‘The Affair’ 1.09 or Narrative Structure as Misdirection or The Anna Karenina Factor

the affair 109

Sunday night’s episode of The Affair was brought to you by the letter S. S stands for Stories.. and Suicides. Suicide has been a significantly recurring theme in this first season, and one that should not be overlooked in your weekly theorizing. Let’s go back — way, way back — to the very first dramatic beat of the series: Martin’s staged suicide. (Oh morbid Martin who learns how to fake a hanging on YouTube and frees horses in the middle of the night.) A tally of the suicides and attempted suicides on The Affair thus far comes in at a staggering FOUR: Martin, (Skank Ho) Jody Manko, Alison, and the Tribeca jumper. And what with the train imagery to boot, there’s an “Anna Karenina” thing going on, for sure. Noah as Vronsky; Alison as Anna; Brooklyn as St. Petersburg? In the pilot, Noah even guesses that it would be Alison’s favorite book.

So why? Could it be as simple as setting the tone for pain and despair, or something more sinister? Are the protagonists misdirecting someone? Are the writers? Well that’s where the “Stories” come in.

At the risk of sounding redundant, it’s been weeks since Noah and Alison’s stories stopped being police interrogations, and yet we’ve not uncovered what they now are. Honest memories? Intentional lies?Innocent tales? And to whom? And from whom? Yes, from Noah and Alison but… who else? “Story” is a theme of its own on The Affair, and it is no coincidence that Noah is a writer: the writers on The Affair are represented here, as is the power of storytelling and narrative misdirection. Viewers have theorized that Alison and Noah are purposely misrepresenting themselves through false narration as part of a cover-up in the Scotty Lockhart investigation, but it seems to me that the writers of this fine series are playing the same trick on us, the audience.

Story: A Sleight of Hand

Week after week I have noted the consistent structural choice to begin with Noah’s story before Alison’s. The tally last week was: Noah 7, Alison 1! This week Alison finally added another notch under her belt, and it popped right out at me. So what’s it mean? To answer that one has to wonder what could have changed if Noah’s story had come first instead. For starters, in Sunday’s episode we wouldn’t have been as shocked or empathetic with Alison’s suspicion that Helen could be pregnant had we already known that the pregnancy test belonged to Whitney. Secondly, had we seen Noah leave Helen prior to watching Alison lose all hope and try to drown herself, it would have undercut the helplessness she felt in that moment believing that she was doomed to wallow in unrequited love forever. Guilt aside, the love she feels for her son is as unrequited as the love she has for Noah.

Now you might say, that’s the answer: the writers choose which narrative to start with depending on what would have the greater dramatic impact. Yes, indeed they are brilliant at that, but I dare to speculate that The Affair is also setting the audience up with it’s own brand of misdirection hidden within the structure. If this helps at all, Kristin Dos Santos penned a short piece last week called “Why The Affair Is The New LOST?” I’ve been pitching this show to my friends with that argument for weeks! Well, it’s like when Jack’s flashbacks were revealed to be flashforwards and we were all fooled because we thought we knew what were watching. So there, structure as misdirection. It’s coming.


Much like Karenina, Alison’s tale is one of peaks and valleys. She starts off on a train into St. Pet—err–Brooklyn, giddy as a kid on Christmas morning and on her way to meet Noah. They embrace and kiss like in the movies, he quite literally sweeps her off her feet. They can’t get a room at the one hotel they try (there weren’t any others?) and so he takes her home where she reluctantly agrees to going inside (Helen and the kids are upstate). In Noah’s narrative, there is no preamble to the sex, that’s where the day starts for him. In both their stories, the sex is passionate, Noah on top. For Alison there are passionate “I love you‘s” and a promise from Noah that he will leave Helen. For Noah there are “I want you‘s” and anal sex and no talk of leaving Helen.

I can’t quite figure out how to console the very obvious differences and some incoherent bits revealed in Noah’s story. Why would Noah remember this detail about his wife’s shirt and why would he be the one to find the pregnancy test in the garbage? How could Alison have left her bra behind when she left in a silky shirt? No woman goes out in a dress shirt and no bra, and in the winter!

So, more things… Alison sleeping with Oscar. I’m sorry but ew. Oscar has used his position at her boss to disrespect her and sexually objectify her so many times, it was hard to watch her do this. He is despicable and now she’s cheated on Cole with two men. However (and this is a big however) I sympathize with her pain, and realize that she slept with Oscar for that very reason: he’s disgusting and now she is too. She must have hated herself so deeply in that moment (about as deeply as she cut herself), that sleeping with Oscar and being unfaithful to Cole made sense to who she felt she was. I don’t mean to excuse her, quite the opposite, she knew exactly what she was doing when she did, even if she regretted it later.

[See “Questions and Theories” below for discussion on Max and Noah’s scene]

Last week both Dominic West and Ruth Wilson were nominated for Golden Globes for their performances, and I wondered if there was any chance either of them could take home a win, but after this episode I am convinced that Dominic West is in the running, and that Ruth Wilson’s chances are good. Claire Danes and Julianna Margulies have a few statues on their mantle as it is (well deserved!). I’m rooting for these two! Maura Tierney didn’t get a nod but I was sincerely moved by her and and Dom’s break up scene. What it must have been like to have been in that room…



Jeffries purposely lets Noah in on the fact that he’s been playing him, and asks three questions:

  • How long have you had [your car]? A few years.
  • What kind of mileage does it get? Pretty good.
  • What would you say the turning radius is? I have no idea. What does it matter?

Unless Jeffries is fucking with him again, what these questions appear to imply is that there is a car and a distance traveled in mind that Jeffries is looking to compare Noah’s against. That goes for the turning radius as well (“the radius of the smallest circular turn that the vehicle is capable of making”) so my guess is there may be a narrow rubber skid mark at the scene where Scotty was killed. Or Jeffries is full of shit.


  • Motive: Now we know Noah has one. Scotty got his teenage daughter pregnant. Unless he also gave her an STD or she decides to drop out of school and run off with him in the next episode, I don’t think this is grounds for murder but… it remains to be seen what may transpire between the two.
  • Motive: Does Alison have one? Technically. That would be to inherit more money from the sale of the ranch now that it’s value is so much smaller than they original believed and she is leaving town to start a new life. It would make far more sense to kill off Cherry but if Alison were ever a suspect the ranch, the money, and the drugs would have to be involved.
  • Could Alison’s son be Oscar’s baby??? Oh the horror. If we see the kid before the father is revealed and it has red hair I will shudder in horror.
  • I kind of hate that Helen would have shampoo that expensive with the financial troubles they seem to be getting into. Am I a hater? Probably. Sorry.
  • Did Alison look surprised to see Noah at the station? Did Noah look surprised to see Alison there? Or were they both just surprised to see Cole there? The perplexed glances were overwhelming. In Alison’s narrative we see her checking her cell phone just before the train arrives, and from Noah’s narrative we know that he calls her and leaves her a message (?) about leaving Helen and when his train will arrive so we would assume that she knew he was on his way. Here’s the thing about Montauk though: Alison was not joking when she called it “the end of the world” in the first episode. No one takes a train out to Montauk just to meet someone and get back on the same train back. No one. Noah got off that train with every intention to stay that night, and Alison packed her bags as if she was taking it back into the city all along. Was she planning on leaving Noah stranded at the station all along? Why wouldn’t she call him back instead?
  • What’s the deal with Max asking Noah about his father? His father has emphysema but keeps smoking. Okay…? Max is very insistent that Noah usually calls his father to make him feel better when something serious like this happens. If that’s true than why doesn’t Noah call him? We have not heard Noah mention his father at all, nor did we know his father was in the picture. From what we know of Noah, his mother raised him and Noah took care of her until she died, not his father. What is Noah avoiding by not calling him?
  • Women are like the stock market? Affairs are like start up companies? “99% of them fail”? It was a pretty heavy handed metaphor but I can’t say it didn’t have some truth to it. But it’s not about women is it? It’s about marriage and safety. Helen just said it last week: she married Noah because she thought he was safe. Now Max is telling Noah to stay with Helen because that is what is safe too.
  • So Gabriel didn’t drown, he died from secondary drowning. Unfortunately, that WebMD article makes it sound like Alison, a nurse, should definitely have known better than to put him to bed after what happened. That makes me sad for her, and angry that Cherry had a point.

So that’s it. Almost. Penultimate episode, and the finale next week. What do you expect to happen? Will we find out who killed Scotty? What would you be disappointed in if you didn’t have it answered? (Personally, I at least need to know if present-time Alison and Noah are together.) Send me your thoughts and theories.


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