This The Affair review contains spoilers.
The Affair: Season 2, Episode 12
“Why should I believe you? Why should I believe a fucking word that comes out of your mouth?”
Noah shouts the above line at Alison during this episode, but this idea is very crucial to the entire finale. It’s a question that the series as a whole is even predicated upon. It’s even what perspective all comes down to in the end: whether you’re able to trust what you’re seeing, and where the truth can lie between two stories. It might have felt like this question was crucial in past episodes of The Affair, but this one has a field day playing with the concept.
As we jump forward once more (Joanie is 18 months old at this point, meaning that this season has covered — what — two years of time? That seems crazy, but I think is the case…), we again witness growing pains in Noah and Alison’s relationship. As they continue to live apart, straining to make contact, Noah struggles to pull her forward with him. He promises her trips to France while she continues to drag her feet. Noah thinks that he can fix everything if it doesn’t look like they’re in crisis mode, and Alison is terrified to be alone at all with Noah, fearing that the inevitable truth will leak out.
On the topic of breezing through time, as relentless as this season has been, this episode isn’t at all interested in slowing down even though it’s an extra 10 minutes in length. We’re barely 10 minutes in before we’re already at Cole and Louisa’s wedding, and it’s not much later that Alison is revealing to Noah that Joanie might be Cole’s child. These are big events and I figured they’d be happening in the back end of the episode at least.
Alison’s confession scene to Noah is a brutal piece of acting from both parties here. Wilson and West have been truly putting out incredible work this season. Seeing Noah barrel through the gamut of emotions as he processes this news is great stuff, but what’s even more terrifying is watching Alison in the background covering her ears and trying to hide like a scared child. Noah gets some fairly articulate honesty out here as he quickly reduces everything we’ve seen in the series so far into a fucked up mistake. If there’s any one word to describe this finale, it’s “raw,” and this early scene in the episode sets the tone perfectly.
What I love so much about this last episode of the season is how it so carefully plays with what we think we know is going to happen. Alison blowing up her life with Noah is more than enough to send him into a drunk driving rampage that ends in Scotty’s death, yet the situation sees diffusion as soon as it looks like it’s going down that direction. At the same time, the episode continues to pair Noah and Helen and Alison and Cole together in a way that makes it seem like these original pairs will see reconciliation. Once again though, it wants us to question whether this is a trick of perspective. The way in which we’re being shown scenes, in juxtaposition with how the series has been presenting all of this so far, conditions us to think this way. Not unlike when Noah learns what’s happened with Alison and Cole, it changes how he’s seen everything else that’s gone on, whether it’s true or not.
It almost seems too perfect when Noah and Helen have nicely found acceptance between each other just as Cole talks to Alison about a future that she can very easily give to him. The episode dangles these happily-ever-afters right in front of these pairings’ faces, making the inevitable conclusions here all the more devastating. To see how close everyone is to happiness right before it all comes crashing down shows that perhaps alternate futures were mere moments away. We now realize how close Alison was to being that manslaughter victim instead of Scotty. Who knows how things could have been different? We see Noah bragging over cute videos that he’s taken of Joanie dancing, while in flash forwards he seems completely removed of the child. The episode keeps playing these stark binaries against each other, putting the audience in just as much disarray as the characters.
These tricks continue to masterful effect, keeping your expectations in constant flux. I can’t tell you how big the smile on my face was when Noah and Helen had a spontaneous swim session while Alison is presumably crying her eyes out somewhere as Cole kisses his new bride. However shortly after, the situation they find themselves in is as if they discovered they were swimming with sharks. I love, love, love the idea that Noah and Helen finally embracing their past and deciding to reconsider everything is what leads to Scotty’s death (especially since he’s much more of a problem to Alison and Cole at this point). I love that it’s not just Noah being a stupid, reckless alcoholic, but rather a twisted scenario that does bind these two together, but in entirely different ways. It’s great plotting that’s also nicely simplistic in a way that I never could have seen this coming either.
Then, this episode takes all of that and embraces this theme even harder by the staggering reveal that Alison also has a hand in Scotty’s death, too. That she is on the other side of all of this and these three are once more joined together in a devil’s triangle that has all of them keeping secrets from one another with various degrees of truth on the table is beautiful. That this can all somehow turn into another situation where Noah must choose between Helen and Alison is crazy, and yet, here we are.
It’s also just quite liberating for The Affair to be on the other side of the “event” now, knowing exactly what’s gone on with that being the interesting tool that we have to play with these flash forwards now. This series continues to surprise me in the ways in which it can cut deep and hurt these characters. You’d have thought that Noah and Alison’s brutal separation would have been it for them. Now it’s unclear where they stand. Even if their romantic relationship is through (which I don’t think is the case), this incestuous relationship between all of these people is far from finished. Even if the series morphs into a Solloway v. Lockhart court case, these people are still in each other’s systems and seeing how their relationships continue to mutate has been one of the most satisfying angles of this season. To think that this direction might be what the series is embracing moving forward, I’m even more excited to see where this show is headed.
When the first season of The Affair ended, I almost felt a little cheated by its cliffhanger conclusion and that this wasn’t a one-season, self-contained story. Now though, I’m actively happy to see matters left unresolved and messy. The series has finally grown into the grandiose scope that it has always worn on its sleeve, with the first two seasons feeling like the end of one chapter, and a new one now beginning. Many series are toted around as having a novel-like structure (especially Dominic West’s previous vehicle, The Wire), with The Affair certainly being one that benefits from such a setup due to how much of it is focused on novels and the writing of such. With the revelations that go down here and the bigger picture that’s beginning to be hinted at, it finally feels like it’s earned such a status. This started as a show about people having an affair. Now it’s just a show about people. People in all of their brutal, flawed, raw glory.
Overall Season Grade: 4.5/5 Stars