‘The Affair’ Recap 2×7: Monologuing With Jonathan Franzen

Affair 2x7

Dominic West and Ruth Wilson in Showtime’s The Affair. (photo: Showtime)

Intro: Fiona Apple song about echoing creation blah blah sink back into the…sink back into…sink back into the oceannnnnn. FADE OUT, TITLE CARD:

Part One: Vinnie

Despite the fact there is a law written somewhere mandating every series must have at least one, I’ve never been a huge fan of “awkward dinner episodes.” It’s a theme right up there with “Solving Disagreements During a Snowstorm” and “Divorced Parents Realize They Still Love Each Other While Trapped In An Elevator But It Was Actually The Parents’ Child Who Somehow Stalled The Elevator The Whole Time” with topics I don’t need in a TV show. I watch TV to escape from life’s worries, to get away from the stuff I can’t stand or even process for a half-hour or hour or whatever. And what is life but one, long awkward dinner conversation? We live it, everyday, so I don’t need one in any given TV episode.

So, of course, The Affair went with two.

For the first, it looks like we have not only jumped forward several months in time, but also to a distant galaxy where a no-name novelist is famous enough for anyone to care about the names in his misprinted author bio. 

Here in this wondrous, far off land—let’s call it PART ONE ALI SON—we find Alison visibly pregnant, which makes it doubly uncomfortable to be attending a party where people casually drop Philip Roth’s name. Somewhere at that party scene, off-screen, I guarantee someone was listing everything The End of the Tour got wrong about David Foster Wallace, despite never having met him. Guar-an-tee it.

In anticipation for the release of the modern masterpiece that is Descent—which, again, I must point out includes gems like “These common boys would always be like their murderous grandfather”—Noah hired the most attractive PR person since Jerry Maguire. A short list of all the shit this PR woman does not have time for: 1) Alison 2) Alison’s pregnant-ass blabbing secrets to gossip columnists at The Post 3) Having to reach out to her contacts at Virgin because Noah would rather spend Thanksgiving with his loved ones and not Jonathan Franzen.

Somehow, I think I would actually rather eat turkey with the dude who wrote Purity, if the alternative was my insane hippie mother-in law, my mistress-turned-fiance and her dear friend old whatsherface, and my millionaire best friend from college who boned my ex-wife like 2 weeks after we separated. I mean, Noah doesn’t know for sure Max did that but if you’re going to be Max’s best friend for that long, you gotta’ know at that point he’s the kind of guy to bone your ex wife like 2 weeks after you separated.

Noah shows up late because, well, the real reason doesn’t matter because we’re supposed to think he’s spending too much time with the PR woman (Did she have a name? I swear I didn’t get it. If she doesn’t have a name, is that some sort of symbolism?) Please don’t do this, The Affair writers. Please don’t panic because your show hasn’t been affair-y enough lately. There’s enough tension between Noah and Alison, so much so that them still being together is delusional to the point of insanity, without making this new story wrinkle into some sort of Affair-ception, the affair within the affair.

The Thanksgiving dinner that follows—which, did they ever actually get a turkey? Are they just eating sides?—has enough issues to go around already. Case in point: Alison has read Noah’s entire book, and doesn’t like that she’s portrayed as some sort of sex succubus that ends up getting run over by a car.

I really don’t want to defend Noah, like ever, or come off as misunderstanding a character like Alison who has experienced great tragedy and loss, and is extremely vulnerable, but…didn’t Noah just do what most authors do? How many authors do you think wrote a novel based on true events, but sleazed it up because it’s just more interesting that way? Like, I don’t know how to feel about this argument:

Alison: “Yeah I got over you watching me have sex with my husband, but it wasn’t FOR you.”

Noah: ”…But, like, it’s a fiction book?”

I don’t know. It’s just a stupid argument in general. No one looks sane. And it doesn’t help that the show wink-nudged at the the reason we saw two viewpoints of identical scenes in season one being because of the book. Which, honestly, also probably explains why I liked season one so much better than season two.

Season one was life, dramatized. Now, for season two, we’re in the real world. And the real world is just bleaker. It’s uglier. Cole is sadder, Noah is angrier and even more oblivious of those around him, Alison is somehow more damaged by the shit life has thrown at her and Helen…Helen had rebound sex with Max. And Max is a dick.

It’s like PR Woman said: “Personalities sell books.” It’s true. The Affair, if it was just about two sweaty, semi-well off white people bumping uglies, would be a terrible show. Just like no one would read Descent if Noah didn’t fictionalize the shit out of it. Remember when Noah’s editor told him that two people sitting down at a table and hating each other because secrets is an awful story-line? That is basically what The Affair has become. Someone desperately needs to get hit by a car, spice things up a little bit.

Oof, that was so many words. I guess there was also another Thanksgiving dinner to talk about, and a “major reveal” to close the episode? Let’s do a speed round through Part Two: Cole

  • The feud between the Lockharts and the Hodges, and the way the Lockharts basically run the entire drug trade of Montauk like pirates using a cattle-ranch as a cover, is a story I want to hear so much more than The Affair’s actual story. There’s baby-murder involved? Jeeez. I kind of love how the moment Cole brought Noah’s book out, the dinner turned into a group of comic book villains trying to decide the best way to kill Batman.
  • How many times does Whitney have to take the 3 hour train from Park Slope to Montauk before Helen and Noah figure out where she is every time she goes missing? Getting kind of sick of hearing Noah say “Well if she’s not with YOU, and she’s not here with ME, then I have NO OTHER IDEA where she could be.”
  • Yeah so there’s no way Cole attended the first half of his family’s Thanksgiving, drove Whitney home, and got to Luiza’s place in time for dinner, unless Luiza’s family started eating at like 2 am.

Finally: “That’s our baby,” says Scotty Lockhart to Alison on the world’s shittiest piece of courtroom evidence. Just wait until next week, when Oscar provides part two of his groundbreaking evidence in GIF form:

NTF

Part Two: Drew

The Affair might be the most obvious First World Problems show on television. Think about it: it’s basically Gossip Girl for the New York literary set at this point. “Ooh, what a delicious Franzen reference! That man does love to monologue!” “Ooh, Philip Roth loved Descent, but is somehow embarrassed to go public with this knowledge! What, is he over writing open letters in NewYorker.com to express his opinions all of a sudden?”

But at least in Gossip Girl, the slavish rich white people problems seemed always bordering on self-parody: you were invested because of the embarrassment of riches, not in spite of it. And yet The Affair, at times, seems to aspire to some social commentary about the Upstairs/Downstairs nature of Noah and Alison’s relationship, which is just ludicrous because they are both affluent white property owners who hold ridiculously bourgeois parties, have a personal publicist who can’t decide if Page Six is good or bad for publicity (which makes her a terrible publicist, btw), and hate their parents and in-laws, as all self-respecting white people must.

I’ve started to feel a little less bad about Alison. She just seems to be a brat. When her mother–whom Alison still refers to witheringly as “Athena,” the way a sullen teenager would–shows up for Thanksgiving dinner with a couple actually helpful #Lifehacks about not letting your rich boyfriend ignore you, convince you to sell the family home and your only inheritance to subsidize his lifestyle, or allowing the baby room to remain an unconverted study until the day of labor, Alison wigs out and basically blames her mom for her shitty (read: AMAZING) life. To be fair, that last comment was kind of barbed, as in: “Isn’t it customary to decorate the baby room before the baby comes?”

“Does everyone on this show have to just be the bitchiest?” someone in my house commented from the bathroom, half-listening to the scene. Fair point.

It does seem that Athena is kind of a shit-stirrer, as evidenced by the Thanksgiving dinner where her one comment about Noah living up to Alison’s worthiness kicked off an entire Celebrity Family Feud episode where 79 of the people polled would use a FORK as the utensil to stab their eyes out with. (Let’s see the board: we also have SPOON, TURKEY BASTER, and a MAX’S ENGRAVED MONEY CLIP.)

Max, by the way, is seriously the best. He’s already sleeping with Helen, as we know, does pretty much nothing to hide that from Noah (except definitely sleep with Alison’s friend Jane), and even makes a pretty WINK-WINK toast to Alison for stealing Noah away and instigating this whole…*makes vague arm gesture towards the table* *snorts cocaine off a money clip.*

But Athena isn’t even the worst mom at Thanksgiving on The Affair! That award goes to Cherry Lockhart, who has taken time out of laundering an insane man’s linens and has an explosive secret that may rock her family to their very core. At least, definitely the Lockharts we remember actually existing, aka Scotty and Cole and maybe the wife of the third one? But now there are definitely four Lockhart boys, at least, and the one with the wife seems to be handling their recent miscarriage with all the “What am I even doing here?” vacantness of Ti West in You’re Next.

So: the Lockhart patriarch was a baby-killing bootlegger, and not just a normal bootlegger. Welp, okay. I don’t know who my paternal grandfather IS, but the few clues that have trickled down through family lore also has him pegged as a bootlegger of some sort, and if it turned out that he had killed a baby, I’d be using that tidbit as cocktail fodder for every Franzen-attending soiree until the sun burns out and the Earth turns goes black and cold. Boo-hoo, big deal. But also, kind of strange that Cherry would choose to share this news with JUST Scotty and not the rest of the family. What, is he the Responsible Lockhart now? Does that make Cole Grumpy Lockhart? Which one is Sleepy and which one is Goofy and which one is Roofie? (I take it back: Scotty is definitely Roofie Lockhart.)

Another problem with this show is the vague property deals: like, WHICH house did Alison own in Montauk? The one she shared with Cole? Didn’t Cole own that house, and wasn’t there already an issue when Scotty tried to sell it? Or was that the Lockhart home that Cole was living in a trailer outside of, for some reason, when the real estate agent came by for appraisal? No, it couldn’t be the Lockhart family house, because that house is apparently worthless, and we’ve already seen the real estate agents slobbering over that beachside property. So that means Alison’s grandmother’s house, the one in escrow, is the one that Cole lives in the driveway of, currently? (Past tense currently, of course.) Then how was Scotty going to sell it? Why would Scotty, as shady as he is, presume he could sell his brother’s ex-wife’s house out from under him? It makes ZERO SENSE.

Also making no sense this episode is Oscar Hodge’s secret intel that’s going to blow the Solloway murder case out of the water. It’s a video of Scotty and Alison fighting the night of Scotty’s murder, but there’s no audio. Not to worry: Oscar was only a few feet away, smoking, and overheard everything. When he tries to extort more money for his eavesdropping (or “proximity,” in legalese), Jon Gottlief counters with a subpoena, because Oscar is only smart enough to learn one legal term. (Sounds right.)

So apparently, Scotty was telling Alison “It’s OUR baby,” which…just makes Noah look guiltier, right? That’s motive, right there: the one thing missing from Noah’s manslaughter charge to bump it up to Murder 1. Though I’m pretty sure Scotty didn’t have sex with Alison, but was referring to her baby being a Lockhart, from the time she slept with Cole. Does that mean Alison murdered Scotty? It’s either that, or Cole did it, for reasons as mysterious and interesting as this show thinks it is.

‘The Affair’ Recap 2×7: Monologuing With Jonathan Franzen