‘The Affair’ Season 1 Finale or The First Wave Retreats or The Easy Things

the affair 110

Last night’s season finale of The Affair was brought to you by the letter R. R stands for Retreat. Like a wave, sinking back into the ocean, as opposed to the alternative: staying on shore. As humans, when things get really, really hard, we tend to do what’s easy before we do what’s right, and then we wait and hope that they might be the same thing. The easy thing is not just easy to do, it’s easy to know, but the right thing… that’s not quite so clear. There’s only one thing to do and that’s… well, you get the picture.

On goes the tale, Alison and Noah retreat like the tide into their desires. Noah gets a bachelor pad and sticks his dick in whomever and wherever he wants because staying married with children was just too hard, and sleeping around without commitment was the opposite. Alison finds her own way to fill the void of her desire at a cabin by the lake, meditating, and and filling herself with “vegan surprise” and Athena, of all things. Her retreat is similar to Noah’s, but with a twist: staying married without children was just too hard. To each their own.

But what about The Affair? What kind of wave is it? If not a wave, what form does it take? What does it desire? Here is the first reason why I was slightly let down by it’s first season finale: the answer was unclear. Make no mistake, I am not referring to the “answers” of the narrative — I respect the process of allowing the details to reveal themselves in time — but like Noah and Alison, the “thing” of the show seemed to both hide itself and retreat, rather than move itself forward. And it left me wondering: What is its purpose? Why are their stories so different? We should at least know if they are memories or not, because honestly, the differences are radical, not subtle. What is the mechanism? I am left wondering but I’m not sure what I am wondering about: the characters intentions, or the writers? Am I over-thinking it and their memories are just that bad? One thing I can say for sure is that this is NOT a love story. It might be a story about love but, shippers, put your hearts in jars and keep them there.

NOAH

Four months from the train station and we start with two oddly place and nearly back-to-back montages:

  • Noah, Master Fornicator, to the classic sounds of The Animal’s “It’s My Life”
  • Noah, Disgraced Rubber Room Loser and Soon-To-Be Dignified Auteur, to the indie crooning of Yo La Tengo’s “I’ll Be Around”

The songs set an effective (if not obvious) backdrop and tone to their respective narratives but were a) stylistically random, b) too close together, and c) so different from one another. It felt like two halves of two music videos.

All I really got from this scene was that I shouldn’t feel guilty for never finishing “Infinite Jest”, Noah’s got a way with the ladies, and that the ocean plays just as large a metaphor in Noah’s second novel as it does on the series. Here’s a snippet of the closing paragraph which can be seen on Noah’s laptop:

…Looking out on the horizon shrouded by a cloud layer, he thought it was impossible to tell where the sea ended and the sky began. They were both the exact same mournful grey […] He looked down at his feet to watch the waves recede, leaving jagged little rivulets in the sand and took comfort that he could find no order to their paths either.

The conversation between Noah and his publisher felt forced, or flat, I’m not sure what. There didn’t seem to be a friendship between them to be talking how they were talking: “She works for you? Jesus!” — “Not everyone has a wife as hot as yours.” — “Can I ask you something… Do you miss your wife?” [5 second pause] “Not yet.

Helen proceeds to call Noah to the house to show him the tape of him attacking Scotty at the Planned Parenthood, and thus her deduction that Scotty was the one who got Whitney pregnant. And then she unravels. She knows everything but she wants him back. She hates her life without him. A fantastic and powerful scene for both the performances and the dialogue here. Sarah Treem is at her best when the characters know each other intimately, from Noah/Helen, to Alison/Cole, and Whitney/Helen. I actually prefer these interactions more to those between Noah and Alison themselves. Am I alone in finding that their performances and the writing has been consistently better in their scenes apart rather than together? Winner of the best, most honest, and most heartbreaking line of the episode goes to Helen:

You know you never even gave me a chance. You never said, “I’m different now. I want something else.” You just took it all away. But I can change. I can change. And I have been working with Dr. Gunderson two times a week and I have the tools…

Honestly, Maura Tierney is devestating and raw here. Even Dominic West’s silences are important. His uncomfortable face makes you uncomfortable. Amiright? Interesting how after the fight he turns her over, pulls her pants down, and enters her from behind. Was anyone reminded of  the first episode with Cole and Alison over the pick-up truck there? I get a feeling Noah may have been channeling that moment with Helen. A violent but passionate moment that he didn’t understand at the time, but he sure gets it now. I felt badly for Helen, later, who changed for bed in the bathroom, out of Noah’s sight. She is not as young as Alison and must suspect or feel that her age had something to do with the affair. Turning back time is not a tool that Dr. Gunderson can teach.

Now let’s move on to Whitney’s fantastic judgment on her parents. Even if you think she’s annoying and entitled and disrespectful (yes, yes, and yes), she has feelings and she has thoughts and she has a point. This is a modern family.

Needy Martin hates Noah. He also knows the Lockharts from working on the ranch and is in a pretty good position to resent them for it. Possible Scotty killer? Would also explain why Noah has something to hide if he is covering for his son.

Margaret, who is pretty much Whitney’s counterpart, also makes a good point despite the fact that she should mind her damn business: Is Noah the best person to go get Whitney from Lockhart Ranch considering his past with them? Or just his “past” period?

What do you make of Helen’s comment that she ended up marrying her mother (i.e. Noah = Margaret). I don’t see much of a connection right away, but perhaps it is a reference to the moral high grounds they both like to take but don’t intend to follow.

Now in Noah’s narrative, Alison betrays Whitney (“You fucking traitor. I thought you were my friend.“) by calling and texting Noah to let him know that Whitney is there. Cole is not in the kitchen, Cherry makes tons of apologies (another epic and very obvious line “ A lot of people in this room have done terrible things“), and Helen insults Alison. As the Solloways are leaving Scotty comes downstairs assuming they are gone but catches Noah who almost strangles him to death on the front lawn. Cole shows up, threatening to kill Noah at gunpoint for more than one reason, and Noah is caught in between the sights of Helen (to his right) and Alison (to his left). Two visions in white.

ALISON

Thankfully, we did not get any yoga montages with Yo Yo Ma in the background at the introduction of the Alison narrative. She is relaxed and she has made peace with Athena. It’s been four months here, as well. Athena tries to set Alison up with some recently-divorced hunk that’s been hanging around, and there’s a curious way in which she describes him (or that Alison recalls it, anyway). Athena says of the man, “He really looked me in the eye as he was talking to me” [Read on…]

Back in Montauk we meet the famous Pheobe who gets filled in on the general details from Alison. Alison claims she wants to be alone now, although she never has been. Pheobe makes it sound far less glamorous. Alison asks if it’s any worse than being lonely in your own marriage, but Pheobe has no real answer as she’s never been married.

Alison follows with an honest, almost admittedly embarrassing confession of the moment when she fell for Noah:

There was this time, this moment in the very beginning when I was walking away from Noah and he grabbed my hand and he pulled me back to him. And he just looked at me. He really just — he looked at me. It was the most perfect, erotic moment of my life.

What is it about looking into someone’s eyes seems to make such an impression on Alison? Perhaps in the uncomfortable aftermath following Gabriel’s death, Cole and her have been avoiding each other’s glances, so as not to feel too much at once. Their pain is reflected in each other’s eyes after all, and I imagine that is part of what has overwhelmed her. Then again, she calls it the most perfect, erotic moment of her life. Ever. So either she’s romanticizing it in retrospect or it’s not about Cole at all. It’s stronger than him.

Alison’s wardrobe choice when she went to visit Cole stood out to me, particularly because of her demeanor.The pretty grey top and those perfect white linen pants, was almost as if Alison had literally put her big girl pants on. She offers to sell Cole the house or give it to him: “I just want you to have something you love.” Cole is right, people do survive the death of a child, but the way Alison insists it’s too hard and that she simply does not want to seems to support that her reasons for leaving him are not solely tied to Gabriel’s death. The scene in which they tear each other apart and blame one another for Gabriel’s death was too cruel, and I can’t even discuss it, but it was necessary for the logic of the scene that followed at the Lockhart ranch.

It’s really sweet to see how Alison remember’s Cole as this sensible man and father, sympathizing with both Whitney and Noah for what transpired between Whitney and Scotty. It’s not the first time I see him as this gentle soul reflected in her narrative. Except… is Whitney drinking a beer with Alison?

Clearly, from here the narrative is shockingly different from Noah’s. Cole is present in the room, and Cherry is not which is huge. Why wouldn’t Noah remember this being in the kitchen and with his family in the line of fire if it really happened that way? The melodrama and the cliches in this scene were a bit much, a bit soap opera like. Of course Alison becomes the protagonist of the kitchen narrative here just as Noah was the protagonist of his. These two certainly seem to recall being the center of attention, but I also think that’s natural. Anyway, I wasn’t feeling the near-suicide thing, or the over-the-topness Alison evoking her son’s spirit as present in the room in order to stop Cole. There wasn’t much novelty in it; nothing I haven’t seen already on Grey’s Anatomy, for example. It’s unfortunate that this weak scene came towards the end of the episode since most of what came before it (minus the iffy montage intro) was strong.

DETECTIVE AND PRESENT TIME

The detective makes it clear to Noah that he’s a suspect. Then he sets Noah up by getting the mechanic to show up to the station just as he lets Noah go. Noah proceeds to pay the guy off, just as Jeffries hoped and the episode ends in Noah getting arrested. (PS. Jeffries does not have a wife or an ex-wife. He is gay. That doesn’t count as an answer though. PPS. They have a small daughter together. Where is the son?)

Unfortunately the very last scene in present time was the weakest of all. A wide (long) shot of Alison crossing the room to plop on to the couch next to Noah? That could have been directed so much more mischievously for such an important reveal. The entire shot that follows is one long shot, no close ups to their loving faces! Why on earth would they do that? Also, pointless conversation about him having dinner with a big time actor for the movie on his book but we already knew that it was being made into a movie so, whatever. Oddly enough, the police never charge him with a crime, which is standard. Oh and the final shot of Alison, the camera closing in to her face with that ominous, foreboding music reminiscent of a Law and Order closing more than The Affair. It felt out of place despite of the crime aspect we knew the show already had taken on. I mean, the music and the “I’ll get you out of this. I promise. Do you believe me?” Why wouldn’t he believe her? It was just strange.

The Affair continues to be the best new drama of 2014 for me, but after the finale I wouldn’t bet on it winning the Golden Globes for Best Series. The writing, on the other hand, was marvelous overall, no matter what hiccups we witnessed in the finale minutes of the season, and I am looking forward to it’s second season.

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One Comment

  1. Will
    Posted December 24, 2014 at 3:29 am | Permalink | Reply

    Have you missed the children book in Alison’s hands and later on the sofa, in the final scene? Did you miss how carefully she closes the room door and how Noah asks her “are she asleep now?”. I.e. it’s their little daughter in that room. So why should she be mischievous.

    In the near-suicide scene what I was struck by was how the two parents didn’t shield Whitney with their bodies, only holding her at their side, the both of them. That was strange for me. Maybe they remember this far in the future, after they had split, so Alison paints him (and his wife) with some negativity there subconsciously.

    And the publisher could easily have become friends with Noah over the nearly a year they’ve known each other by that time.

    Good writeup overall!

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