THE END, FOR NOW
No Justice for Alison, Yet: ‘The Affair’ Season 4 Finale
Killer Ben holds Alison’s urn of ashes, and remains free. Dr. Vik still looks like he’s going to die. Cole heads off with Joanie. And Helen magisterially owns everything. SPOILERS!
The finale came just a few days after an interview by Ruth Wilson, who played her, on CBS This Morning, in which Wilson said, mysteriously, “I did want to leave [The Affair], but I’m not allowed to talk about why.”
If that sounded odd, she also added, looking like she was choosing her words very carefully: “I’ve never complained to Showtime about pay parity.”
On the show, Alison’s presumed killer, crazy Ben, is free and even held her ashes close. Cole, her ex-husband, looks at Ben and knows something is up—but not enough for a satisfying dose of justice. He runs off with the ashes instead.
However, something nearly as momentous happened in the finale. Helen smiled. It wasn’t just a fleeting smile either, but a big, shit-eating grin aimed right at the sun, the episode’s predominant motif. We saw the orb at sunrise, sunset, and just glowing on the faces of our chief characters. It made a welcome change from the churning sea, and it was captured by this season’s metaphorical master of all weathers and water, director Rodrigo Garcia.
Katie Robbins and show co-creator Sarah Treem wrote the episode from the perspectives of the three surviving members of the quartet: Noah, then Cole, then Helen.
Noah was at Princeton with his gifted student Anton, there to visit his perhaps future alma mater. Noah reunited with an old classmate, Ariel, who of course had the hots for him back then (and probably now). Now she was chair of the English department and had written “multiple bestsellers.”
When Noah revealed that Alison had just died she asked why on earth he was there; was he OK? Noah replied that he was. Ariel had survived cancer and had no partner and no children—the biggest regret of her life, she revealed.
The little clutch of students she taught included a young black guy from the South Side of Chicago, and there were rushed insistences to Anton that Princeton was “pretty woke,” even if one of its residential colleges was named “after a segregationist” (Woodrow Wilson, presumably).
A white female student brought up Noah’s novel, Descent, a fictional distillation of the early seasons of The Affair. He wrote women so well, she said; a joke for us in the audience, as Noah’s lack of understanding of Alison and Helen, and his general ass-hattery, were his defining features at that time.
The same girl raised again the big issue of Alison, and who she was; her fictional character was the figment of others’ imagination—and The Affair’s multi-perspective structure produced something similar in how she was seen and we saw her.
The students were set the task to write about something about someone containing multitudes, per Walt Whitman. Anton wrote, unsparingly, about Noah. It was complimentary, grateful, and very damning. It was, actually, the best assessment of his character we have heard. In Anton’s eyes Noah is noble, vain, self-regarding, and Anton wonders whether Noah can behave in the entitled way that he does because he is white and privileged or if it is because he a sociopath. And Noah is screwing his mother, Anton adds. Anton has to check himself, particularly in predominantly white spaces, he said, and so watches Noah operate with some wonder.
Afterward Noah is furious, but Anton tells him he knows what is expected of him, as a young black man, in this arena. It was part of a calculated bid to get into Princeton. Anyway, he was being a writer. Noah has done exactly the same, and caused real damage, so frankly his anger is both misplaced and hypocritical.
Really, given that Alison has died, Anton asks: What is Noah doing here?
Well, the best of Noah is also there; he is doing something good for someone he believes in and wants to help.
Noah can leave him, Anton says. He’s old enough to take care of himself.
And then Anton thanks Noah, and says how sorry he is about Alison.
“Yeah, me too. Me too,” Noah intones. One of the cultural phrases of the year has more than an echo in the fateful destiny of Alison Bailey.
In Part 2, Cole is sitting in the shower, letting the water wash over his racked body. Alison is dead. Today is her funeral. Luisa is asking how he is doing. He just wants to fold up or scream, or both.
Their relationship, we know it, has to be over. But she needs him in order for her bid for citizenship to be successful. She also knows he loved Alison. What do they do?
He says they will talk about everything after he has buried Alison.
Here’s the big news: Hippie-dippie Athena has already cremated her daughter, and in a ceremony on the beach everyone will hold her peach-colored urn, and then bury bits of her in the sand, and then watch the sea come in and claim her, as per Fiona Apple’s theme of “sinking back into the ocean,” which is how she died, and what led to her son’s death. That damn sea.
Cole almost crashes the car when Luisa tells him about the beach plan. He hadn’t taken in the arrangements, most likely lost in the haze of grief, and thought it was a church service followed by burial in the plot next to their dead child, Gabriel.
Poor Joanie is sitting in the back of the car. She and Luisa sing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” a moving multi-layered lament in the circumstances.
On the beach Luisa hears Cole assert: “She’s my wife,” present tense, about Alison. Another confirmation. Athena wishes her daughter could regenerate herself, and as we have a final season of The Affair to go, who knows?
Noah holds the urn and says Alison was magic, light, and made him believe anything was possible. Really? Well, it is Cole’s perception of Noah, the writer, oily with verbiage.
Ben holds the urn, and says something about how empathetic Alison was and concerned with the suffering of others.
The urn lands with Cole, and he runs off down the beach with it, and takes it to Gabriel’s plot.
Noah, looking so much fresher than he did at Princeton, tries to talk some funeral-day reason into him.
Cole asks him if Alison made him happy. Noah shakes his head, Cole said she did. That’s the difference between them.
Cole recalls a blissful moment of togetherness between him and Alison; this turns out to be a dream. He wakes up at night, his terrifying mother standing over him. It turns out she knew all about his father’s true love in California. She had sent Cole across the country to find her for himself. This was one of the weakest episodes of the entire series—it made no sense, and was ridiculous. This scene tries to make something profound out of it, and is also a little ridiculous.
Scary Mom has bought chicken salad, and confused reasoning for her son. Did she really just send him on this epic to find out “life is messy”? Cole knows that!
But Cole says he was too late anyway for Alison. He had driven back to tell her it was her he wanted.
Alison and Cole’s dad were made of too much air, his mom says. Hmm, maybe. But everything has a lot of air in them in The Affair.
Cole’s mom says he and she are fighters and survivors, and even if Cole feels like giving up, he won’t. He has Joanie to think about.
The worst bit of writing of the episode and perhaps the entire series broke out when Cole got home to Luisa.
Having been so thoroughly humiliated and disrespected, Luisa was denied having a proper emotional scene with her terrible, lacking husband.
True, he was grief-stricken, but the scene was reduced to plot mechanics: Cole was sorry, he had treated Luisa badly blah blah blah, and that they would stay married, and have those pesky hardship papers signed, and hey presto, Luisa would get her citizenship.
If Luisa deserved better by Cole, her excellent portrayer Catalina Sandino Moreno sure as hell deserved better by The Affair.
The next day Cole and Joanie set out on their “little trip,” to where we do not know. But off they drove toward the setting sun past the Lobster Roll, where all this drama began the day Noah and Helen dropped in with the kids.
Joanie wondered where Alison went, post-death. Cole couldn’t say, but like E.T. told Elliott, said that Alison was going to be right there in the center of Joanie’s head and mind, whenever Joanie needed her to be.
This viewer thought: Please keep your eyes on the road, sweetie.
Then father and daughter sang some more Woody Guthrie.
The best part of the episode was to come, and this is all thanks to Helen, or Maura Tierney, who was given the primest slice of drama to feast on.
Vik—WHO MUST NOT DIE—was in the hospital with a gallbladder infection. Christina, his old flame and doctor, suggested he stop being an asshole and have some aggressive cancer treatment, or these kinds of infections would become more prevalent, and harder to fight.
Vik apologized to Helen for putting her through all this, and he may want to also apologize for his parents, who are overjoyed Christina is taking care of their son. They remember her fondly and clearly think she’s a better match for their son than Helen, who has done so much for him, but who his parents, particularly his mother, patronizingly despise.
There is no respite for Helen at home, where daughter Whitney—absent the entire season until now—has turned up with her creepily insinuating boyfriend.
When she finds out about Vik, this brat of all brats immediately makes it about herself and how deficient her mother has been not telling her about the cancer. To great cheers chez Teeman, Helen asks her very quietly if she wouldn’t mind, just for a change, not being such a bitch.
To make matters worse, Sierra turns up. The next door neighbor has had sex with both Vik and Helen (separately), and wants to talk about having sex with Helen right now.
Not right now, Sierra.
Helen gets a call from the hospital; Vik’s had something else flare up.
At the hospital, Helen faces an officious member of medical staff, and the revelation from Sierra that she is pregnant with Vik’s baby, and that she is also in love with Helen.
A baby is one thing Vik wanted with Helen.
Helen, very restrainedly, throws her handbag at Sierra.
The loveliest scene of the episode, a juicy piece of fruit just for fans, takes place outside the hospital with Noah (whom Helen must have called) and Helen.
In the sun, the former husband and wife sit and compare insane Affair plot notes: Cole running off with Alison’s ashes, Sierra having Vik’s baby, and Helen having sex with Sierra (Noah, the sleaze, asks why he couldn’t have been around for that).
“Are you fucking kidding me? Everybody is so fucking crazy,” Helen says, the best summation of The Affair ever.
Helen isn’t sure she loves Vik enough; the intensity isn’t the same as it was with Noah. Vik has asked nothing of her, and she feels he should have been with someone who loved him intensely, not her.
Noah tells Helen she is “neurotic and overbearing and snobby and judgmental,” but not broken. He doesn’t know anyone tougher than her.
This makes Helen cry. It may be the nicest thing Noah has ever said to her.
She does love Vik, Noah assures her. He has seen it, and she has demonstrated it. Love is many things, and always different. It is not one thing, it changes as we age and change ourselves. This is possibly his wisest speech of the series so far.
“We’re so fucking lucky to be alive,” Noah correctly notes.
Helen goes back in to see Vik. He’s sorry about not accepting treatment, and he wishes he were back in a healthy life (AND SO DO WE, WE LOVE YOU, VIK), and to be back home with Helen and the children. “I want more life,” he says.
Helen whispers in his ear, the truth, “I love you, Vik.”
Helen next instructs Sierra to tell Vik the truth about the baby, and then we follow Helen up to the roof of the hospital, where she stares out across Los Angeles to the sunshine on the horizon.
Helen closes her eyes, and smiles, as the song “What Sarah Said” by Death Cab for Cutie plays, its central lyric the prevailing theme of this season: “Love is watching someone die.”
And it is also, quite literally what Sarah said, “Sarah” also possibly referring to Sarah Treem, the series’ co-creator, who now has a final season to craft, and justice for Alison to oversee. And for Luisa.
AND FOR DR. VIK, WHO MUST LIVE.