This review of The Affair contains spoilers
The Affair Season 3 Episode 5
“You may not want to remember me, but I want to remember you.”
Early on in this episode of The Affair, upon a reunion between Alison and Noah, they share the exchange, “You look awful.” “Do I? Because I feel great.” And isn’t that pretty much the crux of this whole bifurcated perspective that the show plays with so much? This is a show that by design is meant to cloud your perception and play with what’s the truth and this Alison/Noah doubleheader this week does a particularly strong job of conveying that.
I actually kind of love that this episode begins at that moment of intersection between Alison and Noah that ended off last week’s installment. For a show that is so prone to take huge leaps in its timeline, seeing an episode pick up immediately where the one before ended is a little comforting.
I know that a lot of people take exception to Noah, and he’s really in prime from in Alison’s half of the episode. It’s brutal to see Alison finally trying to do the right thing and avoid filling her like with drama, but Noah continually insists on inserting himself into things. It’s awful to see her do him a favor—against her better judgment, at that — and he tries to spin the thing into a quirky day away from it all (Come to Block Island, Where Bad Decision Makers Can Kick Back!). Noah just won’t take no for an answer here and it at least provides Alison an opportunity to stick up for herself through this form of naturalized harassment.
I can understand the place where Noah’s coming from, but he and Alison have mostly been apart lately with the news of divorce hardly seeming like the surprise that Noah treats it as. Alison also makes it pretty clear that she’s making this decision so she can be around her child — not due to any vitriol towards Noah — which is something that he should more than understand. Regardless, his behavior is wholly inappropriate, and it’s enlightening to see Cole’s surprise appearance feature him both asking if he can come into Alison’s home, as well as leaving when she asks him to as well. Last week I drew comparisons between Cole and Noah and how the former might have started acting more like the latter, but I think it’s clear from this episode how much Cole is concerned with just doing the right thing—or at least his perception of what that might be.
Meanwhile, I was heartbroken when Noah holds Alison back with emotional blackmail by forcing her to go on a vacation with him so she’s able to get her divorce papers signed. It’s awful behavior from Noah, even if he is trying to play the whole thing off as being aloofly romantic. Once Alison agrees to his request, it becomes a decision that’s immediately filled with dread. You really don’t want Alison to stand-up her daughter on her birthday because of some Noah-related bullshit. She’s been knocked down enough times that I really don’t need to see it happening again, especially when she’s done everything in her power to do the right thing here. Sure, she and Noah might be smirking together and sharing a laugh early on, but it’s over the topic of consent and rape. This isn’t the swept away romantic getaway that Noah wants it to be.
On the topic of this getaway, I kind of love that the show almost treats their escape to Block Island as a purgatory of sorts where they’re meant to figure out their problems and move on. They roam across this place (mostly) undisturbed as if they’re the only people left alive. It provides an eerie quality that when combined with Noah’s hyperbolized behavior results in an uncomfortable presence pulsing through all of this. That all being said, the moment where Noah tells Alison that all that Joanie needs from her is for her to be there makes for a sweet, touching moment. It admittedly did work on me, even if I was still mostly frustrated with Noah’s erratic behavior in the first half of this week’s episode.
Alison gets to make herself heard a number of times in this episode — both with Cole and with Noah—and they both make for great moments of clarity. For instance, her assessment of what actually went on between her and Noah seems pretty spot on in my opinion, and yet Noah’s insistence that he was in love and that he wants to hang onto this memory feels very genuine, too. It’s also more than possible that both of their contrasting feelings are valid here, with both of them experiencing what they claimed to have felt, even if they’re totally different perceptions. This episode highlights the fact that often reality can be built from these diametric ideas, especially when the territory that you’re dealing with is the murky place of human emotions.
There surely must be some people out there that are rooting for Noah and Alison to stay together, but you have no idea how much I was yelling here for Noah to just stop so Alison could get out of this trip unscathed. In fact, Noah’s behavior is so over the top (like singing, naked, jumping into stranger’s hot tubs over the top) in Alison’s half of the episode, you almost can’t wait to see how differently he’s behaving in his own rendition of things so you’re left to figure out for yourself where the truth lies. Wisely though, Noah’s half picks up right where Alison’s ends, not giving you the opportunity to weigh both accounts against one another.
But goddamn the beauty of this show though, because as much as I was hating Noah in the first half of the episode, he was fully bringing me to tears during his side of things. Noah’s half of the story might not try to re-write history, but it does provide the very wounded, considerate side of Noah Solloway that is also a fundamental part of who he is. You begin to realize that showing Noah at his most bombastic is being done to make this personal material connect even harder. We’re being shown the full spectrum of the character just as Alison has to decide if she wants to cut this person out of her life or not and consider all the details.
Noah’s half manages to beautifully dissect why both he and Alison found each other in an elegantly succinct way that I never thought to put together before (although in my defense, has Noah’s mother come up that much before in the show?). As much as I might have been rolling my eyes at material from Alison’s segment, I was pretty deeply enthralled here. If nothing else, this episode is a strong reminder of how accomplished of an actor Dominic West is and that he’s capable of bringing his A-game to this show just like everyone else.
And speaking of peak performances, Brendan Fraser is in top form this week as Gunther. Every line he delivers in Noah’s prison flashbacks is dripping with unhinged madness. He’s also just taunting Noah in the worst way possible and his approach towards “having sex” with Noah’s picture of Alison is all sorts of upsetting. Noah is completely powerless against him and giving us these glimpses of their power dynamic in prison, only to play it against their relationship now makes Noah’s fear all the more understandable. It’s much easier to sympathize with this guy for wanting to escape to Block Island for a day when an obsessive creep with a questionable mental state is the alternative for him back at home.
For all the impulsiveness that goes on in the top of the episode, Noah’s portion is interestingly one of much more restraint. It’s largely composed of an enlightening debate about becoming your parents and the grief of losing them — or losing any loved one, for that matter. Beyond this somber reflection over loss, there’s a thin thread of tension running through the second half of the episode as Noah is worried that Gunther is out there for him. This thread turns into an outright sweater by the episode’s conclusion as Noah finds himself headed back into destruction.
If only happiness could be as evergreen as things like fire, oceans, and babies.