A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The Descent may be the title of Noah’s terribly written novel that sells because of its shocking ending, but it can draw a strong metaphor as to the descent of its author. I am still struggling massively to find any sympathy for Noah, who seems to be by far the most irredeemable person on a show that has characters like Oscar and Scotty and these two episodes did absolutely nothing to solve that problem. He’s instead quickly falling towards the opposite direction. The Affair draws its greatest amount of narrative power from its prescient examination on human emotional constructs and even more in terms of how those constructs interject with human sexuality. That narrative work connects because the characters that inhabit this world feel germane and complex and for the most part the show’s depictions of them taps into that quite well. At other, thankfully rare moments, the show’s understanding of its characters feels completely at odds with the reality of their depiction. The second episode reviewed here is a sharp examination of when the show stumbles, partially in relation to how it breaks its structure. It’s the first episode that purports to show the objective truth from all four main storylines and the camera’s framing of Noah sobbing in his car suggests that the objective truth is of sympathy but nothing in the narrative itself collaborates that appeal for sympathy. It, whether it wanted to or not, espoused disgust. He led himself down the path to where the so-called love of his life was giving birth to his child in a hospital in the midst of a storm and now he wants some sense of understanding from others that simply doesn’t exist.
The Affair had begun to lose its grip on the perspective split by the end of its freshman seasons, an unfortunate shift that had some critics lamenting that one of the most promising dramas of the year couldn’t even hold on to its chief deceit for a singular season. The main loss was that the original breaks in perspective focused on minute details, like Noah remembering Alison wearing much skimpier clothing when they met and she remembered wearing a turtleneck. By the time the first season had reached its denouement, those differences became startlingly different, most evidently espoused in the gun sequence that has been referenced several times in the second season as if an apology motif from the writers, having realized the breadth of their narrative mistake. This season has been much, much stronger in broadening the differences in memory but making sure those differences actually informed narrative and or character actions. Noah’s book reading sequence, for example, fits that bill quite beautifully. Helen’s perspective is of a much more warm, inviting Noah (it’s a low bar, admittedly), whose writing invokes her feelings about him and whom she had felt that she herself had become. It’s a point of view rested in an understanding Helen had reached before her confrontation with Margaret. Even in the moments where Noah falls quietly back into the self-victimization that seemingly defines him as a person, Helen finds a sort of peace and confidence for herself in a way that she never has been before and it’s incredible.
Episode 209 is the first instance of the show breaking its point of view pattern to espouse a more traditional dramatic structure and it’s an experiment that should never be repeated. That isn’t to say that that traditional structure could never work for The Affair, but it would never craft a great episode of it. The inherent appeal of a series is what sets it apart from others and what sets The Affair apart intrinsically is the differing perspective. No matter how well-acted the result of the second episode is, it feels hollow because the emotional attachment feels forgotten, lost in the very melodramatic waves crashing across Cole’s backyard. There’s a rudimentary feeling to the entire affair and the climaxing emotional constructs that ought to have felt as heavy as the episode presents them instead feel either underserving or unseeingly melodramatic. There are nevertheless several solid moments throughout the hour that are fairly pleasant for Helen and strikingly real for Cole. Helen, giving up on a Tinder date that is apparently not interested whatsoever in actually showing up. There she happens to meet Dr. Ullah, the man who had operated upon Max and has an affinity for whiskey. He seems off-putting to Helen emotionally, coupling with a possible concern that he’s going off to the hospital after a handful of glasses of whiskey. But she ultimately wants some and gets it in an extremely hot scene, made all the more gratifying by just how much of an emotional wringer she had just been put through. The sequences move fairly rapidly, however, making me wish that it had been an entire half-hour of Helen’s perspective. A quiet pace, after all, has never been a bother for the show.
The melodramatic aspect is problematic in relation to Noah and Cole, respectively, the latter of whom at least has some semblance of audience sympathy. For Cole, this hour was particularly revelatory, Luisa forcing him to confront the realities of who he is in a manner no one else would ever do and in a manner he sorely needed to hear long ago. When Luisa reveals that she’s barren, Cole’s immediate response is to ignore the tragedy she suffered because she couldn’t afford healthcare and focus on the so-called Lockhart family curse. Luisa furiously calls out Cole’s completely selfish focus on his own pain being the center of the universe, noting that he himself was the only person who could cure his nonexistent curse. I’m not quite sure, however, that setting the house on fire was necessary, nor the extremely overwrought appearance of Gabriel’s ghost as Alison is giving birth. Noah is significantly worse, however, beginning the episode by noting how much Alison transforming his shitty office into a nursery was bugging him. As Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore notes to Rubeus Hagrid in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, if one is holding out for universal popularity, they will be hiding for a very long time. Noah simply can’t stomach an admittedly pretentious literature major who trashes his novel, going so far as to punch him. To top that off, when a Chinese female author wins a writing prize over him, he claims that he’s a victim of affirmative action in a world that is tough for straight white men. That world hands him a potential movie adaptation on a silver platter, a loud cocaine-filled party where he actually partakes in coke, and he nearly cheats on Alison before somehow recovering his quickly deteriorating wits to garner an emotional moment that’s never truly earned.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (208):
+Gottlief assuming Scotty is the father of Alison’s baby
+“They seem to be a transactional crowd out there.”
+“It’s like Hogwarts without the magic.”
+“Jocky, fratty, conservative losers.”
+“He took the money for her comfort.” Even in Helen’s memory, Noah’s the victim in his own mind.
+“That bold, unafraid girl.”
+“Love is a kind of faith.”
+“There are mistakes some people don’t recover from.”
+“Descent: porn by another name.” Yep, that’s basically what it is.
+“Even Vladimir Putin settles for 98% of the vote.”
+Noah writes women well? What?
+“And will someone read your book in five years?”
+“I was the victim of affirmative action.”
“Oh, my God, you did not just say that.” Thank you, Helen.
+“You need to be very careful.”
+“You’re just a little drunk on power.”
+“Bruce Butthole is no Noah Solloway.”
+“I can’t read it without crying.”
+“She stole your husband, Helen.”
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (209):
+“Is this global warming?” Oh, for the love of…
+“What is a date, anyway? It’s just an interview for sex.”
“Okay. Then would you like to have sex with me?”
+“I’m talking about how you feel.”
+“That was just really depressing.”
+“All I’ve done is put my kids through hell.”
+“How did this happen?”
+“Sometimes I think, I hate being a mother.”
+Henry Miller? Nabokov? Norman Mailer? Really?
+Of course, let’s blame the political correctness
“+We are North American scum.” Well, the song is appropriate, at least.
+An American Dream by Norman Mailer
+Whitney at the party
+“I’ve seen worse out there.”
+“Fuck, you’re so fucking dramatic.
+“The world does not revolve around your pain.”
+“But at least he’s trying.”
+“You know what, a lot of bad shit has happened to me too. … But I put one foot in front of the other every fucking day because I want to make my life better.”
+“You blame everyone else.”
Episode Title: 208
Alternate Title: The Writer
Written by: Sharr White
Directed by: Laura Innes
Image Courtesy: Showtime
Episode Title: 209
Alternate Title: The Eye of the Storm
Written by: David Henry Hwang & Alena Smith
Directed by: Jeffrey Reiner