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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The Affair – 308

“Why?”

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 – 306

Just as you start to wonder this week whether we’re going to see another one of Helen’s dad’s terrible girlfriends, and what Helen’s mom is up to, and if she knows how much we miss her—in she dances. Turns out, Helen’s Dad and Mom have rekindled their romance, and are halting the divorce and staying married. 

“At the end of the day, your mother just knows me,” says her father, blissfully. “Better than anyone else ever will.”

It’s the subject at the front of everyone’s mind this week; when do you really know someone? Noah wrestles with what his father knew about him, and what he wants Martin to know about him in return. Helen wrestles with if she truly knows anyone at all—and whether she’ll ever find someone to know her in return.

This week Helen bounces between rocks and hard places—Nina, Max, Martin, Vick; all seemingly trying to steer her away from Noah. She is, after all, one of the only people left who believes—nay, knows his innocence. It’s why she wants to believe he’s fundamentally good; fundamentally whole.

It’s why no one’s reasoning works with her. When her father jokes about Noah’s killer streak she hears the worst night of her life roar up against her ears. As Martin shuns his father for taking a life Helen sees the ghost of a path narrowly avoided. And when Nina throws in her face that Noah was broken when they met, that he used her to escape his life, until she dragged him down and he had to escape again.

When Helen’s at the disastrous double date with Vick and her parents it seems like she’s at an entirely different evening than the rest of them. That out of step feeling follows her throughout the episode, terrible decision after terrible action. She’s haunted by what she did, and haunted by the man who protected her who she may not even have known.

Her half lands harder than Noah’s, who struggles to put his life in motion after the last time we saw him—divorcing Helen, admitting his part in the end of his mother’s life, and figuring out where he goes from here. His admission in the last episode seems to have alleviated some of the guilt from his shoulders; he goes to his father’s house, and starts to broach the life he left behind there.

He brings Martin into some of the folds of his life and imparts some wisdom. We know Martin ended up going home, so when we see him chase a hooded figure into the lake it’s legitimately surprising (even if, from Helen’s perspective, we know no one else is there). But when the figure turns around it’s young Noah, it’s both a shock and a let down.

Anyone who’s not Helen could apparently see that Noah had trauma. And The Affair has telegraphed its thought process pretty clearly in the past. But this? This is a bit too low-hanging-fruit. What’s clear is that Helen wasn’t the only person “purposefully ignoring” the fuck-ups and downs in their life.

On the one hand you don’t want to end up like Helen: Finding out that Noah ran into her; realizing that she never cared to dig for the truth of why so long as the arrangement worked for her; grasping at straws and men for answers and connection. On the other, you don’t want to end up like Noah: Pushing people away in favor of exile, repentance, and confusion. Demanding too much and too little for yourself all at once.

The problem with knowing people, better than anyone else in the world, is that it can be a double-edged sword. And if The Affair is about anything more than affairs, it’s about the discovery of that truth.

Stray thoughts and thinks: 

  • God help me I love Vick. Poor bastard could be a great partner to someone in a different show. That being said, that Helen notices (or imagines) him laughing at her Dad’s joke about killing him to save a lot of heartache? Not a great look.
  • “Was Noah fucked up when I met him?” Helen asks Max, who is bewildered as one would be when you’ve just cheated on your fiancee with your ex-girlfriend after she initiated it and then brings up her ex-husband who was your best friend for 20 years.
  • Noah was calm when he heard a train whistle—if he heard it at all.

Total Affair of the Heart – 305

We pick up right where we left it: Noah passes by Alison on her bike, and suddenly the world slows. They circle around each other: He’s interested in getting back together, she’s not. He wants affection, she wants the divorce papers signed and submitted. But no matter how they posture themselves, one thing is clear: their chemistry is undeniable.

For the second week in a row we have perspectives of Alison really aligning. Though Noah shifts from erratic naiveté to weighty romance in Alison’s and his perspective, respectfully, Alison remains even keel throughout. And though Noah’s teasing of her can often come across as almost bullying—teasing her that she “used to be more fun” when she won’t skinny dip in a hot tub with him, pulling her into a day trip to Block Island with the promise of signed divorce papers—it’s clear that they have some sort of understanding of each other. It’s one she shrugs off at first, and that he complicates with his bullheadedness, but there’s a lived-in familiarity about them. Though awkwardness should hang in the air their conversation flows. Even in its strain it never feels stilted.

TheAffair_305_3016.R.jpgAnd so by the end of their day trip, accidentally trapped on the island overnight after missing the last ferry, they find themselves sharing wounds, going deeper than they (apparently) ever have. She tells him that the woman she was before Gabriel’s death died along with her son, and Noah tells her that he helped his mother kill herself when her MS was getting the best of her.

The Affair has so often found itself tangled in bullshit grief that it can be easy to forget that the show has some kind of profound things to say when it touches on the real thing. Complications like we end with tonight when Noah crashes Juliette’s car after getting run off the road by his prison guard tormenter only to find himself on an empty road feel like conflict just for the sake of conflict; lamp-shading that Noah is popping Vicodin with a warning from Alison that they’re addictive is just adding wet logs to the fire. Listening to Alison and Noah really talk, for arguably the first time in their relationship, that’s a whole different ball game.

Of course Noah is still a bit of a cad: He only brings up Joanie when he’s trying to lure Alison back to him, telling her that he’s ready to be with her and “raise someone else’s kid.” Though he may correctly intuit that Alison seeks out punishment, his suggestion that she can “flagellate herself for the rest of her life” in front of Cole and Luisa as what she is looking to do, sells that he doesn’t necessarily see her connection with Joanie as important as she does. Whatever clear eyes Noah found in prison are still a bit cloudy, Vicodin addiction or not. He stampedes past her boundaries and asks more of her than he’s prepared to return. Though at first she lets him, she holds firm on the divorce and whatever catalyst for change is within him finally gets him to sign the divorce papers.

Dominic West and Ruth Wilson both mold whole, flawed, and tangled studies of their characters here, only to find themselves a bit shortchanged by the writing, which seems more interested in the intrigue than it is in the intricate humanity at play. But when all is said and done “305” ends with Alison putting her foot down, getting space and a divorce from Noah, and a sleepover trip with Joanie for her birthday. It’s a new frontier for The Affair.

 

Stray thinks: 

  • “You got out of prison and you bought a red car?”
  • Of course Cole comes by while Noah’s there, and confronts Alison (as Noah hides, and presumably hears, although we don’t see it from his perspective) about their one night stand. He’s not interested in leaving Luisa, but tells Alison he wants to see her with full custody—even if, as she rightly points out, he won’t help her there. “So I’m healthy enough to fuck, but not to be the mother of our child,” she venomously argues back. Will the divorce make a difference?
  • Or maybe the storefront she notices going on the market at Block Island will become something?
  • “What’s she like now?” Noah asks about Joanie. “Good, intense.” “Wonder where she gets that from.”
  • The references to Camelot were a bit cringeworthy, Noah.
  • “Cole will only ever see you as a disaster, Alison. Whatever you do, no matter how competent you become you’ll always be damaged goods to him. If you really think he’s going to ever really trust you with Joanie you’re being naive. I’m just telling the truth.” Do we think this is an accurate read of Cole?
  • That same erratic comedic burst that gave Brendan Frasier a name for himself is what makes his guard persona so terrifying. When he whips out his baton it was truly startling.

 

 

 

Total Affair of the Heart – 304

Episode 304, or wherein we learn that Cole’s life remains hard.

What I found interesting was that both versions of events (his and Alison’s) were sympathetic to Alison. It’s no surprise that she sees herself as unduly put upon, however legally warranted that may be; her lawyer doesn’t respect her, Luisa doesn’t like her, and she doesn’t get to see her daughter enough all because she needed to take some time out to recuperate her mental health. But the fact that Cole sees her as an almost wounded deer of a woman is in stark contrast to her own version of how Cole sees her. More so even than Helen’s strained relationship with Noah, this seems like the most two versions have aligned, painting a very skittish, sad Alison.

It appears, however, that there’s no winning for Cole. In his own version Luisa’s mad at him for siding with his ex-wife too much, and in Alison’s Cole is a hardass who doesn’t want to acknowledge her existence.

To a large extent I don’t understand all the animosity towards Alison, who—though possibly in a bit too much of a hurry—seemed to have done the responsible thing when she “left” Joanie and checked herself into an institution. When Cole comes over to yell at her she’s right to call him on the fact that she didn’t abandon Joanie at all, she left her daughter with her father.

But Luisa has earned some cause to be cautious: The timing of it all, as she’s pointed out before, was weird, and clearly Cole and Alison have a strong connection and an equally strong pull towards each other. The scenes in Cole’s version in their house have a warmer tone, with peach colored walls and a coziness pervading. It’s the sort of feeling we don’t get from The Affair a lot, and a lot of what we’re shown seems to stem from Luisa being a good mom and legitimately loving Joanie. It’s sad because their issues seem to be having two different conversations. When they fight in the kitchen after he holds her back so Alison can comfort Joanie, she’s trying to say that she feels like a second-class parent even though she’s putting in more legwork and consistency. He’s trying to get Luisa to understand that he’s between a rock and a hard mess and that as his partner she should do everything she can to make his life easier, not really taking into account the parental dynamics at all. The result is her feeling even more put upon; even if Luisa’s acting out somewhat, she’s keeping Joanie out of it and fighting with Cole over feeling respected while still standing by her man, even offering up an alibi for the night Noah was stabbed.

Which is strange since Cole doesn’t have an alibi for the night Noah was stabbed. That feels like a misdirect to me, at least in terms of what it means for Noah’s case. It does seem like Cole is up to something if not far more nefarious than at least shadier than his warm, homey life suggests. Perhaps because The Affair touts itself as a show where there’s always more than what you see, but the fact that the police seemed so much more sympathetic to Alison’s plight seemed more suspicious to me. I don’t think she knows what’s happening with Noah, but the fact that they’re resuming contact seems like a good place to start. Especially since—if Alison’s memory is to be believed—they were there for a full day, at least.

Stray Thinkings

  • Alison did know the officers were going to go talk to Cole, but didn’t warn him. I’m inclined to think it’s just a slip of the mind with everything going on, but she was interrupted in the process of considering poisoning Luisa so who knows.
  • Joanie is the cutest, ok?
  • Oscar’s schtick seemed suspicious when he was just talking to Cole (“Luisa’s been good for you, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this happy”), but coupled with his small talk with Alison where he (seemingly) contradicts himself over his baby’s sensitivity to noise, seems suspicious. Kudos to Darren Goldstein for really selling the subtle, smarmy vibe, where he always seems to be thinking three steps ahead even if he’s headed off at the pass.
  • It was like, classic weird thing with the cakes, but Alison’s didn’t look big enough for a kid’s friend birthday party, when it’s normally more about quantity than quality, and would probably make a better treat for just having as mother and daughter together anyway.
  • Of course, then Noah shows up driving past Alison, so I guess we’re about to get into it. Here we go…

 

 

 

 

 

Total Affair of the Heart – 303

Well Juliette’s done in one episode what it took Cole and Helen an entire season to. Luckily this also allows for the season’s first, return to “same encounter different perspectives” it’s hung its hat on for so long. Unluckily, there’s not too much to say on this episode really. 

What have we really learned about Juliette, now that we’ve seen her side of the story? Sure now we know that Noah’s account (she came and found him, and practically jumped his bones without any prelude) of the dinner varies wildly from hers (he came and found her, they had a conversation about love and life, before turning to other things), and we know that she’s got a much older husband, who was also once her teacher, who has dementia and lives in France with a nurse. That may be part of the most important thing we’ve gleaned of Juliette’s life: She’s a caretaker, taking in broken men and growing students, and forming bonds around helping them. It could (for once) explain what a woman sees in Noah, or what she sees in her douchey student.

It could also be a gateway to a whole lot of nothing. The Affair falls in line with House of Cards here, wrapping itself in prestige, high-brow drama dressings with little or nothing to show for it. Its constant cynicism about love is tiring. What little juice it keeps in the perspective tank seems to have run out of having much new to say. Whatever promise there is for Juliette as a character seems on a dangerous precipice here: As Angelica Bastién writes of The Affair, the show has some interest in letting its women characters wrestle with their archetypes without letting them say much about it. Helen is a scorned wife with a life, Allison a wounded mother with a complicated emotional pattern, and now Juliette is a sophisiticated European romantic who throws off traditional roles.

We now know about her husband, her perspective, and that she jacks off to Noah’s book (or the thought of Noah?), and not a whole lot else. Is she saying what she thinks Noah wants to hear when she talks about women’s arousal or are her archaic sex views really how she feels? We see her wearily eye a hole-in-the-wall gunshop and a sign-twirling Statue of Liberty, but is it what she thinks of America? Nothing else in the episode seems to hint at her feelings for her adopted country.

On Noah’s end there’s little more resolution: He doesn’t remember who stabbed him, or even really what happened. We get more insight into what happened to him in prison—Brendan Frasier’s prison guard seems to be straight out of Misery—but it’s all set up to what happened to him in the end. All we know is it gets more violent.

These prison flashbacks still rub me the wrong way. Again, there’s a difference between what The Affair was attempting in its first season—telling a story from two sides, all while leading to (seemingly) one-sided future consequences—and what it’s doing here, which is mostly checking off the quirky dark prestige drama toolkit. We don’t know what happened with Noah and his sister 30 years ago (guesses?) that leaves her wracked with guilt, but the writers are content to leave it dangling over the story and the audience. Increasingly like the show’s depiction of Juliette, it feels much less novel and insightful than it does just a hollow copy cat.

Stray Observations

  • Well that’s one way to read, I guess.
  • I guess this is supposed to be the same part of the dinner/consent conversation Noah heard, but this is one of those situations where their takeaways were so wildly different that I have a hard time believing it.
  • Audrey is much more convincing this time around, and comes off a bit less like a shrill feminist archetype, but only barely. They’re still not doing much with her, and her “hate-fuck” thoughts about Noah don’t help.
  • In addition to being much more sheepish and cute as opposed to Noah’s image of her as sultry and seductive, she doesn’t notice a train sound when he runs out. Hers is all non-diagetic music.

Total Affair of the Heart – 302

This week The Affair is all about women trying to do right by their children while also doing right by themselves. But that’s about where the resemblance ends for Allison and Helen.

For Helen we get a jump in the past, a year back from the “current” timeline, and we see she’s struggling to move past her involvement in the accident. She goes to visit Noah and he seems to only swing between openly cold and openly rude, casually reminding her that it’s Helen he has to thank for landing him in prison to begin with. With his half-closed eye and cheek gash it’s a far cry from the spry, optimistic Noah we saw in the last flashback, and Helen senses that too. Allison still lingers in the air; Helen can’t bring herself to say her name, but she tries to acknowledge Noah’s actions as an apology. He shrugs it, and any relationship, off.

And his nastiness haunts her throughout her day: she can’t shake the weight, and tries to make the case for her own culpability that night at dinner with Vic, Whitney, and Furkat, Whitney’s new, much older, artist boyfriend. But—as I’m sure we’ll see her struggle with this season—without outrightly acknowledging it, there’s no way she can move past it and cope. On some level Helen already knows that. And so Whitney’s defense of her mother (which is a far-cry from their relationship in season 1) is of no help.

But as we see in her fight with Vic—which starts as a fight over a text, but evolves into a fight encompassing their whole relationship—this is the status quo for her. She’s held people at arm’s length so long she forgot what it’s like to have an elbow. And now the only person who can really see her is Noah, and he doesn’t want to see her at all.

Unfortunately for Allison, the only person she can’t see is the one she’s desperate to: Joanie. We learn (through heavy exposition with Oscar) that she had a bit of breakdown when Joanie turned four, something she relates to her daughter turning four, the same age Gabriel was when he died. It’s unclear, right now, exactly what happened. If it was Gabriel related, and not Scotty related; if she was forced to sign the papers when she shouldn’t have been; if Luisa actually hates her or just cares a lot about Joanie and Cole, who Allison has hurt immensely. Either way, she’s stuck without visitation rights and a small apartment in Montauk.

But she’s also got some thawing relationships: Cole eventually acquiesces and allows her to see Joanie (for an hour, and what looks like supervised visits), even if he’s still explicitly bitter. And though I made light of her relationship with Oscar, Ruth Wilson plays the scene exactly right, helping carry every bit of Oscar and Allison’s relationship into the conversation. When we’ve seen him in the past say he goes way back with Allison (and Cole) it seemed vindictive, but here it’s clear that they’ve been friends, or some more strained facsimile, for a long time. The way teases come almost as quickly as confessions.

She’s a much less self-assured Allison than we’re accustomed to, even in her own rendering. It’s not that Allison hasn’t always been cursed with more than a tinge of self-doubt, but in the past she was able to in some way confidently act. Her conversations with the post office lady and her wavering at the playground show play like she’s under immense self-control—for exactly what? I’m guessing that’s for another confessional with someone much closer than Oscar.

Stray Thoughts: 

  • I had forgotten about Vic. I still like him, and his ability to cut through Helen’s bullshit, even if he is sometimes also talking bullshit (like when he’s yelling at her on the street after they get back from dinner). That said the elevator ride is (even if totally on brand) interminable—and he keeps texting after the alarm, my God. He’s still an expert at dodging Helen’s knife eyes. But moving in over a fight is a terrible way to do it, and it doesn’t seem like from what we’ve seen of Helen that Vic is long for this world.
  • “They have been through a lot.” “Honestly you’d have to bring your own waterboard to fuck them up more than my Dad did.”
  • Trevor is a pain now, and Stacey looks a lot like her older sister.
  • “I have a terrible relationship with my father, and I turned out great—” “Shut up.” Oh Furkat. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of you, and your intimate portraits.
  • “Joanie likes yellow now” is one of the coldest shut downs I’ve ever seen.
  • One thing this episode doesn’t get into is why she felt she had to tell Cole at all. Luisa seems to earn some rightful suspicion here, since I’m guessing though she didn’t tell Cole at his own wedding, it sounds like she did it shortly after. We know that the wedding was a breaking point for her needing to tell Noah, who she continued to be happily in a relationship with and raising Joanie until he went to jail. So why did she fess up to Cole?
  • A lot of modern references here, with Oscar mentioning ISIS and Helen saying a friend’s dad voted for Trump.
  • Any guesses on who she was talking to on the phone? Mother? Institution/doctor? Oprah?
  • The cab ride home with the picture is one of the funniest shots The Affair has ever done. Thanks to Decider for blessing us with the (censored) gif: 

 

 

 

Total Affair of the Heart – 301

Of course we start back with Noah Solloway. Partially because he is the one who has blown his life up at the end of each season and we need to see how he’s putting it together this time. Partially because he’s an instigator of the titular affair. Partially because the last thing we heard spoken was him confessing to a crime we know he didn’t commit in order to protect the women he loves. And partially because of course we start with Noahthe-affair

We’re clued in almost immediately that time has passed thanks to his beard, and we soon learn his father has died, he’s living with his sister, and it’s been three years since he went to prison. His kids are older, they’re not sure how to be around him, and Noah is more mopey than ever.

The Affair‘s hat trick with its perspective adjustments and replays never fully delivered on the premise, but in episodes like these—where the focus lies with just one person, never showing anyone else’s point of view—it’s more about how things are being said and what is left unspoken.

Noah and Helen, for instance, are definitely not on the same wavelength. At the funeral she is confused and he has his blockades up. She’s distant, asking questions but seemingly never answering his honestly. It’s frustrating, but it’s more likely a reflection of how Noah himself is coming off to others than it is about how Helen is communicating. As we see in a flashback to the beginning of his sentence, he was once light on his feet about his time, feeling invigorated, and telling Helen to “just wait” for him. Now he pushes her into pulling back.

His students are young to him. Their worldview is simple, black and white, something he brushes over without really engaging with it. We see it when he eviscerates Audrey’s piece in his class (for really no other purpose than that he needs an outlet), and we see it at the “salon” at his new French Love Interest’s house. Audrey is skittish and then righteous; the boys at the table simplistic to his distinguished, nuanced take on sexual consent. He’s not wrong, and his answer may be more jargon-filled and enlightened than the other men at the table (“I’m afraid to touch a woman at a party” blow me), but it’s not anymore respectful of women. Their political rhetoric is tedious, sure, but it’s all being filtered through Noah—who, as we know, has trouble with consent and power in conversations and sexual relationships.

His new lady love is relatively uncomplicated; her lecture is (as is The Affair‘s style) on the nose as hell with all its bluster about “a shadow of a shadow, desperate to be destroyed by its creator,” and being “tainted by his infernal paternity.” By the time they’re walking outside the church she’s the literary equivalent of a silver platter, a character who “calls things like it is,” and draws connections between adultery and Lancelot (who is one of the most famous adulterers of all time—doesn’t make it more or less romantic to those who oppose adultery, like the women at the salon dinner).

And all that is tied up with a couple new avenues for the show to open up this season: What did he forgive his sister for, once upon a time? What’s up with all this rape rhetoric on campus; is anyone else getting Veronica Mars season 3 flashbacks? What the hell happened in that prison that we’re flashbacking to, and is it driving him mad or is he really in danger?

For now all we have is Noah’s perspective. Next week, the world will broaden a bit.

Stray Stuff: 

  • “Thank you Mr. Solloway, for those…words,” is the funeral director hitting it on the head the best, until Noah’s son observes Grandpa would’ve liked his disjointed eulogy because it was “short, sweet—no bullshit.”
  • Any guesses as to what’s up with his deal with trains?
  • I’m not sure how much I like the “flashbacks” here. Granted it’s playing around with time similarly to how it’s always done as a show, but there was something a bit more respectably pulpy back when it was an end we were working towards. Now that it’s building to where we are it feels a bit like we’re betraying the show’s actual low-brow masquerading as high-brow game.
  • Jennifer Esposito, continually underutilized by The Affair and the universe, may have a bigger role this season.
  • I know it’s supposed to read as that way, but what the fuck was his tirade in class about? He’s clearly frustrated with his place and lot in life, but still came off as wildly inappropriate and smug—even in his own reality.
  • “Asking isn’t sexy.” These college boys are completely horrendous.
  • “I started noticing the change after 9/11” was the moment when I knew that this show was going to be harder to take seriously this season. 
  • Welcome back, y’all!

 

 

 

Vikings Season 3 and The Perfect Protagonist Problem in Paris

This post will detail the final bits of Vikings season 3. Spoiler-averse ye be warned. 

Vikings is one of those shows I’m ready to go to the mat for. Though it has its downsides, the show has proved itself time and time again to be built on a strong understanding of perspective, both historically and narratively. But by the end of season three, it became clear to me that Vikings has a perfect protagonist problem.

I’ve written in the past about how much of Vikings, to me, hinges on Travis Fimmel’s performance as Ragnar Lothbrok—which luckily he regularly wields with enigmatic precision. The problem is, within the show his character is situated in a bit of a house of cards. His whole identity has been as a fantastic warrior and tactician, even if he strives for something different (or at least claims to). For that to work in the story, he must frequently be at least one step ahead of those around him. And Vikings does give us a lot of evidence that this is believable for him: Unlike leaders on Game of Thrones, Ragnar is not prone to long-winded speeches of intimidation, preferring to hang back and watch others interact and offering his opinion (only) when needed. He’s a good study of character, combat, and condition, so it makes sense that he can throw all that weight behind planning a battle. We’ve seen him pull off impressive coups against leaders who have (perhaps wrongfully) feared his lust for power and prowess, and they have all hinged on his understanding of himself and those around him both as players and pawns.

It also explains how he would know his previous right-hand-man Floki had murdered his closest friend Athlestan. And why he wouldn’t confront Floki immediately; he has tactical use, and Ragnar is eager to broach the walls of Paris. What it doesn’t explain is why we’re expected to believe such a hootenanny plan which was apparently Ragnar’s: Allow Floki to lead the first charge, which would probably fail, wound himself to the point of near death, and ask the Parisian christians to baptize him. episode-10-season-3-of-history-channels-vikings-ragar-takes-paris.jpgOnce dead, he would demand a proper funeral in their church, from where he would burst out of the coffin and let in his fellow vikings to ransack the city.

Oddly, the part I have fewer and fewer bones to pick is with the historical accuracy of this plan. Christians were reportedly very particular about their funeral rites, particularly that of reformed pagans. That Athlestan’s death would be the catalyst for Ragnar’s idea (which, historically, is often credited to Bjørn Ironside’s exploits in Italy) is not so far fetched to me. I’ll even throw my hat in for those who believe that Ragnar may believe or at least question whether both faiths are real.

What is far-fetched is that Ragnar would lose 1000 men to what is, essentially, a big game of misdirection. To be fair, during these episodes the show did legitimately manage to toy with my emotions; the thrilling initial siege on Paris was hitting all the right notes for a vikings victory until it wasn’t (much like recent events), and it did seem like for however wooden the French court scenes were the battle sequences showed some innovation the vikings weren’t prepared for. Understanding that Ragnar had to make the war look convincing, it’s fair that he would spend months and months waiting them out. He is a patient man.

But the Parisian siege felt like it had turned their golden goose into a gimmick. Fimmel’s Ragnar is a protagonist who works best when he doesn’t have to explain himself, which can leave the reality of his character tied up in the reveal. Towards the end of season three, Ragnar was monologuing (ostensibly talking to his friend in Christian heaven) about his grand plans, and for that grand plan to ultimately be so far fetched it called into question much of the character—which is saying something considering season 2’s coup-de-grace. That this winding and counterintuitive plan would go off without a hitch doesn’t necessarily speak to Ragnar’s prowess as a tactician, but as a character too tied up in contrivances.

And at the end of all of that, it’s still not even entirely clear what lesson he was trying to teach Floki, let alone what his patient revenge was. The season ended almost too quietly when Ragnar finally let Floki know that his murderous deeds were known. The show had already asked its characters to externalize a lot of their conflicts, such as Ragnar’s demise and issues with Floki, and then pulled a massive bait-and-switch that didn’t feel truly earned. Then as it offers us these true “big” moments as season enders, we’re not surprised by most of them because they already felt so improbable and we as the audience had already internalized a lot of the issues at play.

Though the show’s laissez fare attitude towards pacing can be oddly thrilling (not to clear all issues off the table before allowing its time period to move forward) it makes me nervous to think of launching into season 4 come mid-February, and swiftly moving away from the events around Paris. Vikings season 3 struggled a bit under the weight of a few too many storylines (Bjørn’s love life is just yawn, but the English courts also needed some better tie-in by the end), and I’d hate to see these central vikings get squeezed out in a time-jump. So far I’m still willing to see how high they’ll stack up these issues before the shark jumps over, but I’d be disappointed if it means diminishing returns on all the balls in the air. As the theme song goes, “more, give me more, give me more.”

the-vikings-prepare-to-attack-paris-in-episode-8-entitled-to-the-gates-season-3-of-history-channels-vikings.jpg

Black’n’Orange: Season 3 Episode 4

Missed an episode? Check the tag

In keeping with what I noted as a big theme of the first couple episodes, episode four “Finger in the Dyke” was all about relationships’ expectation vs. reality. For some, the parallels were a bit more clear cut: Alex and Piper are, for the first time in present plotlines, offisch, while Daya struggles to understand where the hell the father of her baby went.
But it’s in the subject of the flashbacks that we find our focal point on the issue. Her identity being at odds with her parents (and later, the world) is a pretty clear cut demonstration of how the expectations or projections one has for a relationship can pan out in ways that leave both sides feeling disappointed. And though it’s hard to not let the dialogue here feel too after-school special, Boo’s episodic arc is perhaps one of the most mature I’ve seen from these flashbacks. There really is no easy answer. And while I’m really in no way on the side of her parents, the show didn’t shy away from the fact that some problems don’t get easier just because you’re out from under their roof.

orange-is-the-new-black-episode-304-recap-finger-in-the-dyke

Giving Boo some back story was painfully necessary, because despite being a major player in a lot of plot lines through the first two seasons we really don’t know too much about what she’s about. She’s cheeky, she’s out for herself, she loves women, but what makes her tick? It made me feel doubly glad that the flashback was as nuanced as it was, given how glib I often find her character.

And as we’re four episodes in plot arcs continue to roll, although not in any direction in particular. This season the writers seem to be moving away from any sort of “Big Bad” as the Buffy gang would say, and instead really digging into the roundtable of characters they’ve got (and more than ever we see meal times becoming a sort of rounds on everybody’s goings-on). But it’s definitely a slow boil.

But here that boil is more under the microscope: Where “Mother’s Day” looked at relationships strained by prison, this one pulls apart its storylines into relationships, and prison.

Soso’s sort of been in the slow cooker for a while; demystifying and then disparaging serving time. The visit from her friend gave her the opportunity to vent a lot of frustration that I feel like has been building (and slung at her) for a long time coming, and her monologue managed to feel true to herself and her arc. But poor Soso; disconnecting with friends, and realizing the reality of your relationship with them—strained by a court-mandated prison sentence or no—can be tough. But Kimiko Glenn is acting the hell out of it.

Meanwhile Piper is finding new peace in her jail stay. Whether or not that has something to do with her new girlfriend, I can’t say yet. But given Piper’s general fucked-up attitude towards people and how she adopts the lifestyle of the one she’s with, I’d say we’re in for a helluva ride.

  • Alex’s shift to suddenly very much into Piper and prison felt very abrupt to me. I often appreciate the gutter time between episodes and what writers are able to do (or not have to do) with it, but this felt too jarring.
  • Did we know Boo’s name before this? Memory for names is not my forte, but I don’t think we did. Carrie.
  • $5.37 ($1.79/meal) to feed a prisoner for a day. Jesus christ. (And the national average is $1.58) I’m really hoping that OITNB can finally really dig into the prison industrial complex, like they always promised it sort of would be. Even if it’s just popularizing more statistics like this.
  • Admittedly they are doing that somewhat by bringing in the privatized prison sale. Interested to see where that goes.
  • That was a nice brick joke with the synced up periods.
  • “White people. And other.”
  • POST MODERN ICE CREAM MOVEMENT