If The Affair was a supernatural show, Noah’s book would be the ancient cursed artifact that infects and ruins the lives of everyone who reads it before murdering them in some sort of brutal fashion. In the more stark reality of this world, it ends up as much of the same, acting as both a mirror and a magnifying glass, intensifying how they see themselves as reflected and filtered through Noah’s words. Does what they see say more about them, or more about how Noah sees them? Or does it mean nothing at all?
The way this season of The Affair is structured, the book also serves as a sort of ticking time bomb as well, finally exploding all over this Thanksgiving-themed episode and leaving destruction everywhere in its wake. The person the book affects most is Alison, simply because her entire life has been rearranged to nurture it. The last time we saw Alison and Noah she was practically begging for more time at the yoga retreat, right before confessing she was pregnant. Her perspective here has a time jump long enough for her to be visibly showing, and for Noah’s book to be crowned the next big thing in the New York literary circles and beyond. The episode opens with Noah and Alison at a fancy party with no explanation of the time jump, deliberately throwing us off balance as a smart shortcut to put us exactly in Alison’s headspace, because what becomes immediately clear is that Alison is completely uneasy in her new life with Noah. She is glossed over as unimportant by the literary snobs; desperate for a connection to anyone, she talks to freely to someone who looks like a friendly face but turns out to be a Page Six gossip columnist looking for scoop. It isn’t until she talks to someone on the kitchen staff—someone closer to who she was before, and someone who she’s sure hasn’t read Noah’s book—that she feels entirely at ease.
It’s this point, which carries over from what we’ve seen since Alison read snippets of the book earlier in the season, which is like the creeping sense of dread hanging over everything. Everything about Alison’s fancy new house and fancy new life is totally wrapped up in what Noah needs, and everything Noah needs right now is about his book. He needs an office, so the nursery is on hold for now. He needs to meet Jonathan Franzen, so he is late to Thanksgiving dinner and forgets to pick up the turkey on the way home. Some of this is understandable—this is the biggest thing that’s ever happened in Noah’s professional life—but that is all obscured by the big elephant in the room: Alison actually did read Noah’s entire book, and she’s not all that pleased with how she is portrayed. For Noah, the character in his book might be inspired by her but is a wholly separate entity. For Alison, it’s a much more complicated feeling. In the book, Noah’s character was so overcome by Alison’s character he kills her in the end. Does Noah see her and the baby as that, something that so ruined his life that he’d rather dispose of them completely?
The scene where Alison confronts Noah about his book is by far one of the most interesting things in the episode, because it finally give some context to the central storytelling device. During the fight, Alison brings up events we’ve seen from both Alison and Noah’s perspectives in the past—the sex with Cole in the pilot, Noah helping Alison when her grandmother was dying—and makes it implicit (at least in Alison’s memory) that they both see things differently, the way we saw them during those specific perspectives. It’s a fascinating thing for the show to address, even if it gets a bit of a too-on-the-nose beat from Max explicitly pointing out that they both have differing memories about past events. Alison and Noah end the episode in what looks like a better place, but there definitely feels like there is more to explore regarding Noah’s book and the increasing (and unwanted) notoriety it is giving Alison.
Back in Montauk, Cole is dealing with what he learns from reading Noah’s book as well. Cole seems as if he is in a better place in the time jump; it looks like he’s actually cut his hair and showered in the past few months, at least, and he’s in some sort of a serious relationship with Luisa. But there’s something rotten still following Cole around, so rotten that as soon as Luisa tells him she loves him he lashes out at her in the most ruthless and cruel way possible for the express purpose of driving her away. All she wants to do is love him and have him over for her family’s Thanksgiving; all Cole wants to do is wallow in his own misery instead, like he’s still punishing himself for all the things that happened beyond his control with both Alison and his family’s financial situation.
It isn’t until Cole reads Noah’s book (on the advice of Oscar, which is delightful) and learns about the deep lies and secrets that lie within his own family that he finally reaches his breaking point. Cole is someone who believes the mythos of his family line as dedicated, strong, good people, and learning that his grandfather was the total opposite of this—an abusive, hateful, man who once drowned a child that his wife had via an affair with another man—makes him come completely undone . This family past is a toxicity Cherry and her husband tried to keep from the boys, but now feels ingrained into their family like a curse in her mind. Cole’s father killed himself. They lost their farm. Gabriel died. Cole’s brother just lost a baby of their own. It’s suffocating, dysfunctional madness, madness that Cherry calls a curse but seems to almost energize Cole into snapping out of his depression.
Cole learning to truth about his family’s legacy—truth he would likely never have found out if Noah’s book didn’t exist—is the thing that finally makes him want to be better, and so he goes to Luisa, apologizes, and tells her he loves her. In the span of one episode, Noah’s book is shown both bringing people together and tearing others apart. At the beginning, The Affair was about how Noah and Alison’s choice to embark on this affair reverberated through everyone’s lives around them. Now, it feels like Noah’s book has taken on a life of its own far beyond any influence Alison and Noah could have ever caused by themselves. How much further will it go?
- I love the development of Alison and Athena’s relationship over the course of the show. They get along so much better now and have such a better understanding of each other, but there’s still that edge of distrust simmering under the surface.
- Athena does have good advice about the Montauk house. The extremely fancy apartment plus Alison selling the house feels like its hinting as to why Noah doesn’t have all that much money in the present day scenes.
- Interesting that Whitney seems the most like a typical scared, mixed-up teen in Cole’s perspective. Julia Goldani Telles does a good job of toning down the more wise-to-the-world parts of Whitney’s character here.
- We also get a nod to the multiple perspective device with Whitney and Cole, as Whitney tells him she remembers him holding a gun to her head and Cole says it was her father’s only.
- Another Whitney point: Her not being in the book makes her feel unimportant to her father. Is this the real reason she never visits at the apartment?
- For once it felt like the present-day scenes completely tied into the narrative of the rest of the episode. Obviously Scotty thought Alison and Noah’s child was Cole’s baby. Very curious to see if this turns out to be the case.
- “We were having dinner with Philip Roth last night. He’s my neighbor in the country.” I definitely understand why Alison feels like she doesn’t quite fit in with this crowd.