After a lot of critical fanfare for its pilot (and despite some awful trailers on Showtime), The Affair needed to prove that it had staying power. Until this week, (and somewhat unusually), only that first episode had been available in advance for review, so the glowing remarks were all based on that powerhouse. “2” wasn’t quite as mesmerizing as “1,” (a.k.a. “Pilot,”) but it did fill out some more details of the world Noah and Alison are living in, and how each of them uniquely experiences it. Hit the jump for “I was never fun. You got more fun, which is the problem.”
One of the things that became a lot more clear in “2” than did in “1” is that Alison is a completely compelling character on her own, while Noah is really not that interesting. Noah’s story is augmented by those around him; his memories contain far more dynamic supporting characters than Alison’s do, while Alison is more prone to self-reflection and poetic thinking.
The most dynamic of those characters in Noah’s part is Helen. While Alison thinks of her (so far) as fussy, unhelpful, and a little cutting (which is natural given her attraction to Noah — she needs to demonize Helen), Helen in Noah’s memory is upbeat, charismatic, and practical. The natural way she handles the chaos of her children’s demands, while encouraging Noah, and fending off her neurotic parents is almost saintly, yet she does all of this with a charm and mirth that makes Noah seem all the more of a sad sack.
Just like in “1,” Noah’s recollections of Alison are of her with her hair down, less clothing on (although they both remember her cocktail dress at the party accurately), and in the role of seductress. In his version, she’s all bedroom eyes and emotional games (and in hers, Noah is the aggressor). But Noah is by no means an innocent bystander, which he seems to acknowledge on some level. Asking Alison to go to the beach with him was a gesture he knew would lead to something, and it did.
“2” showed how, on that tiny island, Alison and Noah are unable to physically avoid each other, even beyond the fact that they can’t stop thinking about each other. He sees her at the Farmer’s Market, and then again at the party his in-laws throw, and even in between, his family stops off at Lockhart Ranch, where Helen used to ride as a child, and which Cole now owns. In Alison’s story, we also see how Noah’s kids Whitney and Martin also become entangled with the Lockharts, as Whitney flirts with Scotty (who returns the favor), Cole’s younger brother, and Martin wants to be a ranch hand while his younger sister takes riding lessons. Despite some initial hesitation in both of their memories, Noah and Alison eventually succumb to the inevitability of seeing one another, and turn that into the inevitability of them being together physically.
While it’s interesting to see where their stories match (like regarding Bruce’s affair, Alison’s dress, and parts of the jam stand), it’s also worth considering that since they are clearly unreliable narrators, there’s more to the discrepancies in their story than just their interactions. Returning to Noah’s memory of Helen at the party, Alison’s experience with her shows Helen as a petty snob, who judges her in front of others about her tight dress. Essentially, anyone Noah or Alison talk to becomes warped through their own lens, and nothing can be taken as objective. In another example, Alison’s interactions with her mother-in-law, Helen, Helen’s mother, Mary Kate and others (including the men) suggests she feels constantly judged, which colors her interactions with them.
In the present day, Noah and Alison’s separate interrogations* suggest someone (probably Cole, although, who knows) was run down on the road. Noah thought it was an accident, and Alison offers up that the detective is looking at the wrong people: there were only locals at the party, and the accident (or murder) happened on a road that led to new, fancy vacation houses.
Comments like that, as well as Alison’s thoughts about the divide between the locals and the vacationers (as well as Noah mentioning several times and in several different ways how rich Helen’s family is) continue a thread the show also explores regarding class. Again, it wasn’t as strong in “2” as it was in “1,” but it will surely play a part in the continuing investigation.
Ultimately, The Affair did a nice job continuing with and solidifying its unique narrative structure, and building up the world around Alison and Noah as they get closer. It also revealed its core, in a statement both Noah and Alison recalled accurately: “Marriage means different things to different people.”
Episode Rating: B+
Musings and Miscellanea:
— * Noah asking the detective about how all of this is relevant was a moment that definitely needed to happen sooner than later. The whole concept has a suspension of disbelief to it timeline-wise, akin to the How I Met Your Mother mold. Because seriously, that’s a lot of extraneous info, as well as the most thorough detective in the world.
— I hate the title sequence. (Sorry, Fiona Apple). Between this and Homeland, I just want to watch True Detective and Boardwalk Empire‘s intros over and over again to cleanse my mental palette.
— Helen (or, Noah’s version of Helen) is awesome, and I love Maura Tierney. She doesn’t have to even try to be super sexy, she just is.
— Little elements like the introduction of Ruby as a bad influence on Whitney, and Noah calling her out on her dress and Ruby’s drinking, are great threads of world-building.
— “He just comes in and shits all over everything” – Helen about her father. Well guess what, your husband is about to do the same thing!
— “What the fuck was that?!” – Noah, in his best and most genuine moment yet.
— I didn’t really get what was going on with the fish delivery …
— Mary Kate is an interesting character, although she feels like a little too much of a caricature. I really like Alison’s mother-in-law, though, because that whole scene about her talking about Alison’s strength and about her and Cole having more children felt so real.
— More foreshadowing with Alison saying jokingly that she just hopes she doesn’t kill Cole, and then her almost getting sideswiped by a car on her walk home …
— “Married people don’t fuck like that” – Noah. Just because your wife laughs in your face, Noah …
— “You could live both lives” – Noah.