The Affair – 308


It’s a question a number of characters ask throughout 308, about a number of different things. But the probing, dangling question seems to always be cutting into the same root, planted years and years ago: Alison and Cole.

After a couple weeks of the Noah/Helen show we’re back in Montauk, as Alison and Cole sort out custody and then themselves. When we start we’re in the middle of their custody hearing, Alison watching Cole as he seems to be looking anywhere but over at her. Then Luisa takes the stand and—to everyone, even Cole’s surprise—she says that not only has the relationship between Joanie and her mother improved, but shared custody should be on the table. “I’m not a fan of Alison, but this isn’t about me. She should have her daughter back.”

It’s an about face, to be sure. And though Alison is delighted at having her daughter back she understands Cole was thrown by it all happening so fast. He and Luisa seemed to be having a tense talk after the hearing, after all. Alison brings him coffee and a muffin at his in-progress house, and he says that it “seems a little fast” to him. “You haven’t exactly been the model of consistency since you got back; you’re still you,” he throws in her face before asking her to leave.

Alison moves on. The next day she gets called down by her doctor, Dr. Perry, to meet with a young woman who lost her child and has been on suicide watch since she arrived at the Woodlawn facility eight weeks ago. It’s the healthiest we’ve ever really seen Alison engage with that side of herself, that memory from her past. Though there’s something, maybe, to be said for the whole session going so smoothly, the conversation is full of an implicit understanding. The woman doesn’t try to shrug off Alison too much; she wants to get better. And Alison is seemingly able to speak honestly and without any facade, telling her: “It’s incredible to be alive. And everyone else assumes that life is a given. But you and I both know that it’s not. You and I both know that breath can end. So we know that life is a given. You’ll miss Don, but you’ll keep her with you; you’ll keep that memory alive. And you’ll live now for both of you.”

After that she goes to see Cole and tell her she’s been invited to a program at Woodlawn. Cole doesn’t take this well, but really, did we expect him to? He’s been in such a foul mood all episode, even as he tries to be friends with Alison. You can feel him pushing her away even as he draws her closer, talking about the film of grief over her eyes.

Cole can’t stand it; he accuses Alison of only thinking about herself—a fair critique, when she says she hasn’t thought about how Joanie would factor into her plan to live in New Jersey half the week, less fair when he says he “knew she was going to do something like this.” She says she brought him this news because he’s the only one who can understand, and he waves her off.

She heads to bar where she runs into…Helen. It’s their first real heart-to-heart, and they both get somethings off their chests: Helen continues to wrestle with who Noah was not only to her but with her, and Alison apologizes for the affair. 

It’s a weird day for her, to be sure. Even weirder when a cop friend tips her off that the New Jersey cops are back questioning Cole after he popped up on toll cameras close to Noah’s house the night of the attack.

And then we’re with Cole, back at his courthouse chat with Luisa post-testimony. His memory of it all looks a lot less contentious than Alison’s memory of it all, but it’s just the beginning of a bad day after the new powers that be want him to halt progress on his house due to code violations.

When he comes home, weary of the ways of the world and utterly exhausted, Luisa asks him if they’re ready to start their own family. He shrugs it off, saying he’s interested but he’d like to talk about it at a later time. 

Next day: Still hasn’t halted production on the house. Oscar gets sent from town council to tell him to cut it out, because he’s a high-profile citizen and they want to make an example of him. Eventually their conversation turns to a heart-to-heart, about love, parenting, and Alison.  Oscar warns him that she’s not worth leaving Luisa for, but Cole still seems troubled by the thought of it.

And that’s why he can’t handle when she comes by. In his version of events she doesn’t just leisurely pull over after seeing him at the Lobster Roll, she barges into the restaurant as he’s getting set up (and likely mentally lingering on his conversation with Oscar). She’s much more clear about spending more time away from Montauk, and he can’t handle it. “As long as I’m crazy you get to be sane,” she zings back at him.

It’s enough to send him back to Luisa, almost manic about the possibility of starting a family. She’s thrown, trying to appeal for him to table it until he calms down when the cops show up. They’re itching to nab him for anything they can, it seems, and when he waves his hand too close to them they grab him and take him to jail for the night.

And Alison visits him. She asks him what he was doing down in New Jersey that night. He admits that he drove to see Dr. Perry because seeing her up in Montauk, being good with Joanie, being clearer, gave him ideas. And they have one of the clearest conversations we’ve ever seen from them.

A: Why did you need to see my doctor?

C: I needed her professional opinion I guess. About how you are…I don’t need you, I don’t want you, I don’t miss you. Truth is I do. I need you. And I want you, and I miss you, and I love you. And i’m tired of pretending that I don’t.

A: I’m depressed with mood swings…I know that i am not an easy person to love. I love you. I always have and I always will. But this is your decision to make. And I don’t envy you.

When Cole gets released from jail Luisa asks him what he told them. “The truth,” he says; he drove down to see her doctor to get evidence for the custody case. Luisa doesn’t believe him, but when he rolls over to go to sleep she doesn’t push him either.

Only he doesn’t sleep. He goes to see Alison where they have yet another clear-eyed conversation:

A: We keep coming back to each other.

C: I know.

A: Don’t you think that means something?

C:I think that means we were unfinished. –

A: And now…we are? You’re scared. I think you’re giving up because we’ve made a mess of everything and it’s too complicated. If you leave Luisa now you can’t play the good guy anymore.

But either way, the next morning he’s in the kitchen, making up with Luisa. His face is a bit inscrutable, but it seems there’s more to be resolved here too.



Stray Thinks

  • It’s not really clear at what point this takes place. We know that it’s been a couple weeks since we last saw Cole and Alison, since they talked about the court date, but how long has Noah been staying with Helen? Why did she lie about Vick treating him?
  • “But it’s not your fault. I mean, men need to feel important in a relationship in order to stay, and I stopped making Noah feel important years before he met you.”
  • The fact that Luisa told Joanie about the court decision all alone is so indicative of her place in Joanie’s life; like that’s not even co-parenting. She’s just being a primary parent, which wouldn’t be where you’d think she is.
  • Oscar is so chill with his “She’s a solid B+ and, let’s face it, I’m a C” that I CAN’T STOP thinking he’s on to something.
  • I am far from an expert on these sorts of things, but it really feels like The Affair has gone off some sort of predetermined or mapped out plan for its plot. It kind of fits like a cheap sweater, loose in the wrong areas but so right where it’s right. But it’s officially been renewed for a fourth season, so I guess there’s more drama planned for our crew.


Total Affair of the Heart: 208

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“You just…want it all,” Helen drunkenly and wistfully tells Noah over drinks. Though it’s told from a Noah perspective, the warning could be applied to either of them.

“208” shows us how Noah will never be satisfied; he’s finally living his dream life—in more than one way—but it’s not quite enough, or rather, right. Alison and him are engaged with a baby on the way, but she’s undone his office so that she could make a nursery. His book is one of the most talked about of the season but he’s passed over for a literary prize. “Descent” is heralded in a (seemingly) fawning New Yorker article, but the review from the paper of the college where he’s done his reading bashes it as little more than pornography. He wants all of the high-profile fame, but none of the baggage and target-status that comes with it.

cdn.indiewire.psdopsIt’s something that Helen was likely always attuned to; this week she admits that when his first book failed she was happy, because it meant maybe he would settle for just being a husband and a father. That her words come to the audience before we see Noah’s side, and the plight of fame he’s starting to feel, is no coincidence—nor is it that we never see it from his. She’s always had a fairly good read on Noah, even if it was filtered through what she wanted from him. And as long as we’ve known him he’s turned away from that.

The way Helen sees it, she and Noah fucked up Whitney, but she’s a bit less clear on how fucked up they are themselves, divorce or no. Her parents kept her on such a specific leash all her life she never stopped to think about how she got everything she had wanted: Noah compromised on taking a loan from her parents so they could get out of a scrummy apartment in Harlem. She admits she wanted all of Noah, but not all of his dream, she wants Whitney to think for herself but not if that means pursuing a modeling career.

That Noah chooses to make not one but two boneheaded decisions in light of his “failures” while Helen doesn’t seem to even grow an interest in the Tinder profile her daughter made for her that seems to be blowing up isn’t surprising. Helen learned her lesson about impulsive decisions, Noah has ultimately been rewarded for it. The ways he acts out shouldn’t really be surprising, but I still felt a bit taken aback when he goes all in with Eden. She’s definitely been a major source of fission in so many of his entanglements across the last two weeks (When Eden checks her phone and reveals she knew Helen and Whitney would be touring colleges it became clear that Helen and Alison share a contempt in common), but I kind of thought the show might be a bit more delicate about the fact that nothing—no happy(ish) home, wife, career, fame, child—seems to satisfy Noah Solloway entirely.

Episode 208And as the night winds down it’s not clear if either Noah or Helen is read in on the illumination that the other sees in them. Helen seems to have moved past the nostalgia for her marriage that Whitney observed at the beginning of their day, declining a (allegedly chaste) night in Noah’s suite, while Noah seems to realize that he needs to appreciate the wins while he’s on top. But in the first episode that seems to be weaving in the time shift to the arc of the episode, with a back and forth on Helen’s visit to Lawyer Jon’s office, it seems Noah and Helen have gotten better at coparenting, or at least faking it, so there’s some growth happening there. Whether or not it’ll pull them out of the descent they’ve started down, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Stray observations

  • Whitney’s outfit for touring colleges makes her look like a teenage witch and I am here for it.
  • I feel very out of touch with the zeitgeist, but are there really people Helen’s age regularly using Tinder? Like enough that there would be like 2 or 3 matches in the span of under an hour in a college town? Genuinely curious.
  • The future, according to The Affair is very monochrome and bleak. It’s still a bit mum on how far ahead they jump, but I guess that’s what we have to look forward to.
  • “You have at least five good years left. I’m just trying to help you maximize them. …You might even have six.” Whitney herself is not often the best drawn character, but Julia Goldani Telles is always solid.
  • That said it is supposed to be December and she is a senior looking at colleges. That’s not great.
  • I couldn’t hear it exactly, but was that The Smiths playing in the background when Noah makes the (utterly boneheaded) decision to go in the bar and confront the critic?
  • Sorry about the delay; American Thanksgiving got in the way of everything this week!
  • For all the show has been building up Eden as some sort of rude handler, she defied expectations set for her here. Good on her.
  • Once again we’re exploring the future with no one perspective—a weird shift I still have a lot of questions about. But it seems Toby Lawyer Jon isn’t going to settle for mere wondering about the parenthood of Alison’s baby—finally, someone going after the answers.
  • I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: This show can be really overt with its imagery, but that shot of Noah signing his books was pretty masterful, if obvious.

Total Affair of the Heart (Episode 8)

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And as our lovers fall apart, everything is under the microscope–and very uncomfortable.

It starts with Helen and Noah, who have apparently been in therapy for months since he confessed to her that he had been with Allison over the summer. Noah is clearly beaten down, but more invested in his family than we’ve ever seen. But Helen is still aggressively anxious about the whole thing, and the issue finally rears its head on the therapy couch when she tells him why she married him. She says that back in college she could’ve had her pick of the litter, but she married Noah because he was safe. He would never be a famous author but it didn’t matter because he Dad already was and “he was a prick.” She married him because she didn’t want her father.

A really fantastic scene of acting, completely simplified by this picture set.
A really fantastic scene of acting, completely simplified by this picture set.

The problem being, that Noah has already said that he married her in some way because he wanted to be her father. He says it’s not news to him, and I think that to some degree it isn’t, but not because he ended up being right. Rather because he’s always had doubts about himself, and he projected that onto Helen. And like anyone hearing their worst fears confirmed out loud he knew it but he didn’t know it.

The scene is a banner bit of acting by Tierney and West; a sort of reflection of last week when Helen heard her own version of a nightmare being confirmed. It’s a sentiment reflected up in Montauk, where Allison and Cole seem to be moving along merrily–until they’re not.

The Montauk couple is similarly under the microscope this week. Allison is fine but her grandmother’s health risk put her whole life into a reaction and reflection period. Suddenly she can’t see Cole being there for her and all that good stuff she had been getting until now is gone. Her news is second fiddle to the ranch’s price check (fitting well with our theme of being under inspection) and she reverts right back to not being able to talk to Cole.

And so though the reuniting of Allison and Noah may seem, in many ways for this show, inevitable, it’s also a testament to how well their bond holds up under scrutiny. Noah immediately sees that her grandmother’s suffering is giving Allison flashbacks to Gabriel. It’s Noah who assures her that “she’s not a child,” so that Allison can step out of herself and say goodbye. Their relationship, even under the close microscope of episode 8, isn’t showing the deep cracks and fissures that lay just beneath the surface of everyone else’s relationships. And that’s what keeps them coming back, week after week.