Do not cross Ma Lockhart (Mare Winningham), perhaps the scariest mother on television. Fans of The Affair will recall that in season one, she warned Alison of doing wrong, as they chopped tomatoes for a salad—tomatoes are my favorite things, but for months I couldn’t look at them. Even the finest, juiciest, most succulent heirloom gave me the heebie-jeebies.
And last night, she was back, presiding in son Cole’s (Joshua Jackson) memory, over a pretty bad, nails-against-the-blackboard Thanksgiving dinner with her family—anger, resentment, and bitterness figuring as both main and side dishes.
Theirs was the second Thanksgiving disaster in this week’s episode. I do hope scriptwriter Abe Sylvia has somewhere nice to go in a couple of weeks.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was inconceivably making its way past a posh publishing party for Noah’s book Descent in Alison’s opening slice of the episode.
Months had passed since last week’s revelation of pregnancy; now Alison was very visibly with bump. But would there really be a gathering of the book industry’s movers and shakers on an American nation party? Hmm.
Maybe if Eden was involved: Eden was Noah’s terrifying publicist, happy to airily tell non-significant partygoers of their place in the food chain, and to boss Alison around, who had assumed her customary position of ghost in her own life, her lack of awareness imperiling the glory accruing around Noah, as she was pumped for information by a gossip columnist.
Alison sought refuge away from all the bitchy, circulating sharks with the catering staff, one of whom told her that she was always busy working and had children, and didn’t have time to read. It was a welcome bucket of cold water, a reality check that there was a world outside their high-profile, intense bubble.
Also, the book still upsets Alison: Noah has characterized her as a sex-mad siren. And he kills her at the end, too. Yes, that reasonably pisses her off.
The buzz for the book’s publication had made Noah rich, and the people in the room—Jonathan Franzen got a shout-out—could make or break his book, he told Alison when she begged him to go home.
Noah would follow her with the turkey for dinner, he promised. Athena (Deirdre Connell) was there when Alison arrived at her and Noah’s new apartment block. And it was swank central—the well-decorated apartment we recall from the last episode of season one, now inhabited.
Noah and Helen’s (Maura Tierney) younger children were OK with her, Alison said, but she didn’t think Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles) and Martin (Jake Siciliano), the older ones, would ever accept things.
Tellingly, the nursery for their baby was Noah’s office: a symbol of how little he cares for them, and how much he cares for himself; how little he services his new family compared to his literary career.
Athena wondered who was paying for all this high-scale living, and when Alison told her she had sold her house Athena was shocked it wasn’t just Noah’s new fame paying the bills.
Athena told her that when Alison was younger, she had not inherited the house directly from her grandmother, but that Athena herself had suggested to her mother she should bypass her and give it to Alison.
Guests for Noah and Alison’s Thanksgiving are an odd bunch, but included Alison’s ex-waitressing buddy Jane (Nicolette Robinson), who is being lined up with the feckless Max (Josh Stamberg), last seen screwing Helen. “Is he racist or a Republican?” is Jane’s concern.
Well, they get it on almost immediately (Max is a walking sex-honeycomb; no woman is safe in a 5km radius), until Athena beckons the women to listen to Alison’s baby, using a stethoscope.
When Noah finally turns up, of course he’s forgotten the turkey, and then the frantically texting and organizing (and definitely coquettish around Noah) Eden receives notice that the gossip columnist has done her worse, revealing Noah has shacked up with Alison, the woman who he had an affair with—the inspiration of the book—while still married. Online clicks are mounting up for the piece.
Alison is mortified; Eden says it’s great publicity, and Noah is sanguine about that too, and assures Alison he does want their life together and that the book is fiction, and what they have is “real.”
But Noah’s desire for fame visibly seems more transformative for him than his new life with Alison and their unborn child; and his suspicions over the blurring of reality and fiction in Descent is far from resolved.
The doorbell rings, sending the viewer far into the future and Alison telling Noah’s murder trial lawyer John Gottlief (Richard Schiff) that the night of the wedding, she had left hit-and-run victim Scotty (Colin Donnell) on good terms. If she is called to speak at the trial it will be as a character witness for Noah.
Her ex-husband Cole’s part of the episode started, as it has done before, with him having hot sex, this time at his artfully disheveled beach-side pad in Montauk.
Last time it was with a woman who fetishized him as her cowboy; now it is with Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno), and all is going well until she tells him “Te amo” (“I love you”). He loses his erection, seems suddenly disconsolate—like Alison, his ex, their bruised detachment from the world around them is shared—and rushes out, as you would, to buy muffins.
At the supermarket is the eminently murder-able Scotty demands first that Cole return home for Thanksgiving dinner, and then a taunting Oscar (Darren Goldstein) reveals the presence of Noah’s book, and how the Lockharts feature pronouncedly in it—their drug-running, moonshine-making, everything.
Poor Cole heads home, and rows with Luisa, accusing her of stealing his money clip—after declining her invite to Thanksgiving. She knows he is pushing her away, but he is so vicious she leaves angrily. To add to his torment, Cole buys Descent to read his life distilled into print.
Just as Alison found out something about her grandmother at her Thanksgiving, so Cole’s mother reveals the dark secrets of his grandfather and his abuse of Cole’s father at the Lockhart gathering. This family of Montauk mafiosi is cursed, she says, which would explain why all the babies of her sons have died in different ways. Grandpa Silas had drowned his wife’s child when he discovered it wasn’t his—which harkens us back to the death of Gabriel, Alison and Cole’s son after a drowning-related accident. Cheery! Scotty tells him the family needs Cole’s money, or it’s the end of the family.
Out of the night materializes Noah and Helen’s daughter Whitney to talk to Scotty. He had made her pregnant last season, and Cole widely kept them apart—after their last tangle Scotty was left pointing a gun at Whitney, as Whitney reminded him when he drove her back to the city.
“Sorry you had to see that,” said Cole, although he thought he had been pointing the gun at Noah. Again, you noted how each half of tonight’s episode had made a point of highlighting The Affair’s key structural feature of diverging stories springing from different perspectives.
Scotty did not care about her, Cole tells Whitney, relaying the brutal simple truth that just because you love someone doesn’t mean they will love you back.
Whitney notes she doesn’t figure in Descent. Cole deduces Noah wanted to protect his daughter by omission; Whitney fears it symbolizes her father’s lack of care for her. Cole reveals that his father had committed suicide, by hanging himself, when Cole was 10. This was a beautifully written and directed scene, emphasizing Jackson again as providing one of this season’s standout performances.
There was a lovely mini-moment between Cole and Noah, as he delivers Whitney to Noah and Alison’s Thanksgiving supper (so that was the doorbell that rang in part one…). Noah awkwardly invites Cole in for a drink (with his ex, Alison, right there). No, says Cole. Good, says Noah.
Cole’s next stop is Luisa’s family’s home in Queens. He apologizes for being an asshole, he will work on not pushing her away—his struggle matches Alison’s in their denial of connection—and, he tells her, ‘Te amo, tambien.”
Well, that would have been an Affair first: a sweet ending. It wasn’t to be. Because this is The Affair, obviously. Flashing into the future, the odious Oscar deciphers a video Gottlief has of Alison and Scotty having a testy confrontation. It doesn’t look as ‘nothing’ as Alison had intimated earlier. Indeed, Oscar says, it was not. Scotty is telling her, “That’s our baby.”
At which point, The Affair audience, thinking they were inured to the show’s twists, were genuinely shocked anew as one, all shouting “No way” at their screens, and falling—again as one—from our couches. We all thought Alison’s nerviness around Scotty was general Alison nerviness, or her nerviness around Cole and his family.
The show just blew itself open. Delicious. More, please.