The Affair: 210 Review

‘The Affair’ does its best ‘In Treatment’ impression while another time jump keeps these characters busy.

This The Affair review contains spoilers.

The Affair: Season 2 Episode 10

“Maybe we’ve hit a plateau; started repeating ourselves…”

After the wreckage that went down last episode, another fitting leap forward in time—in fact, it’s close to a year—does a good job at reflecting the episode’s larger theme of repetition. How repetition can control us, paralyze us in fear, or even push us to evolve. The episode doesn’t spend time showing the possible dissonance between Noah and Alison after the birth of “their” child, Joanie, because the more interesting dynamic to explore is the one it’s settling into now. Alison, rather than being stuck at home adorning their child with attention, sees herself well on her way to becoming a nurse.

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That child of theirs is also hardly a newborn when we check in with everyone. It’s even speaking. So when Noah finds himself stood up for a session of couples therapy, you can’t help but notice how his life is very quickly starting to repeat itself. While this step forward is actually that for Alison with her character growing and pushing herself as a result of their kid, Noah feels like he’s regressing. You could almost get whiplash from how much the way Noah talks about himself and Alison echoes previous moments between Noah and Helen during the twilight of their marriage.

And it’s at this point that I reach the mark that I can’t hold in my unabashed love for HBO’s In Treatment any longer, and how this episode is basically that. Before Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi had teamed up to create the perspective piece that is The Affair, they worked together on another stylistic endeavor, In Treatment. The show would watch different patients go through therapy sessions, and that was it. That was the entire show. And this installment of The Affair is exactly that, right down to Cynthia Nixon stepping in as the resident celebrity playing the therapist.

Look, a lot of people might hate this episode (just like they did In Treatment), but for someone that’s brought up several times recently that reviving the show at HBO now would be a masterstroke, obviously I was all in with this one. What’s fascinating here is that a lot of dramas could benefit from giving themselves the In Treatment treatment, and picturing an “all-star” season full of television’s biggest flawed antiheroes being headshrunk is a tantalizing prospect. With the chaos that’s gone down for everyone in this series, now feels like the perfect time to have characters talking about their feelings and trying to dissect their flawed behavior.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Noah baring all here yields some worthwhile results. I was ready to completely abandon any remaining sentimentality I had for Noah after how poorly he was fucking up his life last episode, but it’s incredible to hear how sobering this event was for Noah. In the past year it seems like he’s done genuine work to atone for his sins. Last time we saw him he was the All Powerful Author that couldn’t decide if the size of his coke pile or if he got back end points on his film adaptation was more important. Now his writing seems to be at the bottom of his priorities. That’s why this character work is even more tragic when it ultimately looks like it might be too little too late for Alison.

This repetition continues to be pushed down on Noah, with divorce papers and a distant partner fitting him like a glove as he tries to reaffirm change. But even though the perma-temptation of his publicist seems to be a distant memory, Noah’s still back to old habits like wanting to sleep with his students. Water always finds its own level. Mind you, he isn’t sleeping with them, but it’s only a matter of time until all of this repetition gets the better of Noah and he submits. Adulter. Rinse. Repeat.

It’s not long until this moves to the logical direction of whether past behavior informs future behavior and if Noah’s life is as doomed a cycle as it feels. As this stems into the area of fidelity, things shift towards whether being faithful is equitable to being a good person. The topic causes Noah to divulge some oft-heard comments about his family and childhood, which really speak volumes for the virtues that he’s chosen to value in his life. Again, trying to reduce the complicated road that Noah has been going down to something as simplistic as him cheating because of his father would be glib—and the episode addresses as much—but him also trying so strongly to act the opposite because of his father can be just as damaging. It might seem like a little much for Noah to never have spoken about this stuff before and now be crying over it, but West nails the material and it all helps contribute to this impressive character study.

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The topic that plagues Noah over how to properly measure a man’s worth—through a family or their work—is a wonderful one that is almost the distillation of his entire character. He pleads to Nixon’s therapist, “I want to know if it’s possible—really possible—to be both. A good man and a great man.” When Noah’s next novel finally is touched upon we learn that this question has been invading his work, too. Even as he tries to tell a new story that is totally void of women, one ends up justifying its way into the narrative; seducing its way into the story. Soon Noah’s protagonist is finding himself with the same tortuous, flawed question that he’s stuck with.

Honestly, this deeply introspective tone for Noah fits him quite comfortably and it’s a tone that endlessly supports the show’s dualistic voice. Noah even brings up how all the great tortured souls of our time are examples of this question repeating itself through history. Who is he to step outside of that? The only problem is, there’s no real answer here. Noah plaguing himself if bad deeds negate the hero, or if it’s a more complicated relationship than that, is something that could be debated forever so I’m not sure how far it will take Noah. Perhaps him getting lost in the minutiae and struggling to weed his way out of morality is the point here before moving into the final episodes. We’re supposed to be running in circles (repeating ourselves) over these questions.

The biggest loss here is that Alison’s half of the episode isn’t also serviced up with a thorough therapy session. I can understand the episode’s tendency to avoid this (especially as a means of explaining where she is during Noah’s half of the episode). This might be the safer approach to appease some of the show’s viewers, but it’s a jarring edit and I still think getting two sides of the same very heavy coin would have ultimately been the stronger decision for the episode. Regardless of that, what Alison does end up going through is arguably even more draining than an all-out shrink session.

This much more usual outing shows us Alison keeping her head above water as she takes on her busy new life towards med school. Watching Alison back pedal is an excruciating experience, especially when she’s always been denying herself happiness. The realization that she’s also falling into the comfortable old habits of giving up is a harsh one considering how much growth she’s shown.

I suppose with only two episodes of the season left it only makes sense to begin throwing Scotty at all of us and start taking all of this home. Scotty never looks like he’s doing well, but he seems especially sketchy here doing a great job at acting strung out. Scotty beginning to crack was an inevitable piece of this puzzle but it doesn’t stop him from feeling any less problematic of a character. Every appearance of his makes him feel more like a time bomb that’s about to go off. Literally as soon as Scotty brought up the prospect of him and Alison going into business over the Lobster Roll together I went, “Oh, well that’s the baby that they were referring to in that flash forward.” We’ll see though.

Alison is all about the Lockharts this week with her also sharing a reunion with Cole, however he looks to be doing much better than his erstwhile brother. It’s kind of shocking how stable Noah is considering he was literally burning his home down and giving his liver an early death last episode. It’s only fitting that this transformation is the one that’s set him on the path towards marriage. The series has done much work to show how different Cole and Noah are. While Noah certainly gravitates towards work defining him over family, Cole is undoubtedly someone that chooses the latter over the former. In spite of that though, it’s almost cute to see that their disastrous visits to rock bottom during the hurricane caused both of them to get their acts together. Cole seems to be more the man than ever for Alison now. He’s even living in the city! So it’s a cruel twist of fate that she’s (presumably) come to tell Cole about the paternity of Joanie when he decides to rub his shiny new fiancée in her face.

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By the end of Alison’s side of the episode it’s a little telling that her half of things does a better job at showing how everyone else is getting on with their lives rather than herself. Noah’s half might even shed more light on what’s been going on with her in this past year. This jump forward has once again done a good job at providing fresh material to occupy the series and finally the end game begins to look a little clearer.

After everything that’s been seen here, Noah might be so preoccupied with wanting to be a “good person” that he’s lost track of what he actually wants. But at least now he seems to be pointed in the right direction. He’s got himself “all figured out.” Now it’s just a matter of the jury figuring it out as these flash forwards barrel ahead. Noah innocently asks his therapist at one point, “So, who am I?”

Indeed, who are we all?


4 out of 5