All season long, I’ve wondered when we would get an episode unencumbered by anyone’s perspective. We’ve finally got one with episode nine.
It’s nice to finally answer the question that’s been lingering in my head: What does the truth look like on The Affair? It isn’t pretty. If anything, it’s brutal and heartbreaking. The episode is structured with vignettes that use the time of the day to help us keep track as we look at the lives of the four lead characters. There’s a lot to love in this episode, even if it does jump around a bit too much and feel tonally disjointed. The hurricane that rips through the area is a clear metaphor for the upheaval and (emotional) disasters everyone deals with — and I feel the worst for Alison.
I think we can all agree Alison needs some friends. Who can she be herself with? I don’t think the raw vulnerability that comes with the deepest friendships is possible with Noah. He sees a highly edited version of her and he’s too busy living it up as the latest bad boy of literature to focus on her well-being. So, it isn’t surprising she’s left with no one at her side as she gives birth at the hospital, all while the hurricane rages just beyond the windows. Although Alison isn’t actually due for another five weeks (which puts us in March), her baby is on a different timeline. “You are not alone. I’m not leaving,” the doctor says. But she is very much alone, in the emotional sense. Getting with Noah was a way to blow up her life and start anew. It now seems clear that she’s traded one hell for another. But where is Noah exactly?
He and Eden are heading into a hedonistic, booze-soaked party hosted by a Hollywood producer, Rodney Callahan, who really wants to turn Noah’s book into a film. George Clooney may even show up; he’s interested in the adaptation. He doesn’t make it, but the mere mention of Clooney’s name shows what rarefied air Noah finds himself in now. Noah hits it off with the producer between shots and lines of coke. He’s blissful until Max nearly wrecks the evening. Max’s obnoxious, entitled arrogance is on full display as he goes for the coke without asking, then tosses off the recommendation that Sasha Grey should play Alison in the adaptation. The producer can’t stand him, so Noah shuts Max down. (Max doesn’t hesitate to bring up the $50,000 he gave to Noah, of course.) It’s unsurprising when Noah characterizes Max as his ex-wife’s friend, not his own.
The night continues on like this. More shots. More cocaine. More scantily clad women writhing on the dance floor, naked in the pool, having sex against the wall. Even when he learns that the roads are closed, Noah doesn’t think to contact Alison. Sure, he doesn’t have his phone on him — but it says a lot that he wouldn’t worry about his very pregnant wife during the hurricane.
There’s a moment when the book An American Dream by Norman Mailer comes into focus. A wide smile spreads across Noah’s face when he sees it. This is his American Dream, isn’t it? He’s the bad-boy writer who gets compared to Nabokov, Henry Miller, and yes, Mailer. A Hollywood producer wants to make Descent into a movie. He has the relationship with Alison tucked into a corner of his life, while the divorce with Helen worked out to his benefit. He can greedily consume enough cocaine and bourbon to kill several men. Everything he wants is before him. The money. The fame. The lust. The love. But as we know, this moment doesn’t last for as long as he’d like. His arrest and trial loom in the near future.
Eden tosses out her rule about not mixing business with pleasure, grinding against Noah on the dance floor and even inviting him to come upstairs for sex. Noah is too messed up to remember, then gets distracted by naked women (and men) in the pool. As he strips and slips into the pool, it seems like Noah could black out at any moment. Things take an ugly turn when he ogles two women as they make out, then joins them in their enclave before realizing that one of them is Whitney. Yes, Whitney. His teenaged daughter.
When he escapes into his car and sees the many missed calls and messages from Alison, he realizes how immensely he has messed things up. But he doesn’t get far, considering the hurricane and roadblocks. We know Alison and Noah are somehow still together at the time of his trial. How can she ever really trust him again after tonight?
Meanwhile, Cole is with Luisa enjoying what seems to be his last night in his home. Everything is packed up, the place is sold. As much as I like seeing them interact, I really hope Alison ends up with Cole. He probably isn’t feeling that option at the moment. He’s upset that Alison bailed out on packing her own things from the house. (He doesn’t know about her hospital visit.) Despite the chemistry between Cole and Luisa, it seems they’re not on the same page. She encourages him to move to the city. He seems to be elsewhere, not fully listening to her story.
When they have sex, sans condom, I cringed thinking of another child brought into the orbit of all these messed-up adults. No matter, though. Luisa can’t have kids. She reveals that a messy surgery from her early twenties left her infertile. In that moment, I realized this relationship has an expiration date; Cole obviously wants to have kids in the future. Instead of being sympathetic, though, Cole makes her revelation about himself and the Lockhart curse. “The world does not revolve around your pain,” Luisa says before she leaves. She’s right. It’s easier for Cole to wallow in pain than it is for him to gain perspective.
What’s interesting is how Alison’s difficult labor provides a soundtrack to Cole’s moonshine-drunk wallowing. The episode really hammers home the parallels between Cole and Alison. Even though they’re divorced, they’re still linked because of their past tragedy. We bounce between Alison struggling to give birth, screaming and declaring she doesn’t want the kid, and Cole being a drunken mess. Toward the end, the episode pushes things a bit too far maudlin — even a bit fantastical — when Cole sees a vision of his dead son, Gabriel. When Cole dumps all the moonshine around him and lights the place on fire, I was taken aback. I get it as a metaphor. Beyond that, I’m not sure it works. Cole has always had a destructive edge, but this is a crazy decision, drunk or sober.
The one person having a relatively good day? Helen. Apparently, she’s taken Whitney’s advice to try online dating. But it doesn’t start off all that well — her Tinder date stands her up. The waitress remarks that she needs to set her sights on Match.com since that’s where all the divorcées are (ouch), Tinder is more “hookups for millennials.” (This dialogue seems clumsy. Does anyone actually call herself a “millennial” in day-to-day conversations?) Luckily, the day ends up being full of surprises for Helen.
Remember the hot doctor, Vik Ullah, who performed surgery on Martin a few episodes back? He just happens to be at the bar, and overhears Helen as she talks about her failed Tinder date. After they recognize each other, they quickly fall into a prickly, yet sexually charged rapport.
“Do you prefer red or white?” Helen asks about giving Ullah a gift of wine.
“I prefer whiskey,” he replies.
A few things become apparent about Ullah: He may have a drinking problem, he’s rough at the edges, he’s blunt, and he’s interested in Helen. I agree with the waitress who mouths to Helen, “He’s hot,” before the two leave together.
“Would you like to have sex with me?” he asks. Well, that’s one way to do things. The most hilarious, yet on-point line actually comes from Helen as they walk to her place: “What is a date really? It’s just an interview for sex.” Their exchanges make me curious about what Helen wants. Does she see herself getting married again?
Since her kids are at home, sans Whitney, Helen lets Ullah in through the basement where they have sex. Despite (or maybe because of) the lurid sneakiness, the sex scene is actually kind of hot. Get it, Helen. The interactions between Ullah and Helen bounce between moments when their radical differences are painfully apparent and moments when he shows a surprising tenderness. Afterward, he finds her crying in her bedroom and she says, “Sometimes, I think I hate being a mother.” He gets a notification on his phone — it’s a Tinder message. But, he also helps to give Martin the medication that Helen’s shaky grip made too painful. When he leaves, he kisses her gently on the wrist as a goodbye. I’m not sure this relationship would ever be healthy, but I hope we see more of Ullah. He brings out an interesting side of Helen. I also really enjoyed the performance by Omar Metwally, who also appeared on another Joshua Jackson show, Fringe.
The truth in The Affair has always remained elusive, given the show’s framing device. It’s fascinating to watch what the truth really looks like, finally. Cole isn’t the abusive wreck that Alison tends to remember him as — but he is a mess of a man defined by pain, as capable of tenderness as he is anger. Noah is trash (big surprise), who puts his own desires above thinking of anyone else until the last possible moment. Alison is lonely. Helen seems to have a better handle on things, even through the tears. I’m very curious to see where the show goes from here. How will future events appear now that we’ve seen a clearer look at these characters?
The episode ends with Alison cradling her daughter, Joanie. Whatever doubts she has about motherhood dissolve in the face of her new child. When the doctor returns to tell Alison that her husband has finally arrived, she shows little interest. Noah can wait. After all, she was left alone waiting when she needed him most.