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‘The Affair’ Recap: Rock Me Like a Hurricane

Where to Stream

The Affair

The Affair tells the complicated saga of an extramarital affair and the havoc it causes by splitting the narrative into two points of view: HIS & HERS. To wit, Decider will be recapping the show’s second season in a similar way with Sean T. Collins covering the female POV and Meghan O’Keefe responding with her take on the male perspective. Today, we’re discussing the ninth episode of the show’s second season (“Episode 209”).

(NOTE: Last night’s episode marks the first time The Affair has not been split down the middle into his and her POVs. Instead, the episode followed our four protagonists over one stormy night. Nevertheless, the story was clearly split according to gendered lines. )

HELEN & ALISON

For the former Mrs. Solloway (Maura Tierney), the penultimate episode of The Affair’s second season might well be titled How Helen Got Her Groove Back. After a Tinder date goes bust, she just so happens to bump into the doctor who saved her son Martin’s life at the restaurant bar. He’s equal parts charming and sleazy—well, perhaps not quite equal parts, given how insistent he is on providing her with his home address for a thank-you bottle of whiskey, and how much of the stuff he’s drinking while on call. Still, he makes a go of it, trying to ask her out on a date. “What is a date, really?” Helen asks rhetorically. “It’s just an interview for sex.” “Okay,” he replies without missing a beat. “Would you like to have sex with me?” “Sure,” Helen responds. Yowza!

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that whole exchange, and the “sneak him in past the kids, fuck him on the basement floor” sex that follows is hot as shit. After untold months of acting out with Max and marijuana, Helen’s finally able to act up, having sex for the sheer joy of it with a dude who won’t impact her life in the slightest, if she so chooses.

But will she? It’s fascinating to follow the ethical logic of Dr. Ula (sp? listen, your guess is as good as mine; IMDB says nothing, though he’s played by Omar Metwally) during their post-coital conversations, given the similar but contrasting route Noah (Dominic West) took during Helen’s POV last week. Her ex-husband, whom she has every right to see as caddish, was portrayed in her half of the episode as an eloquent spokesperson for the importance of love, faith, and trust, as well as genuinely honest and repentant about his role in the breakdown of those things between the two of them. The good doctor, however, dismisses the heart as a mere organ. He argues that whether or not he’s a decent guy or a dickhead comes down to whether you feel his good deeds outweigh the bad, or vice versa. It’s not so much moral calculus as moral arithmetic.

And it bums Helen out mightily, yet it also intrigues her. The doc maintains his weird dichotomy of Lancelot and Mordred throughout his stay at the house. He treats a patient’s mother with TLC on the phone, then calls her a bitch when he hangs up. He delicately handles Martin’s medical condition, but says he’d “rather drown” then spend time watching movies with the kids when it’s over.

And perhaps the doc’s difference from Noah is appealing in and of itself, even if it seems to take him in a more difficult direction than her currently rosy picture of her ex. Maybe instead of a guy who seems to have it all figured out, only to run in the opposite direction as far and as fast as he can, she wants a guy who can embrace his own contradictions. (As for Noah himself, his breakdown in the car following his long dark night of the boner at the hurricane party-cum-orgy indicates he’s added up his own good and bad and found himself in the red.) Whatever the case, the way he kisses her wrist as he says goodbye is hell of sexy.

Relative to Helen, Alison’s (Ruth Wilson) situation is straightforward. She goes into labor. She needs her fiancée. He’s not there for her, due to the combination of a misplaced smartphone, a coked-up sex party, serial philandering, and an unseasonal hurricane. She gives birth to a beautiful daughter without him, with the help of a doctor she mistakes for a nurse due to her youth and, let’s face it, her gender. During labor she seems to commune, on some level, with her ex-husband Cole as he hits rock bottom. And when she emerges, she finds she needs Noah less than she did before. Maybe that’s what she and her romantic rival Helen ultimately have in common. Whatever it is they really need, Noah isn’t it.

NOAH & COLE

The Affair is a show that has always been concerned with the stories we tell ourselves to get by. This week both Noah and Cole (Joshua Jackson) were confronted with the narratives that fate has stuck them in — and, hoo boy, are they different! I mean, one is a riff on Norman Mailer and morality, while the other is a Gothic Romance that would make two out of three Brontë sisters swoon.

Let’s start with Noah. As we’ve seen since the start of the series, Noah is a man struck down by what I like to call, “Nice Guy’s Burden.” It’s not enough to be a good husband, good father, and decent teacher. He longs for greatness. He pines for fun. He lusts for glory. Most all, he wants to be freed of responsibility. Hence, it’s only inevitable that he would “lose” his phone, leave Alison stranded during a hurricane, and follow Eden into a hedonistic hurricane party. Much like Odysseus conveniently separated himself from his wife and child by spending years amongst the lotus eaters, Noah just happens to find himself stuck in an orgasmic candy store of temptations.

Noah is chuffed when a vacuous Hollywood Producer tells him that he’s the heir of Norman Mailer, but here’s what I think of when I think of that 20th Century literary lion: He stabbed his wife Alma in the heart with a pen knife. The man might have been a genius when it came to words, but he was morally bankrupt to the point of being possibly unhinged — or even downright evil. If Noah wants to live up to that literary legacy, he also has to face the fact that it comes with a Faustian twist. Artistic greatness doesn’t always come with moral goodness. It takes a bitter Max, of all people, to shove this moral decay in Noah’s face.

The hurricane party pushed Noah way out of his comfort zone. The once happy family man who could zip through Brooklyn pool lanes with strength and ease is now stumbling, almost drowning, in a pool filled with naked nymphs who want nothing to do with him. Oh, and Whitney’s one of them.

Were you grossed out by this? I was grossed out by this. Lusting after your daughter is one of the most archaic and deep-rooted of sins. This is where the success of Descent has taken Noah. It’s stripped him of his self and shown him the degredation of his spirit. If he immediately recoils in shame and guilt when he sees Whitney, well, he’s earned it. He also deserves Alison’s ire for missing the birth of their child. When he finally careens into that ditch, he’s a man at the end of his rope, sobbing in a flooded ditch.

Cole is also not doing so well in this episode, but for almost opposite reasons. You can look at the two men as photo negatives of each other. While Noah can’t seem to stop fathering babies, Cole is hung up on the ghost of his one and only dead son. His only attachment to Alison’s house is a doorframe where he carved Gabriel’s height twice a year. It’s a clichéd trope, but it strikes at the heart of Cole’s grief. He explains to Luisa that once the house is demolished, “It will be like we were never here.”

Cole is adrift, but his one compass is Luisa. Her one problem? She can’t have children. Naturally, Cole makes Luisa’s heartbreaking confession all about him and the Lockhart family curse.

You have to really applaud Luisa for calling bullshit on Cole’s superstitious histrionics. While every other character on The Affair seems stuck in the dramatic narratives they’ve woven for themselves, Luisa’s world philosophy is to move forward and fight for a happy life. She also sagely tells Cole that he needs to stop blaming everyone else for his unhappiness and she leaves understanding that if their relationship goes wrong he will blame her.

Luisa means more to Cole than he thinks because when she leaves, he immediately falters. As the storm batters the seaside house, he gets drunk on moonshine and gets pulled into a psychological maelstrom. He hears Alison’s wails on the wind and sees Gabriel’s ghost outside. The towheaded boy’s outline is smudged in the rain and his voice beckons Cole to join him.

Cole begins to douse the house in moonshine and lights a flame. As Alison gives birth to her daughter, her house, her ex-husband, and the ghost of her child succumb to an inferno.

It’s pure American Gothic.

[Watch The Affair on Showtime] or [Watch The Affair on Hulu]

Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) is a freelance writer who lives with Diet Coke and his daughter, not necessarily in that order, on Long Island.

[Gifs by Jaclyn Kessel, copyright Showtime]

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