This review contains spoilers.
“Hey Pot, I’m Kettle, nice to meet you.”
The Affair has been touch and go as of late and while certain characters have perhaps been a let down, episode six heads in the right direction and it finds interesting ground to explore in terms of the ancillary relationships in people’s lives and how they can have drastic effects on how they treat others. For instance, the episode weighs in with Janelle and her ex-husband, Carl, and the baggage that then puts on both Anton and Noah. Additionally, Alison’s relationship with her oft-mentioned father comes into focus, and that ends up becoming much more of a conversation about Alison and her mother, Athena.
Another major theme in this episode is that Anton doesn’t want to become his father, yet Noah’s son, Trevor, also hates the idea of turning into his dad. Furthermore, Alison experiences the same thing with her mother in so many ways. Even the fights that characters have about their children are actually about each other. Every experience in this episode gets filtered through another person and it examines the causal effect of people in a compelling way.
Noah’s story begins in a very comforting place and it’s nice to see the majority of his material revolve around his role as a teacher. It looks like Noah and Anton have bonded a considerable amount since the walkout situation and it’s delightful to watch this caring, genuine relationship take place as this mentor/protégé bond develops. The dynamic between the two of them remains one of the most enjoyable aspects of this season. It’s once again a pleasant reminder of how well Noah can work when he’s operating outside of a romantic capacity.
Noah’s role as a mentor continues to resonate more than his romantic material, but Noah’s story this week is far from lacking in romance. He continues deeper down his ill-advised relationship with Janelle and it leads to some very tender and painful moments. It’s also deeply encouraging to see Noah initially turn down Janelle and not break a date with his son for some sex (which is certainly something he’d have done in the past). Noah and Janelle still ultimately end up together, but it comes about in a refreshingly more respectful nature where Noah doesn’t lose sight of his priorities.
Anton opens up to Noah and he feels compelled to share it with Janelle, which inevitably opens up the larger conversation of her ex-husband’s lost potential and his looming presence on Anton. At the same time, Noah is lost in a parallel situation of sorts where Trevor absolutely loathes everything about Noah. It’s difficult to watch him repeatedly tear down his father, even though he’s making a sincere effort to be present.
It’s very awkward to see Noah get caught up in an extremely personal fight between Janelle, Carl, and Anton, about the boy’s future. Noah’s desire to help Anton succeed and do something with his future has maybe caused much more harm than that it was worth. It’s wonderful to see Noah push so hard for Anton to do well and it’s important to note that this drive was there before he knew that Anton had any relation to Janelle. He’s invested in helping this kid refine his buried talents and it doesn’t have anything to do with who his mother happens to be.
The most important thing about Noah’s story here is that even if all of his decisions aren’t completely right, he’s absolutely coming from an altruistic place where he purely wants to help both Anton and Alison. The story is still guilty of the usual, “Ohh Noah…”moments, but this is the most evolved version of the character to date. It’s appreciated how concise Noah’s portion of the episode is and how it hits all the necessary bases before it jumps on over to Alison.
Furthermore, Alison’s narrative connects to Noah’s in a way that’s more creative than what’s typical for the series. The two stories complement and spill over into each other in such a way that the final act of the episode very much feels like a shared story between the two of them rather than it just being Alison’s story.
For a moment I thought that the episode might even attempt to cram three stories into this installment and that Alison’s section would be just as brief as Noah’s before the episode then moves onto Helen. Instead what follows is that Alison’s story takes up about three quarters of the episode, but it definitely makes use of the time. To say that Alison goes through a lot in this episode would be an understatement.
There’s a telling moment during the beginning of Alison’s narrative where she proudly claims that a man isn’t exactly her priority at the moment, but her behaviour in this episode continually says the contrary. When Alison’s defenses are down she acts as if she absolutely needs a man, which is certainly a problematic, yet believable, message. At one point Alison unconsciously nuzzles and rubs up against a man that she falls asleep next to on her plane ride to Noah because she’s so in need of contact.
At the same time, when Alison learns that her mother is being harassed by the man that’s allegedly her father, Alison’s eager to make contact with him and try to figure out how he could fit into her life. It’s kind of crazy that Alison innocently answers a phone call and it sets off a whole avalanche of disasters that irrevocably change her as a result, but that’s what’s put into motion here.
James, Alison’s supposed father, has apparently been watching her for years even though her mother’s story all of this time is that she didn’t know the identity of Alison’s father. Alison’s initially sceptical of James’ story, but it’s not that far-fetched and even feels a little eerie that what happened with James and Alison’s mother is incredibly similar to what she went through with Noah.
It’s more than a little jarring to learn that a lot of Alison’s mother’s behaviour, like changing her name to Athena, was actually to hide from James. All of this feels like it’s true, but the minute that James pushes in the direction of wanting Alison’s kidney, it all takes a foreboding turn (especially when he brings money into the equation).
It would be absolutely devastating if James was pulling some con on Alison and it would destroy her to become so emotionally and physical vulnerable in that way. This is all highly sensitive material and it’s pretty hokey that the element that finally convinces Alison is a connection to her hypnosis experience with Ben.
Regardless of the circumstances that get her to this moment of clarity, it pushes Alison to a helpful place where she can confront her mother and finally get some honesty out of her. However, it makes things even more raw between them. It at first seems like there couldn’t be any plausible explanation for Athena keeping James away from Alison, but the fact that it turns into a depressing, cautionary tale of sexual abuse puts Alison in an even more difficult situation.
This graveyard of skeletons that Alison unexpectedly pulls out of her family’s closet results in her heading straight to Ben, of all people. The saddest thing here is that Alison sets off another unintentional land mine when she doesn’t manage to connect with Ben, but does happen to meet his lovely wife. Whether that garbage sob story that Ben was preaching to Noah was true or not, this is absolutely the worst way for her to have found out and it couldn’t happen at a more upsetting time for Alison. This latest betrayal pushes her to yet another man, Noah, and even puts her on a collision course with another one along the way.
The final ten minutes of the episode turn into a veritable nightmare for Alison. Matters start in a totally inoffensive way where Alison conveniently open up to a stranger on a plane who appears to have been dealt a very similar lot in life. However, the situation quickly sours at an astonishing rate and although the incident is simultaneously convoluted and terrifying, it connects Alison and Noah’s stories and gets her both into and out of jail.
It’s important to note that while this story is all through the filter of Alison, it seems like it would be dangerous to deny her of her experience on the plane. Alison’s story in this episode does do subtle work to accentuate her paranoid behaviour and how the people around her all seem like untrustworthy individuals. There are of course parallels to the current #MeToo movement, but the point of all of this is to further tie Alison together with her mother. They’ve both victims in very specific ways and even though they don’t always see eye-to-eye, these separate incidents do help bring them closer together.
It’s a little surreal to see Noah, Alison, and Helen all hanging out together during the episode’s conclusion. It’s more proof of just how much these characters have been through and the increasing way that these people have changed. It doesn’t seem possible that Helen would ever want to give Alison advice, but after so much baggage between the both of them, a certain numbness helps them be civil. In fact, the final scene between Alison and Helen is both eye opening and heartbreaking, but it might be one of my favourite moments from the season so far.
The big message that Helen tries to imbue Alison and the audience with is that it’s not impossible to change your narrative and assert control, even if it happens late in life. It’s something that Alison in particular needs to hear and she will hopefully rise out of this desperation as a stronger version of herself. There once again is no flash-forward sequence in this episode, but after Helen’s chat with Alison it seems pretty clear that her “disappearance” has something to do with her new found assertiveness.
It’d be all too satisfying to see a bunch of defeated men show up to find Alison and figure out that she was never a damsel in distress here, but rather just living her life. She’s becoming her own Athena. She’s celebrating her second act.
Then again, the abandonment of Joanie certainly speaks to the idea that maybe Alison’s new groove ends up leading to some dangerous business or perhaps Ben even goes too far after Alison stands up for herself. This puzzle is far from finished, but its picture is suddenly a lot clearer. What’s to come will just hopefully play into the inspiring version of all of this rather than an alternative where Alison gets hacked up by Ben.
This is an encouraging episode of The Affair that actually has me optimistic about the final half of the season and how everything comes together. It’s been a bit of a messy start, but there’s still time to turn it around and change the narrative.
It’s time to manifest that destiny, motherfuckers. It will only be a matter of time until Krishna is worshipping Alison.
Read Daniel’s review of the previous episode here.