The Affair, Season 1, Episode 7, “7”
Sunday, November 23, 2014, 10 PM (EST), Showtime
“7” was an important episode for many reasons, the most important being that it had to prove the show could survive a (possibly temporary) dissolution of the affair between Noah and Alison. After they decided to end things last week, it was clear that their lack of discretion meant that everyone in their lives would find out, including their spouses. What I didn’t anticipate was how Noah and Alison’s separate lives follow similar patterns, making it feel like the show is still telling one story instead of two. Helen and Cole both take their spouses’ confessions surprisingly well. The fact that their respective marriages have been given just as much narrative attention as the central affair makes their reactions plausible. In a season filled with powerful moments, this seventh installment was contained the most devastating and surprising of them all.
For the sixth time (yes, I’m still counting), Noah gets to go first. His half begins in his daughter Whitney’s final therapy session on the island, where she wants to share her feelings and her “reality” with her parents. Whitney seems to focus on the intense pressure she gets from Helen before the session veers into a slight misread of the problem with her parents. She thinks Helen is having an affair and that Noah is completely miserable around her. As someone who has watched the show religiously from the beginning, no other scene has made me laugh harder than Whitney’s insistence that there are major problems in their marriage and that it’s Helen having the affair, not Noah. It’s so close to the truth that Noah’s discomfort is palpable, but it’s also funny how she sees Helen as being a bad mother and wife because she’s too chill about everything.
With some last minute scrambling and rushed goodbyes, the Solloways prepare to head back home to Brooklyn. Back home, Noah is so tense that he starts a fight with Helen right in front of the kids. Their anger at each other is bested by Bruce’s fit of rage caused by a profile in Vanity Fair crediting his wife for being a collaborator and cowriter. Noah relishes the profile, creating a cute moment between him and Helen as they take pleasure in Bruce’s petulant misery. Noah reluctantly takes Martin to the Lockhart ranch so he can apologize for letting the horse go. Cole is very gracious, offering Martin the same job next summer if he does well in school. A little while later, Noah stops by the Lobster Roll on his own to leave a not for Alison on her bike. Oscar takes the opportunity to blackmail Noah for $10,000 in exchange for not telling Helen about the affair. I knew Oscar was a piece of shit, but I was not expecting that he would sink so low. The new bar for Oscar’s depravity has been set.
Noah’s initial solution to the Oscar problem is to ask his rich friend Max to lend him the money. Max creates some more comic relief this week, working out right there in his office and suit so he can “get huge.” He’s just a charming, lovely man even though he’s such an easy type to hate. It turns out being a great friend can make the douchiest of white male Wall Street types charming. At first, Noah lies about why he needs the money, but after very little prodding he comes completely clean. When Max realizes that Helen could be hurt, he doesn’t hesitate. He writes the check, but begs Noah not to do the “selfish” thing by telling Helen. On his run later in the day, Noah collapses. He thinks he’s having a heart attack. In the hospital, with Helen by his side, he learns that he’s had a panic attack. Helen almost makes fun of him, until Noah decides to come clean about the affair.
Maura Tierney’s performance in the scenes right after learning of the affair is absolutely stunning. She stays true to the level-headed side of her character, but she also reveals that she was never completely blind to what was going on. She guesses right away that it was Alison. She asks pretty typical questions, like how many times it was and how long it went on. She conveys her shock and anger at how long he lied to her and frustration that he can’t even come up with an explanation for why. The trouble she has processing Noah’s confession puts their marriage in sharp focus. She considers their marriage a friendship, priding herself on knowing exactly what to expect of her husband. Noah comes off as weak next to her. He says he stopped because he loved her and that it was stupid, but his self-pity about his writing, even trying to put blame on Helen for pressuring him emphasizes his cowardly behavior. It’s a beautifully written, searing fight that doesn’t seem to permanently end their marriage, despite her characterization of his betrayal as a “destruction.” They sleep in the same bed, and they try to hide the turmoil from the kids. Noah’s only win besides getting to revel in Bruce’s misery is that he gets to tell Oscar to go fuck himself because he told Helen about the affair himself.
Alison begins her day by trying to repair the rotted portions of their wooden porch. Cole walks by and casually suggests they have to replace the entire thing, while Alison argues that they can just paint over it to look better. This dialogue transparently foreshadowed the upcoming crossroads in their marriage. It’s the last day that Lobster Roll is open, so Alison stops by to pick up her last check. Oscar refuses to pay her, so Alison takes a couple of pies (hardly seems like fair compensation) over to the Lockhart house. Alison had no idea that Noah had stuck a note to the bottom of the basket on her bike, so when her mother-in-law Cherry unpacks the boxes, she finds the note first. Instead of just coming right out and asking about Noah, she goes into this long monologue about her maternal instincts. Then she drops the bombshell that she knows who Noah is, produces the letter, and immediately burns it. Her overbearing presence in this scene makes me think Cherry is creepy and cruel, and it reminds me of last week when Cherry, seemingly unmotivated, gave Alison her own engagement ring as thanks for taking care of Cole. Every now and then, the camerawork, performances, and score come together perfectly to create an emotionally devastating moment out of very little. At the dinner table, the camera zeroes in on Alison while the noisy family gossips and goes about business as usual, but she is stressed and in her own head. Brilliant work.
Alison overhears the Lockhart brothers’ discussion about Oscar. They decide to visit Oscar at his house and apologize so they can end the standoff. At the door, Cole promises to write Oscar a letter of support for his bowling alley, in exchange for complete quiet on the Lockhart activities. Cole was content to walk away, but Scotty sucker punched him. Angry, Oscar taunts Cole with his knowledge of Alison and Noah’s affair, saying that Alison knew about his fake call to the police because he said it in front of the guy Alison was sleeping with. This sent Cole over the edge. He tackled Oscar, and with Scotty’s help, completely beat him up. Alison watched on in horror. Back at home, Alison waits for Cole to speak. He pours himself a drink, asks a couple of questions about whether or not it was someone he knew. Satisfied that it was a stranger, he simply told Alison it was her problem to deal with. What’s strange is that she doesn’t seem confused by his reaction. It seems like this is what she expected.
Alison decides to get out of town, taking up her best friend Jane’s offer to stay with her in Brooklyn, where they initially just get high and Alison catches Jane up on the affair. Jane cyber stalks Noah and Alison plays along. She finds out Noah’s address and Helen’s store, immediately suggesting they visit the store. There, Helen seems completely annoyed by Alison’s presence, knowing right away that this can’t be a simple coincidence. She chooses to thank Alison for saving her daugther’s life during her choking incident back in the first episode. At the first opportunity, Alison and Jane get out of the store. Alison goes off on her own and ends up using the address Jane sent her to find Noah’s house. Across the street, she sees him with his family in front of the open window, looking happy and close. Noah sees her and closes the curtain, looking shaken up.
It turns out Cole went after Alison and is waiting at Jane’s place when she gets back. He fumes about the coke going missing, using that as an excuse to grill Alison on who she was sleeping with. At first, she doesn’t get it. She tries to play off their coke dealing as common knowledge but he finally reveals why he’s really there. He wants to know who it was. She tells him the truth, that it’s Noah Solloway. Cole only knows him as Martin’s dad. They go for a walk outside, where after he feels sick, he sits on the sidewalk and lays down newspaper for Alison to sit on next to him. He completely breaks down. He goes into a heartbreaking monologue about a counting trick he used to deal with loss and extreme pain before Gabriel, but none of it worked since him. Everything just got worse. Alison remains silent, trying to comfort him, but she seems completely bewildered by this side of Cole. Back in Montauk, Cole gets a call that Caleb is in the hospital. He’s been beaten up because he tried to return the drugs. Cole finally seems ready to move on, declaring that he finally wants to sell the ranch and be done with it, even when Cherry suggests she get out a loan to cover the $100k debt. Right before Alison and Cole are about to go to bed, Cole stops Alison from taking her birth control pill and suggests they start trying to have another baby.
Alison and Noah don’t interact much in this episode. It’s really about how both of their marriages handle their infidelity, and whether or not they can move forward from this. Their stories follow similar rhythms – devastation, blackmail, and epic fights, but their brief words and faraway looks between the two of them said enough to keep the thought of their relationship fresh. There’s the moment at the Lockhart ranch when Noah takes Martin to say goodbye and he has a brief conversation with Cole. Noah is impatient to leave in both halves of the episode. Then there is the note Noah leaves for Alison on her bicycle. We find out that Alison never got to read it, which leaves this tiny possibility that there’s unfinished business between them. Their only other interaction was when Alison found out where Noah lived and peered into his house from across the street. Noah sees her and closes the curtains, surprised to see her, and she seems a little embarrassed that she’s been caught.
After last week’s complete break from Detective Jeffries’ investigation, he appears in both Noah and Alison’s parts of the show. In Noah’s half, he reads his book “Descent” with a furrowed brow and visits “The End” to check if Noah ever stayed there. In Alison’s half, he visits a spot on a bridge and takes a picture of the sign pointing toward “The End.” These details mean very little on their own, making me think we won’t know his official opinion or what information he found useful until the finale.
What made this episode feel so important was how differently Noah and Alison handle the end of the affair. Noah actively ended it, making decisions and pushing himself away from her as cleanly as he could. When he had the chance to come clean to Helen, he took it, and even though it was extremely painful, she didn’t leave him right away. That was the best he could hope for. Alison had all of the decisions about this affair made for her. She told Noah she wanted to start a new life with him, but was turned down. Then, Oscar broke the news to Cole about the affair, so she didn’t have to. When Cole processed it as an opportunity for a fresh start, she didn’t even verbally acknowledge that she was on board. It was just assumed. That passivity has characterized her recollections throughout the show, but here, the contrast was very clear. The affair fizzled out quickly, giving credence to the thought that they weren’t really in love, that they were just two dark people in pain looking for something to blow up their lives. They got their wish. Getting to watch them deal with the aftermath was extraordinary.
- There are now two pieces of fictional writing I desperately want to read: Noah’s second book “Descent” and his letter to Alison.
- “Next year, let’s just go camping. Or glamping.” I now know glamping is like a super fancy way to go camping and it’s genius.
- “Maybe your age is catching up with your legendary hard on.”
- “Fuck you.” “Thanks man.” That was actually a really sweet moment.
- “You’re waiting for the guy you married to happen.”
- “I know when something is about to hurt one of them. Who’s Noah?”
- “I don’t like change, but I don’t like war with my neighbors either.”
- “He’d fuck another man’s wife but he draws the line at theft?”
- “Was it something I did?” Cole’s monologue killed me.
In a season filled with powerful moments, this seventh installment contained the most devastating and surprising of them all.