“Sometimes I’m worried you’re just a really great dream.”
Like most of The Affair, this episode is all about making choices, whether it’s to continue on with a dishonest relationship, to go into therapy, to sell a family’s legacy, to stay in Montauk, to deal drugs to survive. This is an episode particularly rife in the subject, but rather than it saying that we actually have a say in these choices, they’re seen as crushing forces that we can’t avoid. Inevitabilities that are going to catch up with us, and that creeping feeling of doom that grows ever stronger as the episode plays out.
Noah’s friend Max (Josh Stamberg) is visiting Montauk and the two proceed to catch up. We see Max trying to put down Helen, while Noah stands up for her. Noah talks about how swiftly the work on his book has been going, and it might have everything to do with the acceleration of his dalliances with Alison. It’s just around this point that Alison drops in on their time together, all too coincidentally, and turns their catch up into a threesome.
It’s kind of crazy to see Noah and Alison acting like the married couple, and as soon as Max disappears they’re dancing together like the best of them, with their hands all over each other, not caring who sees them.
But as soon as this dream ends, Alison says, “I don’t want to talk about next week” in regard to Noah and his family returning to the city. Alison wants to avoid the reality of Noah leaving. Noah wags the idea in Alison’s face of him renting a cabin or some equivalent that he’ll come up to and do work at every few weeks. While Alison hides in denial, Noah tries to hang onto this lie with unrealistic gestures. Even when Alison leaves to go back to her husband, Noah shoots out daggers of jealousy. He worries when Alison goes off suspiciously, with Noah suddenly being more paranoid over his mistress’s fidelity than his actual wife’s.
Even keeping with this show’s theme of water being emblematic of secrets, we see Noah talking to his recently revealed to be wicked daughter, about where to acquire cocaine. This is where sin lives. This is where the ugly truth tries to be rinsed clean.
Dominic West really gets to shine this episode, like when he’s simultaneously charmed by his wife’s quirkiness after agreeing to a much-needed sex date, and horrified at his behavior and what’s going on with him behind her back.
So it’s kind of wonderful when things start to really get going here, like when the Solloways’ lunch plans at their favorite restaurant in Montauk also end up including Max. Instantly you can see the dread on Noah as every detail that Max ekes out seems to make Helen more suspicious of his behavior. When Alison becomes the topic of conversation, it’s almost as suspenseful as if these people had guns trained on each other. Helen asks Noah to take their daughter to the bathroom, and Noah races to do so, terrified at what Helen might be able to figure out while he’s gone. It’s the best this show’s been, and it’s giving Maura Tierney her deserved purpose here. The tension continues when Noah willingly inserts himself into more conversation with Oscar.
To see stuff heating up with Oscar and Scotty in regard to the Lockharts and their family’s irreputable history with drugs is pretty engaging and feels like exactly the sort of fodder that Noah will want to fill his book with. This is the shady side of Montauk that he’s been looking for. It’s also exactly the sort of fodder that might get him killed for what he’s written, accordingly.
Noah lets this filter into his relationship with Alison too, when he nearly loses it over the realization that she’s caught up in the Lockhart’s business, and a drug dealer. He seems considerably disgusted all around and can’t stand to look at her after putting this together. Suddenly, he couldn’t be more invested in his wife, reinvigorated in their marriage, and now the fact that they’re leaving all of this feels like a godsend to him rather than the abrupt end of a fantasy. His rejection of her at the end of the episode is devastating, but maybe the smartest thing Noah’s said all season. With the affair aspect of the show possibly over now, it’d be thrilling to have the rest of this just be fallout and delving into the crime and murder aspect of this.
Naturally it’s equally exciting and appropriate when we swap to Alison’s perspective, knowing that her side is going to be full of the insides of her drug run that Noah followed her on earlier. This side should be all about the Lockhart’s dirty side of things, and it doesn’t disappoint. Like when we see Cole and company cleaning up their drug operation with great efficiency, arguing over throwing their coke into the water, or burying it is the better approach.
We see that little Martin Solloway has fallen asleep at their ranch, and as he has breakfast with the Lockharts and Noah is brought up for discussion, it’s a nice parallel to Noah’s equivalent when Alison is brought up over lunch. However the more unstable Alison doesn’t handle this nearly as gracefully as Noah does, as she tries to badmouth Helen to her mother, as the rest of the world defends her. She does a bad job at controlling herself.
We see even more of this when Oscar shows up at the ranch, is able to connect the dots that have been staring him in the face all along, and actually figures out that Alison and Noah have been sleeping together. With Oscar already in hot water with the Lockharts as it is right now, he’s even more dangerous having this bullet in the chamber for Alison. It’s no surprise she asks to run away with Noah afterwards because she may not have a future here anymore.
Later on Alison has an enlightening conversation with Martin as she drives him home, after he let a mare loose at the ranch. He asks her, “Do you ever do things and not know why?” referring to his irresponsible actions that he did for no reason. There’s obvious poignancy to what’s going on here, but it’s also an important scene as it marks the second Solloway child in two episodes now that we’ve seen rebelling and making mistakes. Noah’s unavailability is beginning to cause fractures elsewhere too, it seems.
By now it seems clear that the show’s never going to change perspectives, and do an episode from Helen or Cole’s POV (although Cole finally gets some shining moments in this episode, even if he still feels like a wasted character so far). I understand and accept that, because this show might have bigger fish to fry.
I’ve kind of fallen in love with this revelatory theory that’s being toted over here. It discusses the groundbreaking idea that in our “present” timeline, we’re actually seeing Noah and Alison being investigated over two separate cases, years apart. It even suggests that while Noah’s investigation has to do with the business in Montauk, Alison might be investigated over Noah himself, with her segments being even further in the “present” than Noah’s. Maybe he’s even the one who’s dead.
Throughout most of the series we’ve seen differences in the events that Noah and Alison have relayed, but Alison’s particularly have tried to display her in a certain light, like everyone else is out to get her. It’s telling that on her side of things, when Noah tries to confront her over the drugs, she says that he’s already inside of her house and much angrier. It’s all the signs of her trying to create empathy that before, was unclear why, but now very easily could be so she isn’t seen as the main suspect in the death of Noah. There’s a lot of evidence to support the different timelines (with the most blatant being that the detective is wearing different clothes when talking to Noah and Alison), and it’s real gamechanger that I can see the show pulling off.
While the similarly structured True Detective had people overanalyzing the “present” timeline to an insane degree, people don’t seem that enamored with The Affair’s, which is exactly why such a huge reveal would have more weight to it. I’m certainly going to be searching for more evidence of this as the show continues, and if this isn’t the direction the show is heading in, I’m hoping there’s at least something as equally surprising in store for us. Getting lost in all of this emotional turmoil is wonderful, but wouldn’t a good old fashioned rug-pull truly elevate this show to a classic?
In an episode all about choices, the biggest, most important one of the series is made in its closing moments. Noah choose to end the affair, and in spite of him being one of the few people who has had the power to make a choice, it might be the cataclysmic start of the events that could lead to his death.