The Affair, Ep. 1.02: “2” further explores the central characters

Maura Tierney, Dominic West
Maura Tierney, Dominic West

The Affair, Season 1, Episode 2: “2”
Written by Sarah Treem
Directed by Jeffrey Reiner
Airs Sundays at 10 pm ET on Showtime

The series premiere of The Affair made one thing clear; through a combination of selective storytelling and selective memory, Noah and Alison could recount the same events and paint them vastly differently, indicating that neither one was being fully truthful. This week’s episode delves further into the story of the two individuals, painting a fuller picture of their relationships with other people in their lives, and giving an idea of why the two engaged in adultery, and how each of them feels about the events that followed, in an episode that keeps up the show’s excellent quality.

Noah’s perspective on events this week let some truths slip, despite his best efforts. Listening to the accounts of both Noah and Alison, one thing is pretty clear; the former was not suffering from any lack of affection from his wife Helen. Whatever Noah’s reasons may have been for cheating, he has clearly been both unable and unwilling to pin them on Helen, which says a lot about Noah. Another truth that comes to the light in Noah’s narrative this week is the fact that he kissed Alison first. This is one aspect of the story that appears to be consistent in both Noah’s and Alison’s versions, meaning it is likely the truth, and combined with Noah’s unwillingness to blame Helen, may mean that he is feeling guilty about the affair more than anything else. Noah’s continued insistence on portraying himself as a hapless victim of both Alison’s seductive wiles and the way he is treated by his extended family is likely a result of this guilt, but the guilt is also likely to keep him from straying too far from the truth about his own involvement in the unfolding events. It will be intriguing to see how the knowledge of the apparent murder affects Noah’s narrative going forward, as he could conceivably use his storytelling skills to stray further from the truth to hide the extent of his indirect involvement in the murder. On the other hand, if he is truly feeling guilty, the idea that a death previously considered an accident is actually being considered a murder might cause him to move closer to the truth, if for no other reason than to unburden his conscience while proving his innocence. What path he takes will help in giving the audience a better idea of who Noah really is.

Ruth Wilson
Ruth Wilson

Alison’s portrayal of the people in her life stands in stark contrast to Noah’s portrayal of the people in his. While Noah is insistent on painting himself as someone who is on the receiving end of backhanded compliments and unwilling chores, Alison’s narrative paints nearly everyone in town as caring souls, particularly her own family. Paradoxically, this makes Alison’s decision to have an affair somewhat easier to understand. It seems apparent that she would want to use an affair as a distraction from the reminder of the tragedy that has befallen her, particularly as she seems unable to escape being reminded of the event, with even Helen’s mother associating her with the event. Alison’s portrayal of events makes it obvious that Noah stands as the only person in her life who pays attention to her without bringing up the death of her child, making his appeal to her quite understandable. However, Alison’s narrative also helps pin the blame for the affair on herself, to a degree, as she makes it clear that she alienated those who stood by her after the death of her child, and was a willing participant in the second kiss with Noah. With Alison aware of the death being a murder, there’s little chance of her story being coloured by an attempt at deflecting blame, which makes her version of events more likely to be truthful. This means that her story may be the one worth watching more closely, particularly as she appears to be making less excuses for herself than Noah, while also indicating that she had more to lose by engaging in the affair. How her narrative continues to shape up will thus be fascinating to watch, particularly with regards to how Alison continues to paint herself once she’s well into the affair.

It’s interesting to note that Noah’s narratives tend to revolve around Alison, while Alison’s narratives tend to focus more on her. This difference is made most stark in the way Noah reacts to meeting Cole vs. the way Alison reacts to Whitney and Martin’s presence at the ranch. Alison’s insistence on focusing on her state of mind in the events leading up to the affair, rather than external circumstances, may suggest that she blames herself for what transpired, particularly with the way she puts up the rest of her family, including her husband, on a pedestal. The unexpected tracking shots interspersed throughout the episode helps add to the show’s visual flair without being distracting. Alison’s monologue about summer people and their unwillingness to engage with the local population is also an interesting commentary on how Noah sees the town, particularly as he seems to ignore or misremember anyone other than Alison, Cole, and Scott, all of whom he has a specific reason to know. With the affair still a secret from most of the population, it will be interesting to see how other people react to the knowledge of Noah and Alison’s tryst, particularly Helen, who has expressed a clear dislike of affairs from her father’s infidelity, and Cherry, whose unquestioned support of Alison this week makes it clear that she hopes for another grandchild, an idea dependent on Alison and Cole’s love for each other. The Affair’s second episode continues to build the foundations for a strong show, and one well worth tuning in for, if only to detect the nuggets of truth in the two narratives.

– Deepayan Sengupta

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