“You need some fucking faith, Alison.”
In the middle of this episode Alison is presented with the story of a girl who Dr. Henry treated, who cracked her jaw open two times doing the same thing. The girl felt awful about it until Henry told her about another girl who cracked her jaw open four time and it still looked beautiful. And even if Noah and Alison continue to crack their jaws here as they make the same mistakes, they shouldn’t give up because there’s always going to be someone else who has done it worse, and somehow persevered. This very much feels like the darkest point for these characters and the coldest the show has gone, so it’s more crucial than ever that they continue hanging on. The question is whether they’ll be able to, or just be left with a crooked, ugly jaw that’s their future.
With this being the second to last episode of the season, and what feels like a whole lot still needing to go down, it’s no surprise to see The Affair going all out as it sprints to the finish line. Immediately we’re put off guard by the fact that Alison’s side of the story is happening first—something that’s only happened once before—and then get the rug pulled out from under us even more when the first thing we see is Noah and Alison kissing, very much back in love and in their affair, gallivanting in New York City (specifically Brooklyn, but isn’t it all the same at this point?). Clearly their reunion in Montauk stirred up things that were too strong to control, and here we are, thrown right back into everything. Only this feels different than the fairytale they were living in the summer, this feels harshly real, cruel even, and this almost starts to feel like it’s bordering on a horror film.
Granted, it’s through the lens of Alison, who has almost entirely been a questionable character and source, and so the material should be treated as such, but I stared at the screen with my mouth agape in disgust as Noah takes Alison to his home to have sex with her in Helen’s bed. He talks about renting an apartment that they’ll move into together once he moves out, and you can’t believe how far everyone has backslid, especially with the progress made last week. The entire time you’re also anxious, just knowing that Helen and the family are going to come home early and find him having sex with Alison while fawning over a future that doesn’t include them. He dreads the fact that Alison has to leave soon, and even though this is all coming from her perspective, where he suggests all of these things (and we’re not shown the initiation of it on his alternative side), while she tries to be as respectful as someone can be when they’re having sex with someone else’s husband, you’re still left disgusted with him.
If this is to be looked at like horror, then Alison is most definitely some Final Girl that’s being chased by a slasher, because literally at every turn here she’s being attacked and forced to retreat. The promise of moving in together with Noah is guarded by lengthy postponements and a mistress’ apartment, and suddenly Alison comes to the realization that Noah might be having sex with her again, but this isn’t going anywhere, and he’s just trying to appease her.
Oscar is coincidentally run into and takes advantage of a vulnerable, heart broken Alison, pelting her with drinks that aren’t even necessary as she continues to self-destruct just as badly as Noah does, having sex with Oscar as well as everything keeps spiraling down the drain. That stomach twisting tension of horror returns when Alison learns from him that the ranch doesn’t even have much value left on it due to re-financing problems and there’s not going to be the big payoff that’s taking any of the Lockharts away to freedom.
The corresponding confrontation between Alison and Cole’s mother is grueling at she chews Alison out, even going as far as saying that Gabriel’s death was her fault. “It should have been you,” she says to her, eerily detached, as more safety nets continue to tear apart. It’s overwhelming just to watch it, and that’s before Alison returns to self-harming, going a little too far and needing to see Dr. Henry. She ruminates on the events of Gabriel’s death, and when she even hopes to find some false comfort in the idea of Heaven, Henry shoots this down too, saying that he doesn’t believe in it, as more air is let out of Alison’s safety balloon.
It’s crucial that the Final Girl never gives up, just like that girl with the broken jaw, and even though it feels like Alison’s story is going to end with her wet, alone, and lost in the sorrows of the past, triumphantly she manages to rise above it all. She gets the strength to be honest and have agency, and when she declares that she wants to live and needs to leave Cole, it’s beautiful. Alison survives here. And even with the final kink in her story, she’s still managed to pull herself out of the bottom.
Noah’s side of the episode also manages to immediately be catching and disarming, as we finally get him back in the interrogation room with the detective, moving forward on that largely unfinished story of the show. Right from the go we’re being told to question the narrative now as the detective messes with the truth, confusing Noah as to whether he has boys or girls. The false reality of the dueling narratives of this show has never been put under the microscope yet, but now, we’re being told to start showing caution towards what we think is the truth, if we hadn’t already been doing so.
While Noah’s side doesn’t exactly read like a horror film, he might not exactly be the one trying to weave a narrative where he looks like a victim. On Noah’s side of events he is rushed, he completely changes demeanor when Alison is gone as if he’s putting on an act with her, and is not so head over heels with Alison as she implied. Not only does Noah not bring up the topic of a second apartment and leaving his family, he also doesn’t walk her to the station and they don’t have the colossal fight that indicates that they’re over, like she says they do. In fact, Noah’s story is void of all of the romantic flourishes and touches of character that Alison’s has, almost like they’re peppered in to give more flavor and credibility to a lie. Now’s the point where you’re going to have to choose sides here and figure out whose story you’re going to believe.
While Alison’s side is all about her being attacked and her resources falling apart, Noah’s is much more about stability. Helen and him approach everything as a unit, and when they find out that Whitney is pregnant, they approach it delicately and keep things optimistic. This is much more about not giving up as a couple and as a family rather than Alison’s story of just not giving up as a person.
I suppose that I’m kind of an idiot for not putting more together from last episode’s bombshell that Scott is apparently the corpse being dealt with in the “present”, and those seemingly random moments where we saw glimpses of Noah and Helen’s daughter, Whitney, having what could have been an offscreen romance with Scott, were in fact some of the biggest clues that the show has given.
And then that pregnancy test shows up.
And once you have that piece of the puzzle set, what could have happened in the “present” starts to be a lot clearer.
It’s a little discouraging when Noah meets up with Max and repeatedly tells him that he loves Alison more than anything and can’t live without her. He insists that this is real and “true love” rather than some mid-life crisis, and Max continues to spout sound, reasonable advice like how Alison’s luster will eventually wear off, like Helen’s has. And even after hearing all of this, Noah still feels invincible and so he does something as crazy as jumping out of the window of a skyscraper.
Noah comes clean to Helen. He tells her everything, and even throws on that he doesn’t want this life anymore and is in love with someone else. He severs this tie. He gives up on Helen as he simultaneously doubles down on Alison. Their fight is brutal, but when Helen finds Alison’s underwear, the venom that Maura Tierney conjures in her voice when she figures out what’s gone on is tremendous stuff, as is the fallout afterwards.
Alison’s story showed her getting beaten down before gaining strength and emerging as a renewed person. Noah’s exodus is sloppy and selfish and contains none of the confidence that Alison’s to Cole does. The Affair has often juxtaposed Noah and Alison’s stories where they’ve been at opposite ends of the spectrum, but this is the one that counts, and as Noah starts strong in this one, he’s left with nothing in the end. Maybe his story does sort of resemble a horror film after all…
Noah, lost in delusion, as he flees to Alison would have been a great, sad ending in itself, but seeing him arrive at the station to meet Alison, with Cole present with her to do the same thing, is the best thing this show has ever done. At the start of this episode it felt like there was so much that needed to happen in order to have the characters where they need to be to match the “present,” but at the end of this, everything and everyone are perfectly positioned.
Just like Dr. Henry’s parable is about not giving up, we also see a man jump off the top of a building and fall to his death because he just couldn’t take it anymore. We have to be careful. We can’t let things overwhelm us, and as we’re poised for the final episode everyone needs to not give up more than ever. Noah is in the worst position moving forward, and perhaps he’s the one that saw the man plummet to his death for a reason. He especially must be careful, lest he end up with something much worse than an ugly jaw.