We should’ve known. It was there at the beginning, right in front of us all along: Alison’s death foreshadowed in The Affair’s tumultuous opening credits, set to Fiona Apple’s “Container,” a song written just for the show. “I have only one thing to do and that’s / Be the wave that I am and then / Sink back into the ocean.” The last part has repeated, again and again, pushing us into the start of each episode. It’s been right there, just out of order much like everything in The Affair, a show that constantly plays with perspective — not quite telling lies, but more so presenting different truths.
The penultimate episode of season four is no different. The previous episode revealed Alison’s death, how they found her in the ocean (as promised), and how it looked to be a suicide. It didn’t feel particularly surprising. Not to us, watching, but also not to most of the people in Alison’s life — except for Cole, whose California walkabout has him rushing back to tell her that he loves her. Maybe that’s why he’s the one to doubt the suicide angle, because he saw their future together so clearly.
In “Secondary Drowning” (both the name of the rare condition that killed Alison’s son, and also now a reference to her own death), we get two perspectives. But in a twist on The Affair’s familiar structure, both of them are Alison’s. The first is a dream in which everything goes perfectly. Ben appears at her door, even-toned and ready to tell her everything. After he fixes her sink, he’s admits that he’s married. (She already knows.) He has two sons, and one is named Gabriel (who shares a name with Alison’s dead child). He killed a child while on tour in Afghanistan, mistaking an inoperative weapon for the real thing. But the marriage thing, it’s now over, officially, and he’s wants to be with Alison. She’s at first resolute in her refusal, but shares the story of her son’s death, how he died of “secondary drowning,” how his lungs filled with fluid overnight. How she imagines him in her dreams as a teenager.
They slow dance. Kiss. Make love on the deck. He promises never to her hurt her again. We wonder what could possibly lead to Alison’s body being found the next day in the sea. But she gets up, heads inside, and as we hear thunder outside, we also hear a pounding on the door. The sink is still broken. It was all a dream.
It’s Ben at the door, again, but this version of the story is immediately darker. And, we have to assume, much closer to the real thing. It’s clear now where things are heading. This Ben is on edge, aggressive and frustrated when Alison wants to talk instead of going to straight to dinner. She asks him point blank: Are you married? Do you live alone? Do you have kids? He lies to her, straight-faced, each time. He then starts pounding shots, while telling her a different version of the Afghanistan story. In this one, he deliberately killed the unarmed child. And he didn’t care. She asks him why. “Why do you kill an ant, Alison?” he responds. “Why do you kill a mouse? Because you don’t want it running around your house. You don’t want it bothering you.”
She tells him she’s going to bed. Alone. He’s drunk now, and her refusal angers him. He shoves himself on her, again and again, and she refuses, again and again. She tells him she knows he’s married, that she’s met his wife. “If you ever fucking say anything …” he starts, and she says she won’t, if he’ll just leave. He blames her for his relapse, and he says she seduced him: “You broke up two marriages, but that wasn’t enough for you?” He slams her up against the wall and then across the room and into cabinet. Blood rushes from her head, and we know she’s dead.
As a storm rages, Ben carries Alison across the rocks and drops her into the sea. It wasn’t suicide after all. It was murder.