Episode 2, turns out, is a surprise on a number of levels. For one thing, it functions as the second part of last week’s season premiere (the chapters are explicitly labeled as Part 3 and Part 4), and for another it introduces the viewpoint of Cole. Of the show’s core quartet, Alison’s now-ex-husband has always been the most enigmatic, and while like everyone else in “The Affair” his POV is not to be trusted, it’s still an opportunity to dig deeper into the character. (A character, let’s remember, we last saw in Season 1 threatening Noah with a gun.)
Alison’s version of the day we saw last week (from Noah and Helen’s perspectives) starts off with an abundance of chill. After saying goodbye to Noah as he heads into the city, Alison quietly putters around their borrowed house before heading into the small town six miles away to… well, putter some more. Alison might be relatively at peace in the Hudson Valley, but she’s definitely hungry for something to do; which gets answered after the couple who’s letting her and Noah stay in their guest house offers her a job as their personal assistant.
Noah’s not a fan of this plan, and the two of them get into a huge fight which, in the grand tradition of new love, leads to make-up sex and Alison attempting to move on. But moving on is a near impossible thing, as Alison is reminded earlier that day when Cole comes by to drop off some of her things. This includes the wooden chest representing the memory of their dead son Gabriel, which Alison shoves into a cabinet once he’s gone. Alison doesn’t tell her new boss, who runs into Cole that afternoon, who he really is. Alison doesn’t tell Noah that he came by at all. The less Alison wants to say about Cole, the more will clearly come down the line.
With no ranch to keep him legally employed, Cole has moved on to the glamorous life of driving a cab around Montauk: not sleeping, drugging himself to stay awake and alienating himself from everyone who cares about him.
Being a cabby makes for an interesting life, though. Beyond getting hit on by the drunk ladies of the Hamptons, in maybe the episode’s most unbelievable moment, Cole happens to pick up Bruce, Helen’s father, from the airport and, during the long car ride to his home, Bruce feels chatty enough to reveal that he’s going to leave his wife because if his asshole son-in-law (that’d be Noah) can leave his wife in search of happiness, why shouldn’t he?
Cole’s relationship with his own ex-wife, meanwhile, seems pretty much dead. But when he schemes away Alison’s location from her friend Jane so that he can personally deliver some of her stuff, from his perspective it’s clear that fondness still exists between them.
Meanwhile, In “Law and Order”-Ville
So we need to start talking about the fact that in a future separate from the show’s main action, Noah is being prosecuted for his role in what might not be the accidental death of Cole’s brother Scotty (who, if you forgot last season, happened to knock up Noah’s teenage daughter). Here’s the key detail from this week, beyond the fact that Noah’s been officially charged for his crimes: Richard Schiff as Jon Gottlief, introduced last week as the lawyer hired by Helen to defend Noah, seems to have a deeper backstory with these people than we understand, if only based on Alison’s reaction to meeting him. A great television show isn’t truly great without Richard Schiff popping in, so seeing him here is a treat.
The Clearest Lie
Alison’s version of Cole’s visit to her house features a man who’s dangerous, scary and threatening with just a look and a gesture; meanwhile, Cole remembers their encounter as something gentle, sad and sweet, with Alison coddling him.
It seems more than likely that Cole is dwelling in delusion, but what’s key to the lie, at its core, is the fact that this is the reality Cole wishes were true. He’s not over Alison by a long shot, and while he may be closer to accepting that she’s gone, he still desperately craves even a bare minimum of kindness.
The Closest Thing to the Truth
While the degree to which Cole’s life is in the toilet might be uncertain, based on how the people in his life react to him he’s definitely not doing great. We’re definitely looking at some extremely self-destructive behavior in action, and the only good news is that in flashforwards to Noah’s trial, Cole seems to be slightly more put together.
Shut Up, Noah!
Funny, how Noah’s version of this day omitted him being a complete asshole to Alison after returning home from the city. Of all the characters on this show, Noah is the one who seems most accurately depicted when seen through the eyes of others, because more and more, Noah seems like the worst sort of jerk: the type that thinks he’s actually a good guy.
Was It Good for Him? Was It Good for Her
Well, Noah and Alison’s bout of kitchen counter sex seemed to clear out the cobwebs. But as good as it might have seemed, it was clearly a distraction from bigger problems.
“You obviously had excellent parents,” Yvonne, played by the always lovely Joanna Gleason, remarks over Alison’s polite manners. Which dug up our Season 1 memories of Alison’s mother Athena, The Worst Mother In The World, triggering some serious PTSD.
Name the Episode!
Because “The Affair” does not name its episodes, we choose to provide our own. In Season 1, Alison regularly dealt with her inner pain with self-harm (specifically, cutting herself on her inner thighs). In this episode, Alison once again is bleeding, but this time, it’s relatively innocuous; her sandals have cut into her heel. So let’s work with that: This week, let’s call this one “A New Need for Bandaids.”