and Noah’s recollections of the town hall meeting seemed rather vast, even for them. It surprises me that they would not remember distinctly the first time they had sex (or at least, that those memories don’t match up).
— “Don’t wake up” – the cheaters to their spouses.
— As the series goes on, I’m starting to warm to Cole more. I think his heart is in the right place.
— Alison going to the hospital and seeing the kids … and the one who vomits into his mother’s hands … so heartbreaking. Her cutting herself was also so sad, and such a 180 from her singing mood in the car on her way to the hospital earlier.
— “Keep Montauk local!” – the locals, minus Oscar.