In the penultimate episode of the fourth season, Alison told two different versions of the story of creepy Ben (Ramon Rodriguez) coming over for a session of truth-telling, the truth of which we believe is in version two—that he was crazy, edgy, and primed to explode and kill Alison, which he did.
And then Alison, as Fiona Apple’s title song has it, “sink back into the ocean” right at the end.
What then, was the point of the first version, in which Ben and Alison’s truth-telling led to a shared empathy, then, passion, then contentment?
Perhaps this was Alison, giving two versions of the end of her life, exercising the ultimate power of personal storytelling and ownership; an idealized version of a life and then the truth. But all hers, not another view of her—just her.
In both versions, written beautifully by co-creator Sarah Treem and directed by Sam Gold, the action unfolded in Alison’s apartment in Montauk.
We knew Alison was dead, but we didn’t know how or why. Ben had denied responsibility. Cole wasn’t buying it. We wondered: had Luisa flipped out and done it; had Alison committed suicide as the police suspected—no and no. Ben is the killer, if version two of Alison’s story is true.
In the first version of the story, in which Alison ultimately achieves honesty and parity in a relationship, Ben comes over with flowers, and tells her he is married; before she tells him she knows the same thing. His marriage is done, he claims, he has left his wife. She tells him she knows all about it. Alison is the woman of his dreams.
Weirdly, his younger son’s name is Gabriel, the name of the son she has lost.
Alison, finding the voice that Helen wanted her to find, tells Ben she won’t be forced into being “the other woman” with all the attendant damage that brings. This is a ringingly clear assertion; it is very welcome to hear.
She asks him to leave. Good, yes, you think. Well done Alison.
But Ben offers to stay to fix a leaky tap.
That sorted, he takes over cooking an evening meal.
From my couch: “Get him out of that apartment NOW!”
But, as he mixes and as a pan sizzles (and it’s not a nice sizzle), he confesses his war zone torment: in Afghanistan he killed a teenage boy who Ben mistakenly thought was carrying a weapon.
Alison tells her of her dream to “drink in air and live in the sunsets.” She hasn’t forgiven herself for not recognizing that Gabriel had water in his lungs after he had come close to drowning. The water on his lungs had killed him.
She reveals she dreams of him. He is now a teenager in his utterly teenage-boy-bedroom with smelly feet. Typical for his age he asks her to leave, but she can’t leave.
Alison also confesses that she doesn’t know if she really is as OK as she seems, or if it's a pantomime and she is, and will forever be, broken by all the tragedy around her.
Alison wonders what happens to people like her and Ben, those who “cannot be forgiven.”
What does Alison want, he asks.
They kiss, go to bed, it’s blissful; she says she will get up to do the dishes.
But when she does the tap isn’t working again. There is another knock at the door.
It’s Ben again: version two has begun.
This time there’s rumbling thunder and rain. So, we know that’s not good.
Ben looks angry, and slightly more demonic. Alison asks him about his past (father still alive in the Bronx, mother dead from leukemia). She wants him to say he is married as she already knows. Alison gets a knife for cheese and crackers. Ben attacks the plate wolfishly. Rarely have cheese and crackers looked so scary.
The kettle whistles horribly when Alison asks if Ben has kids. Is he going to kill or attack her?
She tells him she has been in love twice (with Cole and Noah), but not Ben.
We know things are going to head down the worst road, the road Cole correctly identified, when Ben violently swats Alison’s hand away when she again asks him for the truth.
Then when he relates the story about killing the boy, it is a different Ben than version one, who didn’t know the kid was unarmed. This Ben says he knew the boy was unarmed and still killed him.
Alison asks Ben to go, clearly seeing how unstable he really is. He insults her about Noah, then kisses her. She rebuffs him. We cheer. He begs her pathetically. He needs her, he says.
“Go home to your fucking wife,” she shouts, revealing she knows he’s married. Ben twists everything, and claims Alison seduced and abandoned him. “Say this is your fault, and then I’ll leave.”
Alison again asserts herself: “I don’t owe you a thing. You’re an adult. I didn’t seduce you, and if I did, I’m allowed to change my fucking mind. Now get the fuck out of my house before I tell your fucking wife.”
Affair wins whooped BRIEFLY.
Ben’s menace reached its violent zenith when he pushed Alison violently into the hard Buddha statue that her mother gave her.
She bleeds, she's badly injured. We see Ben carry her out to the rocks (where the town’s terrible police force later discover her body and believe it was suicide). Did they go to her place, talk to neighbors about hearing raised voices? Is there no CCTV in this town?
But, as he carries Alison’s body to the ocean, and throws it in, Alison’s voice comes to us in the last moments of consciousness, Treem bringing her story full circle as Gold captured her body falling deeper and deeper into The Affair’s biggest symbol of all. Alison says she has lost Gabriel, does she think dying scares her, she has punished and lacerated herself “a million times.”
People may think she is weak, she says, a receptacle for their grief and rage. But no: from beyond the grave, Alison again asserts her right to be happy, fulfilled, and empowered, even as that has been taken from her. Perhaps this whole episode in her voice gave her, the spirit of Alison, the space to fully own her own story, the right way to see her.
That’s if part two of Alison’s story was the real story, and Ben is the killer. Whatever, what we think might be the last words of the ultimate tragic heroine assert her right to be happy. It’s the most radical and refreshing thing Alison has ever said – even if it is far too late.