David M. Russell/Showtime

Noah and Alison both have big decisions to make.

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December 15, 2014 at 04:01 AM EST

We’ve hit the penultimate episode—in the wake of a kabillion Golden Globe nominations no less—so this means anything can happen. Oh, boy and it does.

We begin with Alison—(yay!)—who is carefully coiffed and lipsticked and smiles a little as she rides the train to the city with those excellent anticipation butterflies, knowing she’s going to see her partner in adultery. She waits for Noah outside the LIRR station in Brooklyn. Noah picks her up and spins her around, and they make out a little. I know New York is a big city and all, but I still get nervous whenever these guys get nutty in public. You run into people everywhere, even on crowded corners in downtown Brooklyn. But they sort of come to the same conclusion and head to a hotel.

Except Brooklyn—especially trendy Brooklyn (this lobby looks like the Wythe Hotel to me)—is not so easy to just book a room for a non-exorbitant price. They can’t figure out where to go till Noah walks them to his brownstone. Yuck. Helen is apparently gone for the day and will be back that evening. Noah claims he’s not going to you-know-what her in his wife’s bed, but that’s just what they do. They tell each other at a pivotal moment that they love each other. In the afterglow they smile. Noah has been thinking about getting a writer’s studio that Alison could stay at when she’s in town. It’s the first step to him leaving his family and moving out. He wants to be with Alison. “I promise it will be worth the wait.” They start their adult activities again—even Noah is impressed by his stamina at age 45.

In the Solloway shower Alison smiles, perhaps thinking of all that’s just happened and of the possibilities that might happen. She goes to use Helen’s shampoo—some very pricey looking bottle—and shudders at the price tag presumably still on the bottom. She goes to use the advised dime sized amount and then, clearly, thinks f’ it and pours a whole lot of it down the drain. Sheesh Alison, you’re already sleeping with this woman’s husband. Now this?

When she gets back to the bedroom, she’s a little disheartened by the sight of Noah hurriedly stripping the bed and evidence of their lovemaking. Down in the kitchen, she casts an eye around the Solloway abode, noting how nice Helen’s things are, the kids’ pictures on the wall. In general: that this is the hearth and heart of someone else’s family. Unfortunately, while examining a little glass oil jar she breaks it and tries to shove it out of the way in the trash. And that’s when she sees the positive pregnancy test. Now, you all—like me—must have instantly thought: Whitney! But Alison? Alison thinks it means Helen is pregnant and her heart breaks a lot.

Noah comes into the kitchen, and not quite feeling out the mood change, sort of unceremoniously lets Alison know that Helen and the kids will be back soon so… that’s a nice way to make someone feel like a dirty, dirty mistress.

They’re walking outside, killing time till Alison’s train. For those curious, they’re on the corner of Atlantic and Henry. Noah is all excited to show Alison a really awesome surprise. She is less than thrilled when it turns out to be a rather sad and overpriced studio that will go quickly. (God bless this writing staff that actually understands Brooklyn real estate.) Alison storms out. She fights with Noah—she says it’s just a stash pad to put your mistress, he says it’s a temporary solution to a complicated issue. He reminds her that he has four kids. She, rightly, reminds him that he was the one who brought all this up in the first place! He asks for more time—maybe when Whitney goes to college in nine months. Alison thinks he’ll never leave Helen. He, angrily, tells Alison she needs some faith.

Her return train ride is not nearly as good. She’s somehow made to feel even worse when a precocious young tot asks her where she’s going. She’s sad and starts drinking at a local bar (one that I very much wish was walking distance from my apartment). Like a bad penny, Oscar turns up. He’s all puffed up after a successful dinner with investors. They agree he deserved to have his ass kicked by Cole. Oscar correctly intuits that Alison is still seeing Noah. And there’s something like real pity in his voice as he asks if Noah broke her heart. He’s starting to confess his plan to blackmail, when Alison—ugh, it’s hard to type—propositions him. He resists it for approximately two seconds, and then we cut to his sad apartment where we see the deed happening. Nooooooooo. Alison, this is the sexual equivalent to cutting!

In the morning Alison is hungover and understandably horrified. Oscar is cheery and making pancakes. Aw, poor Oscar asks if she wants to go to a craft fair, but she shuts that down real quick. Oscar is like, dude, what is with your marriage? She’s not having that either. She tells him they’re selling the ranch and half of Cole’s money will be hers and she’ll use it to get as far as possible from Montauk. Oscar is delighted to burst her bubble. He just so happens to have the town records proving that Cherry has refinanced the ranch so much that there’ll barely be any money to split between all the boys and their wives. Alison freaks out so hard that even Oscar feels a little badly. He gives her his car to drive.

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She drives straight to the ranch and confronts Cherry. And man, this gets ugly. Cherry denies it for a while but finally admits that they’re not selling anyway—Alison tells her to tell the boys what’s happening or she will. Cherry tries to blackmail her with the affair, but Alison tells her Cole already knows. Then Cherry unleashes the Kraken: “Isn’t this ironic? You telling me what’s good for my kids. I remember a time when the roles were reversed.” She digs in, reminding Alison that she told her to take Gabriel to the hospital, and she didn’t. Alison was a nurse and didn’t want to listen. As Alison begins to unravel, begging her to stop, Cherry advances: She pulled her back from the brink, she tried to love her and forgive her, but Alison is too hateful. “Your pride cost him his life. It should have been you.” Yeowza.

Alison drives away, coming completely apart. She pulls over for an emergency cutting session, but slashes far too deep for just a Band-Aid. She (wisely) goes to the hospital where a very sweet white-haired doctor who clearly knows her calms her down before asking her to come in for a talk. He gives her a glass of scotch (fine medicine indeed) and now we finally, finally learn what happened with Gabriel. In a nutshell, it’s something called “secondary drowning” (you can read about it here if you want, like me, to have a brand new fear to add to your repertoire). She thought he was okay after getting pulled out of the water. She wanted to let him go to sleep instead of going to the hospital. The very nice doctor tells her that it’s incredibly hard to know the signs, impossible for her to have known, and here comes Ruth Wilson’s Emmy acting reel: She’s heartbreaking as she unspools in her guilt and grief. The doctor tells her again it wasn’t her fault. But he can’t answer whether Gabriel would still be alive if she had taken him to the hospital.

She walks into the ocean (amazing cinematography in this scene) and lets the waves crash over her. Is she trying to drown herself? It’s the sound of a little boy—that kid from outside the train—that calls her back. She visits Gabriel’s grave and says “thank you.” So apparently she felt like he sent her a message of forgiveness?

Back home she packs a bag. Cole comes home and seems to think she’s been at Athena’s. Alison is all, I’m out. Cole doesn’t understand as he thinks things have been better between them. She drops the bomb about Cherry and the ranch (good, Cherry deserves that). Cole—beard looking the best ever—begs her to say. Alison: “I love you. But I’ll die if I stay any longer. I don’t want to die.” Alison seems lighter and happier already as she steps through the door.

She waits at the darkened train station. As the train pulls in and she walks toward it, Cole chases after her. He’s learned the truth about the ranch and is over it. “Let’s get the f— out of here. I don’t care where we go. Wherever you want.”

Alison pauses to consider this as we fly back to Noah’s memory of the events.

NEXT: Faith and scotch 

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Two marriages collide when a tragedy brings an affair to light; the Showtime original series stars Joshua Jackson and Maura Tierney.
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