A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
A paramour is defined by dictionary.com as “an illicit lover, especially of a married person” or, less definitively so, “any lover.” Each individual on The Affair is enraptured by a paramour in a literal sense or a metaphorical one and sometimes it isn’t by choice or even to a positive effect, for that matter. Alison’s paramour in a literal sense is Noah, but her metaphorical one may very well be Robert, to whom she spells out some of the darkest moments of her life. Noah’s paramour outside of Alison will become The Descent. Helen’s literal paramour of Max comes to a crumbling end and her metaphorical one are the last shreds of dignity that Noah’s abrupt departure left her life with. Cole’s paramour becomes his wife (who is, as of yet, unknown) but his metaphorical one is still in many ways the last memories of what his marriage was like before the death of his child. The most ephemeral, fleeting paramour may very well be happiness, however. Everyone is chasing it like they’re a mad driver down a Montauk road, yet few are finding it in moments when they had assumed harmony was theirs to grasp and never let go. Affairs in and of themselves are fairly messy endeavors, chaotic and always harboring an almost delusional sense of fulfillment against the backdrop of an understated terror of getting caught, of the honeymoon phase coming to a collapsing end. That’s not an indictment, but merely an observation, if a simplistic one at that. Noah and Alison fell for one another in a fashion most would characterize as naiveté, but there was no knowing sense of evil here, no knowing wish to cause harm to their significant other. It just happened but the consequences are vast.
Noah’s proposal to Alison before his divorce from Helen was finalized is one of the most important moments yet of the series, because it is grained in a sense of reality despite the alterations in perspective. Noah in many ways comes across as an absolute idiot and that’s not a mark on Dominic West’s performance, which continues to be stellar, nor the writing, which has taken extra care to make Noah a bit more sympathetic this time around. It’s that Noah has taken the least amount of care in this entire affair to ensure that not too much thunders rapidly out of the floodgates when he arguably has the most to lose. He has no income base nor supportive parents (financially speaking), the judge is unlikely to be too kind to him when it comes to the perspective of custody ability, nor does he have a steady place to live. Whitney’s inevitable fury is incredibly valid and there’s little that Noah can say that would contradict her. The welcome expansion of the world within The Affair also introduces the audience to his sister, Nina, who openly tells him that he is simply unfit to take care of his children full time. Noah, while storming out on inclusion with a frosty exchange with his father, realizes for the first time the actual effect his actions have taken upon his kids. His frosty relationship with his in-laws, his static relationship with Helen, everything he took into account but somehow at no moment did he think about what his children would think when one day their father was no longer at home. Co-creator Sarah Treem mentioned trying to craft sympathies for Noah when he had become so unsympathetic to the audience, but it’s moments like these when it’s earnestly quite difficult to feel much for him at all. To his credit, however, for the first time he acts in a semi-responsible fashion towards his children and perhaps this is the beginning of a more likable Noah.
On the matter of the children, Helen’s perspective is heartbreaking. Part of the reason that I simply can’t feel as sorry for Noah as perhaps the show wants me to is that Helen is inherently a far more sympathetic character. She is flawed. She is, as Nina remembers, haughty about her wine, and it couldn’t be the easiest thing in the world to love her and be with her for years. But the same can easily be said for Noah and frankly relationships of such a magnitude are simply not that simple, clean cut, or easy. They’re quite difficult and now Helen is stuck in this quagmire, caught in a whirlwind with seemingly no way out. The hearing is an unmitigated disaster from both perspectives and the day just spirals downwards for her from that point forward. First off is Max, who is tactless enough to mention to Helen that he paid Noah fifty thousand dollars for an apartment and brought tickets to Buenos Aires for a post-divorce trip. While the audience is wondering sarcastically how on earth a guy like that could be without a long-term relationship, Helen understandably is perturbed by the pace and asks if things could slow down by a decent margin. A trip to Buenos Aires decidedly does not fit into that purview and Helen breaks it off, resulting in an infuriating, privileged rant from Max that turns him into a petty jealous man who couldn’t let go of the fact that a woman he was into in college married someone else. To top it off, Helen is arrested after she is late to pick up her children, backs up into someone else, and is found to have marijuana in her bag. The walls of the prison cell around her could have been an over the top metaphor but in that moment it works to beautifully tragic effect.
Alison is a puzzling character in the sense that her arcs within episodes are always far more affecting than Noah’s on an emotional level, but her attachment to Noah makes sense only from her vantage points. In one understanding, this makes sense. Noah was the first man who wasn’t associated with the town that had become a living tragedy of hell for her and perhaps that novelty was a larger part of their attraction than she would like to admit. That that attraction is palpable is hardly surprising, but it doesn’t equate to a level of intimacy and understanding that the two probably expect from each other at this juncture. In all of its simple truth, Alison and Noah don’t understand one another, don’t know the small intricacies that build the foundation for a relationship. Up until this point, everything in a sense was the honeymoon phase and the question of whether they’re perhaps doing the right thing comes up for the very first time here in a significant, meaningful fashion. Alison, perhaps in that search for a more honest boundary between the two, utters what is surprisingly only the second most heartbreaking thing she says in the hour. “I walked into the ocean. I wanted to drown.” The ocean never truly consumed her, but it might as well have, for all of the power it exuded over her existence with each wave pummeling her incessantly until she felt there was no more of her left to latch onto. In a similar vein, Alison can’t open up to Noah in the same way she can open up to Robert. With him, perhaps devoid of romantic tension, there’s a freeing nature to their conversations, a literal breath of fresh air perhaps. That unburdening of her soul in the forest takes Alison to the depths of the pool and the embrace of an element so long ago she had eschewed. But the waters of an ocean, unlike those of a pool, are rarely so still, calm, and without foreboding.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (203):
+“At some point, fate takes over thew story and the author himself loses control.”
+“Wow, I especially love this dead fox.”
+“I’m not apologizing for it. I’m just telling you.” You go, Alison.
+“Your memory is really impressive.”
+“Yes. It was somewhat unreal.”
+“If you’re having difficulty with the end, you’ve fucked up the beginning.”
+“Are you – are you trying to get rid of me?”
+“I live in a coven of depressed witches.”
+“What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”
“This, probably. You?”
“I’ve done a lot of things.”
The moment above was captured wonderfully, with the tears sitting just rightly on Alison’s eyes. Beautiful performance from Ruth Wilson.
+Whitney wants Scott’s number
+“She seems like a holy terror.”
+“They mate for life.”
+“I wanted her to understand everything about me.”
Alison going swimming
Robert seeing Alison and Noah in the pool
+“It’s time to talk about that night. The night of Cole Lockhart’s wedding.”
+“And I – I hit a deer.”
“Was Scott Lockhart riding the deer at the time?”
+“Would have I liked to kill him?… I am a civilized human being!”
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (204):
+“How about cunt? Cunt works for me.”
+“I hate him so much.”
+In Helen’s memory, Noah wants half of everything
+Margaret’s voice when she notes that she couldn’t find Bruce anywhere was a perfect blend of anguished emotions. Kathleen Chalfant has her Emmy submission right there.
+“No one’s good enough for you.”
+The oil and vinegar metaphor
+“You aging, Botoxed, hipster bitch.”
+“Why are you doing this to us?”
+“My client has always been an exemplary father.”
+The background music
+“Why do you get to fuck up and I don’t?”
+“How old are you now? 47?”
+“And I’m in love with Brad Pitt, but I don’t get to fucking live with him.”
+“You tell Helen I’m sorry.”
+Alison’s tips a nurse
Episode Title: 203
Alternate Title: The Tsunami
Written by: Alena Smith
Directed by: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Episode Title: 204
Alternate Title: Paramours
Written by: Anya Epstein
Directed by: John Dahl
Image Courtesy: The Affair @ YouTube