Joshua Jackson as Cole and Amy Irving as Nan in The Affair
Photo: Paul Sarkis (Showtime)

I see what you’re doing this season, The Affair. With our now slightly expanded cast, the show can offer parallel actions and themes across character arcs, with either same or differing motivations. For example, when Cole and Luisa had sex on the kitchen counter right before their business dinner, it was both a distraction and a (failed) attempt to solidify the relationship. When Vik and Helen had sex on the kitchen counter the next episode, it was a distraction from Vik’s diagnosis, but also an attempt for him to feel something: alive.

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We have a sex-related parallel this hour as well, and it’s the most annoying part of the episode for me. Both Vik and Cole are in crisis, and both have much younger, beautiful women ready to immediately have sex with them to make them feel better. (I guess it helps if you are a really, really handsome middle-aged man in crisis.) Both women make their own emotional connections with these men, and Sierra, especially, seems to be in search for her own comforting as well, because of her mother. But the solace provided by Sierra and Delphine is short-lived—Vik is still in anguish at the end of his episode half, despite his new Porsche, and Cole is going to try to get Alison back anyway—so the immediate nakedness of these young women seems nothing but gratuitous.

If we can move past that unfortunate double plot point (granted, a big if), the other parallel of the episode works much better: Trying to escape the sins, and the sacrifices, of the fathers (and mothers). I’m happy to see Vik finally get his own perspective half because Omar Metwally kills every scene that he’s in, and we need to see how Vik is dealing with his devastating diagnosis. His speech to Sierra on how his entire life has been based on either pleasing or pissing off his parents lands especially hard: “Everything I’ve done has either been for or in reaction to them… I haven’t really made a single choice for myself.”

Vik is 45 years old, but as we all know, the specter of our parents lasts a lifetime. Even if the shadow they cast is rather dark: Cole, for example, has basically lived his entire life in reaction to his abusive alcoholic father, who killed himself when Cole was a kid. As the eldest of four sons, Cole has been trying to take care of the family ever since—for awhile, unfortunately with a drug ring—but his endless and frankly martyr-esque persona is only in reaction to being everything his father was not. So it’s an eye-opener for Cole to discover why his dad was that way: Gabriel found a few brief months of happiness with Nan, but returned to Montauk when Cherry got pregnant with Cole.

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Does the tryst with Nan offer a more sympathetic scenario for Gabriel? Yes and no. He gave up the love of his life, and true happiness, for responsibility, for carrying on the generations of Lockharts at the ranch in Montauk. But in doing so, he effectively made his wife and his kids pay the price for his misery by being drunk and abusive. Not sure what the correct choice would have been (Divorce, with Cherry threatening suicide? Kids on opposite sides of the country? Don’t have three more kids?) but the one that the Lockharts wound up with doesn’t seem to have done anyone any favors. But the Nan backstory adds a layer of tragedy that makes Cole’s dad story steeped more in tragedy than assholery, as he originally suspected.

For Cole, the message seems clear: The heart wants what the heart wants, and denying it only leads to more unhappiness. And his heart wants Alison; it always has. The “previously on The Affair” clip is (purposefully) telling, as Alison points out that if Cole goes to her, he won’t be able to play the good guy for Luisa anymore. But as Cole himself points out, Luisa deserves someone whose heart doesn’t eternally belong to anyone else. So all of Nan’s love-dissolving exorcism steps—while interesting and entertaining to witness as Cole lists as the things he loves and hates about his ex-wife—are pointless. Even sleeping with someone like Delphine isn’t going to work. We don’t get our three-amigos-on-the-road preface this episode, but it explains why Cole is the person most determined to find out where Alison is and is the most concerned about her whereabouts: He’s still in love with her.

It’s not the choice his father made, and it’s not the choice that Cherry would likely approve of. But Cole, like Vik this episode, realizes the folly in living your life around the people who shaped it. I thought of one of my favorite movie lines, from Postcards From The Edge, when Meryl Streep’s Suzanne gets coached by her director, Gene Hackman, on how to break away from her mother. To say, “Fuck it. I start with me.” Our parents are going to influence us, of course they are. But once we (finally) reach adulthood, we can have a say on how far that influence goes. For Vik, he realizes too late how much his parents’ sacrifices and life choices were still affecting him. Cole might still have a chance, but it means separating from Luisa and convincing Alison that after all that has happened, their life together can really work. In this episode, he finally realizes that a love like that is so rare, it’s worth fighting for. Getting to that realization leads him to the “Thanks, Dad” that ends the episode: schlocky, but deserved.

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Stray observations

  • Surprisingly welcome return for Amy Irving! I always liked her in ’80s movies like The Competition and Micki And Maude (not much of a horror fan, so I missed all of those Brian DePalma movies), but I found her really impressive here. And all of the one-on-ones between her and Joshua Jackson were just stellar: the thoughtful way he pondered how to tell her how his father died, for example.
  • If Cole hated his father so much, why did he name his son after him? Possibly because it was expected, in the Lockhart tradition.
  • Does Vik’s mother’s disinterest in a prospective grandchild and Helen’s blowing off the hormone shots mean that this baby plan is at an end? Hopefully? Maybe Sierra will wind up giving birth to Vik’s eventual heir.
  • Excellent song choice: Lord Huron’s “The Night We Met.” Also The National’s “About Today.”
  • “I hate that you ran off with Noah fucking Solloway.”
  • Why did Cherry send Cole to where Nan was, knowing that he would discover that she’s kind of the villain in this scenario? She sent Nan the letters back so that Nan would think that Gabriel had stopped loving her, and didn’t even have the decency to tell Nan that Gabriel had died. She was likely resentful toward the woman that her husband had an affair with, but it still seems strange that she would steer Cole right into the center of that scenario. Maybe it was her way of making amends after all that had happened.
  • Next week: More Noah at Compton Academy (ugh), and Alison breaks down.

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