After last week’s episode of The Affair I had an acid flashback to the first season of Homeland. Appearances to the contrary as Noah and Alison lounge around Montauk for the summer, The Affair moves pretty quickly. They meet, they imagine themselves with each other, they make love, they make love a lot more, and then they fall in love. They also bring the affair to a screeching halt along the way, essentially calling it quits last week and then going one step further this week by telling their respective spouses about the whole thing. The Affair just deployed an entire series worth of plot in the first seven episodes.
Nevermind what season two or three or four could hold — what the hell could possibly even go down in the final three episodes of this rookie season? Aside from simply knowing that three more hours of story will be told, this seventh episode is concerned with that uncertain ending too. “Looks like you got away with it,” taunts Oscar as he proceeds to blackmail Noah. But no one, not Noah nor we viewers, actually believe that to be true.
Noah’s portion of the episode sees him attempting to tie up any and all loose ends, eventually failing and spilling his darkest secret to his wife Helen. Stopping by the Lockhart Ranch seems a perfectly convenient way to put him and Cole in the same scene. Cole mindlessly turns conversation to Noah’s son Martin. “Great kid ya got there,” Cole tells him. Noah be all “Great wife ya got there!” Yeah, Martin’s probably going to be out of a job for next summer. Later on Noah and Helen fool around in bed, again not fooling anyone in positing that everything is going to be just fine. “Maybe your age is catching up to your legendary hard-on,” Helen tells him as he underperforms. Noah be all “Maybe you’re not Alison!”
It’s Alison’s segment that wins the day, though, and the relationship between her and Joshua Jackson’s Cole came into new focus in a refreshing way. It’s very believable that these two people have known each other since youth, falling in love and now falling apart. The conversations they have seem to be the most honest exchanges in The Affair, dotted with real-life quips and glances. As the couple grind to a halt during a walk in NYC, Cole squats on the curb to more effectively place his head in his hands. Alison moves to sit beside him, but before she can Cole wipes his eyes and reaches for a nearby stack of newspaper. He puts down a paper and quietly remarks that Alison shouldn’t get her dress dirty. The convo that follows is one of those deep and dark what does it all mean convos, but that little bit with the newspaper saves the entire scene from ever approaching banality.
Add a cracklingly intense but simple scene in which Cole, Alison and Scotty visit Oscar’s house only to have him be the one to spill the beans about Alison’s affair, and Noah’s portion of the episode hardly seems to have mattered at all. Noah told Helen straight-up, and now it seems that they’re done for good. Scuzzy Oscar tells Cole in a moment of intense passion, but Cole and Alison are still close by episode’s end. The sense of past between the two of them is far greater than that between Noah and Helen, and so this conclusion seems fitting.
And yet…it’s not a conclusion. It’s episode seven. I bring up Homeland because the first season of that show is completely fantastic, and similar in many ways to The Affair. There was a dark ambiguity to Homeland (and to one character in particular) that drove season one, and drove it really fast. By season two, the show had moved on. Noble and respectable that Homeland felt it needed to push the envelope and present something new each season — but it will forever lack that sharpness, I think, having spoken up about an untold secret in an effort to move the story along.
Will The Affair do that? Will it lose clarity by pushing through the major event — the actual affair — in an effort to reach something “juicier” — the murder — by the start of season two? Will it lose what Homeland lost, or even recall the final episodes of True Detective once the framing interrogation scenes stopped? Are these the important questions? Should we even be concerned with asking important questions this early in the game? If so, and if the aforementioned questions are not, in fact, the important questions, then what are the important questions? Did Martin age a half-decade in one summer or what? Is Pacey short for something, like Pazrael?
Join us next week for a few answers and twice as many questions.
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