The Affair – 310

If “310” had existed in another season, or after another run of episodes, this might be a different review. The episode — chronicling Juliette and Noah’s days in Paris, and commitment to their family members as well as each other —has plenty of sweet, emotional moments. It’s just that they only barely connected with what we just saw.

Take Noah’s arc this season. We’ve seen him come to terms with a burden he was carrying around with him for the entire show (except it had never been mentioned), spiral out of control multiple times, cope with his time in prison, dissolve his marriage to Alison, burn his bridge with Helen, and finally realize that he stabbed himself in a disassociative episode and…none of that, is here.

Whatever build up there was between Juliette and Noah this season, whatever complications she adds to his life, is largely absent here, save for an errant mention of when he was out of control a few months ago and she helped him right the boat. What was his recovery process like? Who knows. It’s not relevant here. Never mind the fact that the entire season built out a mystery and a few mental health episodes to keep its wheels turning. The Affair has always struggle to balance the different strands of the show, but here it feels like it bucks the hook its so steadfastly held onto in favor of a romance drama.

What’s left has some nice moments: Juliette’s quietly sad disbelief at Etienne’s lucidity, only to still be crushed when her fears are confirmed moments later; Noah’s talk with Whitney, though perhaps a bit on the nose (The Affair specialty), feels like a solid connection between these two.

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But it doesn’t feel at all like a resolution to their arcs. For Juliette, it feels like her introduction has gone from hot, sexually-open, stereotypical Frenchwoman to grieving wife seeking escape to ignored lover to…girlfriend? I guess? Again, we haven’t really seen anything from this relationship, pre-recovery or no. Juliette’s arc mostly makes sense when we look at what (apparently) the writers are trying to do with Noah, which is completely rehab his image.

It’s a bizarre step, seeing as how he didn’t need to be rehabbed until they decided to spin him out of control to spin out a season mystery. Noah has always been a bit of a scumbag as a real person, but as a character who opted to go to prison at the end of last season to protect the women he loves, he was not exactly in need of saving. “310” returns him to that place he always seems to get to in Affair finales: loved by a woman, against all odds, and stepping in to be her night in shining armor.

I’ve written before that season 3 of The Affair felt a bit like a show they had ventured off the roadmap with, and “310” only confirms that for me, unfortunately. But they’re renewed for season 4, so next fall The Affair will be back on the map, one way or another.

Stray thoughts

  • I can’t get over Juliette getting a finale half, which seems a bit weird to me. Although we left basically everyone else at a nice stopping point (Alison getting shared custody of Joanie and a potential job, Cole choosing Luisa, Helen coming clean and mending things with Vic) Juliette has been so close to a non-entity. Her plot line here, while narratively rewarding in some ways, seems to only exist to prop up Noah’s half.
  • Noah would pretend he’s Hemingway.
  • I really liked the way they played the two versions of Juliette’s colleagues. Too often the memory questions this show asks seems to be overly-convenient (the restaurant scene, or the season 1 finale) but this one was a simple illustration of how weird social situations are, with or without a language barrier. The no subtitles in Noah’s was a nice touch too.
  • I’m not saying Juliette’s boss was wrong or right, but damn that scene was brutal to just be a random, lingering thread.
  • As was the black humor of getting Etienne’s body into the elevator. Oof.
  • From the notes: It’s only a matter of time before Noah shows up inappropriately [after Etienne’s death].
  • Oh Furkat. What a douche.
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Luther’s Legacy

Luther is less of a TV show and more of a comic book.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s got all the pulpy sensibility of a comic, the sort of haphazard violence and motivation that makes for thrilling panels. Between its elegant direction and its surprisingly eye-popping cinematography, it almost seems like it’s already leaping out of a page. 1920Or vice-versa: The show could’ve been easily adapted into a gritty, complex antihero graphic novel, without much changing the characters.

The show’s attempts to frame Luther, its titular hero, as the sole protagonist always seemed to fall a bit short. Both Luther and Luther crackled best when Alice was involved, and its side characters always seemed to be bursting at the seams to do more, thanks largely to the actors. Removing Alice—or at least downplaying her role in Luther’s life—left the show limp, exposing more cracks than foundation. Its second season never managed to quite earn the Luther saves the teen hooker with a heart of gold emotion it wanted to. The third, wrapped itself around and around trying to give Luther a proper (but not too high) wall to climb. And the fourth—well, the fourth didn’t have Alice did it? It was merely left to examine the hole she carved in Luther’s life, and this show is best when it isn’t examined too closely. luther-idris-elba-ruth-wilson.jpg

Because as a TV show it could never quite make the connections it needed to. The show is ultimately saved thanks to its cast of captivating player, obviously and notably including Idris Elba, who imbues Luther with the weight of the world and an aloofness that is seldom matched in antiheroes.

But the writing was never quite up to snuff. Luther wasn’t as interested in the relationships of it all as it was in the way the show and its players met up with Luther. Alice was the only one who consistently felt like a good sounding board for Luther, but the show couldn’t keep up things to do with her without going too big. Without any sort of receiving outlet, there’s no where for our favorite London cop to get a good buzz. It leaves a viewer thinking that the crackle of Luther was more akin to that of House of Cards than The Wire: All sizzle, and no spark.

Total Affair of the Heart (Episode 4)

For previous posts, check the tag here

Welcome to episode 4, where most things aren’t made up and the family doesn’t quite matter. That statement’s only really about 43 percent true, but this episode is a sort of game-changer, even if it’s got a more mellow tone to it than the previous three.

For starters, consider this affair blasting off, with Allison and Noah consummating their relationship and going away on a day trip together. Like I said last time, this show is all about laying it on thick, and the fact that they are removing and isolating themselves on an island is sort of poetic. They both seem to be on the same, albeit seemingly unspoken, page that this trip is a significant development to their relationship.

What they don’t seem to be on the same page about, is what that means. They both know that they still love their families, and will never leave them. They’re aware that though some of the appeal is in not knowing the person they’re with (or more accurately being a blank slate to them). They are both under the impression that they are being pulled together by some sort of invisible string they can’t fight. But that doesn’t mean they’re not going to feel very unsynced in how they’re approaching that moment.

1031103_1_3406307_01_444x250But in an odd way, this is one of the most synced episodes we’ve seen yet. Their outfits stay the same and by the end they share a moment where they seem completely in tune, lost within each other.

It wasn’t only a way to avoid editorial redundancies, using the view switch as a pause rather than a rewind was a brilliant way to show sort of how Allison and Noah differed in their approach to sex: Noah, concerned that he was crossing a line he couldn’t uncross, that he may enjoy it even though he never wanted it to be permanent, and that he needed the validation that he was still a good guy even if he was stepping out on his wife. Allison, concerned that if she took the huge step to consummate her affair it would be the only thing that could make her feel better, feel removed from death, and also afraid that it wouldn’t do a damn thing. We go from watching Noah grapple with the uneasy excitement he feels directly to Allison’s anxious grief setting back in.

It seems odd and yet fitting, then, that the only part where they’re account noticeably differed was when they visited the sunken pirate ship look out. Noah, who remembers the discussion before the sex, remembers conversations around Peter Pan, and Allison’s childhood memories. Allison, who remembers the conversation during a break from their lovemaking, seems haunted by the wind whistling like a child crying out for his mother.

Given that Allison’s lost a kid, it makes sense that she’d be bothered, but why then would Noah remember it as Allison’s favorite place? It’s another example of just how out of sync their memories seem to be, even when they almost perfectly align. But it’s also a way of rooting these characters in the lives they can’t break out of, no matter how hard they try.

Jane the Virgin’s got half the story right

Jane the Virgin Episode 8 spoilers below. If you’re not at Episode 8 I advise you come back later. And if you’re not watching the show at all I advise you start. 

While I was catching up on CW’s excellent “Jane the Virgin” last night, I found myself disappointed for the first time by that show.

“Jane the Virgin” never goes full virgin; it never says that there’s anything wrong with sexuality–whether you’re having it or no. Jane herself wavers on her decision to wait from time to time, and has made it clear that she’s “a virgin, not a prude,” when it comes to her sexual exploits. In addition to all the other minority it tackles (illegal immigration, family, class, women of color, lesbians) I found myself wanting to stand up and cheer the show for its full on embracement of sex postivity/neutrality that ran so strong through it.

Last night’s episode featured the inevitable plot of Jane having to fess up to the (former) playboy she’s seeing about how he wasn’t going to be getting lucky anytime soon. It led to an awkward, uncomfortable dinner, and a problem the dashing Rafael couldn’t quite wrinkle out.

"But I had already cleared my schedge tomorrow to be all night to get lucky"
“But I had already cleared my schedge tomorrow to be all night to get lucky”

Ultimately they do talk it out, and Rafael says he’s fine with waiting (and fighting) for the relationship to reach that point. It’s a fabulous moment of acting on the parts of the leads, managing to find the balance between romantic fantasy and grounded emotion.

But what I feel was missing from the conversation–and from the show as a whole–is a discussion of the intimacy that can grow from sex.

The show, an adaptation of a telenovela, follows Jane, a hard-working young woman who’s pledged to save herself for marriage who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. The initial concept didn’t sound appealing to me, but when my person and I happened to find ourselves tuned in for the premiere I found myself engrossed because of the way it rooted its virginity politics in a choice Jane made for herself (even if it was ushered in a bit by her very religious Grandmother’s lectures on purity).

It seemed to me that the show would open a dialogue around sexuality in a way that hadn’t quite been explored before in the media: that sex or no, there’s a benefit to taking time to figure out what you want, and waiting until you’re ready, no matter what or when that decision is. Obviously that would involve an embrace of a young woman who was waiting for marriage (even if she knew it was an arbitrary day), which it did. But it seems more reluctant to dive into what sex can bring and foster, like an emotional intimacy that may be what the parties in the relationship feel ready and excited for.

Throughout their courtship, Jane has always expressed concern that Rafael’s history as a playboy was too much for them to overcome, and Rafael has always been adamant about his growth from his former, reckless persona. I was excited for “Jane the Virgin” to finally hold him up as the counterexample to Jane: perhaps sex crazy when he was young, but as someone who understood the closeness and warmth that could come from a sexual relationship. But I guess, like the titular character, I’ll just have to keep waiting.

Total Affair of the Heart (Episode 2)

For previous posts, check the tag here

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.

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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.

Total Affair of The Heart (Episode 1)

Watching the pilot of Showtime’s new show “The Affair,” a couple things struck me. First it seems McNulty and Rawls are doomed to forever be at odds, with their actors now a Father/Son-in-law who maintain a tense atmosphere around their shared career choices and different values.

You are a gaping asshole McNult-I mean, Solloway...
You are a gaping asshole McNult-I mean, Solloway…

But also, for all its (perhaps) tawdry faults, “The Affair” is an excellent example of why the 21st century has seen a melding of genres. It’s both a murder mystery and romantic escapism, but the program uses each of these to elevate the other. The romantic plot adds distraction, intrigue, and a framework for the story that it wouldn’t be able to immediately pave otherwise. The investigation’s use of he said/she said elegantly frames each character’s side of the relationship. From the pilot alone it’s unclear where it’ll take us, but it has a powerful voice

Similar to HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” what we’re seeing could essentially be boiled down to a soap opera. But it’s the presentation of the emotions, the tension of what we see and what we don’t that raises “The Affair” up to the next level.