Review: ‘The Affair’ – ‘Episode 5’

A review of tonight's “The Affair” coming up just as soon as I run with a bag of bagels…

After last week's more straight-forward episode, this one returns both to the split POV device – albeit with Alison going first this time (and getting more than half the episode to herself) – and to the supporting characters and the world of Montauk, and it's unsurprisingly stronger for all of that. The affair itself remains among the less compelling parts of the show; it's the easily-marketable Trojan Horse that has disguised all this better material about marriage, class, parenting, grief, etc.

The show is still largely told through Alison and Noah's eyes, in both the present and the future – where we find out that it's the death of Cole's brother Scotty that's under investigation – but some of this week's best moments came from the perspectives of their spouses. The opening scene with Cole and Alison is fantastic, as Cole says the most powerful, devastating thing he can when he walks in on Alison getting ready to sneak out for sex with Noah: “I love that dress on you.” Anger would just make her defensive – and all Cole really knows for sure is that she's lying to him and going somewhere else, even if it's pretty easy to guess where she's going – whereas his pained compliment cuts so much deeper. (Great work from Joshua Jackson there.) And Helen's suggestion that the best punishment for Whitney might be ending the vacation early and going back to Brooklyn was the right one, but not one that works for the husband who wants to stay close to his new girlfriend.

For all the speculation that each narrative is a lie designed to flatter the storyteller, this episode was anything but, particularly for Noah. He's an ass in nearly every scene of his half of the show, whether yelling at Trevor because he's impatient to go sleep with Alison, shutting down the Brooklyn plan, or even something relatively small like yelling at the maid for the sin of calling him “Mr. Noah.” (Even when he's trying to break down class barriers, he's only reinforcing them in the ugliest way possible.) He does seem to get through to Whitney in the car, and for a few moments confronts the enormity of what he's doing to his family with this affair, but that epiphany is wiped away by the anger of another fight with Helen over her family's wealth and his lack of success.

Alison isn't privy to any of this, but Noah gets introduced to some of the less glamorous details of her life, including a grandmother dealing with Alzheimer's in a nursing home, and the maddeningly New Age-y mother – who has an aphorism to defend every selfish thing she's done in her life(*) – who blows into town and upsets everyone to suit her own emotional needs. Alison's mother-in-law is a manipulator, too, but placed in comparison to the Athena, she comes out looking like enough of a saint that you can understand Cole's potentially self-destructive desire to keep the whole family together on that ranch.

(*) Though Athena's comment about how Alison has forgotten so much about their past also suggests we could get a good “Rashomon” take on their relationship, and not just the one Alison has with Noah.

What did everybody else think?