“You’ve got an honest face. Anyone ever tell you that?”
There’s a lot of discussion in this episode on what is “good.” Noah says that he wants to raise “good” children. His dedication in his first (and only) book to his wife says that she makes the world “good.” And constantly Noah is trying to do what’s “good,” even though the narrative he’s spinning to do so is becoming ever frayed with lies and rationalities.
We see more swimming again, a lot more, which makes sense now that the affair has technically started after that first kiss has happened. Noah is increasingly feeling the need to cleanse himself. He wants to submerge himself more and more as his deeper, truer nature keeps trying to rise up.
Through a lot of this episode we see Noah just wanting to be alone, while people like Bruce become time burglars, stealing his time and interrupting his escape, having reality seep in. On Noah and Alison’s “innocent” tour of the city, they run into Scotty from the ranch, Cole is mentioned, townspeople even refer to Alison as Noah’s “girl.” All of these forces keep interrupting and wedging themselves between Noah and Alison, as well as leaving their mark and joining this new entity as well.
There’s Bruce’s anecdote about using tennis (or swimming) as a procrastination tool, keeping him from writing, and when Bruce was forced to confront what he was doing, he didn’t play tennis again for a year. Noah is also using swimming as a procrastination tool, but not towards writing, but towards his life; towards reality as he doesn’t want to face Helen, his actual family, and the creeping thoughts of Ruth that get into him. He does it the first thing in the morning, before his day already begins, before reality has already invaded him with its undertow. This is when he needs to do it.
Bruce’s presence is finally settling in and feeling comfortable by now, and he’s a nice, welcome force in the house, bantering about with Noah, taking pride for phone calls that had nothing to do with him, but still wanting the accolades, and briefly tricking you into thinking you were watching The Wire again for a split second. He may not be a fundamental aspect of the show, at least not yet, but he’s at least integrating in better at this point and feeling like more of a mainstay.
Noah has a meeting set up with a publisher, and Noah’s description of his book to Harry, talking about the commercialization and exploitation of small American towns until the point of becoming self-parodies and overly commodified, might as well be this show’s treaty on marriage itself. It’s constantly talking about what marriage is as it continues to warp and skew the idea until what on face value is the happiest, most American marriage, is the biggest sham and parody of them all. It’s like entering one of these sell-out towns and commenting on how authentic the over-manufactured architecture is, just like how Harry tells Noah that he has an honest, trusting face. It’s all constructed.
It’s even more depressing when a plan-less Noah basically describes the affair that he hopes to have as his great American novel, almost as a means to retroactively justify it and walk away with something from the experience if all of this is left in shambles. “I’ve read it before,” says Harry, showing that Noah’s feelings are far from original. That this great American novel and great American marriage’s bankruptcy are just par for the course.
It’s enjoyable enough at this point to see how Noah maybe sets himself on a pedestal with all of this. He even goes to the public library and ogles his picture on the book jacket of his former work (until he’s thrown by the inspirational quote to Helen in it). Helen’s mother says that idealism is for young men, but it’s clearly still rampant in Noah, as he balances having his cake and eating it too, viewing himself as invincible so to speak. Cole makes a point of bringing up greed at the town council meeting, and that’s exactly what’s going on here with Noah, independently of what’s trying to take over Montauk. Last episode (and this one) Noah’s going on about how he’d never actually do anything physical with Alison, that he was above that, and yet it eventually occurs. The reckoning that happens when Helen finds out about Noah’s infidelity will be huge, but the one that takes place when Noah accepts that he’s as ordinary as they come and is far from special, may be even bigger.
Even when Noah and Alison finally do have sex, it’s steeped in Noah saying that they do this at his pace, that he’s in control here, because he needs to have the upper hand and know where he stands. He needs to set the rules, or at least think he is (Alison, carefully, is in fact controlling much more of what goes down in that scene), even if he immediately breaks them, because he keeps telling himself that deep down he is “good” and allowed to take these indiscretions.
It’s fascinating to see Noah scrambling at his pitch, and when he chooses to improvise on the spot, the thread he pulls at is murder. Granted, he mentions the death of the woman, and in our story it’s (presumably) Cole that is dead, but fact and fiction continue to intermingle and become the same (it’s no coincidence that later on Alison even refers to the perception of life on this island as a “fantasy”).
Even as Noah stalls time at Alison’s diner by buying shirts for his children, it’s obvious he’s doing it to see her, but it doesn’t change the fact that now his children have clothing from the place of work of daddy’s mistress. The Solloways gleefully watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as Noah pines for a vacation from his life, for a chance to play hooky on reality. Alison tries to help Noah with his book, injecting more and more of herself into it. Places as blatantly public as the public library begin to become acceptable kissing spots. Noah and Alison even wake up their spouses in the exact same way, physically linked as they physically bond with their “loved” ones. Everything keeps mixing and mixing and mixing.
Aspects of this show, like Noah and Alison telling each other how much they think about each other in every aspect of their lives, is hardly breaking new ground here. The moments though where we see this private island shrinking down more and more, with everyone having a piece of each other is what’s standing out to me and setting this show apart so far.
It’s also kind of illuminating how Alison is differently portrayed in both sides of the story. In Noah’s half, she practically glows, this beacon of happiness and the unknown, but as she tells her own tale, she appears makeup-less, flawed, and worn out. Perhaps a commentary on the rose-colored glasses that lust can place on us, or maybe a greater meditation on Alison actually being a much more dangerous, deceptive person than Noah is aware of, and more than what she’s letting on to.
Alison’s side of the affair is also full of the brutal honesty of the world, like cancer-ridden children being so sick they can’t help but vomit into their mother’s hands. There’s no filter where Alison comes from, and it’s beginning to be easier to see why she feels so hollow a lot of the time. Alison’s half continues to be the more introspective of the two, appearing to be more restrained, but there are just as many waves crashing against the shore in her life too. The revelation we get in the “present” time that she’s re-married is hardly a shock. It makes sense, if anything.
I still could be getting more from both Helen and Cole in this series, but with the returning title cards each episode telling us we’re following either Noah or Alison, something that should be ingrained by this point, I’m getting more inclined to believe there might be a seismic shift as we go to the cheated’s vantage point soon enough. I hope so at least.
So after all of this, examining what’s “good” and what’s not, does it even matter? When you’re always putting your foot on the scale and perverting what the extremes mean, anything can be “good.” It doesn’t matter what’s “good.” All that matters is how you feel, the stories you’ve told yourself, and as it stands, Noah seems to be feeling just fine, in his impenetrable palace, as Alison appears to be breaking down more and more.