Sunday, December 6, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Affair' - Noah Talks About His Issues While Alison Has Awkward Run-Ins with Scotty and Cole in '210'

Showtime's The Affair - Episode 2.10 "210"

Noah grapples with essential questions. Alison begins to doubt a recent ambition, and renewed interactions with the Lockhart brothers force her to consider a harrowing possibility.

Last week's episode of The Affair brought all of the stories of the season to a very dramatic and ugly climax in a format-breaking episode. That episode pushed the stories to moments that changed the characters. They could no longer continue acting the way that they had been at that point. This episode returns the show to its usual structure - even to its original Noah-Alison breakdown. They have to deal with the fallout of their actions and how that has affected their relationship. Instead of dealing with the immediate aftermath though, this episode features another time jump. This time it's about a year. Noah and Alison's daughter, Joni, is now almost one year old. She is starting to form words. That's the detail that signals the passage of time early in this episode. Even though this time jump brings change to the characters, they are still dealing with issues caused by the actions of their pasts. At times, this episode does introduce new conflict in order to create stakes that allow the characters to wallow. However, the episode also does a fine job showcasing how this collection of mistakes in the Noah-Alison relationship affect them as a couple over a prolonged period of time.

This episode skips over all the pain and betrayal that comes from Alison learning about the hurricane party Noah went to instead of being at Joni's birth. It moves past Cole figuring his life out after he sets fire to his home - as well as how he was able to escape that. It also just puts Helen into a relationship with Martin's doctor despite how awkward their interactions were last week. All of this is new information that is slowly revealed over the course of this episode. It allows the show to just drop the audience in on this new point in time in the characters' lives. At times that is very effective. It showcases how time has healed some of these wounds. That's a good thing too since the conflict that would have happened because of these mistakes would have felt like the show recycling through story. It is interesting to see when the show decides to pick the story up again - especially when it comes to Noah and Alison figuring out what they want in this point in their lives.

Noah and Alison have been going to therapy in order to deal with their issues. That seems like a very smart idea considering just how badly Noah messed things up. It proves that both of them are still committed to this relationship. And yet, neither one of them knows how to properly put it back together so that they can enjoy what they used to have again. But this episode really isn't about the two of them going to therapy together. Noah's portion of the story is entirely one scene as he talks with the therapist by himself about all aspects of his life and how they all come together to define who he is as a person. He hasn't been a great person this season. He has made mistake after mistake that have had disastrous consequences. He still has Alison and his children (except Whitney) in his life. But he's still worried that he hasn't done enough to regain their trust. Even worse, he's still unsure if he will make the same mistakes in the future because the temptation is still constantly around him.

It's fascinating listening to Noah as he slowly opens himself up to his therapist. He has so much room for personal growth. And yet, he's uncertain of himself in a way that he has never felt before. Alison allows him this time by himself with the therapist because she's absent for reasons unknown until later. Noah starts the real conversation by bringing up the fact that his divorce from Helen has been finalized. He hasn't shared the news with Alison yet because he is scared. Scared of what it will mean for the future of their relationship. He doesn't understand her the way that he used to. And yet, this conversation is more so about him than the way she is feeling in their relationship. Both he and his therapist pivot the conversation away to various other subjects. Some of that is just expositional dialogue to inform the audience of changes to Noah's life as of late. He is writing a new book about a U.S. war hero in World War 11. It's based on a true person but is also a completely fictional retelling of the person's life. That seems like a strange way to tell a story. But again, the execution will show whether or not it's any good. He also shares for the first time what his childhood was like. Earlier this season provided a glimpse when he visited his sister and father. And now, the audience gets the fuller picture as it is learned that Noah had to care for his mother when she fell ill, his sister left and his father didn't care enough to actually care for his wife in her time of need. It's a complex discussion of events.

And yet, Noah doesn't feel particularly changed by this lively discussion with his therapist. He talks about the need to be both a good and great man. He has no idea how to go about doing that. A man has to be one or the other. It's difficult to have both. He has a theory. But Noah also lives in extremes. He wants to see things in his way. The therapist offers different insight and perspective. That does seem to help Noah. They have a really beautiful and honest conversation. Noah opens up to her in a way that he doesn't with Alison. That is significant. But at the end of the day, Noah returns home unable to share his divorce news with Alison. He's right back to helping her with the dishes to atone for the sins of his past. He's still uncertain of how she's feeling. So he has no willingness to share this news or express his feelings in a real way. That is a profound and complicated emotion to portray onscreen.

Also, I can't help but wonder if this hour would have been more effective if it fully committed to the In Treatment structure. It can still break down to a story about Noah and a story about Alison. But it could have offered a nice perspective to see Alison sitting down with the therapist by herself as well. Noah has this very meaningful and elongated talk for his side of the story. Meanwhile, Alison is off running around town dealing with her new class and sitting down with various Lockhart brothers. She is dealing with the same emotional issues as Noah. And yet, she doesn't get to express hers in a verbal way like he does. She is largely reacting to the events happening in her life. She's adrift in her class and is taken aback by the different things that Scotty and Cole say to her when she talks with them. It's an interesting way to do this episode. But it also points out that neither Noah nor Alison fully believe they are the happy couple they believe themselves to be when they are actually together. The hour just goes about that in different ways that don't always pair well together.

Alison's story features her out in the world living her life. And yet, she never really feels comfortable with herself. She made the decision to go back to school to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor. But the environment is so foreign to her in a time when she's not really certain about anything in her life. She sees everyone else moving forward with their lives. She sees people experiencing things and being happy. Noah, Scotty  and Cole are probably more happy in her story this week than any time they have been previously seen. That's crucial because Alison doesn't feel the same way. The emotions of the other characters aren't as real as she perceives them to be though. As evident in this episode, Noah is dealing with a lot of baggage and really isn't certain of how to do anything anymore as well. And then, the more Alison listens to Scotty the more she sees him as a rabbling man who needs help. Her most meaningful conversation comes when she sits down with Cole. She reaches out to him because he makes her feel safe but also because she wants him to know about Scotty. That conversation doesn't go how she planned. She's taken aback by just how loose and happy he seems to be and just how much he doesn't care about his brother's health at the moment. She attributes this happiness to Luisa - who Alison meets for the first time. But seeing Cole in this way keeps Alison from being completely honest with him. She's not sure how to talk with him anymore. He has moved on and found a new happiness that is foreign to her. So she winds up just as alone and uncertain of the future as Noah. They still connect sexually. But even that encounter proves that these two people still are having some major communication issues.

Some more thoughts:
  • "210" was written by Anya Epstein and directed by Scott Winant.
  • It's weird and completely unnecessary that the resolution to the therapist story is different in the two stories. In Noah's, he tells Alison that he stayed and made some real progress on himself. In Alison's, Noah went to the movies instead and is insisting on them stopping this foolish therapy. It was more distracting than anything else.
  • Also, what year is the show now in if Noah goes to see a Captain America movie in the theater?
  • The trial has officially started in the future - which the present is slowly creeping up on. It's a lot of stylistic details as Noah and Alison see the crowd that has gathered outside the courthouse and Noah feels the pressure from walking into the room for the first time. But it also cuts just short of telling the audience who Joni's biological father is.
  • Trevor needs glasses apparently. But that's not stopping him and Stacey from skiing in Noah and Alison's apartment. Also, what's going on with the rest of Noah's children? Where are Whitney and Martin?
  • So much of the focus is on Noah but Cynthia Nixon was also pretty great in that shared therapist scene.