‘The Affair’ 1.04 or The Truth Is In The Wallpaper

theaffair4Last night’s episode of The Affair was brought to you by the letter T. T stands for trickery. Which is what  (its becoming abundantly clear) Alison and Noah’s stories are really about: a visual slight of hand. And it’s not just Det. Jeffries whose being fooled, either. You’ve been got and you don’t even know how yet!

What at first appeared to be a show about an affair, turns out to be about a crime far more sinister.  What at first looked to be two slightly different points of view, turns out to be two carefully premeditated narratives. What seemed liked a straight-forward investigation is actually a game of cat and mouse — or in this case, mice.

With each episode Noah grows into a more cohesive character, while Alison is day and night depending on who is telling the story.  Noah is a decent guy, sensitive, though slightly confused and immature, with a healthy sexual appetite, particularly when it comes to Alison, and no plans to leave his wife. At first he played the innocent victim card with significantly more force than Alison gave him credit for in her telling, but as he is beginning to accept his role in all this, Alison also seems to be opening up to his softer side and he is balancing out.

So why doesn’t the same seem to be happening with Alison? Never was it more obvious than in the changeover from Noah to Alison’s narratives in this episode. One moment she is sexually voracious and in the throws of passion, in the next, a mere shell of emotions irrecognizable to herself in the mirror (kudos to Ruth Wilson’s fantastic performance!).

Aside from Noah’s “congruence” there were a few other firsts in this episode, as well. For starters, we didn’t jump back for a replay of Alison’s version when Noah’s ended. Instead we continued where the story left off (mid-coitus, nonetheless). Additionally, and for the first time, the two were wearing the same clothes in each of their versions, and the hotel room they stayed in looks identical (with the sole exception of the ugly vs. uglier flowered wall paper). Since we have so many similarities going on this week, I won’t be breaking down each story for a comparison here, rather I’ll list the differences I noted (particularly upon a very worthy second viewing).

DIFFERENCES

Shipwrecked: In Alison’s version, her shipwreck story is not only a different story altogether but takes place post- (not pre-) coitus and on a much gloomier looking day. In line with her own state of mind, she claims to have told a haunted tale about the howling voice of a little boy who cries out for his mother. For Noah, Alison’s shipwreck story was a Peter Pan fantasy involving her fun-loving grandfather. This draws a similarity to last week, when Noah’s story included another fictional character who never wanted to grow up and dragged everyone down with him: Ferris Bueller. Also, Alison recalls Noah’s story about his own mother who died.

Thematics: Alison’s tale of their Block Island adventure seemed to be riddled with references to her pain, the water, and her son’s passing. Ironically, there is a curious boyishness about Noah in her telling of the day’s events. His memories of his mother as a young boy, and his giddy “still got it” when single-handedly unclipping her bra. The hotel room wallpaper in Alison’s “memory” is also far busier, tackier, and gives a profound sense of claustrophobia which pairs well with both of her freak outs in that room. In Noah’s version, he focuses very much on the details of the place, the characters there, and their stories: the lighthouse, the history of the Native Americans who fought there, the funny Sex-Not-Yoga lady at the Heritage museum, prying into Alison’s family history. I found this profoundly true to what would be his sensitivities as a writer. A writer would remember stories and characters and histories, and that’s precisely how Noah told it. Well, that and the S-E-X.

Sex: In Noah’s narrative, he confesses to only having slept with three women, while Alison jokes that she’s had “thousands”. Alison tells him how she wants to know what it feels like to be underneath him. She pulls him into the dressing room and begins to pull down his pants. She begins to undress him as he stands in that hotel room. She tells him to stop talking and just do her. She quite literally has him by the balls, if not another nearby appendage.  For Alison, the aftermath of sex makes her “freak out” and is the most important part of the story. In fact, her story starts as if she had been somehow thrown into it. If her Block Island narrative began the same way we saw it, her version to the Detective Jeffries must have started something like “And there were were in Block Island fucking like rabbits”. Where as Noah’s leads up to the sex, for Alison it is the most inconsequential bit: the jump off, if you will. It is what followed it which was most memorable. There’s something very familiar and resoundingly true here about the way men and women experience and recall their sexual memories.

GAPS IN TIME

We never get Alison’s version of the ferry ride over, how they ended up at the boutique where they bought their clothes, how they ended up BACK at the boutique or got separated to begin with, or how they paid for the room. Although from Noah’s mention that his wife checks his bank statements in Alison’s story we can assume that they also paid in cash in her version.

For Noah, we never see his experience of what happened after they had sex including the fight, switching out the dressers, arguing again on the ferry, the ride to her place, the story of what if feels like for her to have lost Gabriel, or having sex back at her house.

Is it safe to assume that whatever is not repeated differently stands as the correct version of events the one time around? Why would we when it is becoming apparent that nothing here is more than faulty memory or blatant lies?

PRESENT DAY + SIMILARITIES + WHAT WE “LEARNED”

  • Harry, Bruce’s publisher, liked Noah’s first chapter and would like to continue working with him
  • Alison’s son drowned; it was two years ago (and I don’t know how I did not see that coming after my post last week referencing the importance that water would have on the series!)
  • Alison only began cutting herself since Gabriel’s death
  • Noah and Alison did not have sex before this episode (in case anyone was still wondering)
  • Neither of them planned on leaving their spouses due to this affair — everyone expressed this in both narratives
  • Present Day: Noah’s son Trevor is now somewhere in High School (because that’s when you read Huckleberry Finn). If he was 6 or 7 that summer in Montauk that’s about a decade between of difference.
  • Present Day: Alison is far more worried about this interrogation than she leads on when she is with Det. Jeffries and calls someone to let them know what is going on.
  • Present Day: Alison is definitely a smoker
  • Present Day: Jeffries works for (or at the very least works in) the Suffolk County Police Department. Suffolk County includes much of Long Island, including all of the Hamptons, but he still seems to know surprisingly little about Montauk…
  • Present Day: Jeffries is lying to Alison and/or Noah about his personal life — he tells Noah that he is divorced; Alison that he is happily married.

WHAT WE STILL DON’T KNOW

  • Who got married at “the wedding”? Did something happen there?
  • Who killed the unknown hit-and-run victim?
  • Was there really a problem or tension between Alison and Scotty Lockhart or is it an embellishment in Noah’s narrative? If so what was the deal there?
  • What was behind the door at the train station, and what did it have to do with the fish Alison picked up from Will at the docks?
  • Why is Det. Jeffries telling Noah and Alison two different stories about his personal life?
  • What is going on with Margaret, Helen’s mother, that required Noah to come home from Block Island?

Clearly part of its strategy, both the structure and the characters on The Affair are evolving with each episode. They are getting increasingly more twisted and complex.  Watching Alison walk out of that interrogation room and make that desperate phone call reminded me instantly of certain rare moments on In Treatment (also written by Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi) when the patients would leave their session early, or Dr. Weston would arrive late, and for a few seconds you were privy to how they truly were when they were alone or interacting with the people they spent so much time describing in their therapy sessions. Seeing the real world, visually, instead of hearing the characters describe it would almost always be a shock because the reality rarely played out the way they had made it seem. It made me wonder if eventually The Affair would play out primarily in present time. Will we finally see Noah and Alison for who they truly are and not for who they interpret each other to be? How fascinating!

Favorite line of the episode: Alison can’t seem to get the combination right on her bike lock. Noah approaches and asks, “You forgot my wife’s birthday?” Stinggggggggg.

So, did you catch those distinct differences between the two Alisons? Do you agree there are far less differences between the two Noahs? And how do they compare to their “Present Day” counterparts? Any theories? Anything I missed?

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