October 19, 2014, 10 PM (EST), Showtime
In the second episode of the already extraordinary The Affair, we learn much more about the worlds Noah and Alison inhabit and their possible motivations for engaging in the affair and potential crimes. Their lives are much more intertwined on this tiny little island than they originally thought as evidenced by many interactions between their two families. Even though they both tell the investigator they tried to avoid each other and didn’t think their relationship would progress past that first night, it’s clear they’ll have plenty of opportunities to see each other. The show is inching along, making sure we understand each character and the different family dynamics before Noah and Alison’s affair spirals out of control. So much world-building happens in this episode that their pivotal first kiss comes off as almost an afterthought.
Again, Noah gets to tell his side of the story first. He’s still talking to this mysterious unnamed investigator but now we’re a week out from the first day he met Alison. At this point, he didn’t know Alison was married. He thought that “She seemed like the loneliest girl in the world” and that she was “bad news.” Even though he’s telling the investigator that he tried to avoid her in voice over, we see him running around town to all of the places he might see her again. In the shower, he masturbates while he thinks about her. When his wife wants to join him, he blows her off. It’s clearer now that he’s unhappy with his life because he’s getting a lot of internal and external pressure to deliver a great second book and his restlessness may be why he’s so drawn to Alison. In his memories, she’s sexy, confident, and flirtatious while he seems desperate and out of control.
Alison’s account is much more about establishing her support system and how she relates to the town. She thinks of herself as scenery for the tourists. She pulls away from people and isolates herself in her grief because it feels safer to be alone. Nothing is more telling of her emotional state than “They’d be terrified if they knew what I was really thinking.” It seems that she hasn’t been around town much since her son’s passing. Every time she talks to someone she hasn’t seen in a while, they offer support, words of encouragement, admiration, or some sort of solution to move beyond her tragedy. They recognize her strength and she in turn feels that she has to be strong for everyone around her. In an especially moving scene, her mother-in-law offers to let her and Cole stay at her home if they decide to have another child. This implied that their relationship is quite strong, but also that there may have been some negligence involved in his death.
Noah and Alison finally meet again at the farmer’s market where Alison is selling jam with her sister-in-law Mary Kate. From his perspective, he’s nervous to see her but she plays it cool. Her account plays up his charm and his eagerness to see her again. They are thrust back together because Alison is part of the catering staff at the big party Bruce Butler (Noah’s rich father-in-law/famous writer) is throwing at his mansion. This time, the facts of their interaction hew much closer together, but the subtle differences are even more telling. Noah is feeling wounded after blatant insults from his father-in-law, and Alison seems to be swept up in the passion Noah shows for her. When they venture out onto the beach together, both versions make them feel closer to each other. For Noah, it’s about the promise of adventure and something exciting shaking him out of his boredom. For Alison, she’s so lost inside of herself that Noah’s ability to distract her from her turmoil is extremely attractive. His theory about time travel was pretty seductive, I must admit. Even though the first kiss they share felt inevitable because of the title of the show, there was so much built up sexual tension between them that I was on the edge of my seat each time. I especially enjoyed the close-ups of Noah’s face in Alison’s memory.
The commentary on marriage is quite prominent in this episode. Once again, Noah’s wife Helen looks like a saint in his recollection evidenced by how effortlessly she manages the desires of everyone in the family, how she still wants to have fun, hot sex with him. Noah and Helen enjoy typical marriage banter throughout the day – they are already tired of hearing each other’s’ stories over and over again. When she asks him which dress she should wear, she goes with the one he doesn’t pick. Noah also sees Helen as subtly pressuring him. When he tries to express his writerly angst, she laughs it off. When he’s forced to prematurely explain his book to his father-in-law’s agent, she gives thinly veiled criticism of his former book while trying to steer the new book in a more accessible and commercial direction. To the investigator, Noah reveals why he married Helen in the first place. He was fresh out of college, his mother had just died, and his dad was a drunk. He wanted to be close to Helen’s beautiful, rich, artsy life more than creating his own life. He makes it clear that he loved her, but that he may have rushed into things for the wrong reasons. Alison’s interaction with Cole differs greatly from how she describes her marriage to Cole on the beach with Noah. She warmly embraces him when she visits him at the ranch, but she tells Noah that “I used to think marriage was one person I put above everyone else. Above myself. Now I just hope I don’t kill him.” This makes me think that the way she paints herself in her memory may be masking a much more manipulative and shrewd person underneath.
Speaking of the mystery, we got a lot of juicy clues this week. We now know that the victim was a male who was run down by a car. Originally, Noah thought it was an accident. It appears that Alison knew the victim quite well. My bet is on one of the cute Lockhart brothers we met at the ranch and the train station – Scotty, Hal, and Caleb . Another mystery cropped up this week that was so subtle I almost missed it. When Alison starts her day, she picks up a cooler with fish on ice from a fisherman named Will. She hasn’t seen him in a while, perhaps since the accident involving her son. She then transports the very heavy cooler to her brother-in-law Caleb’s job at the train station, where he takes the cooler in the back before returning it to Alison, seemingly lighter. Then she makes sure he locks the door behind him. Clearly, there’s something illegal going on here. Cole appears to be the one orchestrating it all.
Noah and Alison’s versions of the events don’t differ as wildly as last week’s, but the subtle differences seem to pull them even further apart emotionally. I don’t think the show will continue with this back and forth format for the duration of the series, or even this full season. It seems to be a device unique to the interrogation process. I think we’ll always get flashbacks to the early days of the affair, but I see the show delving deeper into the repercussions of whatever the accident/murder was in the present. I think there’s a larger conspiracy here and I can’t wait to find out more about it. More than anything, I’m already extremely invested in Noah and Alison’s love story. Even if it turns out to be just about sex or they’re using each other for their own ends, I’m yearning to find out more. The phenomenal acting obscures and complicates the already intricate plot so much that I’m tempted to give up guessing what’s to come and just enjoy the ride. The show’s success hinges on how well all of this mystery set up is paid off, but based on the meticulous nature of these first two episodes, I have faith that it’ll all be worth it.
- I love the opening credits sequence with a really unsettling Fiona Apple song and lots of tumultuous wave crashing. It’s sexy and scary.
- I can’t wait to hear what the detective thinks about Noah’s second book.
- Alison and Mary-Kate’s conversation about sex implies Alison hasn’t been very sexually adventurous in the past.
- The look of terror on Noah’s face when he sees Cole ride up on that horse was pretty great.
- It’s revealed that the Lockhart Ranch is strapped for cash.
- Noah’s teenage daughter Whitney gets a lot of attention this week. She seems to be getting involved with Scotty, Cole’s brother. He’s much too old for her because she’s 16.
- Noah doesn’t know Alison is married until just before they kiss in his recollection, but in her version, Alison says she doesn’t wear a ring because she gets better tips without it. When she says “Surprise” in Noah’s memory turns in a funny moment of bewilderment for him when he mutters to himself “What the fuck was that?”
- “Something totally fucked up is happening.” Turns out Helen knows about her father’s affair from way back in the day. Her mother is aware, too.
- Helen’s mother is pretty hilarious but also maternal. Her best lines come from her conversation with Alison during her recollection. “You’re that poor little girl who lost her baby. I wondered what happened to you ever since I read that article.” “Make sure you eat well, exercise, and if you need a valium, let me know.” “If I promised you a grand, would you spill a drink on him?”
- “That’s your problem, Noah. You have no faith in people.”
- “Did you just call me a shmuck, Bruce?”
- Alison seems to be quite intimated by Helen’s elegance and she comes off as more of a snob than in Noah’s version.
- “Married people don’t fuck like that.”
- The line “Marriage means different things to different people” appears in both sides of the story word for word, but with much different connotations.
The show is inching along, making sure we understand each character and the different family dynamics before Noah and Alison’s affair spirals out of control.