We open on Noah, Alison and Jon pulling up to a courthouse for Noah's trial. A throng of media and autograph seekers line the path from the car to the building.
Jon instructs the couple not to say anything or look at anyone, but Noah can't help but notice Helen, arriving with Dr. Ullah, and Detective Jeffries, who gives him a smile as they walk in.
Part One: Noah: Noah calls Alison from a therapist's office where he waits for her to arrive. He tells the therapist, Marilyn Sanders (played by Cynthia Nixon), that Alison is probably late because she stayed to ask questions after a class that she's taking. Alison plans to go to medical school to become a doctor, we learn.
Marilyn offers to begin the session without Alison, but Noah doesn't want to. He says he's not all that thrilled with the idea of therapy. "We've gotten past the crisis. We're basically doing well," Noah says.
Marilyn offers to schedule a session later in the week, but Noah says that he can't since he has his kids while Helen and Vic (Dr. Ullah), are away on safari. Marilyn offers to let him go, but Noah pulls an envelope from his pocket and says that he wants to talk about it with her. It contains his final divorce papers, meaning that his marriage has officially ended.
He says that he hasn't told Alison yet. We've jumped forward in time by a year, as Noah mentions that if he had gotten the papers when Alison was at the retreat center a year earlier, he would have run off to marry her immediately. "If there's one thing I've learned this past year, it's to think before I act," he says.
Noah says that he's ready to get married, but he isn't sure that Alison is.
"Are you afraid she might say no?" Marilyn asks. Noah says that he sees Alison looking at him with their daughter, Joanie, and thinks that she's trying to figure out whether or not he wants the baby and what she should do about it. He says that if he were her, he would have left him for not making it back for Joanie's birth.
"But she didn't," Marilyn says.
"Except it isn't enough," Noah says.
Marilyn talks about that and about how Noah mentioned that the last time he saw Whitney, she looked at him with scorn and how when he told Helen about Alison for the first time, she looked at him with judgment as well. Marilyn asks Noah to explore what the connection might be, and why he feels judged by all of the women in his life.
In response, Noah casually mentions that he wants to have sex with his best student, Lucy. He says that she has made it clear that she wants to sleep with him, too, and that he's going to meet with her to talk about her writing, later that day.
"I know I shouldn't go, but I can't bring myself to cancel," he says.
"She isn't the first, I'm guessing," Marilyn says. Noah says that might be true and that he remained faithful to Helen for 20 years, but this time is different, somehow. He says that he almost cheated on Alison with Eden, but that he only stopped himself after he saw Whitney at the party.
"And it's the last time I saw her," he says. "So I didn't stop myself ... because I am a terrible, terrible, sick, bad guy," he says.
Marilyn posits that Noah hasn't shown the papers to Alison yet because he doesn't trust himself. She asks about Noah's upbringing, and whether or not his father remained faithful to his mother. Noah says that he did, but on the night he and Helen got married his dad told Bruce that he quit trying to be an artist in order to care for his sick wife.
Noah says that wasn't true, and that he was the one that cared for his sick mom, not his dad.
"And he dares tell me that he loved his wife," he says.
Noah says that he was his mother's caretaker, a faithful husband to Helen, a good father to his children, yet somehow he feels cast as a villain while his father drank beer and drove a truck while his wife passed away and he did nothing, and thinks of himself as a hero. "F--- him," he says. "If that's what being a good man is, I don't want any part of it."
Marilyn suggests that Noah might view fidelity as less than virtuous, in a sense, because he hates his father. "I think about these questions, why people live the way they do, all the time," Noah says.
Noah says that Helen used to read obituaries and look to see whether or not the deceased loved and was loved, judging on the family mentioned. Noah says that he tends to judge people on their accomplishments, not their family. "There are so many different matrices to measure a man's worth, but I don't know which is right," he says.
He says that he's exploring that idea in the new novel he's working on. Marilyn says that he mentioned that the new book won't have any women in it, so that Alison won't try to see herself in any of the characters there. Noah says that was the plan until he began writing about this World War II hero, a general, and ended up writing a scene where a character seduced him.
He says that this accomplished general that he's writing about was married for 49 years, but had an affair with a movie star and that his flaws are what make him a compelling character in his book. "It's the center of all of it. What do we make of this guy? Does the fact that he had sex with a movie star outside marriage, does that somehow negate all his achievements? Or do those traits that made him cheat, ego, intensity ... do they also lead him to achieve?"
And that, my friend, is at the center of this television show, too.
"I want to know if it's possible, really possible, to be both," Noah says. "A good man and a great man." Meaning, one who is both loved by his family and one who accomplishes great and significant things in his life.
Marilyn says that the time has run out on their session, but that she wants Noah to address the questions he has about Alison and their relationship, and whether or not he wants to marry her. Noah says that he likes having a family, but that he also wants to go to France to write for two years, and to have sex with anyone he wants, and to finish a great novel. "What I do not want is to be dishonest," he says.
Marilyn says that before their next session with Alison, she wants Noah to look at a list of great men, "... a list of men who did remarkable things and remained loyal partners," she says. "We hear about them less, but they're out there too," she says.
She also wants him to consider ordinary Joes who cheat on their spouses, and how they fit into his worldview of good and great men, and she compliments him for staying to work on his issues today, and what it says about his character.
"Great. So, who am I?" Noah says.
Noah returns home to find Alison doing dishes. He elects not to show her the divorce papers. Alison apologizes for missing therapy and Noah says it was a good thing that he had a session to himself.
"Got myself all figured out," he says.
Epilogue: Noah enters the courtroom which is filled with interested observers. He sees the Lockhart family and sees his sister.
Jon makes his opening statement and says that many people had issues with Scotty, who was quite an immoral guy. He describes Noah as a scapegoat, "someone easy to point fingers at when you're searching for a villain."
He says that the jury will come to know Noah as a devoted husband and father, a hard-working writer, "... someone, who at his very essence, is a good man."
Part Two: Alison: Alison wakes up in Joanie's room, with the baby snoozing on her chest. Alison puts her daughter in her crib, then shuffles back to her bedroom. She climbs into bed with Noah and tells him that the next time their little girl wakes up, it's on him to get up with her. Noah mutters and Alison pulls out a textbook and starts reading.
We see Alison in class the next day, the afternoon of the therapy session we saw in Part One. She seems overwhelmed by the volume of medical terminology being thrown at her and jumps at the chance to meet with the teacher after class.
She tells the teacher that she's thinking of dropping the class, as she might have taken on too much with her small child at home. The teacher mentions that she's a nurse, so surely there can't be a lot of new information in the class.
"No, it's not new, it's just been a really long time," she says. She reiterates her question about dropping and the teacher tells her that the next day is the deadline, but her urges her to continue if she wants to go on to medical school.
Alison has a big decision to make.
Alison arrives back at her building. She sees Scotty there and he awkwardly hugs her. It becomes clear that it's no accident that he ran into her. "I have a business proposal for you," he says and asks to come up to the apartment. Alison declines, but Scotty persuades her to sit on a bench outside and listen to him.
He tells her about his plan to buy the Lobster Roll with her. He says that all he needs is $900,000 from her to buy half of the place, with the other half coming from a Wall Street guy he knows. Scotty twitches and sniffs, while Alison takes it all in. "You don't look good to me, Scotty," she says. "I can't help you. I'm sorry."
Scotty presses the issue and says that he knows Alison has the money. He says that if she doesn't than Noah does, but that money came as a result of a book that trashed his family. He says that because of Noah's book, the police officer that had agreed to look the other way at Scotty's drug dealing had backed out of their deal.
As their meeting ends, Alison's nanny walks up with Joanie. Alison reluctantly introduces Scotty to her nanny and her daughter. The nanny says that everyone thinks Joanie looks like Alison, but she thinks she looks like her daddy. "Yeah, she does to me too," Scotty says and shoots Alison an uncomfortable, knowing look.
Scotty hands Alison his business proposal and leaves. Alison has the nanny take Joanie upstairs and walks off in the opposite direction.
We see Alison ignore a call from Noah, then step into a bar to meet Cole. He says that he's surprised that Alison wanted to meet and has the bartender get them drinks and a snack. Cole's a regular there, as Luisa works across the street. "You get to meet her. She's off in fifteen minutes," Cole says.
Cole looks like he has a fresh haircut and just received a spa facial or a peel or something. The guy looks great.
Cole says that he's been doing some odd jobs for Luisa's brother. Alison asks if he needs to work, given the money from the house. "It's still in escrow, you haven't touched it," she says. "That's because it's your money, Alison," Cole says. "I don't want it."
Cole tells her that he likes his job and that he's getting married again. "You look happy," Alison says. They make awkward small talk about Joanie, then share a silent toast.
Cole asks why Alison wanted to see him and she hesitates. She clearly had something else in mind, but tells him that she saw Scotty and that he had a crazy plan and didn't look well and she wanted to let him know. "I do not care anymore," Cole says.
He's focused on himself instead of his family for once, he mentions, and he feels great about that. Alison says that she's sorry to hear that the Lobster Roll is closing and Cole brings up some good memories that they had there. "That used to be a great place," Alison says.
Luisa enters and she and Alison meet. They talk about how surprising it is that Cole moved to the city. "This is good for him. A new start," Luisa says. Alison tells the couple that she's happy for them and quickly excuses herself.
She stands outside the bar for a moment and watches Cole and Luisa bask in their happiness.
Alison returns home to see Trevor and Stacey playing a video game. She finds Noah in the kitchen with Joanie. She apologizes for missing therapy and Noah says that he skipped the session to go to a movie. He asks if they should quit therapy since they're happy again.
"Yeah, we are," Alison says, but her eyes tell a different story.
We see Alison and Noah making love and they say that they love each other, over and over. They're interrupted by the sound of Joanie's first word, resounding from a baby monitor.
"Da-da," she says. Alison tells Noah to go to their daughter and he does, leaving Alison alone with her thoughts.
Epilogue: "My, oh my, oh my," Jon says, as his assistant shows him the results of the DNA test on Joanie's pacifier.
Final thoughts: Cynthia Nixon's performance in Part One was good and Dominic West upped his game to match hers.
After spending the better part of two seasons chronicling Noah's descent, this hour provided a bit of necessary image rehab for his character. If Noah is simply a sex-addicted narcissist who will step on anyone and over any boundaries to feed his ego, I find it impossible to sympathize with him. But if he is fundamentally a good man struggling with unsavory impulses, I find him to be redeemable on some level and worth investing in.
In raising that question, "The Affair" took a big step towards retaining my emotional investment.