It’s amazing how much this show has grown in its sophomore season, producing perfect episodes almost on a weekly basis, and while the penultimate episode is a slight step back from the usual compelling material we usually see on The Affair, it’s still quite fascinating.
I say “step back” mostly because I was hoping for a Helen perspective this week. It’s no surprise Maura Tierney was nominated for a Golden Globe for her work here as she’s singlehandedly stolen every single scene she’s in with her masterful performance, turning what was seemingly a one-dimensional, spoiled, rich woman last year into the show’s most layered and charming character. Even though Helen doesn’t appear in this episode at all, her presence is largely felt thanks to Tierney herself and some truly cheer-worthy writing.
The Noah/Max scene, which occurs after the second half of the episode kicks in, is about as real and multilayered as most of the scenes on this show. What’s interesting here is how we’ve known for a while now that Max is in love with Helen (a relationship I actually wish could have been explored a bit more), so none of this is treated as a plot twist to the audience. Instead, it’s a mere reflection of a friendship gone wrong. Max says things that are genuinely appropriate for this character, and Noah calling out his ex-best friend for being madly in love with his ex-wife as simply “jealous” is actually perfectly realistic. The way the entire scene pans out, from Noah arriving to his friend’s fancy house distressingly looking for Alison to the two discussing Helen’s new “perfect-looking surgeon” boyfriend, is meticulously written and perfectly performed (Josh Stamberg and Dominic West give their season-best work here). All of that combined with this fresh new take on love triangles and friendship makes this interaction a season highlight, although the Helen-on-drugs bit is simply impossible to top (sorry, boys).
This hour was also hell-bent on advancing the plot as most penultimate episodes do, and that’s where Alison and Cole’s storyline comes in. Much like how we were onto the whole Max/Helen relationship, we’re also quite aware by now that Cole is most likely the father of Alison’s baby. It’s just a matter of waiting for the characters to find out, and it’s not as frustrating as it would have been on a soap opera because the characters feel much more alive here. Believe it or not, I found Oscar quite compelling this time, telling Noah that Alison and Cole bought the Lobster Roll right from under him and adding that Alison is heartless. It’s intriguing because she has been the hardest character to root for since the show’s inception, so it’s a relief that the show knows that and might be purposely writing her as this flawed person.
I didn’t get how she thought it was okay to partner up with her ex-husband (or how Luisa even agreed on this arrangement in the first place), lie to Noah repeatedly and decide to move back to Montauk (I’m assuming) without consulting him about it first. I get the whole independent woman thing, but this was quite too much, Alison, and I’m not buying it.
Finally, the flash-forwards revealing Max turning on his former friend and being the surprise witness in the case was a nice parallel to the present-day events that occurred, but as always those scenes are tonally different. It’s hard to say where they’re going with this exactly, but unlike the court scenes that have prevailed earlier this season, I’m actually riveted now by the idea of everyone besides Helen turning on Noah and wanting to lock him behind bars. Needless to say, I hope the finale answers some of these burning questions (unlike last year’s finale), the most important one being: who is the real killer? Even if that’s not the point of watching and enjoying The Affair, it would certainly be nice to know what the writers want from this murder mystery storyline.
Unfaithful Flings & Bits
– In what is the most shocking appearance ever, Helen’s evil mother Margaret shows up in Cole’s perspective in the first half of the hour. It’s one of those jaw-droppping moments that makes no sense, but it’s still hilarious to realize that even Cole (the most heart-warming character of all) sees her as this completely awful human being.
– Also shocking: seeing Cole’s mom Cherry working at the motel Cole and Luisa are staying in.
– I love Luisa and I agree with her saying “I’m glad [the ranch] is gone” because it’s where Cole and Alison got married, but the look on Cherry’s face when she hears that is EPIC.
– In fact, I would love to see Cherry and Margaret strangle each other one day. How about we give these two villains their own perspectives, writers?
– Scotty’s meltdown was actually quite heartbreaking, even if the character himself is ludicrous.
– Oscar continues to be too cartoonish to be true, this time by sending a picture of Alison and Cole at the auction to Noah.
– When Oscar tells Noah “it wasn’t Gabriel’s death that broke her heart; she never fucking had one”, I went nuts and thought he meant Alison never even had a son. Took me a second there, but PHEW!
– LOL at Noah having his girlfriend’s number in his phone listed as Alison Bailey.
– It’s fascinating how the Noah/Max scene makes you feel for Max more than Noah, even if this is all told from Noah’s perspective. This guy really doesn’t like himself.
– Loved Noah’s scene in the car where he sees the events of his book happening in front of him, down to running over Alison. Very intense and exquisite.
– Noah’s interaction with Alison at the Lobster Roll in the end was also brilliant, especially when you realize that that’s the same spot where these two first met.
– The finale will be 70 minutes long! I’m both excited and nervous, but I’m hoping for an episode like the hurricane one with all four perspectives running at once.
Margaret: I trust you’re not the one who impregnated my granddaughter.
Cole: That’s my brother Scott.
Margaret: I see. So you must be the one who pulled a gun on Noah Solloway.
Oscar: All this time, and do you still not know her? You know what you are, Solloway? You’re a tourist. You’re just a fucking tourist. You drive through this place. You think it’s so charming. You fall in love with it, and you want a piece of it. You think “oh she’s so beautiful, she’s so sad though. I can save her. I can take away her pain. I can make her see that life’s worth living again.” I get you, man. I was standing just where you stood once. Of course, I was only 18 and she didn’t even have that child yet. But I got a little secret for you. That whole wounded bird thing? It’s an act. It wasn’t Gabriel’s death that broke her heart. She never fucking had one.
Max: People leave for lots of different reasons. It’s not just because they’re bad and you’re good or you’re bad and they’re good. Sometimes people are just going through something and you can’t be a part of it.
Noah: Max, no offense, I’m not here for your general theory about love.
Max: She’s not your wife. You left! Twice. She took you back, you did it again. You didn’t want to fucking be there, Noah, and you would tell anyone who would fucking listen. She knew it, I knew it. Hell, your kids probably knew it, but you had no appreciation for what you had. All you wanted, all you’ve ever wanted, is more. I wanted her. That’s it. That’s all I ever wanted. So when you kicked her to the curb like a piece of trash, I thought this was my chance to make her happy because I knew that I could devote my whole self to her in a way that you never would. But she didn’t want me, man. She still wanted you. After everything you put her through, I mean, what is it? I don’t understand. I fought so hard my whole life for everyone who’s ever loved me, fought for every bit of intimacy. My wife barely tolerated me, my children still don’t speak to me. But you, man, everybody just lets you go, no matter how hard you try to blow it up. I don’t get it. What do you have that I don’t?
An entertaining and gripping penultimate episode that moves the plot a bit in favor of its grand finale next week.