Monday, December 21, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Affair' - The Night of Cole's Wedding and Scotty's Death is Finally Seen in '212'

Showtime's The Affair - Episode 2.12 "212"

Events set in motion long ago come to their conclusion. A startling admission causes Noah to withdraw from his new life. Alison is honest with Noah, and herself. A dispute between Cole and Scotty is followed by tragedy. Meanwhile, a turn in Noah's trial results in a shocking event.

For two seasons now, The Affair has been building up to the night of Scotty's death. It was a mystery teased early on in the series. In the very first episode of the series, it is alluded to that Noah and Alison's affair will lead to an incredibly tragic death of one of the other major characters. That mystery slowly fizzled out after it was revealed that the victim was Scotty and that the season wasn't going to reach that moment in the narrative. This season has had more time to play with its narrative while also adding two other perspectives to the mix. And now, the timeline has finally caught up to the moment where Scotty is killed during Cole and Luisa's wedding reception. Answers are finally coming for the audience. That sets up some big expectations for the show to deliver some satisfying twist in this final episode of the year. What actually happens is a very plot heavy episode that delivers on complications but largely sets out to shock the audience and not fully examine the consequences of these actions.

Scotty's death is the big event of this finale because it's what the narrative has been building towards for two seasons now. And yet, the show still needs to be a character drama where Noah, Alison, Helen and Cole have concerns that are very real before this big tragedy occurs. But the finale spends a little bit too much time on showing how the reality of these characters' lives aren't that great but this life-changing event forces all of them together again. This season has done a great job at showing how much these characters' lives have changed because of the affair between Noah and Alison. They both believed this relationship was the one true love they had both been searching for. The complications of that were much more problematic than they had anticipated as they had to find the perfect balance between their old and new lives. It's a balance that has been thrown terrifically off-kilter in these last few episodes.

However, this episode is really just about Scotty's death and nothing more. It certainly does a fine job in explaining how all of the characters get to where they are on that night while providing satisfying answers as to how he died. It's just all a tad too formulaic in its need to manipulate the audience because of the high expectations. Helen is the person who runs Scotty over with the minivan. That only happens because she and Noah get drunk together and he once again returns to the dark thoughts in his head regarding what he wants to do to Alison. All season long, Noah has had these brief visions of running over Alison as she walks down the middle of the road. It was clearly foreshadowing of the big event that the audience knows is coming. But it also puts too much emphasis on Noah. There was almost no way Noah was actually going to be the killer. He's the one being charged with the crime. It would be so much more emotionally dramatic and resonant with all of the characters if he is just going through this process in order to protect the people that he loves. That's exactly what he is doing too. He is the reason why Helen got drunk and got behind the wheel. It's because of his inability to truly address his relationship with Alison in a real way that gets Scotty killed.

And yet, there's another huge twist in that Scotty was pushed by Alison into the middle of the road in the first place. He came onto her because he has once again gotten drunk because Cole and Alison back out on their promise to make him a partner in their new business. She was also scared that he was going to tell Noah and Cole the truth about who Joni's father really is. It's such a big deal in this finale regarding Noah and Cole learning about Joni's paternity. It's not the monstrous reason why Alison pushes Scotty into the road. She did that because she was in fear for her own life. But it does provide the hour with a big emotional storyline that connects the many different pieces together. It's not all that great largely because the two perspectives have wildly different responses to Noah learning the truth. To Noah, he has this epic blowup at Alison because she listens to Cole's vows and no longer wants to keep this secret from him. And then, Noah just never wants to see her again because she has completely destroyed their relationship. In Alison's side of the story though, she tells Noah because she's afraid over what Scotty might do and Noah really doesn't have any reaction. The focus is on Alison - which is a good thing because this is a huge secret she gets off of her shoulders. But it doesn't particularly track well later once Noah sees Alison through the bushes once Scotty has been killed.

This one action forces Noah to actually protect the two main women in his life. He is there to comfort both of them - even though their reactions are much more fascinating to watch. It also signals this event being the one thing that keeps Noah and Alison together. They have some major problems. And now that the truth is known about Joni, Noah has a way out. But he still must be holding on to something in his relationship with Alison. In his side of the story, he connects much more with Helen. They share a fantastic scene on the beach where they are able to embrace the world for all that it is. They claim that they still don't know what the fuck they are doing but they do have some more experience and understanding of the world. They still have great love for each other that extends beyond being parents to their four children. If Helen doesn't run over Scotty, there's a chance that the two of them could have reunited. But that doesn't happen. Scotty does die and Noah needs to protect both Helen and Alison. That does provide a better explanation as to why Helen has been so worried about the outcome of the trial all season long.

And yet, the resolution to the flash-forward sequences is once again very frustrating. It's Noah falling on his sword in some grand gesture for the women that he loves. He would rather go to jail himself than let any harm come to Helen or Alison. He'll probably expect them to be appreciative of that. He did so in order to prevent his lawyer from presenting some damning evidence against Alison. The prosecution doesn't know anything about Helen's involvement in Scotty's death. So something must still be holding Noah and Alison together. It can't just be love. The back and forth going on in Noah's mind over whether to let his lawyer introduce this new evidence or not really isn't that engaging. This storyline needed to reach some resolution. And yet, all that really happens is a sensational moment where Noah declares he's guilty in the courtroom. It doesn't set up an engaging premise for the already announced third season. In fact, it sets up more complications because the future is uncertain. It should be interesting to see how everyone reacts both in the immediate aftermath of Scotty's death and in Noah's stunning declaration in court. However, it's difficult to think of how that will be sustainable for ten or twelve more episodes of story. It's a big declaration but one that's not particularly insightful because the characters in the flash-forwards are so streamlined. That story has just been one big plot contrivance where actions only happen in order to surprise the audience even though they fit right in line with the thematics of the episodes. This show does emotional and character interaction much better than plot beats. So, that's why so much of this ending feels a little anticlimactic.

Some more thoughts:
  • "212" was written by Sarah Treem and directed by Jeffrey Reiner.
  • The Cole story in this episode is made up entirely to give that character something to do. His hesitation over this wedding was completely unnecessary. It didn't make sense with anything that his character has done this season. Plus, it didn't really inform much about Alison's current headspace either.
  • Noah and Alison also bicker about Alison deciding to spend more time managing the Lobster Roll and Noah wanting to travel to France in the fall. They are small arguments but show just how incapable of change these two really are as a couple.
  • Also, did Noah really not expect Cole and Luisa to take a honeymoon and thus need someone to manage the Lobster Roll? Plus, it needed to be one of the partners considering it was their big re-opening.
  • It used to be amusing seeing how over-the-top Alison saw Helen. But when it featured Alison noticing Helen screaming in the minivan while Noah was checking on Scotty's body, it was just a little too ridiculous and campy. It somewhat took some of the seriousness out of the moment.
  • It's also hysteric that the show is trying to suggest that it took the detective all of this time just to find the rock with Alison's name on it at the crime scene. Did no one bother to think once the body was found that there may have been clues in the surrounding area? It was laughably bad.
  • So apparently Helen and Margaret have mended fences. That's the only reason why Helen is even at Cole's wedding. She's out of place which does set up the big reveal later on in the episode - though at a disservice to what Helen did early in the season.
  • Again, the show has been renewed for a third season and it's not exactly clear what will happen with the narrative. That's exciting but also very scary as the show is slowly backing itself into a corner it may not be able to reasonably get out of. These answers are nice to have. Now, they just need to have some meaningful consequences for all of the characters.