The Affair: Episode 2 Review

Worlds continue to collide at an alarming rate as The Affair follows up a strong pilot with an even stronger second episode.

“You’re not qualified, but you are first, which counts for something.”

As we move ahead past the very strong pilot that was offered up last week, The Affair makes it abundantly clear that it has a lot to say on the topic of infidelity beyond what was hinted at in the premiere. Several times through this episode characters pose the question, “What does marriage mean to you?” and if the construct of switching perspectives and chronology was jarring to you last week, we’re only going deeper down the parallel rabbit holes in the second episode, getting deeper and deeper into the filthy muck of an affair. And as we learn in this entry, once that muck gets on you, it has a tendency to rub off on everyone else you’re in contact with, marking them so they’re just like you too.

Since we’re no longer in the experimental pilot phase of the program, The Affair’s title sequence rears its head (with a song by Fiona Apple, which feels like it’s something that’s worth mentioning). Here it’s verified that the swimming imagery of the pilot is actually more central to the series as a whole, as it dominates the opening credits, too.

After their initial meeting last episode, we now see that Noah is plagued with thoughts of Alison. He desperately masturbates to every shred of memory he has of her, as he tells the police in the “present” that he didn’t think about her, and denies his wife sharing a shower with him. Here Helen jokes about having an affair after being denied, treating the topic like an incredulous joke, as Noah is having very real thoughts on the matter.

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It’s also sufficiently uncomfortable as Noah brings his daughter along when he runs into Alison again, trying to get more time with her—more future masturbation moments—as he carelessly has his child along for the ride.

Helen’s virtues continue to be highlighted through the episode, like how she keeps her promises for instance, like in reference to the horse rides. There they deal with a very handsome ranch hand named Scotty, who it seems like Helen could have had her very own enjoyable affair with, and with how this show works, probably is, even. Later on, Whitney, Noah’s older daughter, seems more interested in Scotty, as he responds by telling her that he’ll teach her how to ride.

Moments like Noah and the rest of his family running into Cole at the ranch, should maybe feel contrived, but it’s actually legitimately, viscerally tense. We see Cole bonding with Noah’s family and these lines continue to blur as all of these people continue to intermingle and create incestuous relationships within relationships. It’s wonderful stuff and it just hits you in the gut as you feel Noah or Alison tensing up accordingly, as they see their worlds colliding and are forced to deal with it. Helen makes Noah a sandwich that uses jam that Alison made. Everything is bleeding together.

As Noah watches Alison at a party, Helen pleads about witnessing an adulterer from an affair being present. Even the subject matter that Noah and Helen are talking about is infidelity. It’s invading every facet of their lives, pulling them under, whether they realize it or not.

All of this material plays even better when Helen isn’t an idiot and nearly immediately recognizes Alison at the party, even suggesting that she was flirting with Noah. You would think that most series dealing with an affair, this sort of insight and perception would be absent, with Helen not cluing in until episodes down the road. Here, in the second episode even, Helen is already connecting dots, and aware of how Alison feels about Noah. We don’t get to see too much of Helen this episode, but what we do speaks volumes. I also wouldn’t put this show past the point of switching to Helen’s (and Cole’s) perspective half way through, bifurcating things even further.

There’s a rather meaty scene between Noah and Alison where he ruminates on the broken promise of love being all that you need. He worries that this idea maybe forced him into marriage, afraid of the idea and worried on the topic, feeling helpless and without meaning. Noah is seen stressing over his second book, or lack thereof, as it seems to constantly be brought up in his face through the episode. On Alison’s side of things, she’s also stressed, but with issues of her own of the financial nature. The two of them are struggling with different problems, entirely to themselves, but they’re linked through them as well. It activating the same stressers in both of them, pushing them ultimately to the same place.

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As the episode shifts perspective, we see that parallel to Noah in Alison Land, she has also been thinking about him, but in an entirely different fashion, one rooted in safety and fulfillment. This makes sense, considering the fumbling mess that Alison is when dealing with Noah. When we’re on her side of the story, more and more of what she dives into internally sounds increasingly like depression and personality disorder. Seeing her crumble inside as she reaches out to Noah for help, unaware of how it’s all going to turn out, is devastating stuff.

Alison’s side is definitely the weaker of the two this time around, with us mostly getting to just hear about how empty and bleak her depths are. Noah’s half has the action, the crippling world crashing, and the deceit. Noah doesn’t have someone like Alison does, like Mary-Kate, her half-sister who she can use as a sounding board for all of this. Sure, Noah has Bruce, but he hardly seems to fill that role, at least at this point.

In the “present” timeline we’re given the large suspicion that Cole is dead, someone having killed him. It seems to be heavily leaning in the direction that it was Alison so far, but that probably just means that she’s the most innocent one of all.

While on this topic, it’s pretty emblematic of everything to see Noah struggling with the lock’s combination, his wife’s birthday, forgetting what it is several times, but yet still, he insists — and is very serious — that nothing can go on between him and Alison, even though he steals time away with her. In spite of this, eventually, finally, they kiss.

The episode is full of these sorts of binaries and incorrect assumptions. Noah has the rug pulled out from under him when he learns that Alison is actually married; he thinks the death he’s being spoken to about was an accident and not a murder; and Noah continues to present two versions of the truth. He waxes onto Alison about time travel, parallel universes, and the (im)possibility of living two lives. The idea of every time you make a decision, the you that says “yes” and the you that says “no” continue to move on. A binary incredibly similar to the one that the show itself is structured around. He treats this theory as hard fact as a means to justify all of this, and we see two offshoots and tangents from the stories that both Noah and Alison present. Each of them skewing and changing tiny details, making it further unclear at any moment who is being entirely truthful, if at all.

Even though The Affair is just getting started, it’s already done a lot more than merely set groundwork. If anything, this episode shows that the pacing of all of this isn’t going to meander or be drawn out. Every week we’re going to see more of the fluidity of these two groups of people, ever-growing into more of a singular, fucked up unit. It can only get more sordid from here, with potentially infinite possibilities and tangents being created by all the decisions that are and aren’t made in the weeks to come.

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4 out of 5