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It seems odd, but the second episode of “The Affair” might be one of the best I’ve seen. (As in of second episodes, not just of “The Affair in general.) To me, second episodes are normally rife with retreading and re-presenting the world we only just got introduced to. But “The Affair” manages to build on the platform it has and continue the momentum without missing a beat. In fact, episode 2 brings an unusual comfort for a show only on its second chapter.
We still don’t know everything. Far from it, the show seems set on keeping the mystery alive. But the jolt of noticing the differences in Noah and Allison’s accounts of their day is gone. All of a sudden it feels much more like a playful engagement with the audience’s sleuth side. Those little a-ha moments as opposed to a monumental shift of doubting what you thought you’d seen.
Similarly, we’re left more attuned to what each of these characters is bringing to the relationship–and what they’re bringing to their partner. It’s clearer now that Noah sees himself as someone who needed to be drawn into the relationship; his account of Allison is much more flirty and open than Allison ever seems to be. He sees the affair as something he resisted, fought, but was pushed and pulled into. Similarly, Allison needed someone to draw her out of her shell (where she’s been encased since she lost her child, I’m assuming), and in Noah she finds someone who almost forcefully demands her to be a (sexual) person. He knows nothing about her, and it’s not the “stranger in a gas station bathroom,” fantasy so much as it is a reflection of just how tired she is living as herself. She hates that her mother-in-law corners her and tells her of her strength, and she hates the flicker of pity that has punctured all her conversations.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things this show is doing is brining attention to an audience that everything is being filtered–and using that to elevate and complicate its players. Whether it’s through Alison or Noah’s perspectives, there’s really no chance for us to see a clear, nonbiased version of any character. The closest to a wholly clear perspective would probably be the brief cuts to the (what I’m assuming is) the present, with the cop, but I’d wager soon even those will be turned against us.