Last week’s The Affair — which showed two polar opposite possible scenarios in the life of Alison Bailey (Ruth Wilson), with one feeling decidedly more likely than the other — left viewers with more questions than answers. Was the deadly and dark confrontation between Alison and failed love interest Ben Cruz (Ramon Rodriguez) real or just another fantasy? If it was real, Alison still had to be clinging to life when Ben tossed her body into the sea, right? Will Ben ever face consequences for his murderous, drunken actions? Or, did Alison really die by suicide, as police suspect?
So, it was natural to expect Sunday night’s season 4 finale would start dropping bread crumbs towards a next-season resolution, if not confirm the truth explicitly. The act of tying up loose ends is kind of the whole point of finales. Yet, The Affair swerved away from truly solving any of the remaining mysteries around Alison’s death. Instead, the Showtime series took fans' expectations and made a hard right turn away from them with Alison's beachside funeral.
The tragic heroine's “410” memorial is a powder keg of tensions. One would expect the main issue to be that Alison’s ex-husband Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson), who wanted to reconcile with her before learning of her death, Alison’s other ex-husband Noah Solloway (Dominic West), and Alison’s ex-boyfriend and possible murderer Ben all attend her funeral. Cole is already a raw nerve who may blow up at any moment.
After all, Cole blew up at Ben in “408” when he stormed into Ben’s office, yelled until he got the answers he was looking for, and then punched Noah in a parking lot. It’s easy to assume a man that devastated might melt down over Ben once again, especially knowing what we know about the veteran possibly being a murderer.
Yet, that’s not what happens. Rather, Cole is seething over the simple fact that Alison is having a beachy funeral in the first place. He wanted to bury her in the family plot next to their late son Gabriel (Landen M. Lomot). But Alison’s mum Athena (Deirdre O'Connell) went and cremated her daughter and then planned a “beaching,” where all the memorial attendees will spread her ashes in the sand. When high tide comes, it will wash Alison back into the ocean forever. This is morbid for two reasons: Alison allegedly drowned herself, and her son drowned as well. Now Alison will be relegated to the sea for all eternity, metaphorically leaving her spirit in an unending trauma loop.
As Cole yells, “Alison hated the ocean!”
Cole is far too angry about the “beaching” situation to even pay attention to Ben, who is still looking quite gray after Alison’s death. That’s why all we hear from Ben during the memorial is a single sentence: “You were so empathetic, so concerned with the suffering of others, including me.”
It's important to remember this section of “410” is shown from Cole’s perspective. So, the smallness of Ben’s appearance in the episode suggests how little Cole cares about his ex-wife’s latest love interest. That means Cole no longer thinks Ben had a hand in Alison’s death. If Cole didn't believe as much, he would have been much more fixated on his ex-wife's possible killer. But, it seems Cole has officially accepted the idea Alison died by suicide, as detective Jeffries (Victor Williams) told both Cole and Noah in “407.”
Since Cole believes Alison ended her own life, as do every other point of view character in this series and the police, we’ll likely never return to this plot thread on The Affair, a series obsessed with perception over facts. Fans will never know which possibility is real, and that is the entire point: Life doesn’t follow your plans or demands, it simply goes. This is large reason why Death Cab For Cutie’s “What Sarah Said” bookends the monumental episode.
At the start of “410,” the stressed portion of the 2005 song is, “It came to me then. That every plan is a tiny prayer to father time.” Cole planned to get back together with Alison. Then Cole planned to bury Alison. We all planned to find out the true cause of her death. All of these actions were tiny prayers that weren’t answered, because, prayers aren’t always answered.
While that idea may seem deeply sad, The Affair still tries to end its fourth season on an optimistic note. The series’ other female lead, Helen Solloway (Maura Tierney), spends the finale coming to terms with the imminent death of her husband Vic (Omar Metwally), who has stage 4 cancer, and the revelation their neighbour Sierra (Emily Browning) is pregnant with Vic’s baby. While such a saga would usually ruin a person, Helen closes the season smiling on the roof of Vic’s hospital as he and Sierra talk.
With Vic's fate out of Helen's hands, she can't exactly plan for anything. And, maybe that's okay.