Every once in a while, we are treated to a season of television that is perfect in nearly every way. Much like Scandal, American Horror Story, Arrow and Alias (if we want to go back that far), The Affair had a fantastic sophomore season that’s easily one of my all-time favorites.
Unlike all of those shows though, Showtime’s inventive drama was never plot-driven even when it became plot-heavy. I was one of the few supporters of last year’s finale which was a relatively low-key episode that delivered more questions than answers and left audiences hanging on a cliffhanger for almost a year. The beauty of that hour lies in the show’s use of its original format to deepen our knowledge of these characters rather than tell a linear story packed with twists and turns.
Which brings us to the season 2 finale. It’s initially shocking how unusual the episode seems at first; even if all the things that make this show what it is are really there—the dual perspectives, the discrepancies, the breathtaking visuals and the haunting music (Scotty’s rendition of House of the Rising Sun excluded)—this was still uncharacteristically plot-driven. The writers even managed to throw a fascinating plot twist in our faces, revealing in Noah’s perspective that he and Helen ran over Scotty with his car (Helen being the drunk driver, Noah being the idiot who let her) before handing us yet another bombshell in the second half of the episode: it was Alison who pushed Scotty onto the middle of the road. It’s all very messy and surprising, and not once meant to be shocking like How To Get Away With Murder which only added to my skepticism about involving Alison into the Scotty murder so convolutedly.
The hour (plus 10 minutes) slowly started to grow on me after the credits rolled and I gave myself some time to think about what I watched. I realized that even an episode as unusually plot-driven as this one manages to craft some fascinating character moments, like Noah and Helen’s day at the beach which ends in them getting drunk and chatting about their marriage and divorce, or Noah and Alison’s heart-clenching truthful scene where he “supposedly” finds out he might not be Joanie’s father. Even Alison’s part, though slightly slower and more depressing, gives us a fascinating Alison/Cole scene at the beach that helps the groom move on from his old life and jump into a new one.
It’s all quite riveting, made all the more remarkable thanks to the show’s use of constant close-ups, artistic visuals and amazing writing. I never thought I’d get used to seeing Ruth Wilson in my face all the time, but keeping the camera so claustrophobically near her face makes watching The Affair a truly compelling viewing experiment. Add to that some stunning shots (thanks for coming back to Montauk, show) and well-plotted writing that makes the characters layered and multidimensional, and we have ourselves the perfect combo for a perfect season.
The flash-forwards finally make sense and are fortunately much more intriguing now. Alison asking Noah to choose again is a perfect little nod to the first season, but instead of bringing back old tropes in a convoluted matter I appreciate how messy and complicated things seem now. The same goes for that cliffhanger: Noah standing up and taking the blame for Scotty’s murder in the season’s final moments isn’t as thrilling as I’d hoped for, but it’s beautifully messy how the show’s most unlikable character is stepping up to protect the two women he loves. It’s the perfect character development we’ve been waiting for all year, and God is it satisfying.
Unfaithful Flings & Bits
– How fascinating that, for a TV wedding, we spend almost no time at the wedding itself?
– The perspective inconsistencies are baffling here. Forget the yellow dress that Alison wears or Noah, Margaret and Helen’s scene at the table, but the way Alison tells Noah that she slept with Cole is momentously different. I still find this aspect of the show quite captivating as it keeps me on my toes trying to figure out how the discrepancies in those scenes relate to character analysis.
– Detective Jeffries is back! Still shady and confusing as always.
– Glad to see the show come back to the Noah-wants-to-go-to-France story which first came up in the therapy session two weeks ago.
– Took me a while to realize this episode jumps ahead 4 months (Joanie’s age was kind of a head-scratcher), but it’s quite fascinating how little this show cares about time.
– Helen and Noah sitting on the beach is the episode’s standout moment. Maura Tierney and Dominic West give stellar performances here, they make you want to root for them so badly!
– I LOVE how the camera moves at a very unhurried pace when Helen and Noah jump into the water and a riveting tune plays in the background. You literally wait for them to kiss in the water (a very cliché moment) and it doesn’t happen.
– Noah hearing EVERY single crucial conversation (in his head) that he’s ever had while in the car with Helen is both a poignant character moment and a satisfying callback to episodes as early as the pilot. I love that it starts with the vital “welcome to The End of the world / I’m Noah, by the way / I’m Alison” to Whitney’s epic “Dad, what the fuck!” moment.
– Well, Scotty made a huge transformation this week. He even seemed likable at first, but all of that went down the drain when he started drinking again.
– I love that Alison, Helen and Noah are all involved in the murder in a sick, twisted way: Scotty was going to rape Alison, Alison pushed Scotty, Helen ran over Scotty even though she didn’t want to drive with another DUI, but Noah made her because he was drunk too then distracted her. Heck, even Cole had some part to play if you count getting his brother upset and drunk.
– Chilling moment between Alison and Scotty talking about “our baby”. I never thought we’d actually see that scene play out, but I did take a notice at Alison’s dress here. Does the fact that she’s wearing the one from her perspective in the taped version that Oscar shows the lawyer a few episodes back mean that her side is much more truthful than Noah’s?
– Not sure how I feel about Scotty’s song as it felt a bit melodramatic, but how distracting were Cole and Luisa’s backs?! Makes a lot of sense since we’re seeing this in Alison’s eyes, but boy was it frustrating.
– Never been a Noah/Alison fan, but something about their reunion back at the wedding after the car crash was riveting. These two always seem to get stuck with each other because of disasters, and Alison telling him not to cry while dancing to the tune of “April Come She Will” was a real heart-breaker.
– It’s going to be painful to wait over 9 months for season 3 to come along.
Noah: Well, don’t take this the wrong way, but I never want to see you again.
Noah: Can I tell you something awful?
Helen: Please do.
Noah: Being back here is so fucking strange. I was driving out here this morning past the farm strands and the windmills, and I felt the children behind me in the car. I felt you sitting next to me. Even felt that pit in my stomach I used to get when we visited your parents. Had to remind myself that wasn’t my life anymore and to force myself to remember Alison and Joanie and… It’s like the last three years never happened. They just evaporated.
Helen: Sometimes I wake up and I forget the past 25 years ever happened.
Noah: Are you trying to cheer me up or are you trying to finish me off?
Alison: You and I were so young, and we didn’t know what we were doing. And then we were dealt with the world’s worst hand and…we folded. But this is not the same thing. You’re a man now. You know what you want, and you know how to protect it. You can wait five, ten, twenty years for the perfect girl to come along to give you the perfect child. But what if she never shows up? This is your chance to be happy again, Cole.
An incredible conclusion to the year’s most riveting drama.