Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Affair episode “408.”
While Showtime's The Affair is best known for its relentless use of sexy seascapes and sexy, sad people, it’s also a show plagued by real death and tragedy. First, there was the death of Alison Bailey's (Ruth Wilson) young son Gabriel (Landen M. Lomot). Then there was the manslaughter of Alison’s brother-in-law Scott Lockhart (Colin Donnell). Finally, with Sunday night’s “408,” death came for Alison herself, the undeniable leading lady of The Affair since day one.
As Noah Solloway (Dominic West) comes to fully realise in a Long Island morgue, Alison Bailey is, without a question, dead following Ruth Wilson’s request to leave the series. With just two episodes of The Affair remaining, “408” hints that the end of season four will be Alison’s flashback-filled swan song. After decades of watching pop cultural favourites kill off women to give the men around them storylines and motivation, it’s a necessary inversion of a very tired trope.
“408” pulls a very interesting trick in that its first half is one of the funniest Affair episodes to date. People are increasingly shocked to realise former bitter romantic rivals Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson, who owns the episode) and Noah are now road tripping it across America to track down Alison. They pretend to be a couple to protect teen boy Anton (Christopher Meyer), who was having comically loud sex with the daughter of the man whose motel the trio was staying in. Everyone does impressions of each other’s pickup techniques. What fun!
The gut punch arrives when, during a visit with Alison’s surprise father James (Tim Matheson), James gets a phone call: Alison’s body was found off the coast, police have deemed the death a suicide by drowning. What follows is 20 minutes of Cole coming to terms with the fact his ex-wife, with whom he had just decided he wanted to reunite, is dead. He vomits and comes up with conspiracy theories (nodding towards the drama’s old murder mystery roots) and punches Noah in the face during a fit of rage. Joshua Jackson perfects his 2019 Emmy reel months early by cycling through every single range of emotion possible in a matter of scenes.
While Cole stuns throughout the episode — and Noah closes “408” out with some very beautiful sobbing in a dinner — it soon becomes obvious we’re only experiencing Alison’s death through the lens of the men who loved her. While no one complains about a good Dominic West scene, that kind of decision feels disrespectful to Alison, an Affair powerhouse in her own right. Doesn’t she deserve to tell her own story? Especially a story that is, in fact, solely about her own tragic end?
Upon seeing the trailer for this Sunday’s “409,” you realise the Showtime drama anticipated all of these questions and decided to give you Alison’s final moments, unadulterated by the perspectives of Cole or Noah. The Affair simply had to shock you with the news as much as possible before going down Alison’s final, upsetting road. Season 4's penultimate episode will be a complete look at that dark road. As showrunner Sarah Treem told The Hollywood Reporter about where “408” leaves us with Alison, “You don't know the whole story at the end of [this episode].”
The upcoming “whole story” of “409” will likely explain what led Alison to take her own life, especially after her major turnaround in last month’s episode “406.” During that episode, Helen (Maura Tierney) urges Alison to change her own narrative. “You have agency in your life, Alison. Maybe you’ve never believed that, but I promise you, it’s true,” Helen tells her, explaining the possibly life-changing power of manifesting your own destiny. Although Alison has always assumed bad things simply happen to her, and men will always treat her like garbage, she walks away from that very recent conversation with Helen finally believing that story doesn’t have to be true.
“409” will explore what caused Alison to go from believing in that very positive future — one with a “second act,” as Alison calls it — to drowning herself. As Detective Jeffries (Victor Williams) explains to Cole and Noah, Alison had already started “getting ready” for death a week prior, immaculately cleaning her home and setting up a bank account for Joanie (Savannah and Reagan Grella), her daughter with Cole. She also broke up with her secretly married boyfriend Ben Cruz (Ramon Rodriguez) right before disappearing. Viewers are left wondering what happened between Alison’s very West Coast chat with Helen and that week of preparation, and if Ben is more involved in the tragedy than he claims.
Thankfully, The Affair will fill in those blanks rather than letting Cole and Noah have the final say on Alison Bailey.