Total Affair of the Heart: S2 E2

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And now the other side of the coin. This week seemed to be all about definitions. And in some ways, it was an answer to the flurry of episode one: Noah’s movements and activities in the city showing someone who isn’t a part of that life anymore, and Helen’s sadness around the shattered life she has mirrors Alison’s movements and activities in the idyllic small town showing someone who’s not sure where they belong right now, and Cole’s sadness about the life he has now that he can’t bear to live with.

Where last week we saw Noah’s life largely getting started from the affair—”finding his muse,” getting a book deal, feeling in control—we see Allie’s life has taken a sharp right, if not halted, because of the same events. And now she’s unsure of her place in the world. She’s not sure where she is with Cole, who she is without work, where she is (or where she’ll be) with Noah, and who she’ll be on the pages of the book he left on the desk.

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 11.55.14 AMWhat’s nice is the way all four chapters seem to build on each other; how each character sees themselves, others, and their relationships. We know how shitty Noah’s day made him feel, and we know how Helen saw him bringing that on himself a lot too. But now we see that Allie’s perspective somewhat aligns with Helen’s (Noah’s a jerrrrrrk when he’s cranky) while also seeing that he didn’t remember the fight because the life in that cottage and resolution of the night made it so inconsequential to him. He feels confused and worried, she feels confused and trapped.

But neither of them seem to feel very sad about their decisions, unlike Helen and Cole. Like Allie we see him struggling with children and the cloud of death that their minds associate with kids, but for him the pain is magnified. Joshua Jackson is really good at looking schlubby and utterly worn down here, which is good because apparently Cole is just burning out. All he wants to do is drive, drive, drive, which is really a whole new look for him. Before he was exactly where he always wanted to be and always would be. Now he just wants to be on the move.

Right now, like Helen, he is mostly in “sad” and “transitory/unknown” part of his post-divorce life, but given that this is the first we’ve seen of him since his outburst at the end of season one, Jackson does a great job channeling all that unhappiness that’s burning inside of him without an outlet. Selling that much of a pendulum swing in a person whose point-of-view is suddenly thrust into the spotlight isn’t an easy task. Jackson doesn’t have as much to do with the character here as Maura Tierney did with Helen last week (at least for now) but he does sell that Cole would see himself as sympathetic.

Again the show seems to be doubling down on the shockingly different memories of Alison and Cole’s meeting, but I guess it makes it easier to see how they’re played (and remembered) emotionally. Something about Alison’s headspace has always seemed a bit more authentic and grounded to me. Not because her views are correct or even the most honest, but the feeling behind them is so much more real, for lack of a better term. Something about the harshness of the second interaction with Noah versus the sweetness of the first seems like a genuine way to remember the events of the day, or at least the emotional current running underneath it all. Oddly enough their life—though clearly undefined—felt like each had an established sense of trust towards the other: Noah leaves his book out in plain sight, even though he expects Allie not to read it. She remembers the whole range of emotions he made her feel that day, and ends her side on a happy note.

But as all our players converge in the future in court, no one’s perspective seems to shed much light on their emotions or expectations of the situation. Alison is a bit jarred by the new lawyer (oh Richard Schriff, you delightful douchenozzle-player) and Helen’s involvement, while Cole’s face in courtroom is observant and largely inscrutable. Now that this story is building in the future more, not just being used to draw out the memories of the couple, I’d like to see a bit more happening here, but I guess that’s just down the road.

Stray thoughts: 

  • House pooooooooorn
  • Doesn’t really seem like Cole knows what to make of the situation either
  • Alison, with baby what’s-her-name in court, doesn’t seem too thrown by Noah’s fate. But as we’ve seen Alison and Noah seem to have something they’re not sharing.
  • Alison’s day vacillates between an established couple and a formerly established couple, before ending with Noah and her: a sort-of established couple, except maybe not officially.
  •  Her memory of the reconcilatory dinner seemed to be post-sundown, whereas Noah’s was distinctly before. Hmmmmmm.
  • With Helen’s dad moving to leave her mom, this family is just getting REKT by divorce.
  • The carride with Helen’s dad and Cole was very interesting; the ways they’re able to connect but also being in distinctly different vantage points of the whole thing. I wasn’t sure if Cole knew the situation? He seemed to have a look at the end, and was curious about the “son-in-law” in particular. Maybe I’m just terrible at reading Joshua Jackson.
  • This show has me ogling at ring fingers. Hello babysitter -Cole.

 

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Total Affair of the Heart (S2 E1)

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I feel like I’ve said this before, but “The Affair” has never been the most nuanced show with its visual imagery. And clearly, season 2 is ready to double down on that.

If the mess of emotions we left our characters in at the end of last season didn’t tip us off, the premiere of season 2 did: A storm is coming. And our web of people and lies is smack dab in the middle of it.

Only know we get to see them grow: This season has already seen the introduction of Helen’s point of view, and next episode will be Allison and Cole. And though the show seems to be committing to more dramatically different memories of events (if you’ll recall, last season’s finale really took divergent memories to the extreme) it seems to be committing to them a bit more honestly here.

Of minor note: Helen wears white in Noah's memory, and a more solemn black in her own.
Of minor note: Helen wears white in Noah’s memory, and a more solemn black in her own.

The narrative device—at its best—serves to show us not just how the primary characters are seeing the world, but also what those around them are playing off of. It’s not that memories IRL are necessarily so different, so much as the emotions that cloud what we remember about a scene or event effect what hurt and feelings end up sticking with us.

The wildly different memories of the mediator scene actually felt more natural to me; it makes sense that both halves of the former couple would feel talked down to, bruised, and miffed at the other’s curt reactions. It explains the gulf between them, if it doesn’t necessarily excuse it.

Helen’s POV is new, so let’s start there: Here we see that Noah is a jerk (no surprise, for either us who have already found him to be a jerk in basically every POV, or for an ex-wife to feel that way about her philandering ex-husband), and Helen is sad. It should be an interesting exercise now that we get to see Helen in her own right, not through her husband as he falls of love or his mistress as she falls deeper into an affair.

:(
😦

So far it’s been a lot of how we manage our grief and, sadly, how others do. Throughout her half Helen is indulged, somewhat, but often it’s limited by others; the most heartbreaking scene comes as she arrives home after a rough afternoon and finds Whitney screaming about her essay, her mother micromanaging her house, and her youngest son weeping because he’s learned that his whole world is permanently upended.

On the flip side, Noah’s world has him really (and somewhat finally) grappling with how decisions can affect and ricochet through the lives of others. It’s present in the more obvious interactions with his family—very heated arguments with his ex-mother-in-law, his kids removing themselves from his presence—but it’s also in the small conversations with his friend, who plans to have his wife call Helen and set up a dinner. It may all feel worth it when Noah comes home to Allison, but the conversation that these two will have for the rest of their lives, or at least for the forseeable future, isn’t going away. For him the storm seems to be just brewing over his shoulder, just out of reach. And for Helen the storm is in full swing.

Stray thoughts:

  • It’s one of the more “classic” books my somewhat unorthodox education covered back in the day, but I loved the dance around/spoiler alert for “Of Mice and Men.” Thanks for lookin’ out guys.
  • In neither reality is that a mediation guy I’d want to have. You’d think it was his first mediation, I mean damn.
  • The characters of color number is going up!
  • Future Watch: We know he’s happy with Allie, but there seem to be some smoother waters with Helen, he’s finally able to accept money for a lawyer. Or he’s just that desperate.
  • Peen sighting—ok cable tv, I see you.
  • Should be interesting to see how this show starts to develop now that they’re playing with four irons in the fire. It almost feels like the story itself is going to be less sprawling. With four POV we may cover less ground and stick to a core couple of months, given that for the most part they’d save 4-memories of one day/event/episode for bigger happenings. I’m also wondering if the show will continue to split evenly, or if they’ll find themselves playing around with last minute reveals by quickly changing character POVs. Long story short, excited to see what they do with the expanded landscape.
  • Welcome back everybody!

Total Affair of the Heart (Episode 9)

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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)

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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.

 

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 5)

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It’s nothing revolutionary to talk about how “The Affair” is a show that dabbles in forced perspective; it’s essentially the hook of the entire thing. But this episode stands out, to me, as one of the few that really draws your attention to it.

It’s goes beyond the sight gags of Allison’s clothes, or the narratives each of them have to remember why that was important, and into how they see the players around them. And it’s a credit to the acting of the supporting players that they can so believably play a character through someone else’s eyes.

Noah’s in-laws, for instance, often come off as the picture of snobby class. But in this episode, or at least Allison’s version of this episode, we find out that he came from a relatively low-income household, so he would see the sort of decadence they live in as devoid of compassion. Until now I had always filed their performances as somewhat one-note, but their portrayal not only make more sense now, but they serve as a sort of clever reminder that there’s always more than meets the eye in this series. Similarly, Cherry seems to be an almost incongruous mash of a person; one moment chipper and friendly and the next making sneaking, passive-plays for claim over Allison in front of Athena.

And Athena is her own little breath of fresh air for Allison’s perspective: it’s not that what she’s saying is right, per se, but she has her own narrative that’s in some ways just as valid as Allison’s. Allison never really tried to get off the island and doesn’t believe (or, as Athena somewhat condescendingly puts it “forgets”) that she could’ve left with her mother if she had really wanted to.

This episode is rife with material for exploring the people who orbit Allison and Noah’s affair, in a way the episodes haven’t quite done before. Oddly, or perhaps appropriately, Oscar remains every bit as full of douchebaggery in both visions, which could mean that he’s just that much of a tool. Or it could be that as Allison and Noah recite their stories they are on the same page about Oscar for a reason other than his personality. An easy mark, perhaps?

xj4uqusWhich brings me to my final point. I’ve said it before, that for a show that doesn’t seem to cheaton the drama and intrigue they’re got a passionate interest in a coy, showing-of-cards, and apparently the cinematographer is in on the joke. Off the top of my head, I remember most of interrogation scenes being a fairly straightforward over-shoulder, shot-reverse-shot.

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 4.02.22 PMBut in both of the scenes with Allison and Noah talking to the detective, the camera noticeably angles itself so that Jefferies is shunted off to the side. A bit of literal forced perspective, for you. Of course both of them are getting up to leave after their conversation, but the way the camera moves–particularly in Allison’s (where she is referred to as “Ms. Bailey” hmmm) swivels, as if it’s sort of clearing its throat to get us to notice, or remember, that they’re being observed. But by whom?

Unsure for now. But is anyone else thinking that Detective Jefferies is one of the most interesting characters on the show? Where’s his point-of-view series?

 

Total Affair of the Heart (Episode 4)

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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.

Total Affair of the Heart (Episode 3)

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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.