Well, it’s a relief The Affair has gotten back to basics: confusing us over what happened during the most quotidian-seeming of events, depending on who was experiencing or perceiving those events.
This was the central conceit that made watching the gestation of the original affair between Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson), and breakdown of their respective marriages with Helen (Maura Tierney) and Cole (Joshua Jackson) so fascinating. We were never sure where the truth lay. Was Alison really as much as a victim as she imagined? Was Noah as much of an asshole? (And a thousand other questions, only about eight of which have been satisfactorily answered.)
When Helen and Cole’s perspectives were added, the mix became even denser. This could be hugely irritating, even if it relentlessly underscored that an interpretive “truth” an individual perceived shaped their notion of reality.
Late Season 2 and early Season 3 had seemed to have forsaken this was-the-apple-really-in-the-fruitbowl? style in favor of a mystery over what abuse Noah suffered in jail, after he falsely confessed to killing Scotty, Cole’s brother (Colin Donnell); and who has just tried to kill him on his release—until tonight.
Cole and Alison shared old-school storytelling duties tonight, with three key events attended by them and seen very differently, and in some ways intriguingly similarly: a contact meeting between Alison and daughter Joanie, Joanie’s 5th birthday party, and a late-night visit Cole pays to Alison.
Cole, we had assumed, was happy with Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno), but when he imagines having sex at the start of the episode, it is with Alison.
When he woke up, Joanie (his daughter with Alison, whom Alison left with them when she had a breakdown), played with him and Luisa in bed: a blissful family scene.
Luisa, from Cole’s perspective, was not happy that Alison would be attending Joanie’s birthday party, which Luisa had organized. Well, she was her mother, Cole contended to his irritated partner. Both women would be making birthday cakes: a maternal smackdown in icing.
Alison’s contact visit with Joanie at a playground, as perceived by Cole, featured him and the social worker (a black woman, one of the show’s only black characters, and peripheral), sitting on separate benches. Joanie climbed a ladder to the monkey bars, but Alison—haunted still by the memory of her dead son Gabriel—beckoned Joanie off the contraption. She is panicked, and the social worker noticed it.
Later, considering the upcoming court hearing about Alison having unsupervised visits with Joanie, Luisa says she doesn’t trust Alison, and never will. Cole is more sympathetic. At Joanie’s birthday, the transformation of formerly creepy Oscar (Darren Goldstein) into responsible family man dispensing warm homilies continued.
Alison arrived with her modest cake. Luisa’s was bigger. Cole saw Alison standing apart from the group as it sang “Happy birthday.” It seemed Cole had bought Joanie a pony for her birthday. The little girl went for a ride. Alison looked nervous, and ran over, panicked, when Joanie fell off. She was fine. Cole sympathetically advised Joanie to get on the horse, like tough girls do—words appreciated by Alison too.
Alison’s presence, and her husband’s clear sympathy for her made Luisa furious. She still felt like a guest in the town, and in her marriage, even though she had stepped up to be a good parent, while Alison had been such a bad mother. “You see her as this fragile thing, it’s bullshit,” she said of Alison—and some of us cheered. Alison has been so acted on in this show.
Cole didn’t think Alison deserved to be punished “for depression, being afraid. We lost our child.”
“I know,” said Luisa. “How am I ever going to compete with that?”
Cole said it wasn’t a competition—she was his wife. But Luisa didn’t buy it.
Then our favorite detectives arrived: Did Cole have an alibi for the night Noah was attacked? Luisa interrupted that he had been at home. Cole wondered if Noah was alive; he was, he was informed. “Too bad,” he replied.
Cole, who promises to do injury to Noah (more injury! the guy is a walking punch-bag!) should he ever see him again, does not know it was not Noah that killed Scotty, but Alison, who pushed him in front of a car, driven by Helen—Noah sacrificed himself for both women, for different reasons it seems (Alison because he loves her, and Helen because she is the mother of his children, and perhaps still loves her, though very coolly).
The thing is, Cole wasn’t at home the night of Noah’s attack, and Luisa—happy to do her duty and lie for him—wanted to know where he was.
Can we just say how crap the detectives were? Unless questioning suspects is now verboten and the new way of being a detective is to deposit news, and then just leave, and maybe do some cross-checking or, like investigating, later.
Cole went round to Alison’s, angry at first that trouble had followed her to his door as usual, just as his life was settled. Why hadn’t he told her that Noah was out of jail?
Alison tried to mollify him, but then mini-exploded herself: She hadn’t abandoned Joanie, she had left her with her dad; she deserved to be punished, but she was trying to rebuild her life, and would he please give her chance to do so.
And then, the dream of the opening of the episode was made reality: She and Cole began to kiss.
The second half of the episode began from Alison’s perspective at the playdate in the park. In Alison’s eyes, the social worker and Cole sat together, deep in conversation. And while she was worried about Joanie wanting to traverse the monkey bars, as Cole had perceived, she let Joanie do it, and encouraged her to do it. “That’s it, good girl. You did it, my brave girl,” she said, test safely completed.
In Alison’s eyes, mother and daughter are warmly close, and Cole is less warmly disposed to her than he perceives himself to be. When Joanie asked whether daddy was there when she was born, Alison says yes. (Of course, back then she thought Noah was the father, and Noah wasn’t there.)
Alison excitedly anticipates the hearing about unsupervised visits going her way, but the court-appointed social worker cautioned her not to be too optimistic—her marital history (“Are you still married to the ex-convict who killed your brother-in-law?”), psychiatric history, and her lack of a job (part-owning the Lobster Roll didn’t count) all counted against her.
Back at her apartment she began to bake Joanie’s birthday cake, and considered adding peanut butter to the mix, despite being warned by Cole about Luisa’s nut allergy.
The detectives visit her, and tell her about Noah’s stabbing and want to know where she was; Alison tells them she is trying to regain custody of Joanie and doesn’t want trouble.
Just where were she and Cole the night Noah was stabbed?
She still has feelings for Noah, just as we know he has for her; she calls him and get his voicemail, and hangs up.
At Joanie’s party, in Alison’s memory, the party is much more gaudily extravagant than Cole’s memory. Her cake is pretty grand the day of Joanie’s birthday, but not as grand as the over-decorated Luisa’s.
If in Cole’s memory Alison was in a plain dress; she recalls herself in something pretty and floral. She discovers that Cole missed the town council meeting the night of Noah’s stabbing.
In her memory, the pony Joanie rides is on rental, not a gift. Luisa tells Alison her fear makes Joanie fearful, and when Joanie falls off the horse, Alison’s memory is of being more traumatized than Cole recalls. She sees Joanie lying dead, but it’s a horrible trick of the imagination. In Alison’s memory, it is Luisa who takes command and dusts Joanie off, before Alison joins Joanie. Both she and Cole recall the telling and easy intimacy between themselves.
Afterward, Alison recalls Luisa angrily confronting her (Luisa is going to prove to be a tough, no-nonsense menace for Alison it seems), telling Alison she continues to make Joanie anxious, because Joanie is always fearful she will leave again. Alison asks Luisa not to be a monster, and thanks Luisa for all she has done, but tells her not to take Joanie away from her—whatever her mistakes, Alison does not deserve it.
It is the clearest Alison has been for some time, and it’s a welcome respite from her constant scowling, and her perennially anguished eyes and face.
At home she continues on an unseen craft project when Cole arrives. In her memory, she is wearing a modest cardigan (not sexy slip as he recalls), but he is as angry as he recalled about the cops coming round.
Alison, as she did with Luisa, recalls begging Cole to give her a break; that she has come back to be with her child, that she has to watch Cole with someone else, that she knows that this is as good as life gets, because she wants Joanie back more than anything. Please stop punishing her, she asks.
And so they kiss, just as Cole recalled. And they had sex, it seems, because Alison’s memories take us through to the next morning, and Cole is not there any more.
Great, another affair in The Affair, and this time it’s one of the original husband and wife couplings, just as Helen and Noah edged around at the end of the last season—and which Helen would dearly like again now.
Let’s call the show The Re-Affair. Or The Affair: Now They’re All At It.
Alison feels guilty when Luisa approaches her the next morning to say that she is willing to give her another chance, but—more menacingly—she had better not make her regret giving her another chance.
Off Alison goes for a swim in the ocean (a central symbol of danger and liberation in the show), and even allows herself a slight smile as she looks up to the sky. The smile is short-lived because as she rides home, she passes Noah in his red car. He has come back to town, presumably to reconnect with her—and what we know from both Noah and Alison is that they still love each other.
We still don’t know what finally split them up after Noah was incarcerated, and we don’t know whether their relationship could yet again imperil Noah’s chances of reconnecting with his children, and Alison’s to reclaim Joanie.
Or imperil other things. Their coupling seems to elicit all manner of personal apocalypse. They’re still married, of course—and they’re both being tempted to adultery, although Noah’s jail abuse seems to be screwing with some key intimacy neurons.
It would be great one week for a storyline to focus on one of these well-dressed, horned-up mischief-makers doing a fully-clothed, regular day’s work or paying an electricity bill—it would be the most shocking storyline The Affair could ever conceive.