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The Affair foolishly bases an entire episode on a character we don’t know very well

Photo: David Giesbrecht (Showtime)
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There was a time, not too long ago, when I would watch each Affair episode at least twice prior to my review. That hasn’t happened in a while; I have to say that over the past few weeks, I have had zero desire to watch these hours of television a second time. (My colleague Joshua Ashton once told me that he only watches episodes once for review because then he would be having the same experience as the people reading the review, so there you go.)

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I know, it was a Noah-free episode, it should have been a cakewalk, right? Except it was free of every other character we care about on The Affair as well (granted, now a short list). After a few minutes-long glimpses of Anna Paquin as the now-adult Joanie a few decades into the future in previous episodes, we now get to spend a whole hour with her. As it turns out, her churlish asides and bad life decisions add up to a fairly unlikable character, no one we’re dying to hang out with for an hour. Y’know, with Joshua Jackson leaving the show, the one hope we had was Cole driving away into the sunset with little Joanie at the end of season four, hopefully off to a happy-ish ending. But The Affair being the The Affair, we don’t even get that.

Cole did okay, I guess: Forever pining for Alison, at least he eventually moved back to his beloved Montauk, where, as the meant-to-be-witty-but-is-really-utterly-charmless E.J. informs us, “the more this place deteriorated, the more the summer people abandoned it, the happier he got.” But devoting his life to his daughter, despite their happy years in Vermont, led to a suffocating affection from which Joanie eventually had to flee.

Maybe a happy life for Joanie was too much to hope for, as E.J. is helpfully there to point out for us: If trauma gets passed down from generation to generation, there’s no better example than the saga of the Lockharts. But the episode’s sole saving grace points out that due to the supermoon and the strong tide pull, maybe Alison didn’t kill herself at the jetty. The water would have been too shallow (seriously, this wouldn’t have come up 30 years ago?), which makes all circumstances point to Ben instead.

If Alison was killed, wouldn’t that change everything about Joanie’s perception of her? Joanie still complains bitterly to E.J. and a poorly aged Luisa (That old-person makeup was so bizarre I thought that was Athena at first, which wouldn’t really make sense, mathwise), Alison’s suicide ruined everything for her. Nevertheless, this new revelation, oddly, seems to have very little effect on Joanie herself.

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Luisa tells her that she has everything, including a family that loves her. Is it Joanie’s inherited trauma, the self-destructive impulses of her mother, that then lead her to tear her own family apart? She is clearly overwhelmed by the daughters she apparently never wanted in the first place. She destroys her home’s vertical garden, calling it pointless, because the world is ending. Then she tells her husband she’s been cheating on him “for years,” followed by a futile attempt to convince him that nothing has changed after her revelation. That was like the quickest, dumbest marriage breakup I’ve ever had the misfortune of witnessing on any kind of screen. What was the point? If Joanie really wanted to get at the truth in her marriage, and her life, there must have been less-painful way for her to do so. And how did she get back to E.J.’s so quickly? All the way back to Montauk?

At least E.J. offers some reasoning for Joanie’s erratic behavior: She’s still grieving her father. But as we don’t really know this character in adulthood that well (and certainly, not in good times), it’s hard to muster up sympathy for her, instead wincing at her frequently harsh lines like, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you can’t offend me because I don’t actually care what you think.” Yes, E.J. isn’t Cary Grant or anything, but you also haven’t spoken to anyone in a few days, Joanie, and he has some valuable info about your family so how about lightening up just a bit?

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But from what we see of Joanie with her kids and her husband and her coworker a few episodes back, she never really lightens up at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s a disjointed narrative that does The Affair a disservice; spending the midseason episode treading water with Joanie doesn’t seem likely to draw anybody in to these final episodes. At least, we can predict Joanie will confront the now-senior-citizen Ben (next week, looks like from the preview).

The best moment of the whole episode was the flashback during Joanie’s dream, showing that beautiful, brief glimpse of her parents. Even those few seconds are enough to remind us why we used to love The Affair—bringing back memories of a much better show.

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Stray observations

  • Hey, at least we’re now past the midpoint of the season.
  • Even hearing Ruth Wilson’s voice on “Previously on The Affair” was painful. But what was with her voiceover revealing Alison’s memories—how would Joanie have remembered those?
  • “Dad left the house a huge mess.” Because he died suddenly.
  • Joanie doesn’t watch movies, guy, okay? Get over it.
  • Alison died in 2021? What? Has this whole show been in the future?
  • “You’re the one wearing a watch, who does that any more?” Why would no one wear watches? Guessing because their electronic tabulators or whatever already keep time. If Joanie hates Alison so much, why would she wear her dead mother’s watch?
  • As a scientist, wouldn’t Joanie have also remembered that “Ben Cruz” was at the top of that pile of interview notes? And wondered who he was? E.J.’s misguided theory that Cole was pining for Ben was amusing just for how far afield it was.
  • E.J. says “of course” way too many times. And I originally had his name wrong as “C.J.” Still don’t like him. But… he’s got to be Eddie, right? Sierra and Vik’s kid? “My father died right before I was born so I never knew him.” Well, at least he survives Sierra’s parenting into adulthood.
  • Next week: Back to Montauk for what looks like Whitney’s wedding, finally. And, more Luisa.
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About the author

Gwen Ihnat

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.