Sunday, December 11, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Affair' - Joanie's Birthday Forces Cole and Alison to Reanalyze Their Relationship in '304'

Showtime's The Affair - Episode 3.04 "304"

Cole is put in an increasingly impossible situation by Alison's return to his life. Alison must contend with Luisa while attempting to reconnect with her daughter. Simultaneously, a dangerous passion threatens to wreck everything.

Alison has been trying to win back trust this season. Events that happened during the time jump have made Cole and Luisa doubt her. She has made her way back into their lives. They've let Joanie see her because Joanie deserves to be with her mother. They have worked out a custody arrangement since Alison first showed up in Montauk again. This episode tracks how well Cole and Alison think they're handling this new situation they find themselves in. Both perspectives for this episode largely show the same events. Cole and Alison have drastically different versions of them - though not to the point where the details are drastically different. It shows just how scary and unpredictable this current situation is for both of them. It also highlights how special the connection still is between them. The spark is still there. Things have changed so much over the years between them. Joanie is now older than Gabriel was when they lost him. They are in uncharted territory now. That's scary. And yet, they find themselves pulling each other closer instead of running away as they've done in the past.

It's fascinating to see that Cole views Alison as someone who actually has her life under control again. He really may have a blindspot to Alison like Luisa suggests at one point during this story. Alison did such a horrible thing in abandoning her daughter. She did so in order to get treatment for her depression. She wasn't capable of being a good mother. And now, Cole wants to believe that Alison has changed. He knows that she can be a good parent. He saw it before even though she blamed herself for Gabriel's death for a long time. Cole knows how nurturing and protective Alison can be. He wants to believe she has gotten her life figured out. He doesn't doubt her anymore. He tags along to see the latest visit Alison has with Joanie. What he sees is a parent who lets her child have fun on the playground but is also capable of enforcing the rules when the situation calls for it. She is very protective and doesn't put Joanie in danger when she wants to play on the monkey bars. Cole sees the world as a system that works. Alison went away and got better. The social worker also watching is doing her job and writing notes. It's a world filled with order. But more importantly, it's a world where Alison is herself again. Sure, there may be confusion when it comes to who has the birthday cake for Joanie. But at the end of the day, Alison is the one who runs into action when Joanie falls off the horse. That's what Cole sees. He's happy to see it too even though it causes friction with Luisa who knows he is incapable of seeing things clearly when it comes to Alison.

All of this contrasts nicely with how Alison sees her life. She doesn't think that everything is going fine for her. She sees an uphill battle. One that she is very far from conquering. She wants to believe she has a legitimate shot at getting unsupervised visits. But all it takes is one conversation with the lawyer representing Joanie's best interests for her to see that she still has a ton of work to do. She's really just holding on by a thread. All it takes is one mistake for this entire reality to come crashing down once more. She doubts every single action. She doesn't know how to be a parent anymore. She's happy when she's with Joanie. She's encouraging and playful. But when it comes to being assertive, she struggles. In her perspective, she lets Joanie play on the monkey bars even though one wrong step could lead to a trip to the emergency room. Nothing happens plus Cole and the social worker are distracted. But the tension is still high. Alison feels like a stranger in this world. She is unwelcome everywhere she goes even though she loves Montauk. She's still trying her best to win people over. And yet, the only one who genuinely strikes up a conversation with her is Oscar. And he's not the best when it comes to building a support system. All of this just builds up the thoughts that she's not good or stable enough for her daughter to be with her unsupervised.

More interestingly though, all of this is building to a hook up between Cole and Alison. That was completely unexpected. Cole has moved on from her. She had an affair with Noah. That ruined their marriage. And now, he is married to Luisa and building their dream house. He seemingly has everything figured out now. He is truly happy. But his life is still complicated. His brother is dead and his killer has just been released from prison. His ex-wife is back in town having seemingly figured her issues out. Her presence complicates everything for him. He had a perfect existence with Luisa and Joanie. But now, he's juggling it all trying to make everyone happy. He's still incredibly sympathetic to Alison. He goes over to her place furious that Noah is out of prison. Alison shares her side of how difficult all of this has been. And then, he sleeps with her. He does so even though Luisa was just angry with him for still having feelings for her.

In Alison's side of things, she is just as surprised about what has happened to Noah as Cole is. She wasn't expecting that at all. She wants to be away from all of that. However, she's still married to him. They've been estranged for over a year. She has had no contact with him. And then, two detectives show up asking her questions. Plus, the lawyer doubts she can get unsupervised visits with Joanie as long as she's married to Noah. Alison wants to focus on Joanie right now. She wants to be a good mom. It's a constant struggle every day. But she's doing her best to be there for her daughter. She never wants to run away again. And yet, she's nervous about everything she does. Nothing ever seems to be good enough to get people to trust her again. She froze when Joanie fell off the horse. She wasn't a mom in that moment. However, she still seems to be doing right by her daughter. Cole sees that with the playhouse Alison is building for Joanie. It's just a sweet and simple gesture. It's in that reveal that brings Alison and Cole together from her perspective. And yet, this also plays as yet another destructive decision Alison makes. She has promised Cole and Luisa that she's better and can be a responsible adult for Joanie. Sleeping with Cole again proves that that may not be the case at all.

Of course, it's very fitting that Noah is still playing a crucial role in the dynamic between Cole and Alison. He was the reason that they broke up in the first place. They were already very disconnected after Gabriel's death. But Noah was the one Alison found comfort in instead of Cole. She built a life with Noah for a little while. The two of them lived in the fantasy of this affair. It wasn't always a healthy relationship. In fact more often than not, they were terrible together. But there was still that attraction and curiosity to understand and consume each other. When Cole hears about Noah's stabbing, he believes he deserves it for what he did. He has no alibi for the crime either even though Luisa gives him one. But when Alison hears what happened to Noah, she actually listens to the voicemail he left recently. It's not enough for her to call him. She's not ready for that step yet. Plus, her having sex with Cole again means she may no longer want to see or be with Noah at all. She may be over him completely. She has to be if her focus is on being good for Joanie. Noah complicates things for everyone involved. It was simpler for Cole and Alison without Noah in their lives. But they become passionate after his influence is felt in this story. Plus, he shows up in Montauk again at the end of the episode. So, things are only going to get more intense this season for the characters.

Some more thoughts:
  • "304" was written by Stuart Zicherman and directed by John Dahl.
  • Up to this point, the audience has believed that Gunther was the person who stabbed Noah in his apartment. It was a way to forge a new path for the season that wasn't directly connected to the past. But now, the mystery intensifies because Cole doesn't have a good alibi for the night in question.
  • Oscar really does seem to be the only other citizen of importance in Montauk. He's friends with both Cole and Alison. He appears to be supportive of both of them in these stories. To Cole, he's a loving father who is proud of his son. To Alison, he's the same old disruptive guy who now complains about his kid.
  • Alison may be looking at a couple of different options for a job. It's something she needs to do to help her custody case. She mentions maybe becoming a nurse again. But Oscar also starts saying she'll run for city council. Either option could be interesting for story.
  • In Alison's perspective, Luisa really does come across similarly to how Alison sees Helen. She's this wonderful, powerful and perfect woman who seems like the best wife for the man Alison is interested in. But she can be mean and spiteful at times as well. There was even that moment where Alison thought about putting peanut butter in her cake to poison Luisa.
  • Noah showing up in Montauk could be very bad for him very quickly. It's a shock to Alison when she sees him driving by. But Cole really may kill him if they ever run into each other again.