This Affair review contains spoilers.
“Why do you think he decided to change it up?”
In the episode’s opening minutes we see Noah, having resumed teaching, deep in the middle of a class that’s aptly on Romeo and Juliet, just after he has gotten out of a forbidden love affair of his own. What’s most interesting here is that Noah chooses to focus on how Romeo and Juliet is a comedy up until it takes its tragic turn and he dissects why Shakespeare made this transition. In doing so, we’re directly being told to put our minds in the same space and experience similar whiplash here, as The Affair is in the process of a very similar shift, as it clearly moves away from the affair material and embraces the crime and murder aspect of the show.
And just like the Montagues and Capulets, it feels like the Solloways and Lockharts are heading towards a real tragedy of a final act.
We see the Solloways back in New York City and it’s kind of wonderful to not only see Noah get to teach, but doing it so gleefully and competently. He’s a delight in the classroom, and even if this is the only time we see Noah teaching (and how manufactured an appearance it will have been having focused on Romeo and Juliet), it will have been worth it. It’s just nice to see Noah being an all-around nice guy, as he excels at his job, helps his son with school woes, and even deals with his daughter’s possible bulimia. It’s amazing what he has time for now that he’s done with that ol’ summer fling.
Which is why it’s so crushing to see Helen rebuking a beautiful gift he’s bought her and chosen to give to her over a romantic dinner. Noah insists that she take it, appreciative that she’s hung in there through everything that’s happened, but as she keeps turning it down, you can’t help but wonder if it’s because she’s no longer in this for the long haul and doesn’t want any hanging guilt.
We see Noah and Helen trying to fall back into the old rhythm of things, and even as a viewer you want to see this be fun and work out, but it seems like there are problems everywhere around them that they can’t get away from. In Noah’s class lecture he talks about how Romeo and Juliet is all about how pure love cannot be sustained in an imperfect world, and here we basically see this idea coming to fruition as the realities of life invade their marriage. But the larger question is also posed as to whether any love can work in this show’s world. Helen yells to Noah that they used to be a team and now they’re just two people that don’t know how to deal with things anymore; a relationship that is becoming more and more of the show’s treaty on what a marriage actually is.
So just when life back in the city seems like it might be too much for Noah, he volunteers to return to Montauk to accompany Bruce, Helen’s father, for a literary award, and the question of whether Noah is crazy or not to suggest this is explored. Helen responds this with a pretty insulting, unnecessary speech about how she could have had anyone, but chose him, and so it’s so reassuring when Noah perfectly undercuts her, saying he knows all this, and is entitled to the one mistake he made. And honestly, he seems remorseful. It really does feel like he wants to move past what’s happened and be the perfect guy he once was again. You even want to believe him when he says that he isn’t going to do anything with Alison while he’s over there, which is why it’s so frustrating when of course Alison is working the event and crosses paths with Noah again. You just hope he can do the right thing.
So it’s mortifying when Alison’s grandmother has a heart attack and Noah ends up being the only person who can give her a lift to the hospital. There’s tension abounding the entire time, and you’re just screaming “no” at your television through it all, but he manages to play the gentleman and restrain himself.
In what has the potential to be the best conversation in the episode but is cut all too short, Bruce calls Noah on his affair with Alison, and reminisces about a past love of his and how he channeled all of this energy into his next book. It’s great to see Noah practically dreading every word Bruce says, awaiting judgment, but the most crushing stuff happens down the road, when Bruce admits that he still thinks of that affair of his every single day. And we see that even being faithful isn’t always being faithful, or how the union of a marriage can be a prison to your own thoughts.
It’s chilling when we move to the present timeline where Noah is doing a reading for The Descent (which is also on its way towards being turned into a movie) and the lead detective on the case is there, building a stronger story against Noah and the lies that he might have told and why he told them.
Over on Alison’s side of everything we see her slaving over Christmas dinner and the domestic side of things with the Lockharts, and despite her being all too ready to run away from all of this last episode, she now seems determined to figure out the difference between baking powder and baking soda.
Although Cole has agreed to sell the ranch, it doesn’t seem like he’s actually that ready to move on yet. He goes on about fixing the place up and series of interviews with agents and appraisers to make sure that it ends up in the right hands. This invested interest in the ranch and funneling all of his efforts into making sure it’s perfect is no doubt a reflection of him wanting to make sure his second attempt at marriage with Alison goes about perfectly. It might look as pristine as possible at the moment, but there are leaks in their foundation, too.
All of this ends up stemming into the much larger worry that something might be going on with Alison’s mother, with her behavior feeling all too reminiscent of Alison’s grandmother who is already deep in the throes of Alzheimer’s. Around these cracks in their family and home, Alison and Cole truly seem happy with each other and making a go at things, all in a very energized way that Noah and Helen are absolutely lacking. While the aftermath of Noah’s affair is constantly present with the Solloways, hanging over them as it’s drudged up through therapy on a weekly basis, the Lockharts seem to have forgiven and forgotten and might even end up with that new baby yet.
It’s incredibly reassuring when we see that Alison not only is telling the truth about not knowing what her catering event is for, and when she finds out that it’s for Bruce, she actively tries to go home. This is not the unhinged Alison that was spying on Helen last week and trying to weasel herself back into Noah’s life. This is someone looking to move on. And yet, she still can’t help gaze longingly at Noah from a distance. And in her version of events, when they finally meet again, it’s as if he’s this white knight pulling her out of a daydream of monotony. Once again, Bruce’s speech about lingering thoughts always being present, deep in our DNA, can’t help but be thought of here.
With everything going so well with Alison, it’s tough to see her get pulled into her grandmother’s heart attack and entering a hospital room full of strangers that are pressuring her into a DNR while Alison just wants to hang onto familiarity right now. Suddenly she’s back to feeling powerless and overwhelmed and the concept of losing her grandmother feels all too familiar with the pain of when she lost her child.
It’s interesting to see that on the Lockhart’s side of things everything seems to very easily be divided into black and white. Alison tells Cole that he should spend his money on something that makes him happy. It’s as simple as that. And when Alison comes to Cole for advice over the DNR, Cole says that if she doesn’t want to do it, then she shouldn’t do it. These are selfish, single-minded decisions that perhaps show why the Lockharts are doing so “well” right now due to their ability to compartmentalize. The Solloways are doing nothing but sharing and thinking of others and it’s made things considerably messy as a result.
On the other hand, in spite of Alison’s happiness, she seems like a powder keg about to explode constantly, and from what we’ve seen in the “present,” this might be all too true. It’s devastating when Alison’s told that her resistance to the DNR has led to her grandmother’s ribs getting cracked and kidneys shutting down after an attempt to save her.
So it’s kind of beautiful seeing Noah be able to talk Alison through this and explain to her that hanging onto her grandmother for any extra time isn’t doing her lost son any service or reversing any of this process. The whole thing is perhaps explained a little on-the-nose, parallels are made too obvious, and it’s somewhat irritating that it’s Noah that breaks through to Alison rather than her husband, especially with how compassionate he’s trying to be, but it creates the necessary wedge in Alison’s home life that will drive these final episodes.
As Alison and Noah reunite, they share a smoke of all things and Alison reveals that she hasn’t had a cigarette since the summer, almost equating their affair to this breezy summer addiction that’s sometimes indulged in and then turned off. It’s illuminating to see Alison’s side of things handle her reunion with Noah incredibly casually, with almost no fanfare at all, her being ready to talk about Noah’s family from the jump. In Noah’s series of events this is a much more guarded, dangerous experience that’s built up to in an almost hyperbolic fashion. When Noah needs to join her to the hospital, it’s practically expected. It feels like a trap. On Alison’s side, it’s completely disarming and simply a friend helping someone in need. Noah tells her she’s beautiful (and that he loves her) in this side of things, and she counters back by talking about her marriage’s strength. Noah offers to give her a ride back from the hospital, and she says no thanks (at first).
While this does sound like a much more stable Alison, we must also consider if this is the side of her story that Alison is really cooking to the police in the “present” so she seems more innocent and totally unlikely to have possibly killed Noah. Or is that theory we discussed in episode six even still a possibility, as this episode seems to confirm that Scott Lockhart might be who was murdered. A reveal that would be pretty disappointing if Cole wasn’t also suspiciously absent from his own brother’s funeral. If he’s still even alive himself.
Then again, is anyone still being interviewed? Is what we’re being shown still their interrogation stories? It doesn’t seem like it. The show has been incredibly scant with the “present” material lately, and when it has gone there, it’s far past the point of the detective questioning these people. There are only two episodes left of this show, and it feels like there’s still a tremendous amount of dot connecting to do (that is, if this story is only spanning one season, which we must assume it is, since a renewal was far from a certainty). It’s going to be an exciting final couple of episodes, and as the detective continues to make headway in his case(s), I’m sure the much sought after answers to these questions will come with them.
And if Romeo and Juliet is in fact an indicator of how this wraps up, all of the Solloways and Lockharts should be a little more cautious than usual when it comes to poison…