Oh, surf dude. Surf dude, Cole (Joshua Jackson) despises you, which isn’t surprising. First, you whack him on the back with your surfboard, you call him “grandpa,” you diss his vintage wooden board. And then you drug him, rob him, and then disrespect him when he catches you, and call him a hypocrite and spent force.
Surf dude, The Affair fans hate you too. Cole is a prince; he is also and will always be Pacey. You must respect Pacey/Cole and His Beard of Sorely Tested Goodness.
Cole’s viewpoint took up most of the second episode of season four, written by series co-creator Sarah Treem and directed by Rodrigo Garcia. Last week’s season premiere located Noah (Dominic West) and Helen (Maura Tierney) in Los Angeles, a week later we're back on the east coast and mainly Montauk.
The two original couplings are now anchoring the show in east and west, albeit separated themselves. (Because: the original affair.) Just looking at Cole, who looks as if he has been socked in the gut 25 hours a day, reminds you what an exhausting tangled web this excellent show is.
Yet again the episode opened with a reference to what we presume to be Alison’s disappearance six weeks in the future, and a third man jumping into the pick-up truck Cole and Noah are using as the search vehicle.
Six weeks earlier, a policeman stopped Cole and Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno), while the latter was driving.
Luisa, originally from Ecuador, is undocumented and was terrified of arrest and possible deportation. The Affair not only aligned itself convincingly into the vexed immigration debate, but it rang emotionally true too. Luisa, in Cole’s perception at least, not only hates that she is in so much peril but that she is so dependent on him. And Cole, she rightly identifies, is still in thrall, or love, or something very consuming, with ex-wife Alison (Ruth Wilson).
Not only did the policeman pulling the couple over not recognize Cole, you sense that the town where his family were once kings, where he knew every cop on the force, is no longer that town.
A conglomerate wants to buy him out of The Lobster Roll, the same restaurant where everything had begun all the way back in season one, with Noah’s affair with Alison.
Cole has the chance of becoming very rich. But he’s uncomfortable. It’s not him. He doesn’t want to sell. Alison, co-owner and late for the meeting, looking—as Cole says—"like a co-ed," wonders why he wants to sell it if he bought it to save it. “Adulthood. Join me here, why don’t you?” Cole says.
The Affair: at its best when everyone is right.
A business dinner, for which Alison doesn’t even turn up, is for Cole a muffled hell of tinkling glasses, fussy ingredients, and business banter. The conglomerate reps say Luisa might become a manager for them in Miami. But she knows, she can see, Cole’s eyes scanning the room for Alison.
At home, in a raw piece of upset brilliantly acted by Moreno, Luisa outlines her frustration at Alison’s hovering presence, alongside her vulnerability to deportation. What if he decides to leave her? Cole says he wouldn’t. “Clearly not today, Alison’s busy,” she replies.
She felt like “a fucking escort” at dinner, she says, while—she adds scornfully—he gets depressed because he has to wear a tie.
It’s at moments like this when a fan thinks: The Affair is now The ur-Affair. The show has moved so far beyond Noah and Alison, and Cole and Helen, and yet the ball of chaos the quartet keep kicking at each other and other people is as firmly inflated as ever.
Off Cole goes to the beach, where more humiliation from surf dude awaits. En route, Garcia captures the shore at night—where, we know so much has happened, not least the ghost at the heart of the show, the drowning of Gabriel, Cole and Alison’s son. The sea and sand is cloaked in misty beauty.
Cole wakes up in the sand, not only thieved from but also the young bastards have drawn all over his face—eye bags and crevices, emphasizing how past it he’s feeling anyway.
Like I said, surf dude: Mess with Cole, mess with us.
When Cole gets home he’s all for shooting surf dude, but Luisa wrestles the gun from him, and although, both are laughing, she stands over him briefly and tellingly holding all the power.
A phone call interrupts them. Alison needs Cole. Luisa’s face says this is approximately her 287th time at this particular rodeo.
In Cole’s memory, Alison’s car battery is flat. With little Joanie there, they have another amiable but pointed exchange about him selling The Lobster Roll, or not. Alison rightly queries Cole setting himself up as scrappy outsider when he is so much of the town’s establishment (even if those credentials are being challenged and undermined).
“I think you want me to say not to sell it, so you can sell it and look like a hero to Luisa,” Alison notes. (It’s good to see her in so control—for however long that lasts.)
Then Cole sees scummy surf dude again, who reminds him of his age and dwindling influence.
The second part of the episode, from Alison’s perspective, sees her first at her new office grief-counseling another mother who has lost a child. She has a surviving son, a little boy like Gabriel (whose picture sits on Alison’s desk alongside Joanie’s).
When the woman’s husband returns to confront Alison for messing in his marriage, it strikes you that the story the wife told Alison may or may not have been true about her husband’s breakdown, or his story about her breakdown may or may not have been true (a neat Affair in-joke; even the minor characters are at it). Either way he comes back to take Alison hostage.
Alison has a savior, Ben (Ramon Rodriguez), who is a ruffled-handsome (but no Dr. Vic) and clearly damaged veteran who spent 8 years in the Marines. Their meet-cute comes with about 20 alarm bells. He’s also seven months sober in AA. And the way he restrained/beat up Alison’s aggressor suggests he has his own Rather Serious Anger Issues.
At their coffee date, he talked about his PTSD, and the difficulties he’s had having sex. You know, the stuff you really want to get out there on an easy, breezy first date.
On the plus side: he’s hot. Something tells me they won’t be sticking to the 5 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days he’s got until his first year of AA is over.
When Alison recalls her fixing-car encounter with Cole, she recalls the scrawls over his face being more child-like and playful.
The Cole she recalls is aggressive, deriding her for being a grief counselor (and trainee therapist), making the death of their son so central to her professional identity.
Most weirdly—meaning one of them is flat-out lying—Cole doesn’t leave her at the end of fixing the problem with the car.
Instead, in Alison’s version of events, they take Joanie to school together (at Joanie’s insistence). They play happy families, waving Joanie goodbye together. Alison wonders why Cole is so wedded to The Lobster Roll; it was his brother Scotty’s big dream, not his (reminder: Scotty, who Helen killed and whose death Noah took the rap for).
The Lobster Roll was also something he and Alison built together, Cole said.
So, these ex-marrieds may be about to have another affair, Cole’s wife is part of the vexed immigration debate, Ben is a tortured, unstable veteran, Alison – a career underway and with a conference to appear at on Montauk in a few weeks (aha! perhaps around the same time as that mysterious disappearance) – is stumbling familiarly towards some kind of edge.
And that surf dude… that surf dude better apologize.