In a new move for The Affair, we see everyone tonight. Everyone has a dramatic, life-changing night in the storm. Including Whitney. Dear God. I especially love that because we’re going by clock and not by perspective, the show is telling us that the things we’re seeing are objectively true. Everything that happens at the bacchanal party, at Helen’s house, with Cole…it all actually happened.
Which is why there’s so much focus this episode on who is or isn’t a good guy. (We’ll table the idea of who is or isn’t a good woman for a little later.) Max tells Noah he’s supposed to be a good guy. Luisa unburdens herself to Cole, and his response is to think about himself, and the supposed curse. ‘The scars in my uterus are the result of some crime your grandfather did, what, a hundred years ago?’ Helen can’t figure out whether Dr. Blunt-And-Hot is a good person or not, and more importantly, she can’t trust herself to make that call.
Are they all bad guys? Is it just a balance sheet, as the hot doctor says? Are they narcissists, or aren’t we all? Sure, we’re not in anyone else’s perspective this episode, but everyone, even Helen and Alison, while actively involved with their children, are thinking about themselves. Before we move on, let me say that this is something that shouldn’t be so groundbreaking, and yet: The idea that women can care for and about their children while still seeing their personal problems as paramount is still rare, and very real. You don’t stop being a person with desires just because you’re a mother.
Or a father, the show wants us to know. When Luisa says ‘you don’t give a sh*t about your family’, isn’t that true of Noah too? Or is it unfortunate but true that Noah cares about parts of his family more than others? That is, he knows, going into the party and ostensibly sober, that Alison is 5 weeks away from her delivery date. Any expectant father, especially one with four other children, knows you carry your phone religiously for weeks beforehand. But he didn’t care. When the party was locked down for the night, he didn’t care. He didn’t think to go home despite multiple warnings. He is in it, so wrapped up in his fantasy of being the great American writer and finally earning all the things that seem like they’re his due, that he doesn’t care. Incidentally, I am behind on my Norman Mailer, but Noah seeing The American Dream at the party isn’t an accident—it’s foreshadowing, wish fulfillment, or both. Norman Mailer had six wives.
But what jogs Noah out of his gross-but-predictable behavior isn’t the child he’s about to have, but the one he comes frighteningly close to molesting. He knows Alison’s child is coming, but the child he’s screwing up at that precise moment is Whitney. There are a lot of cringe-worthy moments in this episode (among them, the fact that Eden pretends she’s gonna do business in that dress), but what happens to Noah and Whitney is horrifying.
It also, of course, brings up the question of parentage. If she hadn’t turned around, he wouldn’t have realized. And if he weren’t her father, he wouldn’t have cared.
Which brings us to Cole. He’s like Joshua Jackson in this role, in that he’s actively turning all his charm and winsomeness off, because he’s so hurt by everything that’s happened. Those of us who ‘knew’ Cole before now know that Luisa’s only getting the tiniest part of him. Of the four main characters, Cole has moved on the least.
But he’s also the most unambiguous about being a parent. Maybe that’s not fair to say, given that having loved a child desperately and then lost them is infinitely more and less complicated than not having lost them at all. Still, some people, in his situation, would have held Luisa. Said it didn’t matter. To paraphrase Steel Magnolias, ‘we’ll buy ‘em if we have to’.
But that’s not Cole. He’s so wrapped up in his pain – and to me, it’s notable that the Lockhart curse calls to mind the part of his pain he’s focusing on the least, his abandonment of his family—that the idea of never having the pure love he had for Gabriel ever again is too much to bear. So he sets himself on fire.
Except we know that he doesn’t. We’ve seen him in the future.
“Come into the water with me, Daddy.” It’s probably just guilt and ghosts, playing tricks on him. Or is it a beckoning? Come into the water—i.e., the rain—and be saved, both from the fire and from your darkest self. Baptism, for the only overtly religious person in the foursome. Be clean. Was he summoned by his son, or by his child?
I know why I wouldn’t let Noah in the room, if I were Alison. But why does she think she’s not letting him in? Which of a million reasons?
Attached - Joshua Jackson and Maura Tierney at an InStyle event to celebrate the 2016 Golden Globe award season earlier this month in LA.