TV: The Affair - S04 E05-07 - Reviewed

It’s quite interesting reviewing batches of episodes of The Affair at one time. The show plays with non-linear structure and, because events occur simultaneously (and now on both the east and west coast this season), it’s fascinating to see how creator/showrunner Sarah Treem and her writers decide to split up the storylines.

Of these three episodes, the first, episode 5, is easily the best, with slightly diminishing returns with each week thereafter. For the first time in the show’s four seasons, I was happy to discover that after a very good Cole-focused half hour in episode 4 I wouldn’t have to wait several weeks to see where his walkabout journey took him. Instead, episode 5 catches up with him in its second half and does so beautifully. More on Cole (Joshua Jackson) in a bit. (I know, you’re all so thrilled to read even more of my undying love and appreciation for him.)

Surprisingly, these latest 3 episodes are devoid of the flash-forwards that have opened this season’s other episodes. We begin with Vik (Omar Metwally) and Helen (Maura Tierney) before the title card informs us that part one will be a Vik-focused half hour, his first in the entire run of the series. As we discovered in episode three, Vik is dying of pancreatic cancer and has been understandably on edge ever since. Since cancer is outside his control, Vik decides to take control of the things he can: He buys a new car, takes a road trip with his Earthly neighbor, Sierra (Emily Browning), sleeps with her, and later returns home to again accept his fate.

Vik has become one of the show’s more interesting characters after being introduced somewhere in the middle of season two as the doctor for Noah and Helen’s son. He’s both an overconfident ass, and a man who cares deeply for the people in his life. You could argue, in other words, that he is everything that Noah should and wants to be, except for the whole being selfish thing. Here, however, we see Vik demanding something for himself, instead of worrying about others, and we learn of the strain and emotional fallout that can result from a life spent trying to please others. It’s a nice, albeit depressing, break from the four main characters and their ongoing “issues,” to see a perspective from someone who is always on the outside, mainly because of the distance Helen puts between them.

We then cut from Vik’s existential crisis to Cole’s, who between the last episode and this one has made his way to northern California, specifically Morro Bay, to try to find out who made his father’s surf board. There has actually been a surprising amount of backstory on Cole’s family throughout each season of the show, and I say surprising because he was, at least at first, viewed as a supporting character. But the Lockharts have had a long, storied (at times bloody) history with Montauk, and out of everyone’s parental issues on the show, it should come as no surprise that Cole’s is by far the most interesting.

He’s on a journey to find himself, and up until the end of this episode has believed his father to be a useless and angry drunk, who hung himself to take the coward’s way out. Boy was he wrong. So wrong, in fact, that Cole sees his potential fate being the exact same as his father’s if he does not confront his feelings and admit the Alison (Ruth Wilson) that he loves her and will leave Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno) for her.

The closing shot of episode 5 is perhaps one of the most gorgeous in the show’s history (it’s known for its beautiful cinematography and locations) featuring Cole looking out at the famous Morro Rock, finally at peace (we hope) with the man he’s become. Before departing he simply says, “Thanks, Dad.”

Episode 6 is the first Noah/Alison split episode of the season, and has its merit by the time we arrive at its closing scene, however, the rest of the episode is still somewhat of a slog. It’s weird to think that the main character of a show, Noah (Dominic West), should need to fight to remain relevant, but damn if his storyline this season doesn’t argue the “what’s the point?” of his character. It’s a case of art imitating life, I think? Noah feels boxed out of his children’s lives and is fighting for relevancy with his former family, just as West seems to be struggling to find something relevant to do on this show. Those are my two cents, at least.

The writers are really focusing on Noah’s relationship with his troubled, but brilliant student, Anton (Christopher Meyer), and Anton’s mother, Jenelle (Sanaa Lathan) who is the principal at Noah’s school. Why though? Again, it seems entirely secondary to the overall plot. I mean, I get it, Noah is searching for a family he doesn’t currently have and sees an opportunity to help someone who is potentially in crisis. Okay, cool. Good for you, Noah. But do that on someone else’s show.

The second half of episode 6 focuses on Alison finding out the truth about some of her parental turmoil, which is once again not nearly as interesting as the revelations made in the previous episode with Cole’s father. The Affair tends to deal a lot with the ripple effects of its characters’ complicated relationships with the previous generation as a way to justify their ridiculous behavior in the present. Season three managed to reveal something about Noah’s past that explained why he felt the need to imprison himself and pay for a crime he didn’t commit, at least not the crime we thought he committed. Helen told off her parents in season two and we got a deeper understanding as to why she’s the unhappy rich kid of the bunch. Alison is the only one who’s had the most attention paid to her family backstory and as a result it is the least interesting.

Her mom is somewhat of a nut, her father has been a mystery (up until this episode) and it’s clear that neither of her parents should have ever been parents in the first place. The end. The Affair does tend to rely a bit too much on something happening that will cause Alison to “freak out,” and in this case when she learns a truth about her father, she flees to the west coast to see Noah, after he sent her a gift card an episode or two back to come out any time.

The end of the episode sees Noah and Alison’s storylines merge for the first time in a while, and Helen surprisingly lets Alison stay with her and Vik in their lovely cliff-side home. Whenever Wilson and Tierney get scenes together, it’s great. They don’t happen often, but when they do, you watch. Helen by no means has her shit together, but in a show consumed by no one ever having their shit together, she’s slightly better off than Alison is in this current moment.

Alison is struggling with having learned about her father, and also that her current love interest, Ben (Ramon Rodriguez) is married. She’s tired of being seen as some sex object by men and gets arrested after causing a scene on her flight when her seat companion tries to make a move on her. Helen’s advice? If you don’t like the way people see you, change your narrative. A hard truth, but a truth nonetheless.

Episode 7 splits between Helen and Noah and is, unfortunately, the weakest of the bunch. Helen takes Sierra up on visiting Joshua Tree, getting high in the desert and, yes, sleeping together. Why? Because Helen, just like everyone else, is in crisis too.

Helen’s storyline borders on self-indulgent a bit, but thankfully winds down by the end when she finally confesses to Vik that she’s not ready for, nor does she want him, to die. I doubt this can change fate, but this is a fictional television series, so I guess anything is possible?

Noah, meanwhile, is still involved in Anton and Jenelle’s problems after unsuccessfully trying to teach his own son how to drive in a parking lot. Anton once again throws a wrench into things buy saying that he’ll either go to Princeton or enlist in the Marines, much to the shock and frustration of both of his parents. Noah, being the “hero” that he is, offers to take Anton to Princeton just to see it, which means flying to New York last minute and getting stranded somewhere in the middle of the U.S. after missing their connecting flight.

But wait, a phone call from… Cole! Yes, Cole calls Noah and, as the stars have apparently aligned, is very near to where Noah and Anton are and can pick them both up from the airport. So now we have at least one part of the mystery as to how these three characters end up driving across the country together in the now even closer future.

I’m hoping that this season’s character-focused detours are done, at least for now, to get to whatever the mystery surrounding Alison is. Vik and Cole have both had remarkable journeys so far, but for once I’d like the plot to move forward instead of going down the rabbit hole of character one-offs because we need to find a way to keep everyone in the show.

I’ve stuck with The Affair for four years now and I’m not going anywhere. I just hope by the season’s end it once again finds itself, and that everything that has come before, good and bad, will have been worth it in the end.

-Matt Giles