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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The past comes back to haunt Cole on The Affair

Illustration for article titled The past comes back to haunt Cole on The Affair
Photo: Phil Caruso (Showtime)

Most people think they’re good people, just like everyone thinks they’re a good kisser. Even Noah probably doesn’t walk around thinking, “Jesus Christ, I’m such an asshole” even though there are lots of times when he’s exactly that. In the complicated world of The Affair, Cole has always seemed like the best person out of the four main characters: the one that Alison cheated on; the one who was trying to keep the messed-up Lockhart clan together; the one who is always trying to do the right thing, being a caring dad to Joanie, staying with Luisa even though he’s clearly still hung up on his ex-wife.


Staying in the same place for your entire life means that it’s inevitable that your past catches up with you eventually. Cole is contemplating franchising the Lobster Roll and becoming a sort of “mayor of Montauk” this episode, but he’s drugged and robbed by one of his family’s early customers, back when they specialized in drug trafficking. It’s not the thing an exemplary person does, and Cole, by the end of his half-episode, has to face the stark realization that although he’s trying to be everybody’s hero, his past actions indicate that he may not be that good person he’s trying so hard to be.

Maybe that’s why he’s continually so drawn to Alison: She’s known him forever, and continues to call him out on his bullshit. He despairs over selling out the Lobster Roll to become part of the establishment, but she points out there’s already there. I love how much of a fuckup Alison is in Cole’s timeline (he thinks she’s busy all the time because of school, when in her timeline, it’s for work), really a credit to Ruth Wilson that she plays these two Alisons so well. The other big switch between the two timelines is Cole’s decision about the Lobster Roll. From his perspective, he wants to sell, and Alison doesn’t want to. In Alison’s, she wants to sell and move on and he doesn’t, because it’s a tie to his family, and also to her.

These disparate viewpoints have been an issue in The Affair before: Would Cole really not remember that he took Joanie to school with Alison after jumping her car? But it also shows the different way two people see the same event: Cole thinks Alison is being irresponsible, but she thinks he’s obviously still not over her. Maybe they’re both right?

Alison certainly appears to be hard-working enough in her episode half, helping grief-stricken parents at the Woodlawn center, where she’s saved from a grieving and violent client by prospective new love interest Ben. Alison of all people should know about relationships that kick off from a traumatic event—she and Noah met over Stacy’s choking at the Lobster Roll, remember. Ben seems nice enough, if a bit cookie-cutter perfect, just like Helen’s Vik (He’s a vet! And a recovering addict! And saves her right in the nick of time!) and Alison seems due for a guy who’s not married to someone else for once (hopefully). Still, the most heartbreaking moment of the episode might have been the enraged look Alison gets from her client, as her husband’s taken away. Alison knows she’s lost whatever chance she once had to help that family (which is probably why she hesitates when Ben tells her to call security on Tony).

The brief bridges at the beginning of these episodes aren’t really enough to tie our four players together, as enjoyable as it is to see Cole and Noah petulantly sitting next to each other in a car. Imagine if you had just started watching this show (and maybe you have): What in the world do these West Coast people have to do with these East Cast people? The Affair assigns a ton of emotional value to places and settings, so the differences in these four are significant, even as the split locations makes for a disjointed start to the season. Helen is miserable facing the Pacific instead of the Atlantic. Noah is rudderless. Luisa wants a home and struggles with finding a permanent one. But Cole and Alison are irrevocably tied to Montauk, which makes it all the more devastating for Cole when he realizes, from this thieving, freebasing kid, that his family’s former illegal business straight-up damaged this home he loves. If he sells the Lobster Roll, he also loses his tie to Montauk, and then where will he be?


Stray observations

  • It’s hard to comprehend a world where Pacey is called “Grandpa.”
  • I have always found Luisa to be an annoyingly judgmental character (probably because I’m an Alison apologist) but she did manage to wring out some sympathy this week, especially as she wowed the investors with her language skills. Her terror over being an undocumented immigrant is only too appropriate in light of current events, where a simple traffic stop could get her deported. And yes, it’s hard to muster up too much sympathy for Cole when he’s sulking in his beautiful beachfront house.
  • Cole doesn’t seem like a “well-done” kind of guy.
  • Cole’s escapist walk on the beach mimics Noah’s in season one.
  • The kid who plays Joanie is adorable, but couldn’t they have gotten a little girl who looks somewhat like Alison or Cole? Kid looks like a Solloway.
  • In Alison’s version of Cole’s face drawings (man, did those look weird) he has a bow tie, to further indicate that he’s part of the establishment problem now.
  • “It’s very obvious when you know what you’re looking for, isn’t it?” Trouble is, few of us actually know what that is.
  • Next week: What do you guys think about Principal SexStern for a new character name? Am open to suggestions.

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