Easily one of the best things about the “The Affair” is that structurally, it always, always keeps us guessing. Whether it’s by switching the order of perspectives, adding new points of view or abandoning the Part 1/Part 2 set-up entirely, creators Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi never let themselves or viewers get too comfortable with the established formula. This week, “The Affair” is broken up not by points-of-view, but by hours, as all four central characters experience the same pivotal day in their lives completely separately. How that affects the show’s previously established quality of acting and writing becomes the new question at the center.
First, Alison’s story: Around noon of the day in question, a hurricane is bearing down on the New York coast, and Alison is cleaning out the fridge when she begins to experience labor pains. Soon she’s in the hospital with no one but an unfamiliar doctor to help her through the birthing process because Noah’s nowhere to be found. It’s a tough birth, with Alison crying at one point that she doesn’t want it, but by the end she’s brought forth a “perfect” baby girl — entirely on her own.
The reason Noah misses the birth of his child is that he and Eden the Publicist are heading to a fancy hurricane party held by a Hollywood producer who might be interested in producing the movie based on Noah’s book. Hurricane parties, if you’re not from the East Coast and had to look up the concept on Wikipedia, appear to be relatively debauched events. While the talk with the producer goes relatively well, afterwards Noah gets pretty wasted with Eden. Delving fully into the hedonism of the night, Noah climbs naked into a hot tub with two girls making out, one of whom… is his daughter Whitney! Surprise! Noah flees into the storm in a panic, and in the car finds his phone full of messages from Alison. His efforts to reach her are futile, and he breaks down in the car crying.
She Also Said
We spend some time with Helen and the little Soloways. Well, first we find Helen, just before the hurricane intensifies, waiting for a Tinder date that’s stood her up. But also at the bar is Dr. Vic, who was instrumental in getting Martin properly treated for Crohn’s disease. After the bar shuts down because of the storm, he tries to ask her out, and Helen points out that dates are just “interviews for sex.” So he asks her if she wants to have sex, she says yes, and before you know it Helen and Dr. Vic are banging in the brownstone basement. Afterwards, Dr. Vic ends up giving Helen and Martin some advanced-level advice on how to handle Martin’s treatments, but he also basically reveals himself to be maybe a sociopath? He’s either a “nice guy who acts like a dick or a dick who acts like a nice guy,” in Helen’s word, but he’s also hot as hell and leaves Helen maybe wanting more. (Fingers crossed, anyway.)
He Also Said
Cole and Luisa, meanwhile, are packing up Alison’s Montauk house, and Cole is super-cranky because Alison wasn’t there to help. Luisa does her best to cheer him up with a story about why she quit ballet and some sexytimes, but in the afterglow things go to crap. When Luisa tells him he doesn’t have to wear a condom, Cole perhaps assumes that means she’s thinking about having kids with him, but when he makes reference to that Luisa reveals that she’s infertile. Cole chooses to interpret that as yet another example of the Lockhart Curse ruining his life, and Luisa gets justifiably pissed about him making her pain about him. Luisa leaves and Cole gets wasted on Lockhart family moonshine, eventually using it as an accelerant to set Alison’s house on fire. He’s still inside it when the flames rage.
The Clearest Lie
This section isn’t so easy to address this week (see below) so I’ll just mention this: Cole’s pyromaniacal meltdown during the storm is intercut with the birth of Alison’s child and accompanied by a vision of his son Gabriel. If you’re looking for in-show evidence that Noah is not the real father, well, there you go.
Also, when we saw Alison at Thanksgiving in Episode 7, she easily looked five months pregnant. This is the day Alison gives birth, which we are told by the radio at the very beginning of the episode is March (early for hurricane weather). So four more months would theoretically put Alison at the end of her pregnancy, except that Alison tells the doctor that the baby is five weeks early. I am not an obstetrician, so maybe I’m misjudging how far along Alison was at Thanksgiving. But maybe Alison’s claim about the baby being early is just another part of the lie.
The Closest Thing to the Truth
This week, the answer is theoretically everything. What’s fascinating and also disappointing about this episode is that while technically this is one of the series’ most adventurous episodes yet, it’s also the most straightforward, as every character’s narrative is presented with the basic presumption of truth. (I’m not even questioning the notion of teenage Martin Soloway enjoying the movie “Babe” with his younger siblings. Everyone loves that movie.)
In an alternate universe where Showtime had insisted on a more prosaic ensemble drama about relationships and infidelity, this is the series we’d be watching every week. And while the shake-up in format was initially exciting, by the end I was left feeling glad that we don’t live in that alternate universe. “The Affair” always features fantastic acting (Joshua Jackson and Dominic West are especially impressive this week), and it’s almost a sigh of relief to get an uncomplicated look at the lives of these characters, but personally I’m hopeful that this is an aberration, until the next time they decide to try something new.
Shut Up, Max!
Oh, Max. Drug-addled, egotistical, too-rich Max, who barges into Noah’s sit-down with the producer during the party and at the very least makes Noah look like a decent human being by comparison. That vanishes a few minutes later, of course. But Max showing up was an unpleasant reminder that he’s holding onto at least one big secret, and when he chooses to unload it (or them) things could get pretty awful.
Was It Good for Her? Was It Good for Him?
The only good thing that happened to anyone today was sex, pretty much. Well, Alison did give birth to a healthy baby girl, but otherwise the high points of Cole and Helen’s days were the bang breaks. (“The Affair’s” nuanced depiction of adult sexuality always inspires the poet in me.)
In a complicated episode, Dr. Vic’s extremely simple perspective on life was actually pretty refreshing. When asked what he feels in his heart, his response is, “My heart is a muscular organ with four chambers that’s located slightly behind and to the left of my breastplate. It doesn’t feel anything. It works.” Even if you don’t agree with him (which isn’t a bad thing because, again, he miiiiight be a sociopath), you have to admit that that sounds like a pretty comfortable way to approach life.
Name the Episode!
Because the writers of “The Affair” choose not to name the episodes, we do it for them. This week, let’s pay tribute to the many Norman Mailer references in this episode (Noah’s his spiritual successor, after all) with “An American Dream.”