Now that The Affair is staring down the barrel of its demise, its fifth and final season has felt a little all over the place. Going into the Showtime drama’s farewell run, fans were expecting to get some closure on the suspicious death of Alison Bailey (Ruth Wilson). Especially since The Affair recruited True Blood’s Anna Paquin to play Alison’s daughter Joanie, all grown up. Instead, we’ve seen a lot of selfish people in present-day Los Angels and a little bit of Joanie’s harrowing futuristic dirge through Montauk.
Sunday night’s episode, “506,” changes all of that. Rather than run through The Affair’s ever-growing list of characters, it is solely about Joanie’s journey in her hometown and her own latest affair. At last, it appears The Affair is ready to solve Alison’s so-called suicide.
Somehow, it all comes down to a supermoon.
The first half of the episode forces Joanie to think about her late mother. A researcher named EJ (Michael Braun) brings Joanie to the abandoned Montauk police station. There, she reads the case file on Alison’s death, which was ruled death by suicide. She peruses the detective’s notes, which trace a life of suicidal depression, unpredictable behaviour, and trauma. While the words are meant to describe Alison, it’s clear Joanie sees herself in the notebook pages. When EJ and Joanie arrive back at the Lockhart house, she repeats her interest in getting rid of old photos of her mom.
Joanie wants to do anything but think about Alison.
But then EJ returns to her house that night to show her the supermoon over the beach. It is beautiful, and Joanie remembers there was a supermoon the night of her mother’s death. It’s a memory that strikes her as odd, considering how far out and shallow the tide is today. On that night, so many years ago, the water was out even further due to a negative storm surge. “Police report says she walked off the jetty. But the water would have been low for several hours,” Joanie explains. “There’s no way she could have drowned herself in water that shallow. Would have been like jumping into a bathtub.”
That is when Joanie starts to realize the police were wrong, and that something terrible happened to her mother. Joanie’s burgeoning revelation is confirmed for us because we hear Alison’s voice for the first time all season. “What are you going to do? You’re gonna kill me? You think that scares me? I have been in pain my entire life,” Alison says, as if her spirit is starting to speak through her daughter. It’s the same voiceover from “409,” which we heard as Ben Cruz (Ramon Rodriguez) dragged Alison to a Montauk jetty to throw her unconscious body into the surf. Those were Alison's defiant last words in the face of Ben’s cruelty. At last, Joanie is awakening to the truth of her mother’s story.
The centrepiece of this tragic puzzle comes when Joanie blows her life up in a way only Alison could understand. After quality time with her daughters ends in chaos and screaming, Joanie tells her husband Paul (Lyriq Bent) the truth. She admits to cheating on him for years but doesn’t explain why. She saves that information for EJ, whose apartment she runs to when Paul throws her out. At emotional rock bottom, Joanie unloads everything she has kept secret. The way that it feels like Alison, the ghost she has tried to keep at bay for her entire life, has wrestled control of her soul after the death of Cole (Joshua Jackson). The fact that Joanie has constant suicidal urges and uses violent sex with strangers and obsessive working to distract herself. That the life she strived so hard to create has become her Alison-shaped nightmare.
With the truth finally out in the open, Joanie has cleansed a bit of her spirit. She has tender sex with EJ and her dreams drift to the one memory she has of Ben. When EJ first showed Joanie a photo of Ben earlier in the evening — Cole was fixated on him, even into old age — she had no idea who he was. But, at rest, she remembers passing by Ben while leaving her mom’s home at the age of seven. Throughout the dream, we hear the second part of Alison’s goodbye voiceover, which goes, “I have been in pain my entire life. And maybe that’s what makes people think that I’m weak. And maybe that makes people treat me like some sort of receptacle for all their grief and rage and disappointment. But I am fucking sick of it.”
In the present, Joanie startles herself awake, fully open to Alison’s side of the story. Between the questionable supermoon tides, Cole’s lifetime suspicions about Ben, and her dream, Joanie figures out that Ben was Alison’s boyfriend. “I think he killed her,” she announces.
There’s absolutely no way someone as relentless as Joanie is going to let such a heinous crime slide. Could justice be coming to the final episodes of The Affair?