As I sat down to watch The Affair last night, my husband talked about how he thought there were two kinds of affairs: “The sad kind” – where the people in the affair are sad they’re cheating or hurting someone else, and the kind where “people aren’t sad but they’re assholes”.
I really thought for a long while about how to disagree with him. I didn’t come up with anything substantial.
And maybe Noah agrees with me too, because he wants to know whether Alison thinks she’s a good person, and is trying to convince himself that he is, even though he’s day-drinking with the object of his affection on Block Island and winds up in a hotel room that is not in any way cute enough to dissuade the grossness of what they’re doing.
Am I putting my bias out up front? I am, but the show wants me to be. By presenting two perspectives every time, they’re proposing the idea that these people can’t be trusted. That there’s debate to be had over what they’re doing and why, and incredibly, I can’t find justification for the affair.
As though it matters. But I can split all kinds of hairs here – like that I can understand why grieving Alison would get into this situation but not necessarily with Noah, whom I want to like more every episode and am steadily liking less and less. He’s just so…entitled. He just assumes that everything involved in whether or not he and Alison are doing this is about his struggle.
When he finally gets her into bed, in his own mind, he’s about as forceful and threatening as if he were offering her half of a grilled cheese. Obviously in Noah’s mind it’s important to think that Alison is the aggressor, that she sees things as simple, and he’s the one who understand the complications of nuance. What I’m struck by, actually, is that each seems like such a cardboard character when told through the other’s eyes.
What Noah doesn’t have that Alison does, though, is an absolutely palpable sense of panic and discomfort at the police department. Noah is guiding his son Trevor through an essay and seems comfortable answering the questions put to him. Alison is prickly and nervous and smoking – which is something I don’t think we’ve seen in “current time” - and just so completely guilty-seeming, even though we barely know what crime has been committed.
Allison also is much more resigned to the affair early on. She knows, much more than Noah does, that she’s not a good person, and that even if she were, being a good person doesn’t protect you from anything. So why obsess over it? What’s the point? What are we going to do?
I credit this to her knowing that she’s in a bad situation and that Noah’s not necessarily worthy of her. That an affair like this, with a summer person, that almost by design has no way to end well, was almost inevitable when you’re Alison and, in her own estimation, not a very good person. It’s not until after she’s done the deed that she tells Noah about her son Gabriel (Ugh. Drowned. Ugh), now that, it’s implied, they’re at the point of no return.
But she does it because of the chemistry we see – because of the sex we saw. That’s pretty undeniable – it’s hot, it’s entirely compelling. The fact that they don’t seem that drunk on it, or on each other, pretty soon after, well, it’s probably not an accident …
Nothing on this show is an accident. Not the directions of hairstyles or long sequences involving bruised hotel dressers. Everything is on purpose.
For what it’s worth, I prefer the episodes where Alison and Noah have to navigate their affair around their families and lives. Having them away from it all is too easy, and I really love when it’s difficult.