Posts Tagged ‘the affair’
Thinking back, all four main characters’ stories end in a place of relative equilibrium, so much so that it seems likely this episode was set up to serve as a series finale if need be. Noah has found peace, if not a purpose. Helen has come clean and her family has remained intact despite it all. Cole has decided to remain unhappily married to Luisa. Alison has her daughter and a new career and the self-knowledge, if not necessarily the desire or ability, to make a fresh go of things. The murder mystery and the attempted murder mystery have both been wrapped up. “Where we goin’, buddy?” I don’t know, but I’ll be there next season to find out.
Hey, remember when The Affair wasn’t The Noah Solloway Show? Believe it or not, there was such a time not so long ago. Noah’s story — his stint in prison, his torment at the hands of sadistic guard John Gunther, his post-release trysts with Alison and Helen and (sorta) his new romantic interest Irène, his attempted murder, his infection and addiction, his hallucinations, his secret origin as his mother’s euthanasia provider — have come to dominate the show so totally that I’d all but forgotten what it was like to truly see things through other eyes. Not just his own, I mean, but those people who have something other than Noah Solloway on their minds.
This week, that’s what we got. If episode seven was a return to The Affair’s old format — two tightly overlapping points of view on the same events — episode eight is a return to The Affair’s old setting, both physically and psychologically. Taking place almost entirely in Montauk, as beautifully shot as ever, this Alison/Cole installment focuses squarely on the issues that drove their stories since the show’s inception: grief, loss, infidelity, and the sense of being connected by something deeper than love — tragedy.
“I think people see what they want to see in other people:” I reviewed last night’s episode of The Affair for Decider.
On this week’s episode of The Affair, disaster struck. It’s just not clear who, or how hard, it hit.
The irony is that Noah’s now vastly more complicated backstory feels as though it were developed to answer complaints about the character. Without knowing how long ago showrunner Sarah Treem planned these plot elements this is all sheer speculation, but for viewers who wondered why Noah would destroy his seemingly happy family for a shot at spontaneity, or why he’d sacrifice himself and go to jail to protect Helen and Alison when it was quite possible all of them could have gotten away with it, or why his relationships with women seem both sincerely intense and self-sabotaging, or why he swung from the supremely self-possessed Helen to the deeply damaged Alison — well, Noah convincing himself he’s somehow culpable for killing his mother after being the only person left to take care of her and then failing to kill himself in turn threads the needle quite nicely.
Is it all a bit radioactive-spider origin story for a behavior pattern that’s not really that difficult to contextualize? Perhaps. But then again anyone who’s been in therapy for long enough can attest to those “holy shit, it was because of what happened at my cousin’s confirmation when I was in fourth grade!!!!” moments. Giving Noah these dark secrets doesn’t take away his agency or explain away his good and bad qualities, nor do they singlehandedly make those things possible. They’re simply the building blocks out of which he constructed the rest of his life.
Finally, not every difference between Alison and Cole’s perspectives is as nuanced as how their argument and their kiss is handled. And I’m not just talking about the fact that Joanie has a pony at her party during Cole’s half of the episode and a freaking bronco during Alison’s. During Cole’s POV, he holds Luisa off and lets Alison comfort Joanie after the kid falls off the pony. During Alison’s, Luisa tends to Joanie while Cole tends to Alison herself, in the throes of a PTSD hallucination in which the fall is potentially lethal. (This is itself an echo of two versions of the same playground scene, one in which Cole sees Alison freak out and demand Joanie get down off the monkey bars, the other in which Alison powers through and lets Joanie walk on top from end to end even though Cole never notices.) Who took care of a wounded kid is not the kind of thing simple coloration of memory can alter that dramatically — we’re in the same territory here as we were during the pilot, when Alison either did or didn’t save Noah’s daughter from choking, or during the confrontation at gunpoint later in that first season, when Cole was either suicidal or homicidal. These kinds of discrepancies are maybe the most compelling thing about The Affair as a work of storytelling. Walt Whitman contained multitudes; The Affair implies that people contain multiverses.
I reviewed this week’s episode of The Affair for Decider. I could talk about this show all day. Someone has to!
Mixed in with all this, importantly, is Juliette’s revelation to Noah that she’s a) married to a b) older man whom she met when she was his student. The cycle of sleaze perpetuates itself, right? Ah, but things are never that simple on this show. When Juliette facetimes with her cuckolded husband back in France, we discover he’s not just older but elderly, and suffering from Alzheimer’s-induced memory loss and dementia. Suddenly the skeevy, predatory student-teacher sexual relationship the past several scenes have conjured in our minds is complicated by this picture of how such a romance can evolve through the years into something not merely mature but shot through with devastating sadness and loss. Juliette’s tears during her “conversation” with her husband and his nurse come laden with any number of possible regrets: mourning the man she used to know, remembering the heat of the forbidden they once shared but which is now barely recognizable, grieving over how much he’s suffering, regretting her infidelity, regretting that her ongoing marriage forces any sexual component of her life to be infidelity, wishing she’d slept with Noah and not Mike as part of that infidelity, wishing that her husband could still experience those same pleasures and desires…not to put too fine a point on it, but there’s more that’s of genuine human interest and experience going on in this single scene than Westworld can muster in any five-episode stretch.
I reviewed last night’s excellent episode of The Affair for Decider. This show’s capacity to surprise, delight, and fascinate just keeps growing.
The truly amazing thing about the episode is just how much life it can fit into this rubric. When you think about it, despite the proscriptive narrowness of its title, The Affair has encompassed an enormous panoply of emotions and experiences. Estrangement between parents and children of all generations and ages. The loss of a child. The end of multiple marriages. The allure of sex. The keeping of a horrible, life-ending secret. Poverty and wealth. The life of a small summer resort and the divide between townies and tourists. Writing, publishing, teaching. Booze, weed, and cutting as self-medication. That left-field storyline about the Lockharts’ murderer grandfather. The freaking restaurant business. That none of it feels forced, that all of it seems to emerge organically from the titular affair rather than being grafted on to it in order to flesh out multiple seasons of TV, is close to a miracle.
This is an exceptionally smartly shot show, even when the seaside vistas of Montauk aren’t there to provide production value. Look at this trio of shots in which we slowly fade into Noah’s world, first at the start of the episode, then graveside after the funeral for Noah’s father, then the following morning. It’s a restrained but unmistakable way to show us that our presence here, our view of what’s happening, is tied directly to Noah; his presence literally clears things up. It also offers a tantalizing hint that reality may be hazier than it first appears.
My favorite thing about this week’s episode of The Affair is that there are two more episodes to come after it. The show’s first season was just ten episodes long, but this year it’s gotten the bump to twelve, which I didn’t realize until the coming attractions. To this I say “hell yeah.” When you go Solloway, you gotta go all the way!
My second favorite thing about this week’s episode of The Affair was the half Meghan got to cover. Noah’s solo stint in couples therapy was the most realistic portrayal of a therapy session I’ve ever seen on screen—which makes me think it’s long past time for me to seek out Affair co-creators Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi’s psychologist-centric show In Treatment. It was also the most in-depth and even-handed investigation of Noah’s strengths and weaknesses as a person—or as “a man,” as he might prefer to put it—we’ve gotten yet.
Alison’s half of the episode wasn’t half as meaty, but it was at least twice as juicy. By missing the therapy session, she missed out on a chance to take a long journey inward, but she got to give the plot all its forward motion as a make-good.
My compadre Meghan O’Keefe and I reviewed this week’s episode of The Affair for Decider. So jealous she got to cover Noah’s therapy session!
Relative to Helen, Alison’s situation is straightforward. She goes into labor. She needs her fiancée. He’s not there for her, due to the combination of a misplaced smartphone, a coked-up sex party, serial philandering, and an unseasonal hurricane. She gives birth to a beautiful daughter without him, with the help of a doctor she mistakes for a nurse due to her youth and, let’s face it, her gender. During labor she seems to commune, on some level, with her ex-husband Cole as he hits rock bottom. And when she emerges, she finds she needs Noah less than she did before. Maybe that’s what she and her romantic rival Helen ultimately have in common. Whatever it is they really need, Noah isn’t it.
As a reward for all this good behavior, Helen apologizes for the choices she forced Noah to make, for her secret glee that his first book failed, and for her inability to see how important writing really was to him. “I never in a million years thought you would be this, this guy,” she tells him. “And now you’re here, and I’m very proud of you.” She means it. That this is coming from Helen’s perspective indicates she wants and needs to be seen as forgiving, supportive, and honest about her ex-husband’s character. But it also means she thinks he deserves it.
And on Noah’s side of the equation? He’s a drunken dickhead, ranting about how hard it is for white men to get ahead in literature (“It’s impossible to be a man in 2015!” he says, unleashing a laughing fit from his ex), picking fights with student-newspaper book critics, barely resisting the temptation to pick up admiring undergrads, and coming an unzipped fly away from cheating on his pregnant fiancée with his publicist. Yet even here Helen is affirming the better angels of his nature: “You’re not a dick! You’ve made some questionable choices, and you don’t like yourself very much for reasons I don’t understand, but you’re fundamentally a decent human being.” As we’ve been saying for a while, that’s the thesis statement for The Affair’s take on masculine martyrdom: Sure, we men make mistakes, we fuck up, but at heart we’re Good Guys—why can’t everyone see this? In Noah’s case, Helen can. He’s the one whose descent has blinded him.
Meghan O’Keefe and I reviewed last night’s episode of The Affair for Decider. The dialogue basically quoted my long-standing read of how Noah wants to be seen verbatim, which was nice!
It’s grimly fitting that last night’s episode of The Affair took place on Thanksgiving, because it was all about the consequences of shitting where you eat—not for you, necessarily, but for your fellow diners. After another significant leap forward in time, we rejoin the merry band of Baileys, Lockharts, and Solloways after Noah’s (Dominic West) book Descent has made him the toast of the town, and a pretty penny to boot. But while he’s living large, the people whose marriage he helped break up are paying the price. Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson), as you’ll see below, is facing the fallout from the ugly family history Noah dredged up in his novel, with a little help from family nemesis Oscar Hodges. And Alison (Ruth Wilson), whose POV comprises the episode’s first half, is struggling with a new life of luxury in which she has been reduced to a prop, or a PR ploy. Noah’s feast is their famine.
It’s been fascinating to watch The Affair tell Helen’s story this season. Both the writing (this time around from playwright and consulting producer David Henry Hwang) and acting (from Tierney, a series MVP) has examined her unique blend of drives, strengths, and foibles with surgical precision, from her rebound relationship with Max to her making-up-for-lost-time use of intoxicants to her struggle to parent both her children and her own mother on her own. Sadder, wiser, and wounded by the series’ main characters in a way it has the guts to show may not properly heal—a chronic condition, like Martin’s Crohn’s disease—she’s a fully realized, incredibly compelling creation.
“People don’t see me, Cole. They don’t. They just wanna fuck me, or they don’t…see me. They don’t care. Sometimes I worry at night that I’m not a real person, that I’m just a figment of other people’s imaginations.” In this week’s episode of The Affair, Alison (Ruth Wilson) self-diagnosed her core self-esteem issue with a level of insight you’d usually get charged by the hour for. That she offers this analysis not in her own POV segment, but in her estranged husband Cole’s, is largely immaterial. Okay, maybe it’s proof that Cole knows her better than just about anyone, since this entirely accurate appraisal is his memory’s construction of their conversation. But it also demonstrates that Cole sees her as a woman in need of rescue…which is her point exactly. She’s always a character in someone else’s story, while her own gets pushed to the wayside.
If you had to sum up the Tao of The Affair—what it is, what it does, how it does it—in two lines of dialogue, this week’s beautiful car wreck of an episode has you covered with Helen (Maura Tierney) alone. In her half of the episode, which leads the hour, she puts a punctuation mark at the end of her humiliating arrest for DWI and marijuana possession by asking Noah (Dominic West), the man she feels drove her to this point, “Why are you doing this to us?” At the same point in Noah’s side of the story, she instead says “Why do you get to fuck up and I don’t?” Right there you have the yin and yang, the presence and absence, of Helen’s dilemma. Noah’s infidelity and their subsequent divorce have devastated her by forcing her and her children to suffer the consequences of someone else’s actions, yes; that’s the explanation she allows herself to articulate. But they’ve also hurt her by forcing her to confront how much she wishes she could get away with that kind of tomfoolery, too. Showing us every side of the gender-specific resentments and self-perceived virtues of men and women, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives—even the sides the people in question don’t wish to show, or can’t see themselves—is The Affair’s specialty and strength.
Meghan O’Keefe and I reviewed this week’s The Affair for Decider. I think this show is excellent, and I’ll level with you: I think the writing we’re doing on it is second to none.
It’s episodes like this that make The Affair the smartest show about relationships on television. Nothing is as explicit or unflinching about the ways grief and memory can remain so present they’re practically a third partner. Nothing is as honest about the power and the limitations of sexual connection. Nothing is as observant about how we identify the comforting, satisfying elements of love, then lie and hide and self-censor to preserve them, all but guaranteeing their eventual loss.
Meghan O’Keefe and I reviewed last night’s The Affair for Decider. This is an excellent show.
And what about Noah? His return from Manhattan is a far cry from the sweet, slow-dancing with no music Nicholas Sparks routine his POV depicted last week. He’s irritable and exhausted at the end of a long and shitty day, nosing around about the money they stand to make from the sale of her house, furious for incoherent reasons that she took a job with Robert and Yvonne. He storms out onto the deck, then — with the camera lingering on Alison’s face until the end to make his reappearance feel all the more sweeping and sudden — returns, all apologies and animal lust. What follows is a stand-up tabletop sex scene that’s hot even by Affair standards, as Noah tells her “I just want you to be happy” over and over: Seriously, my notes include the words (copying and pasting here) “lorrrrrrrrrrrrd have mercy” and “WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.” I fanned myself like a Southern lady, for real.
Given that this is the kind of sex you gchat your friends about afterwards, something about Noah’s anger and subsequent remorse is clearly clicking with Alison. Is she appreciative of his ability to recognize and admit his mistakes? Is she getting off on keeping Cole’s visit a secret down to the last detail (he rifled through Noah’s manuscript and fixed their toilet, facts she not only hides but actively lies about) even as her boyfriend begs for forgiveness for his comparatively less severe wrongdoing? And how does this fit with the flashforward, in which she discovers she’s the last to know that her husband’s attorney was hired and paid for by his ex-wife?
I don’t have the answers, but I’m not sure I’m supposed to. Maybe it was the weird symmetry between Alison’s POV and Cole’s later in the episode—car rides with older men, seemingly superfluous conversations with a cafe waitress, camerawork in which a character approaches and embraces them suddenly from outside the frame — but the deeper we go into this show, the more I suspect the dueling POVs are more like the opposite sides of a Rorschach blot. The shape is there for all to see, but the meaning’s what we make of it.
The only place Helen finds comfort that isn’t weed-scented is her kids. Wearing a lived-in t-shirt that makes her look physically as well as emotionally at ease, she turns their glum family dinner around with a self-deprecating quip or two; she seems at home, in other words. Strangely, the only other moment she truly comes across as satisfied she’s doing the right thing is when, in the flash-forward, she goes to the jailhouse to pay for Noah’s lawyer. The implication may well be that this reflects her own self-interest, that she knows more about Scotty’s death than we’ve ever suspected. But could it also indicate her self-conception as a woman far more at ease with being selfless than with being selfish? Isn’t this — the different yet equally self-defeating forms of martyr virtue men and women allow themselves to embody — what The Affair is really all about?
My fellow critic Meghan O’Keefe and I will be tag-team reviewing The Affair, one of my favorite shows, for Decider this season—she’ll handle the men’s points of view and I’ll be examining the women’s. We started with last night’s season premiere.
My love for The Affair is passionate and tempestuous and closely guarded, an embarrassingly thematically-appropriate way to love The Affair. It’s the show I’m most likely to tweet about rhapsodically at two in the morning after a few drinks, marveling at its sharp sexiness and sophistication as if I’m impetuously blurting out a secret to my fellow night-owls and barflies. These tweets are often shot through with bafflement and contempt for the show’s detractors: Why, goddammit why, does no one love The Affair like I do?Don’t they know how good they could have it? I feel like I’ve discovered the best thing in the world and it’s a thing only I can see.
Which is an exaggeration, of course, but only slightly. Even many of the show’s initial, vocal supporters appear to have cooled on the bifurcated saga of Noah Holloway and Alison Lockhart; on HitFix’s annual critics’ poll it ranked a lowly 24th, below such scintillating fare as The Walking Dead, Gotham, and season four of Homeland. At moments like this, I worry that TV criticism’s sensible refusal to conflate “serious” with good may have become a reflexive zeal to conflate “serious” with “bad.”
But the worry is slight compared to my deep, deep delight in the show itself, which is one of the best on television. It’s just so smart, and so specific, about so many things that are hard for TV to do without getting all, you know, teevee about them.
The season finale of The Affair aired last night, so me and my fellow critic Eric Thurm got all he-said/he-said about it and debated the show for the New York Observer.