October 18, 2015, 10:00 p.m. (EST), Showtime
Most series have to do a fair bit of table setting at any given point in their run, moving the plot forward or setting up pieces that will be important down the road. These are rarely great episodes, but they serve a narrative function that makes them somewhat necessary. The Affair is a different beast, however, more structurally complex and narratively hard to pin down than the average series. So its somewhat disappointing that “203” feels mostly like a standard transitional episode.
The worst of this is in the Noah half of the story, which basically exists to seed plot points for later in the season and doesn’t even feel like it benefits all that much from Noah’s perspective. He proposes to Alison, gets book advice from Yvonne, and Whitney discovers he is living with his mistress. A recurring fact of Noah’s perspective is that he doesn’t come across as a particularly good or likeable guy, even in his own head. He’s sort of a jerk to Alison, and glib about the devastation he has wrought on his family to both Whitney and Max. Noah’s insecurity likely colors this, but the possibility exists that he’s also just an asshole, and not even his own self-mythologizing can cover that up entirely.
Alison’s half of the story is better because, while it also moves the plot along, it functions as a fully realized short story in the way the best segments of this show do. Alison’s grief, Robert’s sage advice, their hunt for the loose dog, all of it has the feeling of a particularly well-wrought piece of slice-of-life fiction. The story even has a throughline, with Alison finally swimming for the first time at its end, showing she is capable of making progress, even if Gabriel’s death still weighs on her and will never fully leave her.
The episode is also weighed down a bit, as any scene on this show is, by the presence of Whitney, a screaming catastrophe of a character who feels so out of touch with the rest of this show as to be basically laughable. Here, she curses Alison’s name, then tries to befriend her to get Scotty’s number out of her, then is immediately awful when Alison points out Scotty legally cannot be near her. Whitney is such an over-the-top caricature she basically torpedoes any story involving her, so let’s hope that she is soon shipped off to boarding school (though that Planned Parenthood reference at the end of the episode makes me think we will have to put up with her for a while longer.
“203” is lopsided, with Noah’s story falling flat, but Alison’s being consistently compelling. It also does some serious work to set up where this season is headed from here on out. Yet the whole thing feels oddly undercooked, as if the episode was written around the things that needed to be done here. It lacks the dreamlike reveries of the series’ best moments, and while Alison’s story comes close in places, the episode is too concerned with plot developments to ever fully breathe the way it should.
- “What would you say if I asked you to marry me?” “It would depend on the ring.”
- “Sorry, I don’t know any adults. How do they behave?”
- “Did something happen while I was gone? Something you didn’t tell me?” “A lot of things happen I don’t tell you.”
- “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” “This, probably.”
- “Oh, please, breakfast? Gross.”
- “Being alive is essentially a very lonely proposition. You have to carry your pack alone. Nobody gets as much help as they need.”
- “You hit a deer? Was Scott Lockhart riding the deer at the time?”
“203” is lopsided, with Noah’s story falling flat, but Alison’s being consistently compelling.