Total Affair of the Heart (Episode 10)

For previous posts, check the tag here

Where to start with this finale.

As finales go, I would say this one isn’t going down in the hall of fame, but still managed to be a fairly entertaining (and jam packed!) hour of television. The show has definitely evolved in its ten episodes; taking a turn away from the subtlety of, say, “Mad Men” for the full-on soapy-nature “Nashville” somewhere in there. Which all culminates, sort of, in this finale. Guns are brandished about, passionate love-making sessions fly by (save some montage for the rest of us, Noah), and no one is happy about most things in their life.

When I was taking notes for this post, I found a lot more of my notes were abrupt things that would normally be jotted down in the “additional thoughts” bullet points following an article that discussed a bigger aspect of the episode. Which is probably where this finale fails to feel like a finale: it’s got way too much plot and very little answers to back it up. Sometimes that makes the questions fun—now that Noah is arrested and we’ve seen that look between him and Allison before she answers the door for the police, I’m a lot more interested in learning what’s happening in the time between these plot lines. But in other ways that variation in tone can make for a scatterbrained episode of TV, and when that episode happens to be your finale it can create some problems.

This episode feels like the capper to a whole different breed of season, which until now has seemed to only casually dabbled into the frenetic pacing of primetime soaps. An earlier episode might’ve taken the time to explore or at least observe Allison in her new sense of serenity that she’s found at her mother’s hippie camp. It would splash around in the fact that she’s now on great terms with Athena, but by the time she’s back to Cole she brushes off her mother as “the same.”

Easily one of the way the show has changed most in how it handles its perspective-shifting tool, which in the scenes at the ranch is the most jarring it’s ever been in this episode. The explanations I’ve read from the creator haven’t fully satisfied my craving for justification. I’m all for exploring how a tense and stressful situation could lead to unreliable memories, but here I’m prone to think there’s a bigger, longer con being played on us as an audience, because there’s no way you straight up disagree of the cause, location, players, etc. that much. But at this point in time I have no idea what they would be covering up with a trick like that. affair-finale-gun-scene

It’s a shame too, because Joshua Jackson was really acting his ass off in his monologue. Cole’s been an interesting slow-boil this season; easily the member of a couple we know and see the least about. He also seems to be one of the only people in the entire universe of “The Affair” who still believe in loving, happy marriages. From Noah’s agent to Noah to Helen to Helen’s parents, there’s so much pessimism of people who seemed to make calculated choices with their marriage, but Jackson really sells that Cole and Allison were very happily in love and married for that reason.

And where will he be next season? Where will anyone be next season, really? I guess we’ll now be dealing with flash forwards where Noah is undergoing some sort of legal processing (court? prolonged stint in jail?), and as interested as I am in that plot line I do wonder whether the show will try to return to its roots—here being the way Allison and Noah’s relationship has created a ripple effect across the lives of so many people—now that its ironed out the first season. That plot line would fit into Allison’s explanation to Detective Jefferies that whatever wedding they were at was because it’s a tight community, despite whatever animosity they may have.

I guess we’ll find out if “The Affair” is more “Parks and Rec,” figuring out their footing and running from there; or “30 Rock,” moving from a smart, tightly crafted show to a more goofy (though mostly just as smart) and looser show model.
  • I don’t know why it makes me so excited now that we know Allison is on whatever Noah is hiding but it does. She’s been so good this whole season, I’m intrigued to see how they justify this.
  • Please don’t let it be a “we’re so hopelessly in love I’d do anything for you baby” reason.
  • Are all the men in this world scumbags, or just the one Noah attracts? I feel like one way “The Affair” writers can grow in season 2 is by making the conversation between men not so heavy-handed about their marital strife.
  • Maura Tierney, bringing it as per uzghe this week. Here she’s in a confusingly believable scene where Noah is shocked Helen is even considering divorce proceedings (four months after he moved out because he told her he was in love with someone else) and yet still lets her beg him to return to their house.
  • I’d be interested to see more from Noah and Helen’s oldest son, who clearly has a solid grasp on the emotions running rampant through his household, even if his parents don’t.
  • Whitney is consistently the perfect 17-year-old who honestly can’t see that a 30-year-old sleeping with her is a red flag, and then takes it out on those around her.
  • In Noah’s version of events both Helen and Allison are in white, with Allison wearing a high neckline and Whitney wearing a lower cut. But in Allison’s her and Helen are in more muddy colors, and Whitney is practically dressed like a catholic school girl.
  • Well guys, we did it! I hope these have been as much fun for you as they have for me. I’ll be back with more when season 2 hits, and hopefully a show or two in between now and then.

 

Advertisements

Total Affair of the Heart (Episode 9)

For previous posts, check the tag here

Often I think “The Affair” is clever, but not as clever as it thinks it is. But the one thing it consistently does well is Alison.

1031103_1_3406312_07_800x600Obviously Ruth Wilson plays her spectacularly, but there’s definitely more to the character than that. The complexity that Wilson and the writers instill into Alison’s character is so mesmerizing because it draws you into the character when we really have no business being there at all.

She is, after all, an adulterer (which despite many media’s attempts–including this one–will never be a romantic or exciting plot line, for me) with a major self-destructive streak who’s still mourning the loss of her only child. That’s not always a fun thing to watch.

But “The Affair”‘s Alison is a firecracker; she’s built her unpredictability on all the things above, and that’s what makes her so much fun to watch. We’re given to believe that this is the first time she’s really done this, or at least Athena seems to think so, and also that it all stems from losing Gabriel.

It’s what makes the end work, because you honest to God have no idea what Alison is going to do or who she’s going to do it with, or even what would be best for her. It’s also what makes the scene with Cherry so revealing. All that complexity is built on her desire to be somewhere or someone new while simultaneously punishing herself, so she stays and listens through Cherry’s spiteful speech–where Cherry is quick to assure her, that Gabriel’s death is all her fault–because she feels like she deserves it. Like Cherry’s right.

By this point I think I can safely say that Noah is a shitbag, but he does have her pegged: she needed (needs?) a little faith, in something. And somewhere in the full range of emotions she goes through here she finds guidance, or at least a facsimile of it.

Stray thoughts: 
  • I, of course, would be remissed if I didn’t mention the Helen scene, which is a tour de force in the greatest, most unfortunate sense. From what we’ve seen of Noah, we know he feels the weight of this decision, even if he’s making it a bit recklessly. And he honestly thinks he’s being an adult about this, and expects Helen to react the same way. THANK GOD SHE DOESN’T. Maura Tierney goes through a whole different field of emotions here than Wilson, and damn is it a sight to behold.
  • That Cherry scene really got to me, guys. To have the closest thing she has to a mother figure (especially after her Grandmother passed so recently) chew her to bits like that. Knives would’ve been cleaner.
  • Alison is a much different person to herself than who she was in the beginning, while Noah stays largely stagnant except for his love of Alison. I’m wondering if there’ll be something in the future about this retelling about Alison and her relationship to sex through both her and Noah’s eyes.
  • Obviously a lot of other stuff happened here (Noah’s daughter was pregnant! Alison slept with Oscar!) but I’ll get to that next post. One more episode of the season…

Total Affair of the Heart (Episode 8)

For previous posts, check the tag here

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.

 

Total Affair of the Heart (Episode 7)

I’ve touched on this point in the past, but let’s take a time out from Noah and Allison to talk about how great their spouses are. Specifically the actors. It’s not easy to play someone through someone else’s eyes and to make that character convincing. But Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson do just that.

BN-FR595_1123af_G_20141121191019There’s a certain subversive element to Tierney’s performance. Her character could easily have been a shrew stock-type, nagging Noah and ultimately driving him away. But Tierney’s performance elevates the character exponentially, giving Helen a real life feel that could’ve so easily been swept under the rug.

This week, as she confronts Noah about his affair, it’s so interesting to watch the way Tierney handles the dialogue–particularly interesting given that it’s all being filtered through Noah to us. We’re able to see the things that he perceives she values, and it’s sort of remarkable the way Tierney is able to balance his intake with her emphasis. When she calls Allison “just a waitress” you can see how that line stands out to him (this show often mingles with the idea of class, and we know that his and Helen’s relationship is at an awkward crux around it), but Tierney give it its own spin. She’s a wife trying to grasp how her husband could so monumentally fuck up for an appeal she can’t understand.

She’s been through this with her own father and mother, and it’s Tierney who really drives that point home in the scene. This is a woman who in some way steeled herself for this for years. She wants him to give her the standard reasons we can assume her father did–she was 22, she was a model–anything other than that he threw away his entire life, her life, her kids’ lives, for “just a waitress.”

Jackson’s portrayal of Cole in this episode is such a gentle example of what a constipation their communication has become. Their differences are stark: how they feel about the city, how they feel about the porch, how they feel about change in their lives; and Allison senses this. We know she does; we see it week after week when Cole makes an offhand comment to her and she grimaces.

This scene made me feel a lot of feelings.
This scene made me feel a lot of feelings.

Which is why his monologue is so heartbreaking. Until now we haven’t really spent enough time with just Cole (and Allison, I suppose), so it’s an abrupt shift when Allison sits alone with him and finally sees how much pain he’s in. She’s always seen his passion; even when it’s bad, she can see how much he cares for her and his family.

But, in some of the best acting and writing I think this show has to offer, Allison is never aware when Cole turns that love towards her. She’s shocked when the real reason he came to the city isn’t to hunt down the man who might’ve stolen their coke but to figure out why she did it.

It occurred to me that until now no one on the show has touched on how Cole handled Gabriel’s death. It’s possible in her blind grief Allison wasn’t even aware he woke up every night in tears. So it’s left to Jackson (who really knocks it out of the park here) to communicate all that pain and grief that he’s locked up inside of him, and the result is heart-wrenching.

In most circumstances it’d be easy to brush off some simple psychology like his anecdote about his father’s death, but here it slips in nicely with how Cole and Allison have been so out of sync. In his experience previously he found a way to return to normal. And while he can’t fathom why that can’t happen now, she knows that this change has to see itself through, and she knows she can’t do it in Montauk. But now that she’s remembered that the alpha male can step out of his shell, she might be starting to think that she can do it with Cole.

Stray thoughts:
  • I really find myself rooting for the married couples. Or at least Cole and Allison. In the end it didn’t seem to me like she was saying goodbye to Noah as she looked as the skyline, so much as she was finally getting the change she needed from her own relationship.
  • I feel like they could blow their entire affair just based on how many times they pretend to be introduced to each other. I mean, good god.
  • The Detective story here seemed almost slipped in for necessity but not in a bad way. I’m just so intrigued by it I’m always left wanting more.

Total Affair of the Heart (Episode 6)

And now we welcome Max, and other dated items into the fold. Max is Noah’s college friend who’s now divorced, and generally fine with it–or so he initially claims. But it’s clear as the episode progresses that he’s really not; he’s jealous of what Noah and Helen have. That unshakeable, established love born from a college romance.

cdn.indiewireSo he can’t know (and Noah won’t tell him) that Noah lusts after what Max has. He longs for the freedom to approach Alison at work and unabashedly hit on her or to flirt with her in a club. But in a concept introduced to me by the late, disappointing, HIMYM, Max’s appearance in this episode–coupled with the growing intimacy between Noah and Alison–brings a sort of regressive immaturity to Noah. (Though, arguably, Noah has been fairly immature throughout.)

Him and Alison play immature games where she comes and plays the stranger at the club, they go out dancing and suddenly age themselves 10 extra years next to the crowd around them, and he hates the word mistress to describe Alison. He lets his best bud Max believe that Noah’s from a planet where relationships work, probably because to some extent he believes it is too. The life he talks about and keeps with Alison is so separate from his life with his family he can’t believe that Helen picks up on his distance over the summer.

It’s that sort of stubborn, adultery-denial that gives Noah his tough streak, but it’s also what makes him a childish partner. Once he pulls off his dream girl goggles and sees Alison for what she is, a married drug dealer who lives in a summer town, he suddenly has a renewed interest in his wife, and familiar stability she brings to his life.

Meanwhile, for Alison this affair has been something of her own stability. She’s always been mature and composed, and for the first time in her life–as Athena guessed–she’s finally found that a bit of unpredictability can present a whole new outlook. Suddenly she feels free of the weights that come with the Lockharts. Free from debt, misery, guilt she sees a real future with Noah.

And so in the last scene she goes to him, but is confronted suddenly by the vast rift between where they are in their lives, marriages, and true desires. But Noah has seen the life she has, the life Max got, and recoils into his privilege shell. It may not be perfect, but it’s home.

Total Affair of the Heart (Episode 3)

For previous posts, check the tag here

Even though I wouldn’t describe this as a particularly Noah heavy episode, there was something about episode three that just kept bringing it back to Noah’s character for me.

When we’re on Noah’s side of the perspective, it seems to be all about him: about his goals, his family, his lies. It’s fitting, in a way, he’s very focused on himself, even when he’s focusing on other people. When he’s fucking his wife he whispers a “don’t wake up,” which I suppose could be its own brand of sexy if it wasn’t in a series titled after his wrongdoings.

His side of it seems to just scream midlife crisis: Noah focusing on how he said all the right things, and it’s not easy for him to step outside his marriage. Allison’s side brings depth to her character, a sense that she is somehow just floating through the world and Noah is a wrinkle, ill-advised or no, to the perfect life her husband is trying to iron out. But Noah is the guy who wouldn’t even have gone to the town meeting and fooled around with another woman if it weren’t for the in-laws that are smothering him and the kids who are ungrateful and every little other part of his life that grates on him in that moment.

Though I complain about Noah, that moment when he finds his book in the library is heartbreaking to me, in a way. It was the perfect reflection on how he’s at a place where he’s not feeling appreciated, and Helen can’t make everything good, and the book is a relic of what was, what could’ve been and what is. And then Allison shows up, flirty as she always is to him, and suddenly he’s feeling checked out again.

Well someone wants to pull me off the shelf and crack me open
Well someone wants to pull me off the shelf and crack me open

And his lies grow. In a way they don’t really have to, but then again he’s not very quick on his feet. The only person who seems to know (or be snarky enough to call him on it) is Allison’s boss. I kind of love how Dominic West doesn’t feel the need to play Noah with any sort of likability, so much as an understanding of how he might be feeling trapped and under water. Which brings me to my sidebars:

Sidebars:

  • Sometimes the visual puns on the show just kill me. Noah’s drowning in stress and we open on him swimming. There’s definitely something fishy about those docks, huh? They just keep going.
  • On Allison’s boss: I’m really hoping his a (literal) red herring because if he is the killer or the victim it would just feel like a cop out. He’s got a great thing going, being the foil creeping in the background; the only one who engages enough with both Noah and Allison to really notice what’s happening, and he’s clearly got an ax to grind. But I’d be more interested if his distinct way of blending in and sticking out when he needs to is a foil for the relationship, not the crime we’re still waiting on details for.
  • This book agent seems like he sucks at his job. Despite calling Noah on his lack of originality, he does not seems too boring to say “no but seriously dude what else are you bringing to the table?”
  • Whitney is the perfect mix of annoying teenage trope and believable teenage girl I want to root for.
  • And as much as I hate Grandma throwing the money in Noah’s face, I feel like if she wrote a book I would read it. As we saw in Allison’s perspective last week at the party, there’s certainly more snark and heart to be had from Grandma.