What would you call it, then?
Wenn, Walter McBride/ Getty Images
The Affair Season 2 Episode 5 recap
(Lainey: a quick note before Duana starts analysing the latest episode…because she would never tell you this herself. Sarah Treem is the showrunner of The Affair. And this is what she tweeted last week:
This is why I trust Duana in all things television. Please resume.)
The best and most terrible thing about considering your own life is that you’re still always inside yourself. You can’t get another perspective. You do what you assume is your level best, until, like Alison, you see from your peripheral vision who doesn’t see you the same way. Then you have to look at the situation and go ‘am I really so terrible and didn’t notice, or is this person judging me unfairly?’ Add in a power differential, such as the one Alison has with both Yvonne and Robert (or, let’s be honest, with Noah), and it’s almost impossible to see yourself clearly.
I’ve always loved the clothing choices on this show, especially as they differ from different perspectives. But even when we have only one memory to contend with, things are open to interpretation. We know Alison’s outfit for ‘work’ was comprised mainly of absent-mindedness. She’s not dressing to be sexy or alluring. But is she anyway? Where does one person’s reality stop and the other’s begin? If your visible pink lacy bra gives someone ideas of what you’re like in bed, is that something that’s on them, or on you? Is it ‘on’ anyone, or is it just how it is?
I feel like the answer to this is found in Yvonne’s study, when Alison first reads Noah’s book. It’s obviously about her, and it’s obviously about her sexual self—not her sensitive emotions or intelligence or wit. So, yeah, it would be a reductive portrait of anyone—we’re all more than one aspect of ourselves. But the pure anger she feels (I really hope she trashed Yvonne’s office in real life, and didn’t just fantasize about it) tells me Alison has been ‘the very definition of sex’ before. Or as Robert says, “I guess you just have this effect on men”. Even Oscar, the return of whom was one of my favourite parts of the episode, held up sleeping with Alison as a prize.
Obviously people see her this way, and obviously Alison resents it, and doesn’t want people to see her this way. That’s why, amazingly, she goes to see Helen. I know she thinks she’s looking for Noah, but I think Helen is the easier confrontation. “I’m not like this”, she says. “…Okay then,” says Helen, “but you seem like you are, and you’re screwed anyway.”
She hasn’t changed Helen’s mind, and in that moment she realizes she’ll never change Noah’s, either. Alison realizes she can’t control how anyone sees her.
It makes sense that she heads back to Montauk to see Cole, because he’s the only person who can see Alison differently. Sure, they have, or had, an active and exciting sex life. But she was also a wife and a mother and a part of his big bustling family. He knows who else she is, or can be.
But Cole also knows what it’s like to deal with people’s perceptions. Like Luisa’s boss, labeling him ‘Ranch-hand’, stretching out the syllables to make them seem obscene, and seeing him as the kind of person who would want to come over for a casual f*ck, just because he’s cute.
But then…he is the kind of person who comes over for a casual f*ck. This is what’s so great. You can deny people’s perceptions of you, but only as far as you don’t fulfill them. If someone says you’re lazy and you don’t complete your work on time, that’s tacit agreement. The reasons why are just texture. Conversely, Luisa tosses off her line about a son never believing that Cole might have already had one, and we’re reminded that he loves and grieves Gabriel in isolation, just as Alison does.
That’s why I’m most fascinated by Scotty and his attacks on Cole—because who knows you like family? Obviously on one level, Scotty’s needling is self-serving, since it seems like he’s very experienced at guilting people into giving him what he wants. But while Cole is disgusted by Scotty’s drug-dealing and naked grifting, he doesn’t argue in the face of being called narcissistic or of making it all about him. He argues about reality (I did not f*ck Luisa, I will not sell this house), but not about Scotty’s impressions of him, and of ‘us’, the Lockhart family.
We’ve heard a few times this season that Cole is distant from his family, if not estranged—and the beautiful clincher comes from the amazing Richard Schiff, explaining that Cole ‘stole Scotty’s idea’, give or take how an idea for a club turned into a restaurant called the Lobster Roll, staffed by Oscar and the cold resentment whose return I’ve been anticipating all season.
So is Cole actually out for his own gain, to the exclusion of everyone else? I’ve been inclined to think of him as the biggest victim in all of this, the most circumstantially involved. But of course, that’s partly my perception—assigning Cole traits whether they’re the true measure of him or not. Which means that for drama’s sake, I guess I want to be wrong.
Attached - Ruth Wilson and Maura Tierney at Opening night of King Charles III last night in New York.