The Affair, Showtime’s raw and emotionally difficult portrait of love, marriage, fidelity, and trust, changed its game with its Season 2 finale. For the last two years, the show has felt held back by its flash-forward murder plot, particularly in Season 1, where it didn’t seem to match either the tone or the compelling nature of the rest of the story. (When a murder plot is the least interesting thing about a show, that raises a lot of questions about its inclusion).
But the final reveal — the entire story of The Night in Question being laid out for us in this finale — makes the reasons for the wait clear. Once the twisted truth (and more on the logistics of it in a second) played out, it made sense that we needed to wait until Noah (Dominic West) and Helen’s (Maura Tierney) relationship was at a certain point, for Noah and Alison (Ruth Wilson) to be in such a strange, estranged place with one another, and for Scotty (Colin Donnell) to be as fully-formed as a character as he came to be. Without that, the consequences and choices might have played out very differently.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty: Alison tells Noah (in one way or another, depending on the POV version) that Joanie is actually Cole’s (Joshua Jackson) daughter. That sends both of them both spiraling downwards: Noah to a drunk beach swim with Helen, and Alison to a lonely late-night walk home. Around that time, Scotty — having been thwarted in his plans to get sober and be made a partner of the new Lobster Roll — falls off the wagon in dramatic fashion. He antagonizes Alison, and this leads to a confrontation on that foggy road, where his unwanted sexual advances causes Alison to shove him away … right in front of Noah’s car, with Helen driving.
There’s a ton to unpack here, but the crux of it is that Noah’s guilt over putting Helen behind the wheel (Helen who, it’s interesting to note, was just ready to keep driving and never know the truth) fused with his desire to protect a lurking Alison (whispering her confession to him as he knelt over Scotty), and resulted in him trying to cover up the crime, though ultimately taking the blame.
Now, of course, it all makes sense as to why Helen has been so personally involved (and financially generous) when it comes to the trial and getting Noah a great lawyer. But when the trial strategy is to implicate Alison in order to cause reasonable doubt, Alison tells him to make a choice. He can say Helen was driving, or he can let the suspicions fall on her. So Noah does the stupidest thing possible and claims his guilt in court, shouting that he killed Scotty, thinking this will help everyone out.
The finale (which was gorgeous, and the added Simon & Garfunkle bonus was stellar, not to mention the Lynchian feel of Scotty’s song) spent a good amount of time on the idea of Noah and Alison as breaking apart (her wanting to stay in Montauk, him unsure of whether he can trust her, and being devastated by her betrayal). Noah talks about the two of them as true love, and maybe it’s that idea, his desperate desire he has to need that to be true, that causes him both to run to her after the accident (the scene of them dancing), and for him to fall on his sword to protect her in court. The camera lingered on him staring at her after his “confession,” but what was he communicating? Putting her in a position to come forward, or letting her know that no matter what, he will stand with her and love her?
One of the great things about The Affair is how real it can feel regarding the ebbs and flows of relationships. Alison, Cole, Noah, and Helen come together and break apart at different times, but they are always important in each other’s lives. It’s one of the series’ strongest aspects. Though Alison has seemingly been pushing away from Noah for awhile, recall that not that long ago, Noah was pushing her away as his book tour picked up and he enjoyed the trappings of fame. They’re in a difficult place, but it’s not something they couldn’t get past. Except now …
Even though a lot of The Affair’s timing regarding holding back key elements of the night Scotty died is clear now, I still believe this is a show that would have played out better with a linear narrative, teasing out more ambiguities with the relationships. And though the circumstances surrounding Scotty’s death are wildly coincidental, they weren’t completely ridiculous. The Affair has always gone to great pains to show how small the community is in Montauk, and how often our characters “chance” to interact, whether they want to or not. Ultimately, though, the murder plot was never that compelling because it felt unnecessary. The Affair already had a great hook in its dueling narratives — adding the flash-forwards and trial business is really gilding the lily.
Further, the revelation of who killed Scotty (which was essentially “everyone”) hasn’t changed any of the dramatic tension, or really answered any of the questions about where the show is headed next. Is Noah really going to go to jail? Is Helen going to step forward to save him? What about Alison? Where does Cole fit in to all of this, and is ever going to find out that Joanie is his daughter, or will he remain the last person on Earth who doesn’t know?
The Affair remains one of the year’s best series, and the details of Scotty’s death finally being made known will hopefully only launch it into an even greater third season, without this metaphorical albatross around its neck. Because truly, the best parts of the finale were the small, beautiful character moments. The central mystery of The Affair is not Who Killed Scotty, and it never has been. Rather, it’s a host of questions about trust, truth, selfishness, sacrifice, and all of the things that make love and relationships so incredibly complicated. It’s the mystery of what holds people together, and what can make them break apart. And that’s the case The Affair does its best job of investigating.