November 15, 2015, 10:00 p.m. (EST), Showtime
Without a doubt, Cole Lockhart is the most isolated part of The Affair. His perspectives have felt adrift from the main narrative all season, and have threatened to go too far into maudlin melodrama at times. Throughout, his story has been anchored by Joshua Jackson’s solid, deeply human portrayal of Cole as a man who has lost everything and is furious at the world for all it has taken from him. “207” features the first Cole story that entirely worked for me, in which he struggles with his own desire to completely self-destruct and ultimately decides to try to live in the world once again. The Cole half of the episode is a near-perfect short story about a man at the end of his rope who decides not to hang himself, but to try to pull himself back up.
Cole’s journey takes him to his family’s Thanksgiving, and to Luisa’s, and its in his portion of “207” that the episode’s setting on the holiday really coalesces. Cole lies to Luisa about his intention of going to his family’s celebration, but he ends up there anyway, implicitly forgiving his family as they implicitly forgive him. He learns a dark (and perhaps a touch too archetypical) secret and that Cherry thinks that secret has cursed the family forever. But learning of that darkness in his family’s past has the opposite effect on Cole, pushing him to be better than his past. Cole has always seen his family as a strong, dedicated lot who he might disappoint, but now he has begun to see them more accurately, as a dysfunctional group whose self-destructive qualities he shares. He wants to be better than he has been, and so he goes to Luisa, tells her he loves her, and tries to start a life not built around ways he can lacerate himself and wallow in his pain.
Alison’s half of the episode feels more conventional, even if the time jump and the material around the big Noah-Alison fight makes that fight slightly more layered than it otherwise might be. Yes, the fight prominently features the two rehashing events we have seen and disagreeing, with Max literally saying they have different opinions on the same events, but much of Alison’s story is about the way she feels unmoored in the new life she has built to Noah’s specifications. She doesn’t fit at his book party. Her apartment has fully furnished bedrooms for all of Noah’s children, but the nursery is still an office. She has sold her house for him, but he can’t even be bothered to pick up the turkey dinner. And when push comes to shove, he will use his distortion of her to sell more copies of his book.
Increasingly, Noah Solloway is the villain of The Affair, a leech who bled Helen until he abandoned her and is now sucking Alison dry. He’s venal, obnoxious, and cares about Alison only insofar as she exists to please him. It’s a deeply unappealing portrayal of the character, but one I can get behind so long as the show leans into it. If Noah is headed for some sort of redemption in the immediate future, a lot of his awfulness will be more difficult to swallow, but if he is just the selfish son of a bitch who sets this story in motion, or if he has a change of heart that develops over the run of this show, I can be interested in watching this obtuse asshole stumble around causing pain at every turn.
Alison’s story is best when Noah exists in it as an abstraction, when he is felt in her life but not actively present in it. Its then she can really wonder about the role she plays, and whether she is living in the happy ending she has hoped for. It’s these little moments that make “207” one of the better episodes of this season so far. Both Cole and Alison’s perspectives function as compact short stories, building on our previous knowledge of the characters, and moving them forward, but also existing as complete narratives about a moment in time for each of them. This is what The Affair can do when it is at its best.
- “So you’re going to say the book is true. That’s insane. That’s not me.”
- “Nothing is sacred to you, nothing.”
- “Just because you love somebody does not mean they have to love you back. I’m sorry.”
This is what The Affair can do when it is at its best.