TV: The Affair: S04 E03 And E04 (2018) - Reviewed

I may have unintentionally left out a key detail in episode two of The Affair’s fourth season flash-forward storyline: Not only are Noah (Dominic West) and Cole (Joshua Jackson) working together to find a missing Alison (Ruth Wilson), but in episode two, they were joined in the car by Anton (Christopher Meyer), Noah’s troubled, but brilliant student at the school where Noah teaches and, as we learn in episode three, Jenelle’s (Sanaa Lathan) son. Jenelle, by the way, is also the principal at the school and seems to strongly dislike Noah and is also responsible for Anton being held back for supposedly plagiarizing a research paper.

Have I un-complicated things? Good. Episode three begins with Noah, Cole and Anton driving through Philadelphia on their way back to presumably Montauk. We then once again jump back in time and pick up Noah’s storyline from episode one, where Noah is still struggling to figure out his class and life in general in Los Angeles.

It’s a shame that one thing The Affair still hasn’t managed to pull off is making Noah a character for whom spending time with is not a chore. Full disclosure: I did write in season three that his prison storyline actually managed to somewhat redeem him, but in season four, it’s clear that Noah’s trauma from years ago with his mother is about the only interesting or compelling thing he has to offer.

Sure, his portion of the story tries (and fails, I would argue) to highlight his skills as a teacher. He connects with Anton, persuades his students to stage a walkout after telling them they’re more powerful as a group. While the act itself almost leads to a violent altercation with the police, it’s meant (I believe) to show that Noah can still inspire his students. Be the teacher they never had, as it were. Unfortunately, one could make the argument that he’s being set up as the “white savior” in an inner city school, but The Affair desperately tries to correct this idea with Jenelle being in charge. But of course, she eventually seeks the council and comfort of Noah, because for some reason, he’s just so irresistible. (I don’t get it.)

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Helen’s (Maura Tierney) story is, as always, far more interesting than Noah’s. Episode one ended with Vic (Omar Metwally) collapsing on the bathroom floor, after hints were dropped throughout episode one that he was mysteriously losing weight. It takes a little while to find out what specifically is going on in episode three, but cancer is implied throughout Helen’s half of the episode until Vic overtly states that he will die from pancreatic cancer and wants to have a child with Helen before he succumbs to his illness.

It is yet another example of Helen striving so hard for what she wants and hitting every obstacle she possibly could. She’s living in an amazing house on the west coast, has someone who finally cares about her in a way that Noah never could and is rebuilding herself every day. And yet, the ground is crumbling beneath her. She doesn’t know if she loves Vic as much as he loves her – or so she says in therapy – and doesn’t know how to be there for him during this traumatic time in his life.

She is responsible for her own actions, but of all the leads on The Affair, I’ve always felt that the deck was stacked against Helen, despite her wealthy upbringing. She does everything she can to be there for the people in her life, but can’t seem to connect or get anything close to what she wants, whereas Noah is the complete opposite. He’s, to put it plainly, a schmuck who cares only for himself and somehow gets laid like there’s no tomorrow. (To re-emphasize: I don’t get it.)

Episode four begins in the middle of the night with Cole on the phone with Detective Jeffries (Victor Williams), a character we haven’t seen since season two and who was responsible for investigating the death of Scotty Lockhart, which ultimately landed Noah in prison for three years. After Cole argues with Jeffries and abruptly ends their conversation, Noah suggests that they pull over (Anton is now driving) at the nearest gas station to get some food. Cole then receives a phone call from Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno), which he debates answering for far too long, and then we jump back in time once again to pick up Alison’s story from episode two.

Unfortunately, Alison’s half of the episode focuses on her evolving relationship with Ben (Ramon Rodriguez) as they bond at a conference over different grief techniques. I’m biased because of my love for Cole (do you really need me to get into this again?) but with all the possible energy I can muster to have a clear head: Ben is almost as uninteresting as Noah, and that’s saying something. He feels more like a method of giving Alison some sort of storyline this season, rather than an actual integral part of the show. (The same could be said of Jenelle and Noah’s budding romance.)

After exploring even more of Alison’s PTSD from her son’s death – as Cole mentioned in episode two, she’s made his death part of her whole identity – we get to the moment for which I’ve been waiting two weeks: Cole’s story (hate me if you must; I do not care at this point.)

Threatening the kid who stole his wallet and presumably drew on his face in episode two, Cole gets him to an AA meeting (it might be a general addict meeting, it wasn’t clear) where, what are the odds, Ben is telling his life story with being an alcoholic and drug user. He also reveals that he has a wife and family, which Alison is unaware of.

Luisa, meanwhile, wants Cole to ask Alison to declare Luisa as Joanie’s sole guardian to lessen the risk of her being deported. When Cole refuses, Luisa once again feels justifiably threatened by Cole’s love for Alison. Cole is angry, frustrated with himself and confused about what it is he even wants. Jackson, as always, delivers the acting chops to bring the truth to every scene he’s in, even as the character he plays can’t seem to confront his own truth.

Ultimately, Cole decides he needs to take some version of a walkabout after his mother (Mare Winningham) tells him that his father did the same thing early on in their marriage as a way of clearing his head. His father went to California, which is seemingly where Cole plans to go (the obvious collision course with Noah is inevitable at this point).

The standout scene in this episode is between Cole and Luisa, when Cole asks her to give him the time he needs to take this journey and figure his shit out. Luisa, who was planning to leave, accepts Cole’s request without hesitation, further proving that she is the best person he could ever ask for. He’s simply a man in his own way.

The episode ends with a hesitant goodbye from Cole, as Luisa watches from their porch. Happily, as I had also mentioned in the previous review, Sarah Treem (the show’s co-creator) seems to realize the gold she has on her hands with Jackson, and is devoting more episode time to his character. Next week appears to be a Cole/Helen episode, which could possibly mean their characters finally crossing paths. Man, that would be something.

As with every show that we love, we’ll just have to wait and see.

-Matt Giles