The Affair 303-305 Recap

I could watch a show about Cole.

That is, I do watch a show about Cole. But I could watch a whole show about Cole, his ex-wife and current wife and daughter and (deceased) brother and family, and people like Oscar who rotate into his life and complicate it. The struggle to stay a good person in the face of all kinds of people who will drag you down, as Cole’s story began last year.

I could watch a show about Alison, and about how she sees herself making the bad decisions seconds before she makes them, but only manages to actually change course about half the time. I could watch a show about a sequence of repeated assignations between her and Cole, and the children that results in, and how she tries to teach them about the mistakes she made, as well as the mistakes nobody could have prevented that she blames herself for anyway.

And I love Helen, and I’m here for Brendan Fraser as a crazed-out prison guard, and like I’ve always maintained, I am into Oscar. And Luisa, actually. (In fact, I was thinking about how non-essential Manhattan and Brooklyn are to this show. When you’re writing they always tell you to think about ‘a sense of place’. This show brings Montauk to life for someone who’s never been there, and makes NYC an utter afterthought. It’s amazing.)

But I do not need to watch a show about Noah.

It’s strange, isn’t it? Noah is arguably the lynchpin of the whole show. He is the one whose actions began it all. He cheated and messed up his life with Helen, he dragged Alison into his world (or she jumped), he wrote a book and created a whole separate Noah Solloway for random professors to jerk off over.

But I don’t actually need to watch Noah…and I don’t think I’m the only one. He never really seems affected by any of the things that happen ‘to him’. No matter what boldfaced plot point he ‘does’ – hitting on his daughter, prison, knife to the neck – he never seems to change or be anyone different, as though all of his mistakes happen to other people. He really doesn’t seem to care.

Are there people like that? Who are so Teflon, or who surround themselves with people who clean up after them so effectively, that they go on to create bigger and bigger messes hoping something will actually have an impact on them? Is that what Noah is trying to do?

I’m trying to figure out why I don’t see inside him at all, or why no conversations – not Alison begging him to sign divorce papers, or his sister begging him to take the keys to the house their father left and let her off the hook emotionally, or Helen showing up at his bedside, trying to hide her delight at being able to have some legitimate engagement in Noah’s life – have an impact on him. He’s only interested in his own amusement, his own fulfillment. And if that means he’s going to hurt someone else – like when he tells Alison what an asshole Cole is, in a way that I don’t believe even Noah believes – well, then he’s going to commit to it as hard as he can.

What I can’t tell is whether or not The Affair is beginning to shift its focus, from ‘how did Noah get here’ to ‘why are all these people caught in Noah’s tornado, and why can’t they get loose?’ Why didn’t Alison tell the truth? Why is Helen so compelled by him? Why in the hell are the professor and her student desperate to be with him, even as we roll our eyes? I want the answer to be something more than ‘he’s so amazing’. Because he isn’t. I believe Alison’s had better sex. I believe Helen has better self-preservation instincts. Cole and Luisa do, but they’re looped in, for better or worse…or because they keep putting themselves there. 

Because this whole show is about self-saboteurs. In fact, these people are only happy when they’re screwing themselves over, as you can see when Helen gets back into Noah’s life. When Cole jumps into Alison’s bed, even though he’s done the best job of cutting all the dysfunction away. You can even see it when Noah self-satisfied-ly has his sister drop him off at the professor’s house, smugly shrugging. How can he help it if another woman has fallen for him, again?

I can help it, though. I love watching this show, and while I don’t see things from everyone’s perspective, when I do, it’s so crystal clear. I was amazed that Alison’s “don’t be a monster” was so clearly spat at Luisa, but so clearly meant for herself. Similarly, I think Helen and her fractured sense of what’s OK in her life right now is resonant with so many, many people.

But I can’t understand Noah, or the people who love him. I think Brendan Fraser the scary guard is supposed to make me feel for Noah because he’s arguably terrifying, but instead it’s making me wonder if I’ve actually got the aptitude to be a psychotic prison guard.

Halfway through the season, I feel unmoored. But maybe that’s exactly, entirely the point. Do you feel the same way?