After its holiday break, The Affair returned with yet another difficult and deeply emotional episode. But, it also showed how much more there is to explore within The Affair’s world, even outside of the murder (which has always felt tangential, and maybe even nonessential to show). The nuances of Noah and Alison’s affair don’t follow a typical trajectory, and where the show really shines is its portrayal of mundane things. Hit the jump why “it’s an honor to be in the presence of such a powerful female lineage.”
After getting addicted to NPR’s true crime podcast Serial (which I cannot recommend highly enough), I have a new take on the wildly varying narratives between Alison and Noah’s version of things. Memory is a very tricky thing. The case explored in that series hinges on an afternoon no one seems to remember clearly, or even at all. What happened before, during and after the day that a young girl was murdered is hazy six weeks after it happened, and almost impossible to recall fifteen years later (when it is re-investigated).
Some of this has made me reconsider how Noah could Alison could have such completely different recollections of a night as emotional as Alison’s grandmother dying, and to remember that when it comes to The Affair, the point is what is different, and why. The major differences in Alison and Noah’s memory of that night have to do with their spouses. Noah remembers telling Alison “I can’t” when he first sees her, and later, that she asked him to come in to the hospital with him, which he said was “not my place.” Alison remembers Noah telling her how beautiful she was, and her response being about how good her relationship with Cole was at the moment. Later, he offers to go into the hospital with her, and she instead tells him goodnight. In both cases, the POV narrator exonerates themselves to a certain degree by convincing themselves later that they were trying to not give in to the seducer, the other person.
The Affair‘s creators said early on that the series was going to be an examination of marriage more than anything, and both “7” and “8” definitely were. In Noah’s narrative, Helen hides her grief well until Noah tries to give her a lavish gift, which she rejects. Later, in therapy, she cruelly explains why she married Noah (that he was “safe”), which he says he knew. He also says that her high standards have left him desperate to make a mistake, and always feeling like he’s catching up. With Alison, we know that one of the greatest draws is that he feels like a hero with her. He swoops in and looks like a savior from her grief, something he has never been able to do with Helen. Not that this is an excuse for Noah’s behavior in any way, but it does make sense from his point of view (which is what we are experiencing).
Noah and Bruce have their most interesting moment yet in “8,” when Bruce encourages Noah to channel the affair into his novel, instead of acting on it (like he did with the university student of his; nevermind that he has a current affair also going on). Bruce doing that led to his first bestseller and most well-received book. In the present-day timeline, it seems like Noah has taken the advice — he’s successful, and doing a crowded reading and book signing. The detective shows up and helps build his case against Noah and his lies by linking up Noah’s book with reality (like the boat), and also by finding his connection to the club The End, which Noah said he never visited (and we know he did, at least once).
But what really drives The Affair is not the murder mystery about Scottie so much as its character moments. These tend to nest mostly in Alison’s narrative, though not exclusively. Alison’s fights with her mother and her grandmother’s death were the big markers of her narrative this week, but what really felt personal were her conversations with Cole in bed, and later about the appraiser. Her going through Gabriel’s box was also sad yet cathartic for her, and Cole’s concern for his mother’s forgetfulness, as well as his struggles with his brothers about the sale of the ranch, felt terribly real. The same was true for Noah and his talk to Martin about school, and Helen’s hilariously ill-timed outburst to Whitney about her possible bulimia. What makes The Affair so good and so terrifying is how it feels like parts of it could happen to any of us, and some of them probably have.
Episode Rating: A
— I hate it when shows always focus on Romeo and Juliet for the bog-standard English class metaphor for things, but I did like Noah interacting with his students, and bringing up the fact that “adults fuck things up.” And also, “pure love cannot be sustained in an imperfect world.”
— This part of the affair between Noah and Alison is all emotional, which is an interesting change.
— Noah: “It was probably spending the summer with your fucking mother.” Helen: “Don’t call her that. But yes, it probably was my fucking mother.”
— Of course Bruce’s novel is called “Castle of Man.”
— The show really led me astray with Cole. I really hated him in the first episode or two, and now he’s my favorite (next to Helen).
— As someone who lives in a building that is full of leak and flooding problems, that overflowing tub water coming through the dinning room ceiling is one of my most frequent nightmares.
— “It’s an honor to be in the presence of such a powerful female lineage” – Dennis, who made me want to vomit with that comment.
— “At times like this we need to act from our higher selves. I’m getting a cup of fucking tea” – Everything Athena says is the worst, hah. Most especially: “The pathways here are too muddled. Losing one’ mother … It’s such an archetypal wound.”
— “Holding on to her is not going to bring him back. Letting her go is an act of compassion” – Noah.