It’s not entirely clear why the characters in The Affair don’t relay vital information to each other, but they do not. And so secrets mount up, and explosions are as common as in a badly run school chemistry lab.
Some time in the bleached-out future of Noah’s (Dominic West) trial for the murder of Scotty Lockhart (Colin Donnell), Cole (Joshua Jackson), Scotty’s brother, recalled hearing Noah threaten to kill Scotty—why, we’re not clear, unless it was the old hangover from him having sex with Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles).
Noah’s lawyer (Richard Schiff) reasonably asked if Cole wasn’t just bitter that Noah had ended up with his ex-wife, Alison (Ruth Wilson).
Back in the past, Cole and Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno) were headed to Montauk to meet his mother (Mare Winningham) and had the idea that maybe he should buy the Lobster Roll for Luisa to run, with Alison coming on board, too. Luisa was a bit iffy about that.
The Lockharts’ reduced circumstances were exposed when Cole’s mother was revealed to be the housekeeping maid in the motel they were staying in. A strung-out Scotty offered him $37,000 to go into buying the Lobster Roll, which Cole declined.
An awkward first meeting with Luisa was heightened when she made clear that she wanted to marry somewhere else, rather than the Lockharts’ traditional wedding spot.
But Luisa’s mother being maid to Helen’s (Maura Tierney) mother, Margaret (Kathleen Chalfant), led to a second uncomfortable moment, as Margaret offered up her home to Cole and Luisa for the ceremony.
Cole wasn’t too hot on that—after all, Alison had left him for Noah, Helen’s husband, and Margaret’s sudden recognition of Cole’s surname led to her asking if he was the one who had impregnated Whitney (no); or the one who had held a gun to Noah (spot on).
Margaret—a kinder, less serrated Margaret, no doubt regretting that her vituperative nature lies at the root of her estrangement to Helen—said the offer remained open; “a little forgiveness goes a long way.”
Cole and Alison’s bid for the Lobster Roll proved successful. A strung-out Scotty appeared, overjoyed his brother had come through for him but then became angry and violent when Cole told him his inclusion wasn’t part of the deal.
Scotty came close to telling him his theory that Cole was the father of Alison’s baby girl, Joanie, but did not; and Cole promised him that if Scotty went to rehab, they could enter into a business partnership later. Like many scenes with the two brothers, this was a perfect, sad combination of love, hate, despair, and—critically—the saving grace of more love.
In his half of the episode, Noah, first seen the night before the Lobster Roll sale, couldn’t sleep. He retreated to the bathroom to stare at the blank screen of his computer as he attempted to get into Chapter 5 of the portentous book he discussed with the therapist last week.
Noah’s office had become baby Joanie’s nursery, he told his agent, who suggested he was overreaching himself. Noah protested he wasn’t a pulp novelist like Danielle Steel. His agent told him he’d seen other writers take 10 years to write their second, big-idea novel, long ceasing to be “relevant” to their initial fans.
He suggested that Noah—instead of his high-minded second book—write a sequel to his autobiographical potboiler, Descent, to ignore his ego and listen to his heart.
Noah wants so desperately to be things he isn’t—faithful, good, intellectually respected—and his agent told him to make the most of the lesser, but better-earning, writer within him.
Noah later ran to the exam room, where he thought that Alison was taking her biochem exams (in her efforts to become a doctor), but she had given up the course weeks before and was in Montauk buying the Lobster Roll. That information imparted to Noah by the perennially-bitter Oscar (Darren Goldstein)—and it was very lovely to see the toxic, creepy Oscar again.
Oscar had fallen for Alison when he was younger, and she had not wanted him: “That whole wounded bird thing, it’s an act.” He said her young son’s death hadn’t broken her heart—she’d never had one.
Then Noah went to see Max (Josh Stamberg), rough-bearded, looking seedy, in his gorgeous Montauk home. This was a wonderfully scripted scene that took in their friendship—once one of totality, said Max, and now one running to the intermittent and negative beat of Noah’s crises.
Noah’s utter self-absorption was also apparent. He asked questions out loud about how relationships couldn’t work without trust, when as a consummate adulterer and vain scumbag, he was the worst exemplar of a good person to be in a relationship with.
Just as Oscar was a shadowy figure in Noah’s past reinserted into his present, Noah found out about Max and Helen this week. Noah asked Max directly if he’d had sex with Helen, and smashed a glass against the wall—“It’s Waterford crystal, no big deal,” said the fabulous Max—when Max didn’t deny it. Indeed, he told Noah he had loved Helen and had for years. Noah accused him of playing the long game and said that without the money, which he used to buy people and friendship, Max—who had supported Noah through various crises—would be “fucking nothing.”
It was a vicious, wonderfully written confrontation, with truth and self-deception thrumming from both men.
On the road, Noah kept imagining the final scene of Descent, where his character kills “Alison” in a hit-and-run. Reality and the imagination collided at the moment of impact in his imagination and Alison finally returning his calls.
Finally, he found her—in reality—in the Lobster Roll. Wind and rain rumbled outside. He told her to back out of the partnership, but Alison told him he could trust her, that she belonged in Montauk. He had tried to understand her, he said. Not for the first time, the viewer wanted to reach through the screen and punch Noah’s insensitive, hypocritical face.
Noah and Alison’s stalemate in the past segued to another courtroom scene, in which Max revealed he had seen Noah the night of the Scotty’s hit-and-run, stopping his car by his house and hosing blood off the vehicle. Revenge is a dish best served ice-cold when a former best friend is facing a murder rap.