The Affair Season 2 Episode 12 season finale recap
So. Now we know.
Nothing is an accident on this show, and I love it. That boat by the side of the road we kept noticing as Noah did, yes, significant. There’s a reason you kept wondering if you saw someone lying in it. Seeing Alison in headlights, but never quite seeing her run over? Yes, significant – she’s there, but she’s not hit. Shocked, but not killed. Inconvenient, as always.
Perhaps if Helen were looking, she would have seen her. But Helen wasn’t looking. Perhaps if Noah had been driving – but Noah wasn’t driving. In fact, the best part of all the anticipation leading up to this event is that we could have been in this scenario countless other times. Other times Noah was behind the wheel, other times Alison was in a compromising position. But it was this time, with Helen behind the wheel, Helen who, as she informed us, already has a DUI. That crucial piece of the puzzle is one of the reasons Noah is trapped—but not the only reason.
Early on, he and Alison begin to unravel. As she leaves Cole’s wedding, upset, did you see the gate they walk out of? It’s one we haven’t seen since the beginning of the series, where she follows him through it one night and they begin their affair in earnest. As they exit through it in broad daylight, we realize that affair is over for good. (‘Never cheated on you’, he tells her, almost with surprise.) Any illusions are over for good, as Alison tells Noah the truth about Joanie. The connection they make later in the wedding is something new—Alison and Noah choosing each other, eyes wide open.
Of course, I have misgivings about this. Mostly because I think Noah and Alison have always been operating on two entirely separate planes. Maybe, though, Scotty’s death equalizes them a little. Now they share the secret. I’ve always believed that Noah is basically an optimist, as is Helen. That Alison, partly but not entirely based on the tragedy with Gabriel, sees the terrible things that can happen much more easily than the ephemeral good.
It’s one of the things that seems to hang over Alison’s conversations with Cole – virtually all of them. Alison and Cole have the sibling-like quality of knowing they were never meant to be together, not for the long term. Alison says as much – that they were kids – but there is the lingering question of having been dealt ‘the worst hand’. If Gabriel had grown up big and strong, would they still have found a schism between them? Would it have been this soon, or would it have waited until they were in their 50s or beyond, having a cold but functional marriage like so many we’ve seen on this show (worth noting that, at least in Noah’s memory, Helen and her mother have what appears to be a regular conversation, and that she’s her mother’s ‘date’).
There would always have been other stressors for Alison and Cole. Maybe Gabriel, maybe the other children that would have followed, maybe the ever-present problem that was Scotty—and maybe even that alleged ‘reputation’ that follows Alison. I have trouble with that, though, because we’ve only heard the least little hints of it, though I love that we saw Oscar last night for a split second, as a reminder.
I can’t decide if the idea that Alison has ‘slept with everyone else’ is the kind of idea that gets attached to someone in high school and never goes away, because they never go away (but she had to have gone to nursing school somewhere), or if there’s something else involved. After all, even in her own memories, Alison never, ever seems driven by sex or desire. By fear, yes. As a reaction to being trapped, absolutely. Even as a way of revising history, Alison sleeps with people, almost a memory-erasure palate cleanser. But we’ve never seen her be ‘the reason the word sex was invented’, and certainly not in her own mind. And not the way others in Montauk treat her—that is, as long as she’s not paired with the ‘douchebag in the BMW’. She keeps trying to erase him from her life, until the events of the wedding mean he’s in it permanently.
No wonder Alison isn’t an optimist.
But good isn’t so ephemeral sometimes, or for some people. Not in Noah’s world. The further we get from him and Helen as arguing, divorcing parents, the more we realize their connection is rare, and based in the people they are, not the people they’re supposed to be. Does that sound too fanciful? The way they talk to each other is indicative of two people who really know one another, who are specifically intimate with each other. I don’t mean sexually, but I do appreciate that the visual representation of that intimacy involved them being near-naked. Helen says she has to run into the ocean so she’s not depressed, but the act is actually one of release and even joy, and Noah joins her, similarly elated to have someone he can understand and talk to with no judgment—something he doesn’t get from any other adult in his life.
It doesn’t mean there is a romantic relationship for them, of course—look at what Helen says when he mentions ‘going back to her’. “Were you even thinking about going back to me?”, she asks incredulously. Note, not ‘coming’ back to me. ‘Going’ back, meaning he was going somewhere that she wasn’t going to be.
Still, the connection between these two is real and loving, even if it’s not currently sexually-romantically-feasible. They fit together so easily, as we’ve seen all season. It’s because they are so comfortable with each other that they get in the car together with no second thoughts. It’s while they’re there, realizing after all they’ve been through and their other partners that the connection they have is rare, that it becomes even more rare. Because now they share a terrible secret.
Which is why Helen is bankrolling Noah’s defense, and why he jumps to his feet in the courtroom to prevent the detective from casting any focus on Alison. Remember that therapy session a couple of weeks back? Remember Noah wondering over and over again whether he could be truly great if he could have both wives and girlfriends? If he didn’t have to choose between being faithful and indulging his desires? He wondered over and over again, who could he be? How great could he be?
Our answer here, of course, is the most cosmic-joke interpretation of that scenario. Noah doesn’t have to choose—he falls on his sword instead, and in any telling of the story that’s a ‘great’ thing to do, not to mention being good material.
But it doesn’t guarantee happiness. Like his literary heroes, Noah has backed himself into a place where greatness and misery might be intimately linked. He’s proven he’s a good man—at least to himself. But if I were being cynical, and at least half of this show hopes I am, I’d ask ‘what does that get him?’
What a great, fascinating journey of a season. What a complex world of murky people. I look so, so forward to Season 3.