Noah nodded to Cole as he identified her body, and it would be strange if the makers of The Affair decided it was all a Bobby Ewing-ish dream, or if it was Allison’s long lost twin (too daytime soap), or a case of mistaken identity (desperate writers).
So, wow. Did The Affair really just kill off one of its main characters, and if so, will Ruth Wilson’s Alison find a way to stay in the show? Or is that it?
It can’t be the end in one sense, because if Alison is dead we have to establish the truth of how she died—and a significant section of this episode cast doubt on the explanation and police belief that she had committed suicide. Even if she did, there is more to know, and more to see about how this unfolded.
Cole certainly won’t leave things as they are, even as he destroys his marriage to Luisa. And we need to see how and Alison and not-right new boyfriend Ben’s relationship really imploded. Whatever Ben says about that, we need to see it for ourselves.
And don’t try convincing me that Alison’s long lost dad’s house doesn’t contain the mummified bodies of at least two people. That is one strange house. Give up your cellphone, please! No, thanks! I may need to call 9-1-1 during the salad course.
Before the terrible revelation, if you, as one reader of this recaps was, reasonably confused about how Cole got to Chicago so quickly to pick Noah and Anton up a few episodes back, it was explained here.
He wasn’t driving from Montauk, he was driving from Milwaukee (one of my favorite cities), where he had gone—en route from the West Coast back east—to find Alison, where she was supposed to be attending a conference.
The opening of the episode, written by Itamar Moses and directed by Michael Engler, saw Cole, from whose perspective the main drag of the episode was shot, change his skanky T-shirt, dab himself with deodorant, and prepare to hand over some flowers.
But all he found at the conference was not-right Ben, who said he and Alison had broken up. “I told her I was married, and she wasn’t so into that.”
Hmm, well, Alison had already figured that out for herself.
He thought they had a future, and she did not, he added.
That doesn’t add up, at least not in this Affair household.
Cole next winged it down to O’Hare pick up his longtime rival and nemesis, Noah, on his way to check out Princeton with student Anton.
As they hit the road east to look for Alison, Luisa called. Cole didn’t want to talk to her, or deal with his wife, who is herself feeling understandably vulnerable and—I hope—absolutely fucking furious. Cole has made it very clear by this point he still loves Alison, his ex.
And yet Luisa is expected to babysit Cole and Alison’s child, Joanie, while all this unfolds, and while her husband dismisses her on the phone.
In the car, Cole finds out from Noah about Alison’s long lost dad and his desire for her kidney.
Sunday night’s Affair next began an if not offensive, then an irritating, comically framed storyline about Noah and Cole being mistaken for a white gay couple with a black son, when they booked a room in a motel.
This is the laziest comedy trope; if not actively homophobic, then very gay-lazy, especially in a show that so visibly lacks solid LGBT representation. (And no, a soft-focus piece of lesbian sexual tourism doesn’t count.)
At supper, Noah wittily skewers Cole’s flirtation technique as the moper at the bar, inviting female sympathy; and Cole, still bitter at Noah’s wrecking of his marriage, jokes not at all when he describes Noah as the kind of person who makes promises he has no intention of delivering on.
Maybe, says Cole, the kind of woman (Alison) Noah goes for “doesn’t need a stranger rescuing her from choices she’s made as an adult woman.”
Anton has sex with the young woman who booked them into the motel, but her crazy bigot dad busts into their room. Anton sprints into Cole and Noah’s adjoining room.
“Open up you fucking faggots,” crazy bigot dad shouts at Noah and Cole, extending the bad gay joke even further into the voicing of the F-word.
Then we are encouraged to laugh again at Cole continuing the gay couple masquerade, although at least he threatens to kick the “fucking redneck’s” teeth down his neck. Dear Affair writers, do LGBT better, or just not at all.
Back in the car driving east, Cole finds out Noah has no designs on Alison anymore. Noah asks Cole if he still loves Alison. Cole looks out the window and says, “This state is endless,” which is a very well-written double-meaning sentence.
Cole awakes to find Anton driving and listening to Metallica.
“White college boys can lose their minds over hip-hop, and I can’t listen to metal?” Anton reasons, eyebrow gently raised.
He wants to stay with Noah and Cole as they drive to Alison’s dad’s house. Creepiness tangible, cellphones confiscated, bouffant-ed wife terrifying, we think, like Cole, that the dad is hiding Alison, or something.
Noah tries to charm, as Noah does.
A phone call comes in. The police have found Alison’s body. She drowned herself. Cole collapses, the vomits. The police say she’s been underwater, submerged for several days.
Well, if she was going to die, it would always be in the ocean, where she almost died once, and where her son did die. The ocean, water, is the show's ambiguous, ultimately tragic, central symbol.
Cole wants to identify Alison's body, but the medical examiner’s office recommends he identifies her through photographs. No, he is determined, then cannot bear to, and Noah goes in. We see Noah’s nod through Cole’s devastated eyes.
Ben killed her, says Cole, but at the body discovery scene, on a promontory of rocks, the detective investigating it—nice touch, the same detective who investigated the death of Scotty, Cole’s brother, all those seasons ago—says it looks like suicide. Alison got all her life business in order beforehand.
But when Noah identified her body, he noticed she looked beaten up, he says. The detective says that could be after bashing against rocks.
Back during the other case, the detective recalled Alison saying if she made it to 35 and didn’t feel any better, she would conclude she had done well enough.
Cole’s not having it. He goes to confront creepy Ben.
Yes, they broke up face to face, Ben says. He was prepared to leave his wife for her, he says. (Really? No way. That did not seem to be the state of that marriage, or him and Alison, the last we saw.)
Ben claims he didn’t kill Alison. He went out, got drunk, screwed up his AA commitment, and—furious—rightly does say that while he knew Alison for six weeks, Cole had known her, and screwed her up, for way longer.
Outside, Cole punches Noah in the face. The two men, angry and devastated, wrestle on the ground. Cole wants to know why Noah had let Alison out of his sight in Los Angeles. Really, these two have needed to hit each other for some time.
Again, the script carefully makes Cole’s pained questions double-meaning. He says to Noah, but also really to himself, “Why didn’t you do something? You had her in your hands and you let her go. Why? Why didn’t you do more?”
The second part of the episode, from Noah’s perspective, was only a few minutes long. Picking up from the confrontation and following Noah and Anton to Princeton, we find teacher and student in a diner. Anton goes to the restroom, and Noah observes the waitress, who Hitchockian-ly, reminds him of Alison from behind.
Of course, a diner is where his and Alison’s affair, The Affair, began, all those years ago. In a place just like this.
The waitress is kind, seeing Noah’s beat-up face, but also gently flirtatious because he’s Noah Solloway, woman-magnet and destroyer.
She asks if he has had a long day. You could say that, says Noah.
“Well you’ve come to the right place,” she says.
And Noah, recognizing with brutal clarity of past and present in hideous, tragic collision, cries and cries.