Ruth Wilson in Showtime’s “The Affair.”
Unfortunately, getting yesterday’s Musical Monday entry up wound up pushing these two reviews way back and compressing them tremendously, for which we apologize. In our defense, they weren’t very good episodes of either show, so it kind of makes sense to have a done-in-one “Showtime penultimate season episode failures” kind of rundown. It helps that the failures of both episodes were so similar.
Two things were revealed in this episode of The Affair. First, we found out that both Noah and Alison are fairly unlikeable and hard to care about in a lot of ways. Not that we didn’t know that already, but this episode went out its way to show it, rendering Noah as an insanely self-absorbed and impatient person and taking a second away from all the chaos in Alison’s life to show us that she can be petty and irresponsible when she’s rooting through another woman’s life. The second thing that was revealed? Our simmering fear that the writers can’t effectively break the story out of its formulaic structure without some seriously goofy plotting and wildly off-model scenarios is turning out to be true.
We’re willing to entertain a defense of this episode that starts with the idea that all the insane plot turns of this episode were payoffs of things long simmering and like so many aspects of the story, a subjective reflection of the ways in which the affair itself has heated up and taken some strange turns. In fact, we suspect that’s what the show creators would say they were trying to do. But for us at least, this episode wildly overshot its mark. Noah, Cole and Alison on a train platform, all of them with their luggage packed and with her literally placed in the middle (because we’re supposed to be on the edge of our seats as to who she’ll pick) is so wildly melodramatic and soap-operatic that it only made us grumpy, especially after being subjected to such seeming unlikelihoods as Alison sleeping with Oscar who just happened to have hard copies of evidence that shows that Cherry has been lying to her family. Or Noah, the world’s #1 nebbish and whiner, suddenly going all caveman because his far-from-innocent daughter got pregnant. Or the universe helpfully providing Noah an answer as to what to do with his life by having some stranger end theirs right in front of him. It was all so ham-fisted and hard to watch.
That is, except for any scene with Maura Tierney, who singlehandedly raised this episode up out of the doldrums and gave her best scene yet. You could actually hear her mentally processing all the information she’s receiving in that one scene until, when all the gears click into place, she explodes with a perfectly rendered fury.
This episode of Homeland suffered from a similar need to propel the story in all kinds of directions just before the season finale, but because this show threw subtlety out the window years ago – and has pulled off an admirably well-executed series turnaround this season by, in part, embracing the show’s lack of a need for subtlety- it bothered us slightly less. It still seems strange to us that, after everything that’s happened this season, from Carrie practically raping a med student to Saul’s kidnapping to a spouse of a United States Ambassador committing one of the greatest acts of treason in U.S. history, it’s all coming down to Quinn’s goddamn mopey-ness about his job and his feelings for Carrie. Sure, it was fun watching him go all Jack Bauer on us, as well as watching the two of them engage in a little cat and mouse, but so much of this felt like retreading Brody ground. A man is in love with Carrie and she has to stop him from committing a horrible terrorist act? Wake us when it’s over, please. Been there and done that. Oh and by the way, Quinn; none of this would have happened if you hadn’t ordered a room full of subordinates to disobey their station chief’s order to take out Haqqani with a drone. That’s all on you, buddy. It would have been nice to hear something that referenced this fact, instead of having to listen to Max inexplicably blame Carrie for Fara’s death.
Again, one person’s performance elevated this dully plotted episode and as per usual, it was Claire Danes, unleashing her latest iteration of the Ugly Cry. The scenes where she finds out and deals with her father’s death while desperately trying to hold it together (and almost succeeding, to an admirable extent), were both heartbreaking and breathtaking in their skill. It’s just a shame that, like Maura Tierney’s find work, this Emmy reel submission scene came in the middle of the worst episode of the season.
But we’re not cranky. You can’t expect every episode to be perfect in an ongoing story, and it seems to us that both shows suffered from putting off way too many “moving the pieces into place for the finale” moves and wound up having to shove them all into these episodes. We’re looking forward to both season finales, but each show fumbled the ball on the final bridge to getting is there. Of the two of them, The Affair has more on the line for its finale. Homeland simply has to be exciting and wrap things up.