The Affair, Season 1, Episode 10, “10” Season Finale
Sunday, December 21, 2014, 10 PM (EST), Showtime
This season finale tried really hard to remind everyone where the show started in the first episode. Noah in a pool, flirting with a pretty girl but resisting for the sake of his marriage. Cole fucking Alison from behind on the hood of a car. With pretty obvious dialogue and imagery, there were tons of little reminders all over this episode that these characters have changed a lot since episode one. Unfortunately, what’s really different besides the characters’ psyches is that the first episodes were so careful. They were so meticulous about articulating who these characters were and how their worlds worked. This finale, and by extension the last two episodes, were crammed with plot. The problem is that the strength of the show is really in developing and destroying relationships, which felt rushed in favor of the murder mystery plot, which is frankly boring in comparison. The cast is so strong they can make me forget everything else that’s going on when their characters are allowed to spill their guts in emotionally raw and riveting monologues. Without brilliant and devastating performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West, Joshua Jackson, and Maura Tierney, the missteps of this finale could have derailed the entire series.
Noah and Alison spend much of the episode apart. When we start with Noah’s perspective, he’s happily living the separated dad life. He lives in a tiny apartment where he brings a few women, which isn’t difficult because he’s such a charmer. He gets so brazen with his fucking that he does it in school, which gets him sent to a sort of disciplinary purgatory for tenured teachers who the system doesn’t want to continue teaching but they can’t fire. This paid time is a gift to him, even though his peers are bored out of their minds. He uses the four months or so to finish his novel, which his publisher Harry finds “extraordinary.” Harry thinks he can get Noah as much as half a million dollars for it. Before he leaves, the subject of Noah’s separation comes up. When asked if he misses Helen, he says “not yet” while he flashes back to a memory of Alison in bed.
Things are frosty between Helen and Noah until a beautiful, stirring, angry, and devastating capitulation by Helen, begging him to come home and resume their life together. She feels like she held up her end of the bargain and that he didn’t give her a chance to address what he wanted to change about her. Even though it’s clear that Noah still cares deeply about Helen, he’s moved on. Since he can’t say what she wants to hear, he holds her and tells her that everything will be okay. Then they start making out and have sex. It’s a weak moment for him, but a moment of relief for Helen. She thinks they’re on the same page again.
Helen now knows that Scotty is one who got Whitney pregnant because the video of Noah attacking Scotty at Planned Parenthood has been uncovered in the private investigation Helen’s mother ordered for the divorce proceedings. Together, Helen and Noah confront Whitney about Scotty and reveal that they want to press statutory rape charges. Whitney reveals that she loves Scotty, made him do it, and doesn’t want him to get in trouble. Instead of going back to his place, Noah spends the night, but the gulf between him and Helen is still too wide for them to cross. In the morning, he gets a call from Alison alerting him that Whitney is in Montauk at the Lockhart ranch.
While Noah has been living the single life and finishing his novel, Alison has spent time with her mom at some sort of yoga and meditation retreat or commune with her mother. She seems refreshed and at peace. Back in Montauk, her friend Phoebe is back from her music tour and needs to be caught up on how Alison blew up her life. They have a very transparent conversation about how loneliness can come from being single and being married, that one is not necessarily better than the other. Phoebe’s never been married and Alison’s never been single, but they both felt alone. The most interesting bit of this conversation comes when Alison remembers the moment with Noah on the beach early on, back before they had sex for the first time. This memory was missing from her side during that episode, so it seemed like Noah either made it up or she was hiding it. The fact that it comes up now makes me think that she’s worked through enough on her wellness retreat that she’s being honest with herself for the first time.
Mary Kate is at Phoebe’s house waiting to go surfing with her friend. It creates a very tense reunion between her and Alison, who used to be close in earlier episodes. She isn’t quick to forgive Alison for abandoning Cole and by extension, the Lockhart family. Alison asks for a ride to her house, but tells Mary Kate she never has to talk to her again.
Back at home, the confrontation with Cole starts out quiet and sad. He’s fixed up the house while she was gone. While he plays with his ring, he asks why she ignored him for months while he tried to get in touch. He’s frustrated by her inarticulate explanation, and why after four months she doesn’t know what to say. She offers to give the house to him because she wants him to have something that he loves. He replies that he loves her and just wants her. Alison has made up her mind that what’s broken between them can’t be fixed, and that she doesn’t want to put in the hard work to survive with him. He asks if she’s with Noah, and she says no, that leaving was about her. What makes it so hard for Alison is how much Gabriel looked like Cole and how being around Cole is a constant reminder of what she lost. At this point they’re still calm, but he blows up after she apologizes for Gabriel’s death but implies that he had a role as well. It’s an extremely devastating moment. Their fight is interrupted by Mary Kate bursting in and informing them that Whitney is at the ranch, and that it’s about Scotty.
Noah and Alison’s versions of the event at the Lockhart ranch are extremely different, but reveal important information about their characters that clarifies the intention of the different points of view in a way 9 and a half episodes weren’t able to do. Noah remembers Cherry trying to convince Helen not to press charges, but being so distracted by Alison that he wasn’t fully engaged. Cole was nowhere to be found, but after Scotty comes down the steps asking if Cherry “got rid of her yet” (the “her” being Whitney) Noah attacks him. What stops him from choking Scotty to death is a warning shot from Cole’s gun. The last thing he remembers is getting off of Scotty, seeing Helen on one side of him, Alison on the other, and Cole pointing a gun directly at his face.
Alison remembers being forced to call Noah by Cole, that he wanted him there specifically. When they’re all together, Cole pulls a gun on Whitney, Helen, and Noah because Alison is standing closer to him. He begins by asking Noah how he could fuck Alison, also asking how he would feel if he fucked Helen. The tense confrontation is steered toward Alison when she asks Cole to point the gun at her. “I’m my own person. I make my own decisions. He did not take me away from you. I chose him. If you want to kill someone, kill me please.” Then it becomes a continuation of their fight earlier, and how their marriage died when Gabriel did. She’s able to talk Cole down by invoking Gabriel’s memory and how he would want them to be happy. When Helen and Whitney turn to leave, Noah stays.
It’s a shocking scene from both perspectives. What these differing perspectives told me is that the show is trying to make a statement about memory. Under extremely tense circumstances such as Cole pulling a gun on multiple people, that each one will focus on their involvement and how they affected the situation. All Noah remembers is his anger towards Scotty for hurting his daughter, and how he feels caught between two women who need him. Alison remembers the end of her relationship with Cole as being explicitly about Gabriel, and how it was probably going to take an extremely tense situation like that for the truth to come out. It was buried so deep down that she needed months on her own to admit it. For Noah, this moment was a crossroads. For Alison, it was catharsis.
Then, at the last minute, the show flashes forward to Noah and Alison in a big fancy house, talking about their schedules and Noah’s success. They have a daughter. They look comfortable and happy. It’s a stunning reveal. The bliss is short lived, because Detective Jeffries shows up a moment later to arrest Noah for Scotty’s murder. After the past couple of episodes, it’s been pretty clear that Detective Jeffries has been narrowing in on Noah. After he dismisses Noah from the second interrogation, he runs into the mechanic who may provide damning information against Noah. He stops him before he goes inside and agrees to pay him $20,000 to lie and say he’s never met him. Because the mechanic was recording the conversation, Detective Jeffries now has enough circumstantial evidence to charge Noah with Scotty’s murder. That’s along with the video of Noah attacking Scotty at Planned Parenthood and his confirmed presence at The End. Before he hauls Noah off, Alison promises to get him out of this. The way she says that, with so much confidence, makes me wonder if he’s covering for her.
It’s a hell of a cliffhanger to end an incredibly uneven finale. There was always the danger that this finale could retroactively change the perception of the entire season. Now that all of the episodes are on the table, the murder mystery element is by far the weakest aspect of the show and should’ve been solved in this episode as opposed to revealing that Alison and Noah end up together. There’s still so much ground to cover between the Cole gun incident and Noah and Alison on that couch together, but I honestly don’t care about any of that anymore. That’s a shame, because it seems insane to rush the separations from Helen and Cole and wrap up those relationships with just a couple of epic and beautifully written fights. What saves the show is the quality of the acting, but the pace and the lack of care given to Helen and Cole’s perspectives seems completely unfair to two compelling characters, ones that are very necessary to the success of the show.
Without brilliant and devastating performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West, Joshua Jackson, and Maura Tierney, the missteps of this finale could have derailed the entire series.