Well, until the appearance of Gunther, the sadistic prison guard played by Brendan Fraser, tonight’s was one of the most calm and beautiful episodes of The Affair to date, taken up—as it was—by Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson) squaring the circle of their tortured relationship.
This is the relationship that is central to the show, the title of the show, and in this week’s episode Noah and Alison ranged over what they had done, and what it had meant—and now, why it must end.
Can it? Really? Some critics and viewers think the “real relationship” is between Alison and her ex-husband Cole (Joshua Jackson), but for me it’s Alison and Noah all the way… And this episode, gorgeously written by Sharr White, brought another Affair first: a tradition of two perspectives—but this time the first perspective not disputed or muddied by the second, which tonight simply took the story forward. Finally, the technique implied, Alison and Noah were as one in how they saw things. It’s about time. And tonight also there was also romance, truth, and humor—all unfamiliar territory for the show. It was like a bucket of the best kind of cold water.
Part one of Sunday night’s episode was from Alison’s perspective and took up directly from last week’s cliffhanger—she was cycling in one direction, Noah was cruising in his vehicle in the other.
Alison was terrified Noah could imperil her chances of winning joint custody of Joanie, the daughter she had with Cole, whom Noah thought was his. But he’s been in jail for three years for killing Scotty Lockhart (Colin Donnell), whose death was caused by both Alison, Noah’s present wife who was trying to fight him off, and Helen (Maura Tierney), Noah’s ex-wife who was driving the car. Noah took the blame for both women, presumably because he felt like such a louse for all he had done to them.
And here he was, back in Montauk where the affair had begun. Alison snuck Noah into her home, and was struck he was taking Vicodin for the shoulder injury that Gunther had gleefully inflicted upon Noah when inside. Noah didn’t talk about that, and the next day—wanting to woo Alison back, despite her misgivings and paranoia—made her a cheery breakfast.
Instead, she asked him to sign their divorce papers. He said he didn’t think she was ready to give up on them just yet.
And then Cole arrived, full of guilt about he and Alison sleeping together, and wanting to insist that should never happen again, as he was happily married to Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno). This was a rare thing: The Affair having as near to fun as it gets. Noah was hidden on the patio, Cole was babbling, and Alison was desired by both.
She also sharply saw through Cole, and voiced—as she did throughout the episode—so much that fans have wondered about her. Cole said he didn’t want to derail her; she challenged him on whether he thought she was crazy—did he think she was “healthy enough to fuck, but not be the mother of your child.”
We have mulled the same thing, believe us.
But they all seem crazy, really.
And we all know about Affair secrets—they burst out at the worst moments, so stand by for outsized nuclear response when Luisa finds out about Cole and Alison.
Off Cole went, Noah came in from the patio and presented another challenge to Alison—to spend a day with him on Block Island. If she still wanted a divorce at the end of the day, then fine, she could continue flagellating herself at the knees of Cole and Luisa in order to secure joint custody of Joanie.
Alison joked—and as jokes go, it took the breath out of this viewer—that she would yell rape if Noah got frisky.
Noah sang songs from Camelot, and was joyful. On the island, romance and easiness were counterposed with a searching excavation of their relationship.
Alison told Noah he never really heard her, Noah told Alison that Cole would only ever see her as a disaster, damaged goods, and never truly trust her with Joanie. Alison told him she was determined to take responsibility for her actions—something he would not be acquainted with.
We discovered that Helen still doesn’t know that Alison was also involved in Scotty’s death, and that Alison thought they should have tried to tell the truth about the circumstances of his death. But these lot are not exactly experienced truth-tellers, as The Affair has mordantly emphasized throughout.
It has been a while since we saw Dominic West’s very gorgeous body. Tonight that was remedied, when Noah and Alison came across a hot tub, and—emboldened as the property it was attached to was empty as it was out of season—Noah jumped in stark naked. The West ass was on full display, and was that a stray testicle in shadow? Alison joined him as demurely as possible.
There was wine and a sexy feeling in the air. But not for long. He told her what he felt for her, and for her not to rewrite history. She told him that they were a mistake—he felt trapped in his married life, she was desperately sad after the loss of Gabriel, her son; she loved him because she needed someone to take her away. “I used you. You used me. That’s what happened between us.”
Noah emphatically disagreed, but before they can interrogate it further the sudden return of the homeowner provoked a dashed hurry into undergrowth. They missed the ferry back to Montauk, and found refuge in a quaint guest house by the water.
By a fire, and in red and blue Block Island sweatshirts, Noah told Alison he did love her, that yes maybe it was a mistake at the start, but it was love, and please not to take that away from him by claiming it wasn’t real.
Alison confessed to him about leaving Joanie with Cole and Luisa for six months; and that she has moments of such intense darkness that it makes her think she may not be a good mother. Noah tells her she just needs to be there for Joanie for as long as Joanie needs Alison (this jarred; Noah is way beyond such cloying statements—and also he was not there for his own children, so good parenting seems to be the least sure territory for him to occupy).
Lying next to each other, on the bed and fully clothed, they held each other’s hands.
They were finally together in the healthiest, kindest way. They finally heard each other.
Noah’s chapter was more complicated, switching between him falling asleep and then waking up in both the guest-house in the present day and in jail in the past. In a dream, Noah thought of Alison visiting the jail to tell him he cannot contact her any more (we had previously learned she had never visited him in jail, so this is confusing), and that her custody of Joanie will be endangered if he does.
That extended to a memory of Gunther escorting him back to his cell after the visit, telling him creepily that’s not how he imagined Lana (the lead character in Descent, novelist Noah’s pulpy distillation of “the affair”).
Jail, the mind-game playing Gunther says, is “the black hole” for marriages, and that he wonders who Alison is having sex with on the outside. He hates Noah, it is clear, and maybe desires him too. Noah, the golden boy from the swim meets where Noah never noticed him from when they were young, is now his prey.
Gunther, who doesn’t understand why Noah is in jail if he just knocked someone over—somebody rich like Noah would usually find a way of avoiding jail time, he says—told Noah he’ll find out why he got a custodial sentence.
Then he took some of the papers of the writing Noah has been working on—a shower scene a male character is taking. He mocked Noah, saying it made him hard (and maybe it did).
He’ll keep the work in progress, he told Noah, who objects. Gunther bangs a large, nasty-looking club on the bars of Noah’s cell as a warning of more physical punishment.
Noah suddenly woke up next to Alison in the present day, looked outside, and thought he saw Gunther working among the boats, just as he has been appearing in previous episodes—is he real or a ghost?
Alison found Noah, and they stay up in front of the fire for some more truth-telling: He had watched his mother die of MS—crushing her pain pills up in her yogurt as she was too infirm to take them. Alison’s loss of Gabriel was something he could profoundly relate to, and something that made him love her all the more. “You’re the only person I’ve ever met who watched someone they love die.”
Alison’s version of the story had lasted until earlier in this night, when they fell asleep chastely facing one another. Now, with this latest confession, they made love—really made love, rather than the kind of intense, fraught sex they had during their relationship.
A beautiful moment transitions suddenly to an ugly one in jail. Noah woke up again in that cell. Gunther told him he fucked his wife last night, showing him the picture of Alison he had taken from Noah’s cell previously.
What does it mean? Had Gunther found Alison and raped her? No, he had cum all over the picture. Noah’s fury—he went to attack Gunther—brings a full-scale response of officers into the tiny cell, and Noah was forcibly restrained.
He woke up again next to Alison in the guest-house, sunlight filtering through the drapes. They head back to Montauk, at peace on the boat. Once back at Alison’s Noah signs the divorce papers—this viewer crying out “Nooo, you fools, you’ve finally worked out why you’re such a great couple, find a way to make this work.”
Noah’s two farewell kisses were tender and chaste, on Alison’s cheek and her forehead. You were struck that they seemed more together than ever before, the best kind of couple, as they prepared to finally part.
Paranoid about them being seen, Alison says she will leave first, and so—very nice writing, Sharr White—“the affair” ends as it began, with the air of something illicit, the fear of being seen. Except this cannot be the last of them, can it? They’re the heart of the show, wrong at the beginning—as they both say—and now right.
Although there are still secrets between them. When Alison asked him who the owner of his nifty red car was, he said “a friend,” rather than giving her the full story on Juliette Le Gall (Irène Jacob), the academic he’s involved with at It’s-Meant-To-Be-Princeton.
Noah drives away, and in his mirror sees Gunther again—or does he? Whether he does or not, if the scenes of them in jail are Misery-meets-Shawshank, suddenly we are in Duel, with Gunther trying to driving into Noah, and then in terrifying pursuit, leading Noah to crash. He is fine, but still, as the episode ends, the hunted, yet more bashed about and hurt—and more on his own than ever before.
Season 3’s attempt to make us feel sorry for Noah, the abuser-turned-abused, continues apace.