The resolution to the mystery of how Alison (Ruth Wilson) died is really heating up so, let’s pivot to Noah (Dominic West) and Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles) to start The Affair this week! Jesting aside, Whitney’s wedding to Colin (Max Fowler), and her navigation as an adult of her family has been an interesting ride — we’re learning about the ways the numerous traumas of Noah and Helen (Maura Tierney) are passed on to her. Let’s be honest, some of her choices — all of her romantic choices — haven’t been the most well-adjusted. Whitney seems to recognize it and finally feels like it’s time to talk to her dad about how they have both cheated and what love and marriage are supposed to be like.
Let’s start with her grandmother, Margaret (Kathleen Chalfant), commenting at their arrival that Helen not coming to Montauk to handle the wedding plans because she has to work is “disgusting” and then implying that those are the gender roles she taught Helen. OKAY! I am extremely concerned about what is happening with this family’s finances. Helen told us in a previous episode that she’s house poor. Noah, despite having the rights on his book optioned into a film on which he is serving as the screenwriter, has no money. And now the grandparents can’t afford $20,000 for a tent, after Bruce’s (John Doman) ostensibly long and storied career as a John Grisham-level novelist. Is everyone lying to everyone about money or did I miss a plot point about them all being involved in a Madoff-style scam?
Noah and Bruce have an uncomfortable moment in the kitchen where we see how advanced his dementia is. My guess is that after that Helen thinking about being selfless in "505" and the set-up to this family crisis all season, Helen is about to be forced to head back to the Hamptons to care for her parents.
Meanwhile, Noah and Whitney are scraping together all the wedding stuff they can find on the cheap, starting with raiding the china cabinet and ending with Whitney calling the shop assistant in a bridal store a see you next Tuesday. In fairness, they were trying to guilt them into buying a $17,000 wedding dress which, based on my viewings of Say Yes to The Dress, is not exactly the highest end of the price spectrum (and certainly more than I’d ever pay). It was a beautiful dress, but she ultimately ends up going with her mom’s (free) gown. I appreciate the show trying to subvert the wedding industrial complex, but honestly, this storyline lost me when Whitney said she wants a flash mob at her wedding. I did appreciate that moment of them singing The Waterboys’ 1985 college radio hit, “The Whole of the Moon,” however.
Whitney and Noah stop at the Lobster Roll to check out the new management and run into Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno), who has separated from Cole (Joshua Jackson). She tells Noah that Cole is moving to Vermont and reminds him that she is not his friend by referencing their class difference — if only she knew how broke everyone is, eh? (Or how broke they think they are.)
Noah’s arc closes out with an accusation by Eden Ellery (Brooke Lyons), his book publicist, that he pressured her into sleeping with him on the Descent book tour. It comes from that Vanity Fair journalist doing the profile on him, who Noah saw as...gossipy. He’s shocked at the accusation, but it’s really not any surprise at all that Noah, who thinks every woman he meets is in love with him, would get swept up in #MeToo at some point. We leave him at Cole’s empty, closed-up house, having just missed saying goodbye to Joanie (Reagan and Savannah Grella) before they go.
Now on to future Joanie (Anna Paquin): she’s tracked down Ben Cruz (Tony Plana) and shows up at his practice under a false name, seeking help for her PTSD. He figures out who she is quickly because, as he tells her, he has been tracking her online. He knew she would come for him someday. And he pretends he is going to do whatever she wants, including allowing her to shoot him if she wants (as he takes out a gun and lays it on the desk between them). That all goes to hell the next day when she returns with a couple of police detectives. Cruz tells them she’s his patient and shows them the form he gave her to sign the previous day, committing herself to his care. He gaslights her and twists her words so completely that the police turn and ask him if he would like her removed from the property.
Cruz is under the spell of his own delusions of grandeur. He openly admits he killed Alison but feels he shouldn't have to go to jail for it because of the important work he’s doing with traumatized veterans. Or because the rules against killing didn’t exist for him in war so why should they in civilization? Or because she deserved it. He trots out versions of all these excuses but the truth is, he’s scared to face his punishment. In the two conversations Ben has with Joanie about that night, he shows us what a very small man he is — and was.
The one thing Ben continually denies is that he spoke in a demeaning manner to Alison, which is an interesting sticking point. He’ll admit to having pushed her and causing her to die, to attacking her, to having a psychotic break, to dropping her body into the ocean, even. But the web of deceit he has created for himself to be able to live with what he did is so dense that he can’t admit he was verbally abusive to a woman he’s convinced himself he loved. He puts all the weight on his feelings and brushes off the reasons he gave Alison not to trust him: he lied to her about being married, he wasn’t being truthful about his mental health, he abused her.
Ben calls Joanie out, telling her that her toughness is a mask — and she is as sad and frightened as her mother. When Ben pins Joanie down on the floor after she attempts to attack him, he begins to choke her. She wheezes, saying, “Harder.” Her hands fall away from his arm; she not trying to stop him. And he realizes something she perhaps didn’t, consciously: that she didn’t come to avenge her mother’s death as much as she came seeking her own. In the end, Ben hints that Joanie will kill herself. It’s a prophecy as haunting and dark as his past.