TV: The Affair: S04 E02 (2018) - Reviewed

I’m fully aware that I have a man crush on Joshua Jackson. As a writer, I believe telling the truth, in this case owning up to my own biases, is important. I’ve thought the world of him since The Mighty Ducks trilogy -- ask me about my idea for D4: The Mighty Ducks Return someday -- was “Team Pacey” on Dawson’s Creek and unapologetically loved Fringe. He has long been overlooked (I feel) for some reason, but remains a truly wonderful actor who brings so much authenticity to every scene he’s in, it’s a wonder The Affair is not built around him. Happily, Sarah Treem (the show’s creator) seems to be course-correcting after mostly sidelining his character, Cole Lockhart, last season.

Sure, he was still in the show, but season three focused much more heavily on Noah’s (Dominic West) mental state and PTSD after three years in prison than Cole and Alison’s (Ruth Wilson) complicated relationship. Still, season three managed to take Cole from his highest point to, at least for him, his lowest, admitting his love for Alison but choosing to remain with his wife Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno) as what Alison called “the miserable hero.”

Season four picks up roughly two years after the events of season three (it wasn’t clear exactly how much time had passed between seasons in the first episode), given Alison and Cole’s daughter Joanie’s age now. The teaser gives us a third passenger in the truck shared by Noah and Cole, presumably about to look for Alison, before once again jumping back in time six weeks to continue Cole’s storyline from last season.

Cole is angry and frustrated with his seemingly idyllic life, knowing that he’s lying to himself and Luisa about his feelings for Alison. Luisa, meanwhile is concerned about the possibility of deportation in the Trump era and is upset that she has to rely on Cole for so much, knowing that he could leave at any moment. The way that Jackson and Moreno play these scenes is absolutely perfect. They feel like a couple who at one time were in sync and are now anything but. Their lives feel somehow familiar, like a couple we’ve witnessed in our own lives going through the same thing, whether it’s close friends or family members, or, dare I say, our own.

Cole is struggling. He’s trying to keep a lid on everything negative inside him and that intensity; that power, comes through in every scene he’s in. I remember reading a review of season two describing him as a man exhausted by life. That’s still true, only now it’s clear that having everything he could possibly want – with the exception of Alison -- will never be enough. So he’s still exhausted, but this time it’s through his own doing. He knows it, and yet he still can’t accept it.

I look at The Affair as memories of a story being told somewhere in the not-to-distant future. If you agree with my theory, everything therefore is heightened and shown through the prism of extreme emotion. Cole is frustrated, which means if he’s recounting his side of events to some unseen audience, every scene is imbued with that same level of hostility and intensity. In other words, the Cole we’re seeing is the Cole presented to us by himself, which is likely unreliable and, to put it mildly, harsh.

For me, at least, Jackson seems to understand that and hits every note just right, like a guitar solo that is both written and improvised, feeling its way out as the scene (song) progresses. Cole’s anger comes to a head when, in a moment of desperation, Alison calls him to help start her car.
Part two of the story focuses on Alison, who has been working successfully as a grief counselor at Woodlawn, where she once stayed to get herself right after a nervous breakdown. She’s happy and is the polar opposite of Cole: she’s at peace, at least for now. This sense of peace no doubt adds to Cole’s anger with himself.

It’s at Woodlawn that she meets Ben (Ramon Rodriguez) an official from the Veterans Health Administration who is clearly meant to be her new love interest this season. After he stops a violent act from occurring, the two of them bond over coffee and experiences with trauma, and being that this is a show called The Affair, we can pretty much tell where this is going.

I like Alison, but I find her scenes with other characters to not be nearly as engaging as when she’s interacting with Cole. Ironically, it’s the same with Noah, who’s better when he’s interacting (fighting) with Helen (Maura Tierney). Tierney, like Jackson, runs miles past her co-star when it comes to acting and authenticity. In four seasons I don’t think there has been one scene between Cole and Helen, which is a damn shame. The best decision Treem ever made with this show (for my money), was deciding to branch out the perspectives to Helen and Cole (an idea that Hagai Levi, the show’s other creator, apparently disagreed with). They bring so much raw truth to the show that Noah and Alison by comparison seem like babies, frankly.

Still, Wilson manages to find those small moments where you feel as though you understand Alison, even if you don’t agree with her. She’s quite good at playing the different versions of her character, and if memory serves might be the only character who has been seen from all four perspectives (including herself) of the other characters. THAT is talent.

And so, the question remains: Will Alison and Cole find their way back to one another? Should they? At this point I shouldn’t care as much as I do, but like I said at the beginning of this piece: Joshua Fucking Jackson. Need I say more?

--Matt Giles