The Affair, Season 1, Episode 8, “8”
Sunday, December 7, 2014, 10 PM (EST), Showtime
Four months after Noah and Alison ended their affair, their marriages are in much different places. Noah desperately wants Helen to forgive him so they can move on while Alison and Cole seem to have reconnected. “8” is a quiet, sweet, achingly romantic, and tragic episode that comes after one of the best of the season. At a much slower pace, it seems to cover much less, but emotionally it propels things forward into new territory. Last week called into question whether or not Noah and Alison were in love or if they were each other’s convenient and timely escape from their screwed up lives. This episode answered that question pretty definitively, but at the same time, it spoke to how complicated the show is willing to let their relationship get.
We first see Noah teaching his high school English class a lesson on Romeo and Juliet. He asks the class why Shakespeare switched from a comedy to a tragedy halfway through. He appears to be in his element here, charmingly coaxing the analysis he wanted out of his students. The gist of his analysis is that when adults, who are imperfect, meddle in the affairs of innocent children, true love can’t survive. This obviously resonates with him personally. Then he goes out on a date with Helen. She has good news about the New York Times wanting to cover her story, and he came armed with a “sticking it out” gift that he hopes can double for a congratulatory gift. To Noah’s disappointment, she adamantly declines. It’s clear that there’s a lot of unresolved anger and hurt between them.
At therapy, we learn that Noah is ready to move on and desperately wants Helen to forgive him. She goes into a calm and immensely hurtful monologue about how she settled for Noah because she thought Noah was safe. That he would never hurt her. That she could brag to all those who questioned her choice after she got the happily ever after she predicted. He assumed Helen married him because she loved him, but you can see on his face that this truth bomb has completely shattered the last shred of hope he was holding onto. When she complains that she’s too busy, he jumps at the chance to represent her at Bruce’s lifetime achievement ceremony back in Montauk. Even though he swears up and down that he won’t see Alison, the painful truths Helen just hurled at him made him vulnerable to rekindling things with Alison.
It doesn’t help that Bruce Butler went through the exact same thing Noah is going through with Alison. He had an affair with a student when he was a visiting professor at Michigan and he hasn’t stopped thinking about her. He channeled his angst into the only one of his novels to be shortlisted for the Pulitzer. This isn’t the first time Bruce has given Noah valuable writing advice despite it coming from a mean-spirited place. Bruce is a dick, but he’s an undeniably compelling character. It’s hard to see Noah’s as the deeply insecure character he is without his condescending presence.
On Alison’s side of things, she doesn’t seem to have Noah on the mind at all. The Lockhart family is in full on family holiday mode. They’re also preparing the house for sale, so questions like what records to get rid of or what to do with Gabriel’s old chest of toys come up. It’s actually a quite cunning and passive aggressive move from Cherry. She’s trying to get under Alison’s skin so that she’ll convince Cole to further delay the sale of the ranch. Cole is still clinging to the idea that the ranch can continue in tact if they find the right buyer. The rest of the family just wants to get the money as soon as possible. As Cole and Alison snuggle in bed, it’s clear that their marriage is on the upswing. She feels safe when he says “I have everything I always wanted. Right here.” She isn’t pregnant yet, but they’re still trying.
Noah and Alison run into each other at Bruce’s lifetime achievement award ceremony. Alison is working the event with the catering staff. Noah remembers her seeming cool and confident about seeing him again in her tight and revealing black outfit. Alison tried to get out of the job when she realized she might see the Soloways again, but is unsuccessful. Once they see each other again, in both recollections, it’s clear that neither one of them immediately wants to back off this chance to start again.
Alison’s grandmother has a heart attack. Alison’s dealing with the very real possibility that she will die throughout her half of the episode. In Noah’s memory, it came as a shock during the party, but on her side, she had known since the morning. She pointedly declines Cole’s offer to accompany her to the hospital, but doesn’t send Noah away when he shows up. She’s implicitly choosing his support over her husband’s. Even though they’ve connected on death before, it wasn’t until this episode that I really believed that Noah and Alison needed each other because of their particular experiences with death. It’s pretty clear that Helen has never really lost anyone or anything important to her. Even though Cole has plenty of darkness in him, he can’t talk about death with the nuance that Noah can.
The scene in the hospital goes down in very different ways from Noah and Alison’s perspectives, but it takes each of them to the same point: they’re in love. In both memories, Noah drops her off at the hospital, but they disagree on whose idea it was for Noah to come inside. In Noah’s recollection, he remembers hesitating but joining her inside after a brief conversation with Bruce about whether or not he still thinks about the woman he had an affair with. Alison is sleeping in the chair next to her grandmother, but Noah wakes her up when he senses that her grandmother is very close to death. The way he looks at her, so protective and admiring as she sleeps, conveys his love for her without him having to say it aloud. In Alison’s recollection, he says that he loves her, and she replies that she loves him, too. It’s a simple, sad, understated moment that would’ve come off as cheesy and uninspired in any other show. This one has developed these characters so well that the moment illustrated a true fact about love: it isn’t always a moment filled with passion and elation. Sometimes it’s just a reluctant acknowledgment of the truth.
Alison reaches out to Cole on what to do about her grandmother, and he isn’t helpful. He just says she shouldn’t do it if she doesn’t want to. Noah tells her the hard truth, but it’s what she needed. That’s love. It may not be as pure as the love between Romeo and Juliet, but I have to think Noah’s analysis at the beginning of the episode applies much more to the affair than it does to his marriage to Helen. That’s encouraging for how high the stakes will get during rest of the season and for the future of the series. They have strong enough marriages to withstand the initial blow of extramarital sex, but I can’t imagine any marriage can outlast extramarital true love.
8” is a quiet, sweet, achingly romantic, and tragic episode that comes after one of the best of the season.