SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read this if you don’t want to know the climax of the electrifying Season Four of Showtime’s The Affair. Spoilers abound!
In one of the final moments of The Affair season ender, Helen (Maura Tierney) says to Noah, the ex-husband who cheated on her in the opening season: “Everybody’s so fu*king crazy!”
That might be an understatement in trying to encapsulate all that happened this season and all that happens in tonight’s episode written by Katie Robbins and co-creator Sarah Treem, and directed by Rodrigo Garcia. The episode opens with Noah, at Princeton with his young protege Anton (Christopher Meyer), as they mix with a group of students and the English department head who is Noah’s friend and (I think) his former lover. She is flirting until he drops in that his last wife just died, like a day ago. She is shocked, and after Anton reads aloud an essay he wrote about Noah, that spot on notes his mentor’s narcissism and self-absorption and noting that he is “fu*cking my mother,” it becomes a question that both Anton and the English prof ask: why is Noah knocking about on campus when he should be readying his ex-wife Alison’s funeral?
And maybe helping Cole (Joshua Jackson) press the case that Alison — the ex-wife of both men — didn’t commit suicide but was in fact killed by Ben, the former soldier and counselor to PTSD-suffering vets. The same Ben who was seen in two different versions of the last episode. In the first, he was the same likable character he had been since he first met Alison, and who confessed he was married but was ending it. This quelled Alison’s ire in discovering that fact herself. They bared past hidden painful secrets from their past — Ben shot a youth on patrol in the Middle East when the kid raised what proved to be a broken down weapon, and she told him about her inability to forgive herself for not taking her son Gabriel to the hospital the fateful day when he was saved from drowning but died that night from water in the lungs — and they made love and it seemed like Alison might finally have met a man who could bring some light into her life. Followed by a second look at the same encounter, only this time Ben was surly and self-absorbed and after the alcoholic downed a bottle to confess he had killed a kid on duty mainly because he was in the way, he pawed at Alison and she fought him off. When she threatened to tell his wife, he slammed her head into a wall and dumped her body into the stormy ocean, where she drowned.
Was there physical evidence in the apartment, where Alison was seen bleeding when she fell? Any hope that Ben would get his comeuppance was turned on its ear with the next segment which focused on Cole. Who, unable to commit to his wife Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno), was sent on a walkabout by his mother, to find himself. After retracing the steps of his father — Cole’s mother (Mare Winningham) encouraged the road trip — Cole came away from a bonding experience with his father’s ex-lover, with a realization that he belonged with Alison, the woman who left him in Season One for Noah.
Now, there is a lot that happens on this show, maybe even more than in a season of Dynasty. But the show is exceptional because of the writing — the baring of emotions in crisis situations that seems so honest and raw — and the superb acting by the four troubled protagonists, each of whom got plenty of action tonight in which to reveal themselves.
Cole’s lover Luisa, an illegal immigrant who stayed behind and cared for Cole and Alison’s young daughter while he went off to find himself, hoped that Cole would return with the realization she was his future. Instead, she sees an angry ghost of a man who wants nothing more than to bury the ex-wife he really loved as he tries to bury his rage that he came too late to the realization that it was Alison he belonged with. Cole’s hope to get through a quiet funeral is dashed when he sees that Alison’s trippy mother Athena (Deirdre O’Connell) cremated her daughter and set a beach ceremony to scatter the ashes in the ocean. Athena had a tumultuous season herself, as Alison finally found out the identity of her father, a wealthy man who sought her out because he needed a kidney, and when Alison confronted her mother, it turned out the man had raped Athena while she was at the house babysitting his kids.
This horrible set of revelations put Wilson’s Alison on a dangerous emotional spiral. There has been press on why Wilson is leaving the show with one season left. Treem said Wilson wanted to leave and they found a way to accommodate her. Wilson has been more circumspect. They wouldn’t let go of such a talented actress for any other reason, but there is some rationale to Showtime’s assertion there was no place left to go with Alison. This fragile flower had been through so much heartache, there seemed no chance she could rebound. Even if Cole was determined to try again to make her happy, bonded by the young daughter who is safe and alive.
Athena passes the urn with Alison’s ashes to each person on the beach. After watching Noah speak, and then Ben babble on insincerely about her empathy and concern for others, Cole looks like a man on fire. When the urn is passed to him, he is having none of this new age crap. He jumps to his feet, urn in hand, and starts running. He doesn’t stop until he reaches the grave site of Gabriel, the five-year-old son of Cole and Alison whose accidental death hung over their heads like a dark cloud they could not shake.
It is Cole’s mother who finally reaches the grieving man. Cole’s father committed suicide and his mother convinces him that Cole is much stronger, strong enough to go the distance when her son wonders aloud whether he too might end his life, just to stop the pain.
By the time Cole returns home, Luisa tells him their relationship is over. He acknowledges it, but wants her to become a mother to his daughter, which will allow her to become a citizen. He and that little girl, Joanie, head off on a road trip together, and as they pass The Lobster Roll — the summer season restaurant where Alison met Noah while waiting tables, before she and her divorced husband Cole bought the place and flipped it for a huge profit — it is clear that Cole still has some fight left in him.
Most episodes feature two chapters, but if it seemed like enough turmoil hadn’t been spent tonight, here came a third chapter, this one focusing on Helen, Noah’s ex-wife. Cut to a hospital, where we see an ultrasound performed. Is Helen pregnant, which is the wish that her surgeon lover Vik wanted as he navigated terminal pancreatic cancer? Hardly. The ultrasound was performed on Vik (Omar Metwally), whose tumor was pressing against his gallbladder and causing him excruciating pain. His attending physician is Vik’s former lover, and she urges him to take chemo to shrink the tumor, something Vik has steadfastly declined to do the many times that Helen begged him to. His doctor said that doctors make the worst patients because they have a god complex and when they get sick themselves, they become assholes. Vik tells Helen he loves her, but she can’t quite bring herself to say it back.
After an encounter with Vik’s cold and firmly in denial parents who brighten only at the memory of the doctor/ ex-girlfriend who is treating Vik, Helen heads home to see the return of her dysfunctional daughter but rushes back when Vik gets Sepsis and nearly dies. Helen is joined by her lithe young next door neighbor Sierra (Emily Browning), who has something on her mind, and not just having bedded Helen during a spontaneous encounter during a retreat in the desert.
Soon after Helen and Sierra aren’t allowed to see Vic, Sierra vomits. Admonished for being on the cancer ward if she’s sick, Sierra confesses she’s got morning sickness. She’s pregnant (she had a spontaneous encounter with Vik while he was undergoing an existential cancer crisis, and a realization he had so devoted himself to making his parents proud and becoming a model student and brilliant surgeon that he had never done anything for himself. Vik became one of the most likable characters on the show as a lifeline for Helen before he became sick, and he apologizes to her for not trying the chemotherapy, saying he can feel himself slipping away and that he would give anything to be back on the side of the living with Helen.
While Sierra’s bombshell gives Helen even more turmoil, Tierney’s character summons the grace to send Sierra to Vik’s bedside to tell him that his dying wish had, in fact, come true and that he would, in fact, leave behind a child as his legacy. There is a great final scene with her ex Noah, which actually allows him to make a case that he isn’t the most selfish and shallow male character on television, and then we see Helen walking to the hospital roof. She looks out at the bright sun and allows her a smile. Whether that is an acknowledgment of the absurdity of life after all that happened is unclear, but it appears that she, like the other Season One spurned spouse Cole, also has some fight left.
Finally, it ended, with viewers emotionally wrung out and likely coiled in the fetal position. Can’t wait for that fifth and final season! They had better be up for it because they’ll have to go it without Wilson, who surely will be missed, just as she was when she left Idris Elba and the BBC series Luther years ago.