Sunday, December 13, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Affair' - Alison Commits to Her Future Which Leads to an Awkward Conversation with Noah in '211'

Showtime's The Affair - Episode 2.11 "211"

Cole and Luisa take a serious step forward in their relationship and find an unlikely partner for their new business venture. Consequently, a betrayed and struggling Scotty reaches his lowest point. A series of revelations cause Noah to reconsider everything he thought he knew about Alison, and a momentous decision Alison makes may just end their relationship.

At times, the show's flash-forward structure has ruined a handful of twists in the present-day story. It has become more and more clear this season that time has sped up enough to catch up to the day Scotty is killed during Cole's wedding. That's obviously what the season is building towards. However, it's a bit more formulaic in getting there. The Cole and Luisa story throughout this episode largely happens to give them a focus right before their big day. Their love story has at times been problematic because it's ending had already been told to the audience. They were going to get married. There was no other viable option for Cole. And now, a story needs to be created just to give them something to do to showcase what they have become as a couple in the year that has passed since Cole set fire to his house. Similarly, the Noah and Alison part of the story needs to create tension that enrages Noah to the point that he may do the murderous act. No matter what, next week's finale is going to need to reveal the course of events on that fateful night. It probably needs to bring some resolution to the trial as well. Right now though, it just feels like the show is going through the motions of getting to that point which can take the audience out of the events a little bit.

It really is pointless to watch as Cole and Luisa disagree over where to have the wedding and whether they should just elope in order to avoid hurting anyone's feelings. That was a conflict that was brought up by Margaret Butler of all people. Apparently, Luisa's mother works for her. That's really the show enjoying a connection too much. It serves as a way to let the audience know how Margaret is doing without having to let it be though Helen's part of the story. This is a connection that is slightly awkward and forced. And again, it's meaningless because the audience knows it's going to be a big celebration in Montauk where the whole town comes together despite their differences. And the differences have gotten more pronounced as well during this trip home for Cole. He makes a couple of key decisions that anger some people while bringing others even closer together.

Cole has had a tense relationship with his family this season. He wanted nothing to do with them after learning how his mother ruined the family finances and believes the family is cursed for the sins of Cole's grandfather. He distanced himself. But now, he has returned with his fiancé, Luisa. She is meeting his mother for the first time. It's an awkward introduction because she is the maid at the hotel they are staying at. But Cole's mother is really more civil than she has been in a long time. She talks about Cole and Luisa not being able to marry at Lockhart ranch - aka the same place Cole and Alison wed. But that's really all she does. Scotty is the much bigger problem because he looks even worse than he did before. He has really fallen deep into this drug addiction. Cole sees that immediately. He wants him to get better solely so that he doesn't bring the rest of the family down with him. Scotty is only willing to listen as soon as Cole steals his big idea to buy the Lobster Roll out of foreclosure from him.

The purchase of the Lobster Roll is an interesting story and is the big focal point that connects this episode's two stories. On the one hand, it signals a bright future for Cole and Luisa. They can finally follow their ambitions and build something that is truly memorable and completely theirs. On the other hand though, the only way they can reasonably do it is if Alison becomes their business partner. That's a blurring of the lines that can become way too complicated. Alison and Cole have had a fine relationship after their divorce. They've largely moved past the anger they felt when Alison cheated and Cole threatened to kill Noah. And yet, it's still completely messed up for them to consider going into business together. Alison uses it as a way to find a purpose in her life. But it's also incredibly deceitful of her to do this without talking about it with Noah at all. It makes it seem as if Alison is able to connect with and understand Cole better than Noah. That's not unreasonable. But it is strange and meaningful that Cole comes up with this idea and Alison immediately takes it after feeling at a loss for so long with Noah as he's done everything to make up for his past mistakes.

Noah's story in this episode is much more meaningful largely because it is unexpected. He thought he and Alison were communicating better. He believed they were in a good place. He had no idea what Alison was really getting into over the last six weeks. The two of them finally have a real conversation where they are able to express how they are actually feeling right now in their lives. That was something that was slowly building up throughout the previous episode. It was waiting to burst. That's what provided their relationship with so much tension. They weren't communicating which ultimately led to these decisions happening that could drastically alter their lives together. Alison has no idea how it will logistically work. But she wants to be at the Lobster Roll helping manage it alongside Luisa. That's what she wants right now. Noah eventually learns that. However, the majority of his story this week is him having conversations with other people trying to make sense of why Alison has just done this life-changing thing.

Noah's various conversations largely happen in order to bring some plots into better focus and significance elsewhere in the narrative. Noah learns about what Alison has done from Oscar. It's been so good that Oscar has had very little screen time this season. He's slimy and manipulative. That really stopped being interesting a long time ago. The purpose of that bar scene with Noah is only to show that Oscar has had a rough life over the past year as well. But it largely just serves as a re-introduction to the character that way he doesn't feel out of place when he later pops up at the wedding. The same thing can be said of Noah going to see Max, who has just bought a phenomenal house in the Montauk area. It's just an excuse for letting Noah find out about Max's true feelings for Helen. It signals animosity between the two friends - which will extend to Noah's trial where Max surprisingly testifies against him. It is an interesting scene in how it breaks down that friendship. But it's still largely about a story that stopped being relevant to the show a long time ago - and even longer in the show's narrative. So, it just really pops up here in order to make it thematically connected once Max shows up in the flash-forwards.

Noah's final conversation with Alison is the most meaningful and powerful scene of the entire episode. It's great because Noah has had some time to speculate and process this information. He has found out the truth about Alison. He learns just how unhappy she has been as of late while he has been so committed to his chaotic struggle in order to win her back. He thought he understood her and he didn't. That's devastating to him. It's also not as simple as her wanting to go back to Cole either. She's not running back to him once her life becomes too difficult like she used to. She is making this decision for herself and is now facing the consequences of that action. She's not running away from Noah. She is sitting down with him to be open about everything she has just done and why she wants to commit to it. Noah is no longer angry like he was earlier in the day. He just wants to understand. It's a complicated sequence. One that reaches no easy resolution in the end. That's what gives it its true meaning. Noah and Alison have reached a huge hurdle in their relationship. If they want things to work out (which they do, again given the flash-forwards), they will have to figure how to make this new dream of Alison's work. It's just frustrating to Noah as he listens to Alison talking about herself and him realizing just how little he knows her. She's not a monster like Oscar suggests. But she is different. Noah isn't because he's still fantasizing about running her over with his car. In that final moment though, he is still trying to be a good person and listen to what she has to say. Though that may not last for much longer.

Some more thoughts:
  • "211" was directed by Michael Slovis with story by Abe Sylvia and teleplay by Abe Sylvia & Sharr White.
  • The Lobster Roll sold for $1.4 million. Is that something you can reasonably belief?
  • It is intriguing and very frustrating that during the trial Cole's testimony includes that time from Noah's memory where he thought he tackled Scotty instead of Cole pointing a gun on him and his family - like everyone else remembered. It's hard to tell if that's Cole manipulating a false story to prop up his testimony or if the show really wants to maintain the ambiguity of that specific memory. Either way, bringing it up again does the show no real favors.
  • It's also frustrating that Scotty is convenient passed out once Cole really does want to know the piece of news that could completely change his life. Also, it doesn't appear as if rehab will do much good for Scotty if he's yelling at Alison during Cole's wedding.
  • It is amusing though that Margaret knows the Lockharts as either being the one who got Whitney pregnant or the one who pointed a gun at Noah. Of course, her forgiving Cole for his actions really wasn't an earned moment. It was simply a scene with a conflict for a few moments and then had a wonky resolution.
  • Noah is very accurate in saying that Max's money is the reason why he is so lonely. He has always been so forceful in using it in order to lure women into the fantasy that is his life. It also seems that he is destined to be alone considering Helen's relationship with the doctor is still going on in the future.
  • Who really cares if Noah's next book is a sequel to Descent or the much more serious story that Noah has been working on for the past few months?
  • The show was renewed for a third season earlier this week. It should be interesting to see where the story goes once it catches up to Scotty's death and the trial. Will that mean it abandons it's flash-forward structure? Or will some new twist keep that alive for another year? The finale should make things more clear.