The Affair, Season 3 Episode 1 and 2 recap
I would imagine there is significant overlap between the people who watch The Affair and a certain other show that is about the intimate wonderful terrible ways of family. I felt like a few days of distance would help us to process Gilmore a little more, and meanwhile, The Affair is here as a nice, light palate cleanser.
Two episodes into the third season, the position we’re supposed to take is kind of unclear – which may be a season-long thesis, as underlined by the talk about consent in the professor’s house (after she refers to an event that spurred a protest as ‘a bit murky’. You don’t say!). Sure, it was a little obvious to talk about the maybe-it-was-assault scene between Alison and Noah via the assumedly-same scene in Noah’s book, but I actually really welcome this development, both story-wise for the show, and because this is where we’re at in the world. These are the conversations that need to be had, and art is supposed to provoke conversations, and I am here for it.
I’m less here for the vaguely-accented professor who of course thinks Noah is intriguing and dangerous, which in addition to being wrong is just so boring…but thankfully, Noah agrees that he’s basically the worst and more or less deserves to get stabbed. I’m overstating it, of course, but he seems generally accepting of the fact that everything sucks, and that he might only see his kids when they feel the obligation is unavoidable. Cut to the joke that’s sitting right there about his next kid, the barely-of-age student Sarah Ramos is playing, but I like what she makes him think about (“I don’t need you to push me out of my comfort zone. I’ve never been inside one”) and the idea that he has no idea which end is up anymore is refreshing. Oh, so jail was hard? You don’t say.
The emphasis on children, though, and who sees them and who doesn’t, continues through the second episode. Helen is trying to be a good mother, though her lover Vik thinks she has too many to count. For the record, I do not buy Vik, or his stupid cactus, or anything he’s selling, but the visual of the two of them in the cab, separated by a giant vulva, made me bark out loud. I love the guy who won’t compromise on art-buying just because you hate the artist who’s banging your daughter.
But there’s a sense here that if Helen keeps up the façade of having and liking and parenting children, we’ll forget, and she’ll forget, that she’s an enormous fraud with no integrity. She’s hanging onto her kids’ respect by a thread, and as obnoxious as Whitney is, she’s not wrong about Noah. She’s just not right about her mother, either. Mix all of Helen’s deeply-buried self-loathing about the un-just-ness of Scotty Lockhart into a cocktail that also contains guilt about Noah not seeing his kids and a suspicion that maybe he shouldn’t, and it’s no wonder she barely has the energy to care that Vik is kind of gross and manipulative but he’s not even that good at it. Have some standards for the sh-theads in your life, Helen!
Alison, meanwhile, has no such deeply-buried self-loathing. It’s right there on the surface, and I’m not sure why. That is, I know why. Alison’s the kind of person who will always highlight her flaws and beat herself up over them – but I don’t know what it does for the character, who has already done so many wrong things, as Luisa enumerates for us. I had a sick feeling of dread through her whole segment, and I’m really glad we saw her receiving Joannie at the end of the episode (nice how Noah’s been neatly cut out of that equation) because I thought to myself, “If Alison loses another child, that’s it for her as a person.”
She would, truly and utterly, have nothing to live for. If she lost a child, twice, by her own hand (and what the hell kind of papers did she sign anyway? Who drew them up?), she’s never, ever coming back from that. She barely recovered the first time—and obviously, I don’t think she was responsible for Gabriel’s death, but I know she does.
This isn’t something I expect Luisa to understand exactly, and I’d forgotten that she can’t have children, which maybe puts extra significance on her protection of Joannie (or maybe not). But I cannot abide Cole – who mostly comes off the best of any of these characters, at least so far – willingly keeping the daughter he shares with Alison away from her when he knows how much they will forever grieve their son. Then again, if he does, it makes him as murky as the rest of them, which seems like a prerequisite for hanging around on this show.
The fact that children are what everyone on this show focuses and thinks about and wants isn’t accidental, and unlike on many shows, it isn’t lip service. As we saw in the last episode, as Joannie bursts through the door, kids are full of unconditional love – the kind all of our leads know they don’t deserve – and aren’t likely to get from adults. It’s not just a sweet moment when Helen begs her youngest daughter not to grow up, it’s a desperate plea to hang onto at least one person who still sees her in the best light. Who hasn’t grown used to being constantly disappointed. I’m almost heartbroken to tell Helen – and Stacey – that this season has a lot of disappointments still to go.