This The Affair review contains spoilers.
The Affair Season 3 Episode 8
So in spite of how my enthusiasm for this season of The Affair hasn’t been as gung ho as it was during previous seasons, goddamn if I didn’t shout out loud when Helen sauntered into that bar and took a seat next to Alison. A simple gesture as two characters sharing a drink shouldn’t be so earth shattering, but it acted as a reminder that in spite of this year’s clunky voyage, this show—and these characters—have really come a damn long way over the course of this series. And that’s sort of what this episode is all about.
To begin with, it’s very much appreciated to finally get a breather from Noah this week, and not only that, but a breather from narcissism and hyperbolic displays of self-destruction in general. During the opening court scene, I was almost afraid that Alison was going to wake up, learning that the positive encounter was all a dream. That’s how foreign good news feels to this show. This much-needed palate cleanser comes in at the perfect time and the episode starts things on the right foot with Alison smiling.
Furthermore, taking some time to just see Alison and Cole getting to share a lunch together (at least in one account of events) works volumes. It’s also a delicate reminder of how their time together not only plays so differently than Alison’s time together with Noah, but also Noah and Helen’s time together. There’s a stoic sort of undignified maturity to their moments together that really resonate strongly. It doesn’t hurt either that Joshua Jackson delivers icy stares that could freeze the sun while Ruth Wilson looks like she’s perpetually on the verge of crying out her entire weight in tears.
One of the most fascinating things about this episode is that the person who we don’t get to take a glimpse behind the curtain of—Luisa—happens to be Alison’s saving grace here. Cole is Alison’s opposition, which the episode mines some enlightening material from. The episode becomes much more about Cole’s response to Alison getting shared custody of their child than it is about the huge event itself. It’s an approach that works all too well in a show about perspective (even in the custody hearing, the court’s bullet point breakdown of Alison’s life once more shows the power in point of view), with Cole’s revelations that follow with making for some heavy conversations.
In one of my favorite things about this episode, it does its best impression of last season’s installment that literally put Noah in therapy for his entire portion of the episode (which in turn was doing its best impression of Treem and Levi’s previous series, In Treatment). The version of that in which we get here is Alison helping a young mother open up about the experience of losing a child. The two just talk about grief, acceptance, and the sheer power of life and it’s all sorts of beautiful (and a lengthy scene that I seriously wish has taken up more of the episode). The scene works as a glowing example of how far along Alison has come since the start of the season. She’s gone from not even being able to talk about Gabriel to full on coaching a hurt soul on how to get through the experience. It’s just a powerhouse of a scene. It’s also lovely that Alison’s experience with Noah and the entire premise of the series is reduced to a mere aside in Alison’s pseudo-therapy session. As frustrated as I can get with this series, these fragile moments of honesty are what keep bringing me back and reminding me of how invigorating the show is capable of being.
Even though Alison builds up a pretty shining suit of armor of confidence through most of this episode, it only takes seconds for Cole to scuff the thing up into ruins. The news of Alison having a genuine career path and real sense of purpose made me so, so happy for her, so for Noah to spin the whole thing into a diatribe on parental negligence is kind of ridiculous. He does a beautiful job at wearing Noah’s asshole hat this week. The thing is though, I don’t even think Cole is acting out of resentful jealousy. I’m sure he actually thinks he’s right and doing the just thing here, and there are probably plenty of viewers that agree with him and think I’m crazy for siding with Alison, too. Much like Alison says in this episode, “I like it when the good guys win,” but I’m also sure that many would tell me that Alison is far from being the “good guy” here. Regardless, equating her to chaos is going a little overboard here.
But that takes us right back to that scene with Alison and Helen at the bar together. Not only is it maybe my favorite scene of the entire season, but Helen astutely points out (or astutely as one can when sucking back long island ice teas) that people see what they want to see in each other. Both of their takes on Noah Solloway, Husband play to opposite spectrums of who the man is, with neither being wrong. I doubt that Noah and Cole would be physically capable of sharing a drink together, but I’m sure that if they did, Noah’s reading on Alison would be far away from “chaos.” The mic drop that Alison lands on Cole about how he is constantly relegating her to being “crazy” so he, by default, is the sane one, is a perspective that fits him all too well. So who cares if Cole can deflate Alison’s happiness so easily? If she’s confident in the strides she’s making, what power does one man’s vantage point really have?
And speaking of that one man, Cole’s half of thing is certainly a “glass half empty” sort of installment, with bad news sidelining him from every direction. If it’s not surveying woes and revelatory life decisions, it’s something else. Cole’s in a constant place of uncertainty this week and it looks like it’s about to drive him insane.
At one moment Cole is talking to Oscar, who speaks the praises of putting up with bullshit in order to maintain a picturesque family. This episode wants you to know that even though it’s focusing on a very select group of people, everyone is going through these same crises and malaise. Maybe the reason Oscar’s wife is acting so short with him is because she’s actually out there falling in love with some other man, too. We don’t know. Everyone is putting on appearances, and so when Luisa brings up the topic to Cole about adoption and bringing a “new family” into this sort of place, he’s caught in a confusing place of turmoil. When Oscar has to be the voice of reason you know you’ve fallen into some dark times.
Cole’s side of the episode ends up turning into a rather eloquent deconstruction of Cole and Alison’s relationship and what she really means to him. In spite of his negative behavior that fuels most of the episode, he’s still deeply in love with Alison and possibly ready to throw everything away to still be with her. At the least, even if he doesn’t, he wants to do it on some level.
The horror of Cole’s situation is that even if he doesn’t destroy what he’s built with Luisa, he’s left to living a sabotaged, crippled marriage. Luisa’s doubt in him is only going to grow, and his resentment of her is just going to fester. They’ll turn into something much worse than some hateful person who ran away to his ex-wife. It recently broke that The Affair has been renewed for a fourth season and this news practically has me worried for any sort of reconciliation that’s made. If Cole and Alison do get back together by the end of next season, I’d be worried that season four would be all about re-exploring their relationship with plenty of new temptations eventually seeping in. There’s only so much give and elasticity to human nature and I’m not sure if I, or these characters, can stand being rebuilt and destroyed another time. However the alternative, being the miserable hero, hardly seems like that much better of a prize. Back at Woodlawn Alison talks about how incredible it is to simply be alive, but is that really the case when you’re chained to a rotting marriage as you pine away for something else?
So you guys think that Juliette is like off fighting mummies Indiana Jones style in Cairo or something right now?