Finally, the episode we've been waiting for
RECAP: 12/11/16 All Crops: Ruth Wilson as Alison and Joshua Jackson as Cole in The Affair (season 3, episode 4). - Photo: Phil Caruso/SHOWTIME
Credit: Phil Caruso/Showtime
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You guys — it’s a miracle. We finally have a Cole episode, and it’s officially now my favorite of the season thus far. I don’t think this is just about me being in the tank for Cole, either. This episode had a little bit of that season 1 magic about it, right? Is it weird that it does not feature Noah, who, ostensibly, the show is about? Oh well. NOAH WHO I SAY.

Anyway, we start with some steamy Cole sex but — surprise! — it’s Cole and Alison! Obviously a dream sequence but, not to get too technical about a love scene, but it feels like a love scene if you know what I mean. A dream more about feelings than lust and an interesting window into Cole’s subconscious. Before he can see this dream through to its conclusion (if you know what I mean and I think you do), he wakes up in bed with his wife who is not Alison and with Joanie ready to jump on the bed. Tough start to the day.

It’s Joanie’s birthday, the big five, which is incredibly significant to her parents because it means she’s survived longer than Gabriel. There was a beautiful, heartbreaking essay recently in The New York Times; it was writtenby a man who lost his daughter in a terribly tragic accident and about choosing to have another baby and what that means. I thought a lot about that essay while watching this episode because there is a certain kind of awful intimacy in going through something so life-altering that only one other person might feel just the same way about.

Luisa, meanwhile, is sweating every bit of small stuff for this birthday party. She’s vibrating at a very high nervous energy and is instantly annoyed when Joanie pipes up that her mother is making her birthday cake. She turns on Cole, who does the whole hey-don’t-look-at-me thing, and this leads to her rant that she can’t believe Alison would dare come to the party. Poor Luisa.

We get a glimpse of the house that Cole is building and oh, boy, it is beautiful. Again, I’ll say: Cole, the big winner on this show with Helen right behind him. Cuckolds for the win! He offers to meet Joanie with Alison. Alison, though it appears to be autumn, is wearing one of her gauzy long sundresses. There’s a court-appointed supervisor as well.

Cole watches Alison and Joanie together, wary but affectionate, as it seems as though Joanie is happy with her mom. She climbs way too high on the bars, but Cole trusts Alison enough to handle it, which she does.

That night he mentions to Luisa that he thinks Alison and Joanie are good together, which does not go over well with the missus. They bicker over whether Alison is up for unsupervised visits.

NEXT: Party time

And now it’s the party itself. Oh hey, there’s Oscar with a baby strapped to his chest. I do wish this show would explain when it is exactly they decided Oscar wasn’t an evil, manipulative monster and was instead a friendly exposition helper. He tells Cole that he’s never seen Cole so happy and that he’s a lucky man. Probably not the right thing to say to someone who had the worst thing ever happen to him? But okay.

Alison appears in yet another not-temperature-appropriate dress while carrying her handmade cake, and Joanie runs to meet her. Cole is sweet and says hi. Things are going well till they all see Luisa bringing out that big fancy store cake anyway. Hmmm. Luisa — with about as much subtlety as Oscar — is clearly puffing up her metaphorical feathers to show she’s Joanie’s main maternal influence. We’re talking singing and candles and cake.

When it’s time for Joanie’s pony ride, Alison is clearly nervous. She waves to Joanie. Joanie, looking behind her for her mother, falls right off the horse. Luisa and Alison both start to run to Joanie, but Cole holds Luisa back and tells her: Let her do it. Luisa stomps right off. Oh boy.

Then it’s a get-back-on-the-literal-horse-when-you-fall chat, and Cole and Alison are a united front. Interesting. Luisa, back inside, is pissed. She takes the cake and goes outside (we’ll see why later). Later, he tells her that everything happened so fast, and he just reacted. Luisa, in a speech I can well understand, vents her frustrations: She’s done everything that’s been expected of her — Joanie, the Lobster Roll, Alison in general. But she still feels like an outsider, and Joanie is still not her child. She worries Alison wants it all back, including Cole.

Cole weakly says he’s building a house with Luisa. (He’s probably thinking about the dream.) He doesn’t get mad really till Luisa says Alison doesn’t deserve to be Joanie’s mother. Then he sternly says: We lost our child. Luisa is like yeah, how am I ever going to compete with that? And that’s a rough thing to say, but it’s very honest and very true. Sometimes even tragedy can be a place of exclusivity that others can’t follow.

Aaaand, just like that the cops show up. (If these guys are supposed to be indicative of New Jersey, I need to have a word with Sarah Treem.) They let him know about Noah; he lets them know he wishes Noah was dead even if he didn’t do it. They ask for his alibi, and Luisa provides one. But after the cops leave Luisa was like, but really where were you? He doesn’t respond.

Instead, he goes over to Alison’s house. She’s wearing just a little slip, as one does (nope) and he starts off mad that she didn’t warn him about the cops. He explodes: This kind of drama just always comes with Alison. “My life is good when you aren’t around.” He accuses her of trying to sabotage his happiness. She thanks him for what he did. “I don’t want to make things more difficult for you.” But remember everyone, Alison is his love. And so he does the most inevitable thing and starts making out with her. Oy.

NEXT: In Alison’s memory, she’s wearing more clothes

In Alison’s perspective, we’re back at the playground. Alison is dressed much more seasonally appropriate — sweater and jeans — and she can even pull off a pretty decent cartwheel. In her memory, Cole and the supervisor are thick as thieves. Joanie climbing the monkey bars is also much more terrifying in Alison’s view. Joanie balances on the top, and Alison can only sort of whisper for her to come down.

Is now the time to bring up something that has been nagging at me? I think so. This show is all about the details, so what are we to make of the fact that little Joanie has very dark brown eyes when both Cole and Alison have very distinctly light-colored green/blue ones? (In Cole’s case, a blue like the ocean on a sunny day.) This can’t be an accident. I don’t know my genetics well enough to know for sure, but I feel like it’s unusual for two blue-eyed parents to have a brown-eyed daughter? And, more to the point, you know who has dark brown eyes, right? Yeah, that dude. So if this is the beginning of a reveal that Noah is actually Joanie’s father I’m going to be mad. And if it’s not, then I wish they had cast a little girl with blue eyes. Rant, over.

Okay, back to the show: Alison lies to Joanie that Cole fed her ice-chips during her delivery. (Could this maybe have been true of Gabriel?) Alison tells Cole she wants to bake a cake, and he tells her that Luisa is allergic to nuts. She also asks if Joanie could spend the night at her house on her actual birthday. Cole is like, that sure sounds like an unsupervised visit. He’s all, I’ll talk to Luisa, but I can’t promise anything.


While she’s making the cake at home, she hilariously (maybe) looks at a jar of peanut butter thinking about Luisa’s nut allergy. That kind of thinking does not prove your sanity, Alison! But the cops showing up stops that kind of murderous thought. They let her know about Noah, and she is visibly shaken. They ask if she knows where Cole was that night. She tells them she’s in a custody situation and doesn’t need the trouble. (The cops are much nicer in her memory.) She listens to that voicemail we heard from Noah back in episode 1. She puts the timing together and looks vaguely horrified.

NEXT: Party time (again)

She arrives at Joanie’s party (wearing a different dress than in Cole’s memory, and her cake looks a lot better, too). She takes in how fancy the party is, the pony, the happy birthday sign and how possessive Luisa is with her arm around Cole.

Alison attempts to wave at Luisa, who ignores her. Oscar the expositor comes over and chats with Alison; she asks him whether town council meetings are still on Wednesdays and if Cole was there. He was not. Ruh roh.

Cole walks up just then, and the two of them make slightly awkward chitchat. Alison points out that the horse is a horse, not a pony, and Cole is all: But her name is Sparkles, chill. All Alison can see is Luisa acting the mother to her daughter, and she is not into it.

And now it’s time for the fateful pony ride. Joanie doesn’t want to go, and Alison tries to intervene, but Luisa and Cole insist that she gets on the horse. Luisa is all, hey she’s picking up on your anxiety. So Alison watches and has a full on anxiety attack. But of course. And then Joanie falls and, unlike in Cole’s memory, Alison does not run to her, but starts seeing things way worse than they actual are. I direct you again to that lovely essay I mentioned earlier. Here’s one passage that makes sense for this part: When I am on the playground years from now, watching my son take a fall from the monkey bars, I might not panic. But some part of me will remember: A heartbeat can stop.

You know who else understands? Cole. He tells her: Look, she’s okay. “It happens to me, too.”

Now we see where Luisa was when she took the cake outside. Luisa (wearing a totally different outfit and looking much more glamorous) comes out carrying the cake and is all, here we don’t need it. Then Luisa starts going off: about how Alison doesn’t put Joanie’s needs before her own, about how she makes Joanie uncomfortable, about how she gets nervous Alison is going to disappear.

“Don’t be a monster,” says Alison. Then, she apologizes and thanks Luisa again. “She’s my child.”

Alison goes home with a glass of wine and continues crafting. She is not, needless to say, wearing a tiny slip. Cole shows up, coming in hot, accusing her of sending the police after him. She keeps apologizing as that tends to be her default these days. Cole sees the beautiful dollhouse that she’s built for Joanie’s birthday. And it’s her and Cole’s old house, she’s built, right? So he’s building a new house and she’s building the old one?

She tells Cole she knows they’re in a terrible situation and that it’s her fault. But she’s back now and not leaving again. I’m going to stay in this town, “watching you love somebody else.” She tells him she wishes she did things differently. But all she can do now is live with the consequences. But, she pleads, he does not need to punish her. And then he kisses her (more gently than in his recollection) and they go down to the bedroom. Oh, boy. Again.

In the morning when Alison wakes up, Cole’s gone. No real surprise there. But what is, is Luisa stopping her as she’s about to get on her bicycle. Is she here to beat up Ally? No, she’s there to tell her that she could have Joanie on her birthday. “I don’t want to be a monster.” Ooof. Next, Luisa says that maybe Alison’s bad decisions are really behind her. Uh……..

Alison goes down to the beach and goes for a swim. She sits on the beach and thinks about things and generally exhales. It’s impossible to know what she’s thinking but she looks… happy?

And you’d think that would be the end, but nooooo. As she’s biking back, she passes a little red car — much like Professor Frenchie’s!! And, yeah, that’s Noah. Ugh.

Episode Recaps

The Affair

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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