The Affair: Episode 8

Posted on December 09, 2014

The-Affair-Season-1-Epsode-8-Television-Review-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-TLODominic West and Ruth Wilson in Showtime’s “The Affair”

“Pure love cannot sustain itself in a perfect world.”

We’re unsure if this show has gone down the rabbit hole or just plain down a hole at this point. That’s kind of an obscure way to open, so you’ll have to walk with us as we try and get to a point.

This was, for whatever reason, the episode in which the main conceit of the show – the competing versions of the story told from two distinctly different perspectives – started to become irritating rather than illuminating. When Alison’s version of the night of her grandmother’s death was told and it was pretty remarkably different from Noah’s version on several key points, we had a moment where we doubted the whole premise. If you can’t trust either of your narrators to tell the truth, then what’s the point of the story if no one’s going to refute them or challenge them? Pokey the Cop is just a little too slow-moving to be the guy to get to the truth for us. And besides, as intriguing as his little discoveries are, all they tell us is what we already knew: someone’s lying. We imagine that there will be some big reveal when the season finale comes in a few episodes, but we were feeling frustrated in the moment and ended the episode wondering if this was going to be our first real negative review of the series.

We started pondering specific scenes that annoyed us, like that eyeroll-worthy classroom scene, which basically checked off every cliched White Knight box there is in service to the idea that Noah Is A Good Teacher. It felt like something we’d seen a million times in lesser stories (the totally “down” white guy teacher “connecting” with those mythically fearsome and impenetrable figures, black teenagers) and came across unbelievably hokey and white-centric. When he got to his take on the message of Romeo and Juliet, you could see all the lightbulbs going off over every student’s head, as if “Pure love cannot sustain itself in an imperfect world” was a universal teenage sentiment instead of what it really sounded like: the cynical middle-aged mantra it is.  We’ll let the no doubt dozens and dozens of Shakespeare scholars in our readership tackle Noah’s interpretation, but it struck us (decidedly NOT Shakespeare scholars) to be a more than questionable way of looking at the story. That’s when we had the realization about whose job it is to figure out the truth. It’s ours, as impossible as that may sound. But this show will probably never give us a chance to decide upon the literal truth of events. It seems far more concerned with guiding its audience toward emotional truths. And honestly, is there anything more frustrating than trying to arrive at an emotional truth? Of course we’re annoyed.

Remember: everything you see is one of two people’s personal interpretation of their own story. When Noah is shown to be a charismatic and “with it” teacher who brings Shakespeare alive to his students, we’re not watching Noah. We’re watching Noah’s version of Noah; the guy random women throw themselves at, whose family mistreats and wounds him at every turn, who is a genius that the world simply hasn’t recognized yet, and who gets to be a hero whenever the chance to be one arises (and according to him, it arises all the time). And we’re not seeing Noah interpret Shakespeare. We’re seeing Noah interpret his own life. The chances of that scene going down exactly as we saw it were nil, but the chance that Noah sees himself as a major player in a tragically doomed love story are extremely high. Just as it’s unlikely that Helen made such a boldly clinical assessment of why she married him and what she expected out of him. Nothing about that scene felt true if you’re looking for realism, but everything about it felt 100 percent emotionally on point if you’re looking at it through Noah’s eyes. No matter what Helen said in that therapy session, we got to hear what Noah heard. Both the Shakespeare scene and the therapy scene were setups for the “I love you” at the end of the episode. How could poor, put-upon, heroic Noah not love this wounded woman over the wife who all but claims she never loved him?

As for Alison, we found fewer reasons to doubt her version of things this time around, but we don’t believe she had no idea she’d run into Noah that night and did everything in her power to avoid him. If she wanted to get out of work, all she had to do was say “My grandmother’s on her death bed.” And her version of Cole seems to shift wildly from scene to scene depending upon her own actions. He’s affectionate and loose in some scenes and condescendingly stern and paternal in others. We feel like we can get to the heart of who Helen is, but the only thing we get from Cole is that Alison must feel terribly conflicted about him because he’s so contradictory and vaguely defined.

Like Noah and his father-figure issues, Allison is surrounded by sinister, useless or unreliable mother figures – or at least, that’s how she’s decided to interpret these women. Why, it’s almost as if she has a need to cast mothers in as bad a light as possible. Is Cherry as manipulative or Athena as horribly inappropriate and self-centered as Alison conveys? Almost certainly not, but her own status as a mother was ripped away from her and until those wounds heal, she’s seeing every other mother around her in as bad and unflattering a light as possible, like she has to badmouth a club she’s not allowed into anymore.

As for the murder mystery, we’re ready to see the details a little more. With Pokey the Cop making his presence known more and more in the “objectively” real world outside Noah and Alison’s stories, it’s time we got a bit of an information dump on exactly what he’s investigating, instead of little bits here and there. How long was Scotty’s memorial service delayed? Is his death more recent than we’d been led to believe earlier in the story? Is Whitney pregnant due to Scotty’s apparently frequent trips into the city? Do the drugs have anything to do with this or are we supposed to think Noah killed him for getting his daughter pregnant, which doesn’t seem like a likely turn of events.

But we have to admit, more and more, the mystery seems to be receding in importance. As much as we want some blanks filled in, we doubt anything will land with the impact of seeing two damaged people sitting in a car and quietly declaring their love for each other, to their shock and ours

 

 

[Photo Credit: Showtime]

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