This Affair review contains spoilers.
“I had a fling this summer…”
There’s a lot in this episode about trying to find the light in the darkness, searching for the beauty amongst all of the pain. Some of the characters have an easier time achieving this than others. But if anything, this episode shows us that this is not an easy process and that unsurprisingly, honesty may not always be the best policy.
We see the Solloways in therapy due to what Whitney did to Jodie not that long ago. This feels like a torturous ordeal all around and hardly the punishment that Whitney needed from this experience. But we do get Whitney thinking that Helen is the one having the affair, which is pretty wonderful and just a good example of how far gone their marriage is, and the twisted vibe their relationship has taken.
I’m glad to actually see the show going through with this expedited departure from Montauk too, happening in the seventh episode of all things. It just as easily could have been pushed down, but simply seeing Noah and Alison stew in their lives now, with the luster of the affair gone, is kind of fascinating. We see that Noah is struggling to perform, both financially, as a writer, and even sexually with his wife.
On the topic of Noah’s writing, we see a glimpse of “Descent”, Noah’s new novel, which the detective is reading in the “present” timeline (in some very fleeting scenes, and one that might imply that Noah never stayed in Montauk in the first place and has been a ghost for fifty years?). Descent, like in the water we see Noah going into so often to hide from everything and cleanse himself in. The water he uses to bury everything. So it’s only appropriate that his novel, which is pretty much the bible on his affair is titled this.
Noah says early on in this episode, “No marriage is perfect,” and then simultaneously suggests that they leave right away, not being around this bedrock of infidelity and narcotics any longer. He begins fraying and snapping at his family as they all ask for reasonable things and try to “uncalibrate.”
Martin saying goodbye to Cole and apologizing for letting the mare loose is a really sweet scene that certainly didn’t need to happen, but I’m glad it’s there. There was this very beautiful friendship growing, and it was entirely off screen, and it’s a shame that it’s all amidst lies and betrayals. Even later on when we see Cole being the only one suggesting they just go and make peace with Oscar rather than taking brutal revenge, it’s a little sad that he seems like a pretty decent guy (albeit we met him under some unfortunate circumstances) that’s had so much taken from him.
Oscar not only threatening, but blackmailing Noah (with $10,000 no less) is just devastating. But it also makes him a much more likely player in this ultimate murder play that’s going to happen. It’s satisfying to see the show not moving in that direction, but it still seems like the show is pushing harder with all of the murder mystery material now that Noah’s affair is over, and that’s more than fine by me. They’re doing great stuff with it so far. It’s crippling to see Noah literally collapse under the weight of all of this pressure and stress, sending him to the hospital and worrying everyone.
The show throws out the best work it’s ever done in Noah’s confession to Helen, which is kind of unbelievable that we’re getting it at this point in the show. Helen prodding Noah for details as her face melts and contorts after every answer is the worst thing ever, and it alone justifies Maura Tierney’s presence on the show. It’s crushing as she almost instantly jumps to the conclusion that it’s Alison, and the back and forth of these two feels reminiscent of Nichols’ Closer in all the best possible ways. Simple statements like, “That makes me feel sick,” as she learns that her husband’s affair has been going on over the entire summer are brutal.
This deep descent (see what I did there?) these two go into over why the affair happened is thoroughly interesting stuff and feels right in the wheelhouse of the people who put together In Treament, the most dissect-y, introspective show ever. It’s very talky as Noah tries to blame a lot of his behavior on his first book being a failure and Helen goes on about how he has brought destruction into their lives, but I loved all of it. It’s the payoff of everything we’ve seen so far.
This is certainly the most exciting it’s been as we shift to Alison’s perspective, as her and Noah are apart nearly the entire episode. We’re not just seeing two overlapping versions of the same thing here. These are entirely different stories for once.
There’s some kind of heavy-handed dialogue between Alison and Cole over their deck and how the “whole thing is rotten” while Alison insists they just slap a new coat of paint on it and pretend it’s as shiny and perfect as it looks, where they might as well just outright say they’re talking about their marriage instead of this obvious metaphor.
To see Alison not coming clean, but the center equally giving out on her end as well is interesting for all sorts of other reasons. To even see Cole’s mother telling Alison that being honest with Cole about all of this would be selfish and the wrong thing to do is a whole different sort of heartbreaking than what we see on the Solloways’ end. Alison is an empty vessel, alone amongst everyone else. People go about having a good time and she’s just lost in her broken self.
Again on the obvious side of things, when we see Cole and company going over to Oscar’s “just to talk” it’s not at all surprising when things very quickly escalate. It might be all too inevitable when Oscar throws it in Cole’s face that Alison is sleeping with someone behind his back, but it still stings just as much. I sort of love that Alison and Cole’s confrontation over the affair is almost the opposite of Noah and Helen’s (although it’s worth noting that both Helen and Cole remark that they feel like vomiting when they get the news). It’s nearly a muted conversation of restraint here, as Cole hasn’t a clue who the other party involved is. As Cole and Alison seem to very much be getting through this experience, it’s worth wondering if they’d be better off still if Alison wasn’t forced into admission here, and I’d say that they might not be, even. There was such a numbness of malaise before, and at least now, after the rawness, Noah wants to rebuild.
With such the brute introduction Cole was given, it’s amazing to see him being so restrained here, focusing more on how to make things better and what went wrong rather than lashing out at Alison. He even tells her anecdotes on how to relieve yourself of pain. He loves her, so it’s all the harder to watch him break in two after he sobs on how their marriage has only gotten worse after their son’s death, with this being the culmination of it all. When he says that they need to sell the ranch, the only other thing he’s cared about, it’s doubly harsh.
It’s all too creepy when Alison’s friend not only pulls up the Solloways’ address, but also the location of Helen’s store. The two make big talk of going to these places, re-inserting themselves into the lives of the Solloways after they’ve been all too neatly excised and moved past. So it’s great when Helen immediately finds Alison spying on her and chews her out. It may not seem like it, but by Helen just being the bigger person here and a class act through the whole situation, it ultimately makes Alison feel much worse. Hopefully this will calm her down and cause her to stop becoming the unhealthily obsessed stalker that she very easily could.
I’m perhaps the most excited I’ve been with this show as we move into the final act of things now that all the salacious infidelity is out in the open. We’re likely to get an overload of “present” scenes in the final three episodes (and next week is taking a break, so you can stew over all of this) to add to the slight new direction the show is positioned at. But as everything feels at the brink of collapsing and there’s so much tension over what’s to come, it’s encouraging that there’s still beauty to be found in Cole’s suggestion that he and Alison try to have kids again. Amidst all of this destruction, there’s still the chance of hope.
Then again, during the episode Helen jests to Noah, “Jeez, maybe you might kill me.” We’ll see, Helen. We’ll see. Be careful.