The Affair season 4 episode 5 review

A very problematic episode of The Affair jumps through some extremely silly hoops to get to where it’s going. Spoilers ahead...

This review contains spoilers.

“I come with the room.”

During The Affair’s first season, when it seemed like Cole wouldn’t be able to get over Alison, did you ever go, “Hey, why doesn’t he just have an exorcism performed on him to erase his love for her?” That’s how mature dramas solve love triangles, right? Well that’s where we’re at with The Affair. This is a difficult episode of the series because it does some great things for its characters, but it goes about them in such a stupid, obtuse way. This instalment contains scenes that are simultaneously the best and the worst things that the show has ever done and at many times it is too much.

The larger questions that this episode attempts to answer aren’t flawed in nature. This hour wants to dig into what its characters live for, whether that’s an existence that revolves around themselves or a life that’s devoted to someone else. The characters really examine why they’ve lived their lives how they have and if it might finally be time to buck that trend. An exciting thing about this week’s episode is that the characters in question here are Cole and Vik, rather than the anticipated Noah and Helen.

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A Vik storyline is long overdue, so this is a welcome development. If the barely-seen Juliette from last season could get a point of view devoted to her, then it’s about time that Vik gets that privilege. Omar Metwally’s performance as Vik has been a consistent highlight through this season and while Metwally always does a great job, this episode is his freaking Emmy tape. Vik wades through a veritable haunted house of emotional horrors. His half of the episode is not easy to watch and it almost makes Cole’s “vision quest” that follows feel like a joke. Vik currently experiences life at its harshest and it’s important to get that perspective. It hopefully won’t be the only Vik-fuelled segment that we get this year.

It makes for a welcome change of pace to get inside of Vik’s head and it already helps this season feel more varied. Not only that, but there are no flash-forward teases in this episode and in that sense, it distills The Affair down to its best qualities and brings the show back to classical, raw human storytelling. It’s just a shame that this storytelling happens to go to such questionable places to find its voice.

Vik finds himself already feeling pains from his pancreatic cancer, which prompts him to have some important conversations with his parents about his mortality. In many ways the scenes with Vik’s parents are more difficult to watch than the scenes where Vik is in physical pain. It’s heartbreaking to watch Vik’s mother as she continues to live in denial and insist to him that he needs to live and that no grandson or any alternative will suffice. Suddenly Vik’s job becomes a lot more grueling and while he tries to not think of himself while he informs other families of their difficult lots, his parents’ vulnerability allows the struggles of the job to leak in. He tries to work through a script, but he starts to feel like his days of following a routine are over.

Vik gets a healthy release by the end of the episode, but everything that leads up to it is crippled in dysfunction. There are some sweeping betrayals that take place in this half of the episode, but it’s honestly for the best that this rushed baby idea between Helen and Vik remains exactly that and doesn’t come to fruition. Helen lets loose that she was never all-in on the idea to begin with, but neither was Vik. This was all just something he was doing for his parents and thankfully two different gene pools of cowardice won’t get to make a panic baby.

As Vik attempts to finally face the fact that his death isn’t far off he goes down a tailspin of atypical behaviour where he abandons patients at the children’s hospital, buys a Porsche, and has an affair while he talks about haunted highways. Plus, if I know The Affair  like I think I do, Ciara will likely end up pregnant and Vik will get his baby after all. As clichéd as all this is, Vik’s talk with Ciara is actually quite cathartic and helpful. He’s lived his entire life for other people and while his realisation may come at a tragic time, it’s comforting to at least see him reach it, selfishness be damned. If anyone has needed to live for themselves, it’s Vik.

Vik’s story is decidedly different than Helen’s, but they’ve both led lives that are incredibly reactionary and in response to other individuals. For that matter, Alison does the same thing. Grouping Vik into that club further speaks to the many human parallels shared in The Affair  and how these stories can be both universal and personal. That being said, Vik’s breakthrough is important, but at the end of the day he’s just left with the bills and baggage of it all. At least when you live you life for other people you still have other people in your life.

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Vik’s whole story is about the realisation that he’s lived his life for other people while he finally grabs the reins and takes control. In a lot of ways Cole’s narrative here mirrors that. I was unsure if The Affair  would take a little break from Cole while he’s on his vision quest and focus on other characters, but instead the series digs into his walkabout right away. Cole find himself in a place of self-reflection as he tries to figure out who made his dad’s surfboard when he went out on his walkabout in the area. Cole wants to go on as close a path to his father as possible and find the same answers that he did.

When Cole tracks down this skateboard curator, Nan (Amy Irving!), she turns out to have served a much more important role in his father’s life. Cole and Nan’s reactions are pretty ham-fisted. Nothing is subtle here and every point gets underlined and highlighted in neon. The only thing that’s missing is for someone to reveal at the end of the episode that Nan’s been dead for ten years. At first glance it all feels pretty contrived, much like the framework around Vik’s storyline, but the results at the end are worth it. Nan and her protégé, Delphine, are just as transparent as Ciara, but they’re necessary foils to push these characters to where they need to go.

For a moment it looks like Cole might immediately sleep with someone else, which would be a far too sad and hilarious beginning and end to his walkabout. This is all supposed to help Cole gain clarity about his marriage and life. He didn’t have to go all the way to Morro Bay to have an affair. On that note, another huge problem with this episode is that both halves of the instalment feature women that literally throw themselves at Vik and Cole to have sex with them and there are zero consequences. Cole at least shows enough restraint to not initially act on this temptation, but what follows is so inane it maybe would have been better if he did.

Cole’s emotional exorcism of Alison plays like a bad Nicolas Sparks rom-com and it’s extraordinarily cringe-worthy stuff. Can anyone confirm that these simply aren’t scenes from the Joshua Jackson film, One Week? Is this seriously the only way that Cole could get over his ex-wife? It’s honestly insulting to imply that Cole can’t choose Luisa by his own devices and that he needs to resort to spiritualism to solve his problem. Couldn’t he have just looked at all of the mistakes that he’s made, examine his decisions with both Luisa and Alison, and figure out what makes the most sense for him?

Then, after all of that nonsense, Cole concedes and says that it didn’t work. Cole’s now more committed than ever to Alison, it seems. This is all so sloppy and mock saccharine (right down to the “Thanks, Dad” before the credits roll), but now at least some of these characters can be at peace. Or not. It really feels like Alison is over Cole at this point, despite his passion for her. And I guess Luisa just gets deported now?

Episode five marks the half-way point of this season of The Affair  and this is definitely a whirlwind of an episode that is far from successful and more than a little silly a lot of the time. However, the state in which this entry leaves these characters has me genuinely excited for what’s to come next for them. It might not have had the most eloquent execution, but it amounts to a memorable episode of The Affair, for both better and worse.

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