We open on Alison waking up alone in Noah’s bed, right after her perspective is introduced as “Part Three,” which establishes this episode as a direct companion to the premiere. I wonder if this season will continue to tell four-part narratives, or whether some stories will only be told from two characters’ perspectives. In spite of the lackluster quality of this episode, I thought exploring this day from four different viewpoints allowed for richer and more challenging storytelling, especially since several scenes in this episode dropped hints about whether Noah or Helen’s accounts were closer to the truth (hint: it’s literally never Noah), but we’ll get to that.
Noah soon joins Alison, and they have ostensibly blissful couple time, as he tells her that he didn’t wake her up because she “looked too peaceful,” and she nearly succeeds in tempting him into a quickie before he has to leave for his mediation with Helen. But there’s an undercurrent of uncertainty underlying their interactions:Alison is trying to shed the “mistress” label, but no other label seems to apply. Noah (typically) hasn’t told the landlords that she’s his girlfriend, and didn’t even tell Harry she was staying with him, so she can’t see herself as anything other than his dirty little secret. And when Alison asks Noah “who she is to him,” Noah responds, “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me,” which sounds like a very convenient dismount off of the balance beam. They banter about Alison’s insatiable sexual appetite; she calls him an “asshole” as a joke, but I wish she meant it. Incidentally, this is the only time in this episode that they even approach being cute together.
(Side note: has Noah and Alison’s physical chemistry gotten significantly worse since last season? I never thought they were nearly as scorching as the writers wanted us to think they were, but I don’t remember quite so much awkward smacking.)
This scene would be somewhat interesting, since based on the flashback scenes, it is often difficult to tell whether Alison and Noah have real feelings for each other. Their affair began as a simple lifeline, an attempt to escape their miserable lives, and it has never been clear to me that their relationship managed to transcend that cynical beginning. This scene would be successfully ambiguous, leaving the viewer to wonder if Alison really is just a “kept woman” to Noah, except that we’ve seen in the present scenes that they end up together, seemingly happy, so all of the dramatic tension is sucked out of their scenes together. The writers have stated that they view Noah and Alison as “soulmates,” which honestly blows my mind. When they say “I love you” to each other in this scene, I barely believe them, even though I know I’m supposed to. When have these two ever even had a real conversation? What do they have in common? Which fundamental values or personality traits connect them? It’s a mystery. [kht: A shared interest in getting naked with people who aren’t their spouses?]
The most compelling part about this scene is its connection to the previous episode (and no, I’m not talking about that stupid broken toilet, which is stupid). In the premiere, Noah was late to his mediation meeting in both versions of the story, but in Noah’s version, he was late because he was punched out by his distraught son, while in Helen’s version, he showed up late with a lackadaisical attitude and no sign of a bloody nose. From Alison’s version of events, it seems that Helen’s recollection was more correct (shocker): Alison remembers Noah being late because he was canoodling with Alison, whom he promptly lies about to Helen. It makes me feel better that the writers seem to acknowledge that Noah is a self-aggrandizing asshole almost as much as I do.
Once Noah leaves, we’re treated to a bunch of very boring (albeit very beautifully shot) scenes of Alison feeling ill at ease without Noah. Alison pees outside because the toilet is broken, and sees a melancholy, ethereal image of a fisherman walking out onto the docks in a heavy fog. She quickly pulls up her pants, as though she’s intruding on this moody paradise Noah has created for himself.
In the house, she looks at the framed book covers from writers who have taken refuge in this house over the years, and then finds Noah’s manuscript. The book is dedicated to her, but it’s also entitled “Descent,” which is nice and ambiguous. She likely won’t know whether that dedication is flattering until she reads it. She’s tempted to read it, but doesn’t, which I suppose is another indication that Noah isn’t allowing her to truly be a part of his life. She sits down and reads a book. Jesus, I know Alison is supposed to be bored right now, but do the viewers really need to be pulling our hair out along with her?
Alison’s walking to town. Cows are mooing. I’m not even kidding, that’s what’s happening right now. I’ll summarize the next few scenes more quickly, because there’s not much symbolism going on and I’m bored to tears: the landlord, who may have a little crush on Alison, gives her a ride to town, and intuits that she’s a small-town girl. She sees little boys playing soccer and is reminded of her son. She half-heartedly inquires about a waitressing job, but doesn’t want to take a step backwards, so doesn’t pursue it.
Thirteen minutes in, the episode finally gets started when Alison finds Cole in her living room. He’s immediately menacing, looking through Noah’s manuscript, making himself at home even though he’s trespassing. Alison already has a mixture of fear and hostility in her voice when she demands, “What are you doing here?” He’s filled with simmering anger as he says, “Hello to you, too.” He tells her that it’s “good to see her,” as his fingers twitch like he’s tempted to make a fist. Very nice touch from Joshua Jackson, and not just because he’s Pacey and I love him. She asks him how he found her, he asks if it’s “some big secret,” she wants him to leave, he tells her to relax. He sounds like a slightly restrained cookie-cutter villain of a woman-in-peril Lifetime movie, which I guess is sort of the point.
They engage in curt, angry small talk about him coming to drop off her things, and he observes that she seems “nervous” to see him. She caustically asks if he has any weapons on him, and he gets weirdly sexual and asks if she wants to come check. [kht: Um… I’ll check that for you, Cole.] This serves to remind us that Cole’s threatening, wifebeater vibe and Alison’s fearful agitation is all consistent with Alison’s version of events in the season one finale (although I hope we’re not really supposed to believe that cringe-inducing gun-waving scene happened, as it was The Affair‘s worst and soapiest moment). Cole lives up to that characterization when he physically intimidates Alison, forcing her against the wall and telling her with a deceptive calm that he just wanted to “shoot the shit” with her. He gets up in her face, tells her he just has one question for her, and asks where her toilet is, laughing wickedly like your average psychological tormenter.
Of course, the toilet is broken so he intrusively insists that he’ll fix it, and the writers are really proud of themselves for making this damn broken toilet some kind of motif that connects the four stories. STOP TRYING TO MAKE THE TOILET HAPPEN, WRITERS. IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.
Alison hides the manuscript in a drawer, and then hides outside while Cole finishes proving that he’s more manly than Noah because he has tools in his truck. The landlady comes by to give Alison a welcome basket, and it’s Joanna Gleason! What a welcome surprise. She’s perfectly nice and friendly, but reveals that she might share Alison’s uneasy feelings about her relationship with Noah when she politely admits that the welcome basket is a month overdue. She’s comfortable enough with their relationship to bond with Alison about the plight of being in love with a writer, though, as she says, it’s “terrible, isn’t it? All their secret worlds, their fantasies.” Luckily, Noah doesn’t run all that deep, so I don’t think the curse of artistic genius is the primary concern with this relationship, but the “fantasies” part rings true. Hopefully the show will explore in depth the notion that Noah has been idealizing Alison as a manic pixie dream girl in both his novel and his delusions of his real life.
Cole comes out and says goodbye to Alison, as he’s done his manly-man thing and fixed the toilet. Alison introduces him to Yvonne briefly, and I wonder if Yvonne thinks Alison might be cheating on Noah, but Alison is cold enough to Cole that it probably assuages those concerns. Yvonne asks if he’s single, and when Alison awkwardly mumbles that she thinks he is, Yvonne says she has a niece who would love him. “She’s just like me, she has a weakness for men with rough hands.” I know I should be grossed out at the “rough hands” nonsense, especially since there’s a heavy implication that Cole is an abuser, but Joshua Jackson is so sexy, I’m just sort of like—word. He comes back briefly to give Alison a small trunk that makes her teary, so most likely her son’s toy trunk, and Joanna Gleason says, “He’s intense, isn’t he?” That’s one word for it, I suppose.
Alison has coffee with Joanna Gleason and her husband, the writer who has all of his secret worlds. He also told Alison while driving her to town that his wife is a city mouse who wants to move back, so they’re exposing cracks in their marriage all over the place. They seem cute enough as they bicker about his physical therapy, though; he had knee surgery a few weeks ago and won’t listen to the therapist that he thinks his wife “imported from France,” but is actually from New Jersey. (HA!) Alison shows off her nurse training by giving him a few tips on his recovery, which prompts the “What do you do now?” conversation. Alison admits that she doesn’t know, “which sounds ridiculous, because I’m thirty-two. I guess I’m still trying to figure it out.” (Thirty-two isn’t that old to still be figuring things out, but I’ve heard people say this at twenty-two, so I guess this makes sense.) Robert says “Welcome to the club,” and Yvonne has a visible reaction before rushing off to a conference call. Another crack. [kht: Say crack again.]
Robert continues to make it super obvious that they’re having problems by asking Alison to work as Yvonne’s personal assistant so she doesn’t have to take care of Robert anymore. “She’s not even supposed to be here. She usually spends Monday through Thursday in the city for work.” Did it get chilly in here, or is it just these two? It turns out that Yvonne is the head of Noah’s publishing house, which I’m sure will be important later. Robert kind of rolls his eyes at Yvonne yelling at someone on the phone, and says, “She’s starting to resent me for keeping her here.” Subtle, guys.
Yvonne comes back in and starts in on Robert because she wanted to fire an incompetent employee before the holidays “but you convinced me not to because his wife had just had those hideous twins!” I know she means that having babies is a further financial burden, but for one crazy moment I think she’s saying that she didn’t fire him because it would be too much to bear in addition to his children being ugly, and I laugh for like a minute. Joanna Gleason is awesome. Yvonne is overjoyed that Alison is going to be Robert’s assistant, but let’s see if that lasts once she figures out Robert has a crush on Alison.
We’re back to the scene of domestic bliss from last week, in which Noah comes home to find Alison happily cooking him dinner. In Noah’s version, they had a nice meal, asked each other about their days, and danced without music, The Notebook-style. Surprisingly enough, Alison’s memories are slightly less romanticized, as she remembers Noah raring for a fight from the second he walks in the door. He huffs that his day was fine, cracks open a beer, and complains about the food that she was nice enough to make for him, just like any self-respecting jackass husband.
He starts a pity party for himself, calling the mediator a “burnout,” which once again supports Helen’s version of events from last week, and his mother-in-law “homicidal,” which is interesting, considering that Noah himself remembered threatening his mother-in-law with a violent death. He also says that Harry “hates his book” and won’t publish it, which will soon leave him broke and homeless. What happened to his huge advance? Is he just being melodramatic because he doesn’t want to change the ending to his book, so he thinks he’ll have to return the money? Alison is a dutiful girlfriend, and asks if she can do anything to help. He responds by asking if she’s selling her house, but it doesn’t sound like he’s looking for a commitment, just a large infusion of cash. She says no, and looks wildly uncomfortable.
She tries to get him excited about dinner, but he wants to fight, so he picks at her about moving his manuscript. She lies and doesn’t tell him about Cole, which usually I would say is a bad move, but he’s being so shitty and bratty, who could blame her? (It may also be a hint that Cole’s version of their time together is a little more accurate, which wouldn’t surprise me, but more on that later.) Since he still hasn’t gotten her to take the bait and fight with him, he attacks her about this personal assistant job with Robert and Yvonne. He says it’s weird and inappropriate, and he’s probably right, but my God, shut the fuck up, Noah. He storms out, she takes a drink, and it looks like the first scene of every divorce movie until he comes back, apologizes, and starts having make-up sex with her on the counter. More smacking.
They then have a nice dinner on the patio, as we saw last week, although there’s no Nicholas Sparks dancing this time, nor a beautiful sunset, as it’s already dusk. But even so, I’m completely on board with the discrepancies between Alison and Noah’s accounts of these scenes. Noah is so self-involved, he could easily forget that they had a fight, since it wasn’t actually about Alison at all, and it ended in hot counter sex and a nice dinner that he didn’t have to make. He’s not aware that Alison lied to him again when he asked about the toilet, so from his perspective, everything turned out just dandy.
In the present, Alison runs into Noah’s lawyer, and is disproportionately upset that he’s representing Noah, and that Helen is paying for it. It occurs to me that not only are the present scenes distracting from and interfering with the organic development of the primary timeline, but they also don’t fit into the thesis of the show. If the “truth is suspect,” as the writers keep telling us, if there is no objective truth, just a piecemeal hack job version of the truth that we construct out of multiple subjective accounts, then are the present scenes suspect as well? It’s unclear that they’re actually meant to be any one character’s perspective; this scene involves Alison, but it’s not her recollection, so is this the objective truth? That would be kind of dumb, and would render these present scenes even more jarring and unnecessary.
Anyway, Alison is offended that she’s not in the loop about decisions regarding Noah’s representation, because “she’s his wife now,” not Helen, which is meant to indicate that she still has a mistress complex in the present day. This should make these scenes between her and Noah a little more relevant, but they’re married with a kid, so not really so much. But at least this stupid present-day scene reveals that “Alison Bailey” hasn’t changed her name after marrying Noah, so that’s something I guess. (If that turns out to be a hint that there’s trouble in their marriage, I will hurt someone.)
From the moment we first see Cole from his own perspective, it’s readily apparent that he is much worse off than he was in Alison’s retelling. He’s now a taxi driver, his beard looks like a depression beard rather than sexy scruff, he has an obviously fake beer belly, and his eyes are puffy and deadened. He picks up Bruce, Helen’s father, who wastes no time in asking Cole if he speaks English, a perfect summation of his character. He then laments that the Hamptons have changed from the “farm and fishing community” he loved way back when, waxing poetic about the “corn that grew so high in summer and then just disappeared one day,” the “fallow fields in the winter,” “the way the ocean changes like a moody woman.” Cole resists the urge to roll his eyes, because of the two of them, Cole is much better acquainted with the rise, fall, and decay of the community. It will never go back, Bruce says, which is the tragedy of living. Again, Cole knows all too well.
Bruce then reveals that he’s leaving his wife to get back together with his mistress. He knows it’s impossible to go back, just as it’s impossible for the Hamptons to regain their former glory, but he figures that if his “talentless schmuck” son-in-law took action because he felt that he deserved to be happy, then Bruce should do the same. Leave it to Bruce to be inspired by an action of Noah’s taken against his own daughter that he himself terms “pathetic.” Now, is it a little too on-the-nose that Cole not only happens to pick up Noah’s father-in-law, but Bruce happens to talk about his good-for-nothing son-in-law with a perfect stranger? Probably, but honestly, this episode was so boring when major characters weren’t interacting with each other, I welcomed the reprieve.
Bruce asks Cole if he’s married, and his ringless left hand involuntarily twitches on the steering wheel, another nice touch of body language. Bruce has been married for “forty wasted years,” but has now found true love with his mistress, whom he just took to Barcelona. This newfound zest for life doesn’t stop him from defining everything in terms of money, however; he says he feels bad for Noah because he’s forty-five and has no savings. “All the money was ours. Some people are just destined to fail.” Of course it doesn’t matter that Noah left his beautiful wife and four kids, or that he’s a miserable human being in general, it only matters that he’s broke.
While dropping Bruce off, Cole nearly runs over a tiny child, which shakes him deeply, likely because he’s reminded of his son’s death. But at least he gets to meet his new love interest as a consolation prize: the boy’s pretty babysitter, Luisa. Cole is the only one who hasn’t been getting laid recently, so it was only a matter of time.
Cole returns to the office, and is about to go back out to drive when his boss (one of his brothers? I can’t keep track of anyone who’s not Pacey or Scotty) stops him. He’s dead on his feet, since he’s been driving for more than 24 hours, which is apparently illegal. He’s also drinking a beer, so good life decisions all around. He runs into Scotty and snubs him, which I enjoy. Scotty exposits that Cole hasn’t returned anyone’s phone calls in the last month, that their sister is pregnant, and that Cherry is living in a rat hole. He wants to know if Alison is selling the house, because the family needs a new cash cow, and it seems that this will be a major point of contention in upcoming episodes. Scotty is incessant, and Cole is spiraling, so he gives his brother three seconds to get out of the way of his car, “or I’m going to run you the fuck down,” dropping an anvil of a hint. Ugh. When is The Affair going to realize that no one cares who killed Scotty? Just reveal it already so we can all move on with our lives.
Cole comes back to his house, and realizes someone is there before he gets in the door, in a scene that closely mirrors Alison finding Cole in Part Three. Cole sees that Alison’s clothes are out, and he tentatively says, “Allie?” Aw. It’s Jane, Alison’s friend from work. Alison asked her to ship her things, and Jane tried to get in touch with Cole about it, but he never picked up the phone. So her solution was to break and enter rather than wait until Cole answered the door? Something’s not quite right there. Cole asks after Alison, and Jane politely tries to demur, saying that she only received a couple of texts, and that Alison is “somewhere in the Hudson Valley.” Cole quickly ascertains that Jane is being deliberately vague because he isn’t supposed to know where Alison is. The fact that he doesn’t seem surprised or insulted by this news may indicate that he did, in fact, give her a reason to be afraid of him, or it could just be that nothing surprises him about Alison’s behavior anymore.
Cole tells Jane to leave Alison’s address, and he’ll ship her things. Jane is reluctant, but Cole quietly loses his temper and tells her that she’s breaking and entering, so if she’ll leave him the fucking address, and he wakes up in a good mood, then he’ll send his wife the goodie bag, or else she’ll just have to buy new underwear. A bitter hostility is betrayed in every word he spits out, and he almost resembles the sinister bully that showed up in Alison’s version. Jane finally acquiesces and leaves, but are we really supposed to believe that she didn’t warn Alison, who is surprised to see Cole in both versions, that her angry ex-husband knows where she is? What is up with this girl? [kht: Eh, I’m not sure I blame her that much… it’s not SUPER fun to call your friend and be all, “Hey, you know that favor I promised you I’d do? Well, I didn’t do it, and I revealed to your mildly scary ex-husband where you lived instead.” Best to just slink off quietly into the night.]
Cole gets back in his taxi that night and drives through the telltale signs of nightlife on a Friday or Saturday night. He picks up a drunk, attractive woman in a bandage dress who openly hits on him, but he’s far too depressed and divorced from that part of himself to be receptive. It also doesn’t help that she asks him if he’s married, once again reminding him of Alison, and then pukes out the door of the cab. The look on his face while he listens to her puke is one of pure defeat; it says, “This is it. This is my life now.”
After dropping the drunk woman off, Cole falls asleep at the wheel, drifts into the left lane, and nearly gets into a wreck. I hope this is just intended to demonstrate that his lifestyle and depression are threatening his health and sanity, but it’s probably supposed to be foreshadowing for that dumb murder mystery as well. He officially has nothing to lose, and gets a resolute look on his face as he decides to throw his pride to the wind and find Alison. He viciously packs her things, and drives to the Hudson Valley.
He sits in a coffee shop near Alison’s house, mulling over his nervousness and nursing a drink, when he sees Noah getting out of his car. The hurt washes over Cole’s face while a waitress attempts to make small talk with him and take his order, to which he sadly asks if he can just sit there for a while. She’s visibly moved, and says, “Of course, honey.” Poor, broken Cole. In this moment, he seems most distant from the arrogant, aggressive man in Alison’s recollections, although he proceeds to mime shooting Noah, and then we see a glimpse of the gun-waving Cole again.
He drives to Alison’s house, and tentatively walks in, calling out “Hello?” He is technically trespassing, but this time it seems much less egregious, partially because now we know Alison asked Jane to trespass on him and partially because he doesn’t act entitled to be there. He’s uneasy, and his gaze lingers on the manuscript, but he doesn’t touch it. (Which is just as well; I don’t know how he would react if he saw the dedication, but I doubt he would take it in stride.)
Alison comes in, but where in her version she was sweaty from walking and wearing a strappy dress, now she’s put-together and wearing a loose sweater. She looks both more welcoming, which makes sense, because her reception of Cole is much warmer in his memories, but also more demure, which is interesting. Compared to last season, her view of herself more closely reflects Noah’s conception of her as a sexual, natural, Earth-bound person, while Cole’s view of her adheres to her remembrances of herself last season, as a proper, nurturing wife. This disparity is probably an indication that Cole’s still romanticizing her, and that she benefits from this affair with Noah because she wants to live up to Noah’s idea of her.
They sit together and converse as most exes would in their situation; she’s overcompensating for her guilt and he’s putting on as much of a brave face as he can muster. She wants to know if he’s okay, she’s been worried about him. He grunts that he’s fine, but everyone involved knows that he’s lying. She thanks him for bringing her stuff, and says he “didn’t have to do that,” he could have just shipped it, and this is probably where the two recollections come together. In reality, she probably felt too guilty to react as angrily as she did in Part Three, but she was also likely much more creeped out than she is in Part Four. It’s telling that neither of them bring up how he got her address; Cole’s recollections seem closer to the truth in general, but this shows that there are holes in his memory as well.
The painfully polite conversation continues. She asks how his family’s doing. He says she looks happy. She says the “change is nice.” He asks if Noah’s good to her. Aw, stop guys, you’re breaking my heart a little. She says yes, he is, with a sympathetic smile on her faee. (Liar.) She offers to make him some eggs, and once again, she’s his perfect demure housewife. He thought of something funny the other day that he wanted to tell her, but now he can’t remember what it was. It doesn’t matter, and they still have a moment. The episode really comes alive when these two are on screen together—they really shouldn’t have wasted all that time with peeing on docks and puking in cabs.
She reminisces about one of their best memories, tellingly from before she got pregnant. They went on a long run together, made pancakes, sat by the fire, and read for the afternoon. She’s been thinking about that day recently, because it was a really good day. Their relationship isn’t nearly as well-developed as Noah and Helen’s, and yet the demise of their marriage is sadder, because in moments like these I think maybe they could have made it work if they hadn’t lost a child. [kht: Or if, you know, she hadn’t cheated on him with the most obnoxious person alive.]
Cole gives Alison the last bag of clothes from his car, and is about to leave, when he says he wants to ask her a question before he goes, in that rushed, breathless way people get when they’re about to make themselves a little too vulnerable. He asks her, “Are you ever coming home?” with a sad finality. He knows she’s happier without him, so he knows the answer, but he needs to hear it. She says, “I don’t think so,” and that’s the final parting blow. I don’t think Alison did anything disloyal here, but between Alison admitting that she’s been thinking about him, and their sweet, intimate hug right before he leaves, it’s easy to see why Alison would block out some of her memories and neglect to tell Noah that Cole came by.
Sidebar: After seeing Cole and Alison’s respective versions of this scene, Cole’s version seems closer to the truth. Alison’s version of Cole was much more cartoonish, while Cole’s version of himself was not only more humanized, but entirely undignified. It’s unlikely that he would remember himself that way if he weren’t considerably worse for the wear, while Alison has every reason to convince herself that he’s the villain of a Lifetime movie. That being said, Cole’s recollection confirmed the character’s latent, seething fury enough that we can safely assume he was more aggressive—and possibly abusive—than he’s willing to admit to himself.
This was a disappointingly boring episode on its own, but the first two episodes together presented a fascinating reversal of Alison and Noah’s views of their spouses. Last week, in Noah’s recollection, Helen resembled Alison’s version of her in season one, and this week, Alison’s version of Cole is reminiscent of the brute who, from Noah’s perspective, raped her in the pilot. This is partially just a function of adding the spouses’ perspectives, as the writers have stated that the conflict between the divorcing couples’ respective viewpoints is taking the place of the disparity between Noah and Alison’s during their shaky courtship. But it could also be interpreted as a function of changes in Noah and Alison’s psychologies: last season, they were charitable towards their spouses because they were racked with guilt over their infidelity, while this season, they are holding onto their righteous anger in a desperate attempt to justify their decisions and legitimize their relationship.
In the present day, Cole finds Alison comforting her infant daughter outside of Noah’s courtroom. Cole is presumably there to see his brother’s accused killer get justice, but he still treats Alison cordially, and shows interest in her little girl. Joannie likes Cole, and she usually hates strangers. This scene would be completely tragic, considering everything that happened with their son, but at least Cole has moved on to some extent, as he’s wearing a wedding ring.
Alison and Cole go into the courtroom to hear the reading of the charges, and awkwardly sit on opposite sides of the court. Noah is charged with vehicular manslaughter, and Cole looks at his hapless, scared face with some grim satisfaction. But then he looks at Alison with her adorable baby, who will now likely grow up without a father, and he starts to look guilty. We’re probably supposed to think he really killed Scotty, but I think he just knows who did. We end on a significantly ominous close-up of Cole, which is silly, because no one cares about the murder mystery, but I could always use more of Joshua Jackson’s face in my life, so who am I to complain?
See you next week!