The Affair gives me emotional whiplash. Last week I felt the show was at its worst with one of the most ponderous, morose, and boring episodes. This week it’s back in my good graces by juxtaposing the perspectives of Alison and Cole to great effect. A lot of the time, the framing device of The Affair gets bogged down in minute details (characters wholly absent, different clothing, dramatically conflicting tones) when circling the same incidents in different perspectives. Episode 205 eschews this for a seamlessness between their memories. But it isn’t a perfect episode.
The flash-forward dealing with Noah’s upcoming murder case still feels like an afterthought the writers only remember to include at the very last moment. But there are some worthwhile developments in the few minutes the flash-forward is given. Most interestingly, it isn’t told from any of the main character’s perspectives. Jon meets Detective Jeffries at a cozy Montauk restaurant (we realize at the end that it’s Cole’s, given the name) and proposes a different suspect for Scotty’s murder: Cole. When Jeffries leaves, Alison’s sleazy former boss, Oscar, gives Jon a tip that may lead to Noah’s innocence or incriminate Cole. We don’t get to see what it is exactly, but it’s obviously important. It was only a matter of time until Cole was pulled more into the investigation.
But what makes this episode so great is how it addresses nagging questions I had about the emotional dynamics of the characters with a heartbreaking sincerity: How do you deal with being in love with someone who has hurt you, who you can’t see a future with? How will Alison live without Noah at the cabin, in light of last week’s events? How does Alison wrestle with being Noah’s muse? It’s this last question that threads through the entire episode.
Alison is an incredibly lonely woman. Even when Noah is around there’s a sense that Alison is searching for her identity, some sense of purpose from him. Which is dangerous to do. This week Noah is absent, but his presence is clearly felt. Alison’s chapter opens with her waking up to an empty bed, her hand grazing where Noah should be. Throughout the episode she calls him over and over to figure out what they should do next. Should she stay in the cabin? What are they supposed to do now that Helen has made it clear she doesn’t want her around their children?
The first question resolves itself with the tense interactions between Robert and Yvonne. It’s clear when we see Alison interacting with Yvonne that her assistant position isn’t going to last long. Yvonne is increasingly cold to Alison. She glares at her, undercuts her every move, criticizes her clothing as if she is wearing too little. I was waiting for her to call her a “slut” under her breath. While it isn’t said explicitly, it’s obvious why she’s treating Alison this way: Noah’s novel. Yvonne has been, to quote Robert, “devouring” Noah’s manuscript. Noah may try to act like the female lead in the book isn’t Alison, but it’s clear to everyone else she is.
When Alison helps Robert with physical therapy, things take an unexpected turn. Apparently, Yvonne was his first wife’s friend. Their relationship also started with an affair. Robert frames Alison as blameless in the situation. As if the affair were an unavoidable reaction like gravity itself, which I think is far too simplistic of a reading. But it’s one Alison shares. “I felt like I had been asleep for years in this fog of grief…and then there’s this person that makes me feel alive,” Alison says about Noah. I like seeing Robert and Alison interact. He often comes across as a kindly confidante. Which is exactly what Alison needs. But this dynamic shatters when Robert gets a hard-on, promptly ending the physical therapy session and their conversation about their respective affairs. “I guess you just have this effect on men,” he says. Damn. That’s the very last thing Alison wants to hear. Alison is struggling with how she’s looked at as only a sexual figure. This image of her is a fantasy that Alison is finding it hard to escape from.
Later, after getting Noah’s voicemail again and more coldness from Yvonne, Robert comes by the cabin to see Alison. He very gently fires her on Yvonne’s behalf. Apparently, Yvonne wants someone “more professional” and found it in a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop. While he won’t say it outright, the real reason is obviously Yvonne doesn’t trust her and looks at her through the lens of Noah’s writing. Robert tries to soften the blow by saying Alison was never meant to be someone’s assistant. That’s all well and good. But Alison needs a job and some money and a way to create her own life (though I’m unsure about how much she wants that sort of independence).
When Alison storms into Yvonne’s home to confront her about being fired she finds the place empty. But Noah’s manuscript is on the desk and she gives in to temptation. Through Noah’s voiceover we finally get to hear his writing. And the way he characterizes the Alison figure in the novel explains Yvonne’s coldness. “She was sex…the very definition of it, the reason the word was invented,” he says. Alison flips through page after page, each new piece of voiceover more damning than the last. “No marriage no matter how strong could survive her,” he reads. That isn’t a woman, that’s a fantasy, and it’s why I didn’t find it romantic whenever Noah refers to her as his muse.
Muses can’t mess up. They can’t create art of their own. They can’t have a life of their own making. Reading the manuscript, Alison faces this truth. Maybe Noah isn’t in love with Alison but the idea of her. And if that’s true, what does it say about their future or her place in their life?
Alison does the one thing she can think of: She packs all her things, leaving the cabin to go into the city. She goes to the one place she thinks Noah may be: his former brownstone. Unfortunately, it’s Helen who answers the door. “You have a lot of balls coming to my house.” I agree, Helen.
Helen and Alison are a study in contrasts. Helen looks remarkably put together even with those harsh, platinum highlights. Alison looks like she’s unraveling by the second. Alison tries to apologize by saying she didn’t mean to break up their marriage. Again, Alison, own up to your decisions no matter how ugly they are. You had agency. Pretending otherwise makes that apology feel very insincere. Helen does give her some important advice: At first, Noah seems like one of the greatest men. He’s passionate, caring, and involved. But once he feels comfortable enough, he blames all his pain, headaches, and mistakes on whatever woman he’s with. I’ve dated (and dumped) men like this when I was younger. I love this scene. The acting, framing, dialogue is all on point.
Unable to find Noah or go back to the cabin, Alison goes to the only other place she feels she can find what she needs: Montauk.
Going into Cole’s chapter I wondered when (and if) Alison would show up. She does, in a big way. But first we see the state of Cole’s life. He’s much better than the last time we saw him, but I wouldn’t say he’s making great choices. Cole is screwing around with the blonde woman he once gave a cab ride to. The sex scene veers from mortifying to oddly comical. Blondie keeps calling Cole “ranch hand” and is one of the most annoying characters I’ve seen in a while. The writers seem to be playing a game of one-upping themselves. Just when you think it couldn’t get worse, her husband storms in on them in the most compromising position. It’s hilarious, to say the least.
The most important new figure in his life is Luisa, an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador who has been in the States for most of her life. We saw her a few weeks ago when Cole dropped off Bruce in his cab, nut we get a deeper understanding of her here. She seems to nanny for various people in the area, including the blonde woman in the aforementioned sex scene. Luisa’s involved with Scotty, although that blows up when she finds out he deals drugs. She’s sweet, smart, and I like the way she curses. She seems to bring out something in Cole we don’t get to see that often: a smile.
We see Scotty and Cole share a few ugly, heated moments. Scotty has appraisers visit Cole’s home uninvited. He’s possessive over Luisa. He arrives at Cole’s announced to pick a fight only to stop when he sees it isn’t Luisa who is keeping him company but Alison. But it’s clear Cole and Luisa are going to get together. Coupled with what we learn in the flash forward, Cole is looking more and more like a worthy suspect.
Toward the end of the episode, Cole comes home to see the lights on. He gets a baseball bat from his trunk and creeps inside. Instead of an intruder he finds Alison asleep in the bedroom. He wakes her up. It’s obvious things have taken a nosedive with Noah even if she doesn’t say so explicitly. Alison is afraid there’s something wrong with her, that people think she’s a slut. He doesn’t think she is. I think Cole is the only person who doesn’t look at Alison as a muse or minx or slut, butas a complicated woman.
“People don’t see me Cole. They just want to fuck me […]But they don’t see me. They don’t care,” she says. Alison was breaking my heart throughout the entire episode, and I really felt for her here. She knows she has no direction and hasn’t done much with her life. She’s afraid she doesn’t matter. Cole reassures she does matter, at least to him. I love seeing Alison and Cole interact like this. I honestly prefer seeing how her relationship plays out with Cole than anything going on with Noah. Mostly because I want to set Noah on fire.
“Cole, can you just stay?” she asks. So he crawls into bed and holds her. This is one of kindest, most romantic moments in the entirety of The Affair. Which may be a problem since this isn’t the central relationship. But I loved watching it anyway. They kiss passionately and although it isn’t seen, we can assume they had sex.
What I loved about the interactions between Alison and Cole was how it seamlessly reflects what we saw in her perspective. This is one of the first times I think Alison comes across as the same person in both her perspective and that of another lead character. It doesn’t surprise me. I feel like Cole and Alison greatly love each other, but just haven’t been able to mend their relationship in light of their son’s death. Grief changed the architecture of their relationship, but the love is still there.