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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Affair wanders along its circuitous relationship paths

Illustration for article titled The Affair wanders along its circuitous relationship paths
Photo: Phil Caruso (Showtime)

The affair part of The Affair has long since passed, so we really have to wonder what the point of this story is any more. First we had Noah and Alison, then their perspectives branched out to Helen and Cole; now all four of our main characters have different partners or prospective love interests (and all four of these new players, notably, are people of color). So, eight total. We’ve left Montauk in one part of our story to branch out to the other coast; as the show further spreads out into season four, where is all of this going?


Season one had the looming specter of murder with all those interviews at the police station (Detective Jeffries returns via phone this episode). We spent several episodes wondering in fact who was going to end up with whom. (Noah and Alison and Joanie in their sleek New York apartment seems like a million years ago.) Season two, we were still trying to figure out who killed Scotty Lockhart, and the revelation (kind of Helen, but kind of Alison?) wasn’t very satisfactory. Still, Noah taking the fall for both women led us to season three’s psychological torment of who stabbed Noah (Psych! It was himself).

Comparatively, Alison going missing doesn’t seem like a lot to hang a whole season on, even though Cole and Noah and Anton hanging out is enough to make me wish the whole show was just about them right now (remember when Cole drew a gun on Noah with the kids in the room? And now Noah is offering to get him a snack from a convenience store). I like how the show patiently doles out clues each episode—like this week we realize that the three men are riding around in Cole’s jeep (with his surfboard on top), so he must have hooked up with them in California during his walkabout.

But while Ben seems like a good guy, I noticed in the first half of this episode a bit of Affair fatigue: I’m just not really that interested in seeing another relationship on this show take flight for a little while and then crash and burn spectacularly. Especially since—and this is just a hunch on my part, from someone who thinks about this show way too much—I suspect that the endgame at the close of the prospective season five unites our original couples anyway: Helen and Noah, Cole and Alison, together again… for the first time. Vik’s impending death kind of clinched this theory for me, because who in the world gets rid of a guy as great as Vik? Nope, you’d have to kill him off.

Why else, then, would Cole and Luisa keep having this same fight for years now? Cole’s not over Alison. He told his ex-wife as much in the jail; he still loves her, but sticks with Luisa because he feels responsible and because he’s trying so hard to be a good guy. It’s the Cole Lockhart way. Doubt that his mother-inspired walkabout is going to do anything but lead him to get to that realization even sooner. As his mother points out, by not asking Alison to fill out Luisa’s (admittedly ludicrous) paperwork, he’s made his choice. Sorry, Luisa.

And I feel/fear that Ben is in for the same kind of runaround. According to the therapy reveal, Alison on some level still blames Cole for Gabriel’s drowning, as he was busy flirting when he said he was watching the kids. The death of a child seems like an gargantuan issue for the two of them to get past, which is likely why they’re still apart now. But frankly, it seems kind of creepy for Ben to be psychologically probing a woman he’s clearly interested in romantically. As it’s meant to, that shared emotional intimacy—with Alison flashing back to Gabriel’s death—leads to physical, flying by Ben’s proposed five months left of abstinence.


In Cole’s perspective, it seems like in classic Alison leap-before-you-look mold, she and Ben are already in a relationship, planning conference trips together. But Cole’s knowledge of Ben’s marital status complicates Affair life per usual. After all, the best part of the series is how multifaceted its characters are, in a number of different perspectives. Ben is a heroic vet, a recovering addict, and an adulterous husband. Cole is not only the once-violent man who drew a gun on Noah, but the guy who tries to make up for his family’s past mistakes by dragging a junkie to an AA meeting. Luisa primarily appears to be whiny and demanding in Cole’s perspective—but is she really or is that just how Cole sees her?

The portrayals in The Affair are still fascinating to watch, even as the show—like Alison and Ben when they jump off the boat—appears to be treading water. The performances are compelling, but with a wandering, circuitous plot, they only go so far.


Stray observations

  • How can Cole just take off for California without making sure that Alison can cover for Joanie?
  • I also wonder if Noah would be as forgiving in his perspective as he is in Alison’s about the truth about Joanie’s parentage (“Well, I did think I was her dad for two years, ha ha.”)
  • I do enjoy when the show draws deeply on that prevailing water theme, as Alison says she’s afraid of the ocean, but then quickly falls into it, as quickly as she falls for Ben.
  • Anybody else worry that when Ben and Alison were both off of the boat, they weren’t going to be able to get back on, like that group of friends in Open Water 2: Adrift? Especially after Ben pulled up the anchor? Every time I jump off a boat now, I think of that movie.
  • Cole’s junkie non-friend is trying for his best Spicoli.
  • Completely random speculation: Ben starts using again because of his new relationship with Alison, then freaks out, snaps, and is keeping her captive, which is why she’s missing. And it takes both of her ex-husbands to come save her. I mean, “She makes me want to live?” That’s pretty intense.
  • Next week: Our two worlds finally collide as Cole reaches California.

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.