This The Affair review contains spoilers.
The Affair: Season 2 Episode 8
“The world does not revolve around your pain.”
Well goddamn, that was intense.
There have been a few times this season that it’s felt like The Affair was becoming emotional melodrama porn, but behold Episode 209 as the new God of melodrama! An unusual start to things sees a timestamp gracing the episode, and when news reports begin clamoring about the incoming Hurricane Alex, the purpose of constantly checking in on the clock begins to become apparent. As surprising as this timestamp is at the top of the episode, what’s even more startling is to see the episode using said stamp as a license to freebase this episode and get rid of the show’s defining structure for the first time ever (as well as the entry being void of flashforwards, too). The Affair often feels like it’s spiraling into chaos, but never has that feeling been more present than when this piece of tradition and familiarity is removed from the show.
A hurricane is the fitting sort of excuse to be checking in on everyone and moving all over the place, and that sprawling mentality is certainly felt here. That being said, if the plan is to hang onto this freeform for the remaining three episodes making them a lot looser and less encumbered by the series’ usual trappings, I could also see that sort of approach working for the show. This series has never been one to step back from experimentation, so something as drastic as this mixing up the final piece of the season would be consistent with The Affair’s motives so far.
Let’s start with this Dr. Oola, who’s kind of a hurricane in himself and acts as a cipher through this episode. I love that Whitney’s Tinder profile creation for Helen last episode is a quaint misdirection that ends up leading her to the more-than-suitable doctor that operated on Martin what feels like a forever ago. It’s in this sense that the show’s swooping time leaps greatly work in its favor, where this reunion between them can feel genuine and spontaneous rather than strained. At first he seems charming and persistent in just the right ways, and actually looks to be a good match for Helen. Then the storm clouds begin with his “needy bitch” comment, his deeply clinical approach towards empathy, and the timing of his Tinder “joke.”
Helen’s conversation with him where she tries to dissect whether or not he’s a good guy is maybe a little too much of the show putting its subtext front and center, however it’s perhaps excusable when her question largely becomes the theme of the episode. Repeatedly we see shades of everyone being “a good person that acts like a dick, and a dick that acts like a good person” with the episode leaving it up to us to determine the reality. In the past we’ve had the split perspective format as a tool to help inform our decision on the matter, but for once it’s absent and we’re left to do the heavy lifting ourselves. We don’t have the benefit of just asking these characters the answer point blank. Even after everything Helen has seen, she’s still drawn to the doctor in the end, ready to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Alison is left with much tougher decisions to make than whether her new beau is decent or not. She’s actually in a hell of sorts when she begins to go into labor during the height of the storm. Alison makes it to the hospital, but her doctor doesn’t, with Noah also unreachable and absent. Instead Alison’s lonely and scared, stuck giving birth under less than ideal conditions. I’m consistently rooting for Alison to just catch a break for once, but her situation here proves that the show isn’t finished putting her through the gauntlet.
When we do catch up with Noah, it’s almost too cringe-worthy to see that he’s missing his wife’s calls because he’s doing lines and downing shots with Eden at a glitzy party regarding the book rights to his novel. As Helen is stressing over having a new doctor delivering her child, Noah is debating if Jennifer Lawrence or Sasha Grey would make the better Alison in the film adaptation. This scene is just pure ego stroking for Noah, continuing to show how his newfound success is warping him. It’s almost crazy to think of him as the more responsible parent when Helen was getting arrested months ago. He truly shows her how to ruin your life, this week. The scene also does hint at some more negative things to come for Noah in the future. Max, for instance, isn’t happy that his $50,000 gift to Noah hasn’t been repaid. As Noah continues to burn bridges here, surely one of these people isn’t going to be afraid to come and try and burn him back. Noah is slowly accumulating a nice rogues gallery at this point.
It’s almost too cliché for Noah to be having sex with another woman while his original affair/fiancée is giving birth, but that’s pretty much where he’s at in his life. All of those accusations of Noah going through a mid-life crisis seem more and more accurate as he commits this destructive behavior. When it gets announced that the roads have been closed with Noah stuck at the party all night with Eden, I just sighed in bemusement as Noah interprets this as permission to fuck his publicist (in his defense it is hard to walk away from LCD Soundsystem). The fact that all of this culminates in Noah first nearly drowning and then almost having sex with his daughter is too fitting a fate. All of this irrational behavior is exactly the sort of stuff that’d make a great next novel for Norman Mailer’s heir apparent.
Things have gotten a little too convoluted in the storyline for me to be sure, but when Noah peels out of the party, the perfect cocktail is in place for him to totally mow Scotty down on the road. In order for that to be possible though, this woud also need to be Cole’s wedding (right?), and that’s definitely not what’s going on here. While it could just be some welcome misdirection, all of this might be done simply to show you that Noah getting beyond wasted and hightailing it onto the road is routine behavior for him.
By the time we catch up with Cole and Luisa, it almost doesn’t feel necessary. In fact, this actually raises an interesting point. With how much this episode gets accomplished by focusing on all of its characters rather than just half of its cast, it also acts as a strong endorsement of always doing things this way. Sure, a pivotal piece of the show is lost in the process, but there’s no arguing with the sheer amount that happens this week. On the other hand, this episode features a uniquely high stakes situation and if the show was consistently including everyone then likely the episodes wouldn’t be generating the same impact.
A full episode’s worth of events have gone down but with the entry delighting in showing everyone through this storm, it doesn’t waste the opportunity to touch base with Cole, either. With just how damaged and volatile Cole has been through this series, I thought this episode might have thrown him a bone and given him the more muted of storylines out of everyone here. It’s not long into things though that Cole’s duality shows itself too, with this storm very much representing what’s brewing inside of him as well.
Watching him and Luisa get ever closer is genuinely touching, and seeing them open up over ballet lessons and height notches is an endearing way of broaching the much heavier material that’s gotten into. At first I thought the whole, “Shit, I didn’t bring any condoms!” “It’s okay,” exchange was reeking of plot machinations rather than intimacy, and it is, but in an entirely different sense. Luisa’s admission to Cole is grueling, but what’s even harder to watch is his implosion that follows. Joshua Jackson makes the most out of this material, whether it’s his tuning out when Luisa gives him the news, his manic gesticulations as he rambles on about his family’s curse, or watching him go all Jack Torrance as he broods away in his dying home through the storm. It’s just gutting, and the episode’s freer structure takes advantage of this by juxtaposing his pain over his dead son with Alison’s childbirth, once again uniting them in some weird, damaged way.
This episode very much feels like the season taking a strong step forward towards its final arc. Everyone has come off of a revelatory experience during this episode, and seeing how these events change or don’t change these characters should prove to be very interesting. With many people seeing the darkest sides of themselves this week, it’s appreciated that the episode goes out on a decidedly optimistic note. Alison has truly been put through the wringer here, but as the storm clears out and the sun rises on a fresh day, she too seems to be stronger and more restored than ever before.
We all have to get rid of our own curses, after all.