The Affair Season 2 Episode 4 recap

Welcome to a glorious episode of The Affair, where it’s all mess and no sex. This is the reality of the show and it would almost – almost – still be a fascinating ride if there were no Alison and Cole stories mixed in.

This is the reality.  No matter who’s the ‘good one’ and the ‘bad one’, everyone’s on a continuum, especially in a family, and nobody gets to be a hero. It’s more that sometimes you get caught, and sometimes you dodge a bullet, and Helen, this week, was all out of dodges.

It seems like her bad day is going to right itself –after all, she dispenses with Max fairly early on and has a power-lipsynch in her bedroom wearing some curious combination of garters and nylons – but the truth is that even if she does everything right, even if she breaks up with Max and doesn’t take the pot lozenge and doesn’t tell her daughter to unbuckle, which is going to be the part that haunts her the most here, she might still wind up like her mother: old, and trying desperately to cover her grey hair. Trying to keep up the ruse that she’s together and organized and desirable and young.

Noah, on the other hand, lucks out this week. Sure, he can’t live with Alison, by a dubious court order (can a judge actually order that a third party not see kids, if there’s no restraining order?) but he maybe feels relieved by that, since I still think Alison is an upstate-NY holiday for him more than an actual love affair. A ‘paramour’, if you will.

He takes the kids all over the area, and you’re bracing for things to get worse. But it’s almost as if Helen has spent all the day’s bad karma already. He’s nervous about seeing his father (the casting of whom is so perfect I can’t shake it - you can see Noah growing older, into his father’s face, just as Helen saw herself growing into her mother’s), but nothing that bad ultimately happens. In fact, the dad turns out to be much less upsetting than I thought he’d be. Then Noah downs a whisky right after a beer, and right before getting back on the road with his kids – he could easily have been pulled over for a taillight that didn’t get fixed and had the officer smell his breath. Even Martin’s stomach pains could have turned into something much worse – I was sitting on my couch begging Noah to take him to the hospital—but it’s not Noah’s day to feel like a bad father, despite what his sister Nina says. 

You know he knows it, too. Noah is as aware that his day could have gone worse as Helen is that hers should have gone better. Because they think the same way. If the same kind of day had happened to Alison or to Cole, there would be much more sadness and acknowledgement that it was a bummer, and much less self-flagellation and anger. 

This is what keeps getting me about this show –Noah and Helen are so much more similar than Noah and Alison. Alison and Cole are so much more similar. Even if Helen did wrinkle her nose at Nina’s wine (Noah and Nina – are they twins?), Noah and Helen see the world in the same slightly sardonic way – as a series of pleasures interrupted by problems. When Helen thinks about her store, I truly believe its existence is mostly a delight to her, punctuated with worry about the sales. Isn’t that exactly Noah’s book? 

Alison and Cole are much more pragmatic. Much more oriented toward the idea that work is what you have to get through, and that life hands you more bad than good.  Noah may think that’s the sort of middle-class life he was born into – he may even think that’s why he and Alison are such a good fit – but when all’s said and done, he’s more like Helen than he’d like to admit, right down to their shared lawyer.

What a good episode. I love this show more this year than last (and with less Alison rather than more). But people don’t talk about it that much. Is it because, as I suspect, people want to keep their thoughts about infidelity to themselves? Is it true that, as Helen says, “everyone thinks divorce is contagious”?

Attached - Joshua Jackson out in New York last week with Diane Kruger.