This The Affair review contains spoilers.
The Affair: Season 2 Episode 11
“He wrote another one?”
The decisions that we make after the biggest decisions of our lives can sometimes do an even better job at defining who we are. Seeing what comes next for some people can be the difference between someone being genuine and successful, or simply a flavor of the month. The idea of making your own way in life has been something that The Affair has been dancing with occasionally throughout its entirety, usually in regard to the Lockharts. This theme becomes a crucial component of the series’ penultimate entry with many characters wanting to chisel out their own independence.
We start off with Cole and Luisa this week, which feels appropriate since we’re building up to their inevitable wedding and they have a ways to go on the matter still. Cole bringing Luisa home to meet his mother goes much how you might expect it to in what makes for a very quiet, meditative beginning. The initial appearance of Cole’s mother in her new housekeeping job reeks of passive aggressiveness on her part, but seeing her and Luisa connect later on is genuinely heartwarming. It’s here where Luisa’s concerns of being a runner up to Alison begin to bubble to the surface. She wants their wedding to share as little a resemblance to Cole’s previous one as possible, and for someone like Cole that gets so lost in the past that’s honestly probably the healthiest thing for him, too.
Along with Cole and Luisa’s wedding being something that we need to check off before the season’s through, so too is Scotty’s untimely demise. His pop-ups shouldn’t be a surprise any more—nor should his perma-strung out appearance—and soon he begins to warp Luisa’s entirely pleasant visit. As the season’s lingering dots begin to connect, you can’t help but imagine these two will need to see more of each other. Luisa (suddenly) is very passionate about opening her own restaurant, and when Scotty is after the exact same thing with Noah caught in the middle, it’s beginning to grow into the sort of catastrophe for the finale that the flashforwards have been hinting at.
As much as all of this is a bad idea, people are capable of making rash decisions when their dream is dangling right in front of them. The fact that Cole has to involve Alison in this matter, in what’s conceivably the start of their new future, is a reminder of how interconnected everyone is. We see the episode’s theme getting representation once more in the sense that Cole wants to make his way without the help of the rest of his family, and Luisa simply wants to move into a life that’s actually hers rather than feeling like a runner-up prize. The idea that this gesture of good will towards his future-wife ends up turning into some hostile business relationship between Alison and Scotty acts as an example of just how quickly things can get out of hand, especially when money’s involved.
The powder keg of a scene that all of this turns into as Cole and Scotty come to blows is difficult to watch, but it seems to lead to some good in the end. Scotty has been the master of his own destruction for the bulk of this series, but you can’t help but feel for him slightly when he pleads to be let into this idea that was his in the first place. The compromise in the end that Scotty has to go to rehab is the perfect resolution here, even if it does feel that it’s reached under duress. The scariest thing is seeing how fast and loose Scotty is playing here, willing to give up Alison’s baby’s paternity info like he’s a child throwing a tantrum. The idea that Scotty at any point could throw this life-altering information out there is a terrifying thumb to be living underneath. It’s even the sort of situation that could push Alison towards silencing Scotty permanently…
As we check in with Noah on his side of the narrative, it’s a little shocking to see just how much the walls of his life have been closing in on him. His makeshift bathroom office is practically a metaphor for his life at this point, as everything gets crammed into a tiny space and sees compartmentalization. By the time Noah brings up the prospect of having a “date night” with Alison as the only way of making time to talk with her, the sheen of this shiny, “new” relationship is finally gone. This morning is absolutely no different than one he’d be experiencing with Helen.
We see Noah still struggling to make headway with his new novel, but to see that it’s called Good almost feels like a joke when in juxtaposition to the conversation he had last episode in therapy (although I wouldn’t be surprised if the pep talk that Max gives Noah on the subject doesn’t end up in his draft). Granted, this could be a working title that Noah is just sticking with for the time being, but it’s so surface level and feels even more so when considering his previous work is titled, Descent. The series is still carefully laying out the pieces of what the significance of Noah’s next novel is, but as his struggle intensifies his writing could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back this time.
Noah too is trying to make his way on his own by having his next book not coast off the content of his previous one. He wants to do this without a crutch but as a result he’s dragging his feet everywhere. As much as penning Ascent is the exact opposite of what Noah wants, it wouldn’t be surprising to me that if by the third season premiere—or even by the time jump in the next episode—if Noah was already making pulpy progress into the sequel. It’d be far too easy to watch Noah behaving poorly, embracing his worst habits, while he processes it all as being on a hot streak with his new book. Hell, he might even use the sequel as a justification for it all. Noah’s already had enough of a problem figuring out the sort of man that he is that to have the sort of writer that he is also being thrown into flux is not going to help him any.
Also not going to help Noah any is the several bombshells that he stumbles upon regarding Alison. Her chickens come home to roost in a very big way, and after the honest, emotional glimpse that we got of Noah last episode in therapy, it’s all the more painful to watch Alison so passive aggressively sabotaging their marriage. Noah is still far from perfect but I do believe that he’s grown considerably since his indiscretions two episodes ago (surprising Alison at her MCAT finals with flowers is a sweet, selfless gesture). Him and Alison have been intentionally split up over the course of the last episode in order to make their time together here feel more pivotal. It’s just a shame that it has to happen through such strained situations.
Even though the machinations between Cole and Alison going into business together are fairly recent, with the complete out of the blue impact of this hitting Noah, it might as well be news that she’s having an affair. It’s just as big an indiscretion that leaves Noah feeling like an utter fool, and it happens to be with the worst possible person. The added blow that Alison’s been lying to him for nearly two months about school just has Noah further questioning how well he actually knows her. Oscar’s frustration fueled speech that Alison never had a heart in the first place is a little extreme, but for Noah to be at the point of entertaining it all shows just how much doubt he has.
This is the perfect sort of outing where having Alison’s side of the story as the other half to compliment Noah’s, filling in these blanks and explaining her behavior, would be tremendously beneficial, but wisely, we’re left in the dark like Noah is (until the end of the episode). The show intentionally uses this lack of perspective from Alison as a means of feeding Noah—and our—collective doubt. You could even view the episode’s “Cole/Alison” structure as a far-reaching confirmation of their union. The conversation that concludes the episode between Noah and Alison is a surprisingly thoughtful, rational meeting between two people who love each other so deeply and just want to make this work. There’s no anger in this discussion, only two people desperately trying to understand one another.
With this being the season’s second-to-last episode it wouldn’t be surprising to see tumultuous fights being hit here, or even people coming to blows. We know that a major altercation is being built to and as all of these actions and emotions continue to get shaken up the explosion feels increasingly inevitable. We nearly get to that point when Noah pays Max a visit, but the episode holds back. Instead what follows is the incredibly poignant dressing down that Max serves up to Noah. Hearing Max talk about how he’s fought so hard for every shred of intimacy he’s ever had with anyone while people just throw themselves at Noah and can’t get over him is an important opinion to take into consideration here. As Noah is so vulnerable and lost in this moment, to see that this is how some people are always living and have never had half of what Noah’s given away offers some useful insight. But Noah is also dead-on when he accuses Max of essentially paying him $50,000 to fuck his wife, guilt-free. It’s these two sides of the coin that make up all of us.
At this point it feels appropriate to mention that Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul’s Michael Slovis is in the director’s chair this week! While I love seeing a director with such an intense cinematic eye tackling this show (I can only imagine what someone else from their stable, like Michelle MacLaren could bring to the table on a less action-heavy show like this), it’s debatable if the show uses Slovis to the best of his ability. This looks like any other episode of the series, with this tense scene between Noah and Max being the standout piece of Slovis’ work.
With so much of this episode being centered around making your own way in the world, Noah might get the best opportunity ever to see if he’s up to the challenge by leaving Alison. She has constantly been his beacon and muse through everything, but with his rose-colored glasses finally coming off, maybe trying to go at all of this alone wouldn’t only be easier for him, but healthier, too?
Next week it all ends, people. Start making your “Best of Scott Lockhart” clip reels set to “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” while you still can!