TV review

The Wives of ‘The Affair’ Swap Notes: Recap, Season 3 Episode 8

The Daily Beast

January 16, 2017

Oh really, Alison (Ruth Wilson) as a trainer for grief counselors? Of all the outlandish and strange things The Affair has tried to convince us of over the past three seasons, having the drama’s most unstable, impulsive, miserable, and self-involved human—and that is some competition she is up against—now elevated to such a position of responsibility seems laughable, even ludicrous.

But then this was a really odd episode.

Did anyone else think the opening scenes, from Alison’s perspective, featuring Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno) suddenly painting Alison as a devoted, reformed mom who should be granted shared custody, was just plain weird?

The last we saw, Luisa was undermining Alison at every opportunity, deriding her parenting skills, and menacing her into being as good a parent as she could be. And now, suddenly Luisa was casting Alison as parent of the year.

Alison was as surprised by this as the viewers: “I thought she still hated me,” she said to her lawyer. So did we.
As a result of Luisa’s intervention, Alison won shared custody of Joanie, and then popped over to see Cole (her ex-husband, Luisa’s present husband, played by Joshua Jackson).

She went bearing coffee and muffins, but he—working on his new home, still a wooden skeleton—was not in the mood to see her, convinced that he couldn’t trust her not to run off again, as she had before. Cole snidely congratulated her for her divorce from Noah (Dominic West), as she lied she had seen the latter for just five minutes to ratify their divorce. They hadn’t. They spent a wild, sexy, intimate, moving, revelatory night together.

And Noah doesn’t know that Alison had just had sex with Cole either.

Then came Alison’s transformation into wise angel. Off she went to the therapy center she herself went to when she lost her mind where another young woman had just lost her baby like Alison had years before. (This young woman was black, the second black character in this episode—a dual sighting so rare it reminded you how few black people there are on The Affair.)

This young woman was poorer than Alison and had suicidal feelings. Alison’s advice was to surround herself with her dead baby’s mementoes, accept things would not be the same again, and to choose to live because it was “incredible” to be alive.

This all came from the lips of a person who has been a walking car wreck ever since we first met her, a masterclass in misery, dysfunction, and drippy self-absorption.

Here she was, dispensing advice and wisdom like a breezy Yoda.

“Everyone assumes life is given, but you and I know that it’s not.

“You and I both know that breath can end, so we know life is a gift.”

Alison helped the grief-stricken young woman much more than she has ever helped herself.

On her way back from the facility, Alison thought it would be a great idea to pop into the Lobster Roll restaurant to tell Cole that she was going to take up the facility’s offer to train other parents with her alleged expertise.

Yes, great idea. A whole arena of unwitting couples for Alison to bring trauma too, either by giving them the benefit of her wisdom, or shagging whomsoever she chooses, then feeling terrible about it! Good going, mental health care facility!

Cole, reasonably, noted that Alison brought chaos wherever she went. How would this work—the facility is in New Jersey, a four-hour daily commute—if she was sharing custody of Joanie, their daughter?

Then, the best part of the episode: Alison and Helen (Maura Tierney) met at a bar. The last time we saw them together it was not pretty, so this was a scene to savor. Helen was presumably in town to see her parents, and the last time we saw her she was tearful after Noah had forcibly had sex with her.

There was some needling from Helen about Joanie not being Noah’s child—“I loved hearing that”—and Alison was surprised to hear Noah was staying at Helen’s, if only she knew how and why he had ended up there, broken and mad.

Helen was equally surprised to hear that Noah had seen Alison too, although she lied, as she did to Cole, that it was momentary to sign the divorce papers.

“You’re divorced from Noah, and so am I. Cheers,” said Helen in a wry toast, before asking Alison a series of questions that struck at the heart of the show. These questions are surfacing after being possibly sexually assaulted by her husband—she doesn’t know that Alison endured something similar.

Who was the real Noah, Alison asked: the mature, in command, ambitious man of Alison’s memory, or the lazy, apathetic husband who always needed galvanizing of Helen to do anything?

Maybe he was both: two different men with two different women.

This split vision accorded to the show’s split structure. As Helen said, “I think people see what they want to see in other people.”

Helen thought Noah would go back to her, even after he married Alison. Alison apologized for having the affair with Noah. Helen told her it wasn’t her fault: men need to feel important in relationships, and Noah hadn’t. (And women don’t?)

And then, finally, Alison wanted to tell her the truth, from her point of view, of what happened the night Scotty died. Alison thinks she pushed Scotty into the path of a car driven by Noah.

But the car was being driven by Helen, which explained why Helen did not want to talk about it. So neither woman realized the truth about that night.

Back at home, a cop told Alison that Cole had been arrested for Noah’s stabbing: His alibi hadn’t worked out.
In the second half of the episode, from Cole’s perspective, we saw Cole and Luisa talking outside the courtroom: Luisa’s change of heart toward Alison was down to Luisa supposedly being realistic about Alison’s place in Joanie’s life.

In Cole’s memory of Alison visiting him at the house project, she brought doughnuts, not muffins and instead of talking about Noah, he recalled them edging around the topic of sleeping together.

That building project is based on an out-of-date survey, meaning a delay in the work. At home Cole didn’t want to talk about a plan to adopt or find a surrogate (she cannot have children).

Cole still loves Alison, of course. The next day another unexpected font of wisdom, Oscar (Darren Goldstein), guessed Cole had had sex with Alison, told him not to be a jerk, and stick with Luisa. Alison would screw him up.

The lesson of his new life, said the apparently-no-longer-an-asshole Oscar, was to realize that marriage and being with someone was the recognition of the best partner offering the best kind of security. Luisa was that person for Cole, he said.

“Shut it down,” was Oscar’s parting shot—a reference to Cole’s presently bylaw-defying home-building project, but also to his affair/lust for Alison.

Cole’s memory of his meeting with Alison at the Lobster Roll after her encounter at the mental health facility was pretty much in accordance with hers, but the result was that he went home a little too enthusiastic to start a family with Luisa.

She now wanted to go slower, probably seeing her husband’s ties to Alison. Then the police came to tell him his at-home alibi for the night of Noah’s stabbing hadn’t worked out. They knew he’d been in New Jersey. He was arrested.

At the cells—aww, caged, just like Noah, but at the local police station, no obvious sadists—Alison went to see him. Cole told her he hadn’t been anywhere near Noah, but had gone to the mental health facility to get a professional opinion about Alison.

If he admitted that to the authorities, he would have to admit to the truth about still loving Alison, he said.

No he wouldn’t, this viewer thought. This made no sense in the scheme of the show, either.

Cole was tired of pretending he didn’t love Alison, but also wasn’t Noah, he told her. He was a good man, and would not leave Luisa. Yes, Alison said, she was impulsive, depressed, she had mood swings, and was not an easy person to love. “I love you. I always have and I always will,” she told him.

Back at home, Cole told Luisa that he went to the facility for information that would help in the custody case (which, presumably, he could have told thew authorities and no-one would have guessed he loved Alison, as he claimed). Luisa, rightly (as his wife and intimate, however), said, “I think you’re still lying.”

Then–and the writing of this episode really was just loopy and bizarre–Cole got out of bed in the middle of the night, without Luisa noticing, and went to meet Alison on a pier.

More anguished, cul-de-sac conversation ensued. They keep going back to each other, but it’s all impossible.

He’s impossible, she’s impossible, everything is impossible. Alison, suggesting they be together, recommended he be the “happy asshole” by leaving Luisa, not the “miserable hero” by staying with her.

This again made no sense, as Alison had just played the “miserable hero” rather than “happy asshole” by not deciding to be with Noah, as he had asked, and as she really wanted to do.

So, Cole went home, and made eggs. “This is my home. Our home. If you’ll still have me,” he said to Luisa, righteous miserable hero that he is.

She would still have him, though as they hugged his eyes to camera told us his heart was heavy with grief at the choice he had made. And us Affair fans? Well, we’re just baffled.