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'The Affair' recap: Family complications for Cole and Alison

Ruth Wilson as Alison and Joshua Jackson as Cole in "The Affair"
Ruth Wilson as Alison and Joshua Jackson as Cole in "The Affair" (Phil Caruso/Showtime)

Part One: Cole

This week on "The Affair," it's the day before Joanie's birthday! And Cole is dreaming of Alison before his daughter's voice awakens him. Ready to tackle the day, Luisa informs Cole that she has to pick up a cake for the little girl, who helpfully chimes in that her mommy (Alison) is bringing a cake to her party. "It's just so awkward," Luisa says. It sure is.

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Later, Cole picks Joanie up from school and takes her to Alison for her visitation time, supervised by a social worker. Cole decides to tag along on the visit, because why not? What could go wrong with Cole and his ex-wife spending time together after Cole was just dreaming about her ex-wife?

"She's good with her," Cole remarks to Luisa, later. He was particularly impressed that Alison worried when Joanie climbed too high on the monkey bars at the playground. He mentions that they have a court date coming up, which could mean Alison gets unsupervised visitation rights. "We're not granting her anything. … I just don't trust her," Luisa insists. Cole seems perturbed. "She seems better," he says.

Oscar approaches Cole at the big, awkward party the next day. "Luisa's been good for you. I don't think I've ever seen you this happy," he says. Cole agrees, perhaps trying to will himself to believe it. Is anyone on this show capable of happiness? I suppose that's where the drama lies.

Alison arrives with her cake, just as Luisa is bringing out her big cake. Cake wars? As the party unfolds, Cole's attention is more focused on Alison than Joanie. When Joanie falls from a pony, Luisa wants to spring into action, but Cole restrains her and insists that she let Alison tend to her daughter. This does not please Luisa, who goes inside to dispose of Alison's cake.

After the party, the couple tries to hash things out. Cole just wants to give Alison a chance, while Luisa is sure Alison has designs on her ex-husband. "You just can't see it. You're so blind to her," she says.

"We lost our child," Cole says, trying to explain that he wants to do right by Alison.

"I know. How am I ever going to compete with that?" Louisa asks.

Their discussion is interrupted by a knock at the door. It's the police, looking to question Cole about the attack on Noah. "I didn't even know that piece of [expletive] was out of prison," Cole spits. Louisa steps in to offer Cole's alibi, which momentarily satisfies the police. When they leave, Luisa questions her husband. "Where were you, really?" she asks. Cole doesn't answer, leaving us to wonder. Intrigue! Yes! I don't care to see a custody battle play out! Hit me with some mystery!

Cole storms off to Alison's place, upset that she didn't tell him that Noah was out of jail. "You tell him if he ever sets foot in this town again, I will murder him, and I'll do it in broad daylight, and I'll invite the cops to watch," he says. He sticks to Luisa's alibi for him when speaking to Alison, interestingly enough. "My life is good when you're not around," he continues, decrying her decision to abandon Joanie.

"No, I did not abandon her, I left her with her [expletive] father," Alison says. Point, counterpoint. Alison says that she is abiding by Cole's and the court's wishes, that she sees it as punishment that she deserves, and asks for some slack. "I'll try to leave you alone, OK?" she says.

Cole doesn't want that. He wants Alison. And Alison wants him. And so, they take things to the least/most logical conclusion, and decide to have sex, right then and there.

Part Two: Alison

Alison's point of view starts with a slightly different memory of the monkey bars incident. In her memory, Joanie climbs all the way across the bars, while Cole and the social worker are too busy chatting to notice.

Alison remembers the cake incident slightly differently, as well, as she asks Cole for permission to bring one to Joanie's party and he consents. He denies her request for an unsupervised birthday visit, then changes his mind and agrees to run it past Luisa.

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Alison heads off for a meeting with an attorney, where she drives home the point that she wants unsupervised visits. The lawyer seems to be more interested in pretty much anything else. He brings up Alison's past and how she may not be ready to take that next step, and continually refers to Joanie as "my client."

"And your marriage to the ex-convict that killed your brother-in-law, how's that going?" the lawyer deadpans. Alison admits that she and Noah are estranged, but not divorced. The unsatisfactory meeting ends, and Alison pounds the steering wheel in her car in frustration.

As Alison ponders putting peanut butter in Joanie's cake, fully aware of Luisa's nut allergy, the police arrive to question her about Noah's attack. I have to assume that these police characters are being intentionally written and portrayed as bumbling, slightly less than intelligent people, and it makes for a nice bit of levity in the midst of a lot of dread and angst.

Alison denies any knowledge of the attack, and says that she hasn't heard from Noah in over a year. But when the police leave, she plays the voicemail that he left for her the night that he was stabbed. She seems legitimately shocked and horrified at the thought of Noah suffering, which is a credit to Ruth Wilson as an actress, because Noah is the worst. She calls his phone, but it goes straight to voicemail.

Alison arrives at the party the next day, a slightly smaller shindig than Cole recalls. She bumps into Oscar, and casually asks whether Cole had been at the town council meeting the night that Noah was knifed. Oscar says that he wasn't, further allowing our imaginations to run wild.

In Alison's recollection, Joanie doesn't want to ride the pony, but Luisa insists on it. Alison recalls Luisa being the one to run to her aid, while Cole comforts Alison, assuring her that their daughter is fine.

Luisa later confronts Alison with the cake, insisting that she take it with her as she leaves. "You seem incapable of putting that child's needs before your own," Luisa says. "Cole says your mother left you as a child. How can you do the same thing to her?"

Alison fights back. "Don't be a monster," she says. "I am grateful to you for everything that you've done. … She is my child. You can have everything. … Please, please don't take her away from me."

Cole arrives at Alison's that night, upset that she "sent" the police to question him about Noah's stabbing. Just to duck conflict, Alison apologizes, but Cole is too mesmerized by the dollhouse that he sees Alison has built for Joanie to respond. "I know I did an awful thing, but I came back. And I'm here. And I'm not leaving again," she says to Cole, who is still just bamboozled at the sight of this dollhouse.

Alison says that she's going to stay and watch Cole love someone else and raise their daughter with someone else, and that she'll have to settle for little glimmers of happiness, like the awkwardness of the birthday party. Cole is moved — either by Alison's words or the dollhouse, which is a metaphor for something or other — and they make love.

Alison awakens the next morning, expecting to see Cole next to her, but he's gone. She goes outside to start her day doing Alison things when Luisa approaches. She agrees to Alison's request for an unsupervised visit, to Alison's surprise. "I don't want to be a monster," Luisa says. "Maybe your bad decisions really are behind you." Oops.

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Alison bikes off for a day at the beach. On her way home, she passes an obnoxious red car. The driver? Noah Solloway.

Final Thoughts

I have been critical of the Alison/Cole drama to this point in the season, as I just didn't think I could care about those characters anymore without seeing some sort of growth in them, or a change in the way that they have been presented. I'm not sure if this story did enough to prove me wrong, but Ruth Wilson's great performance made it a worthwhile hour.

I'm sensitive to poorly written dialogue, and there was some of that here. There were also some real bright spots, though, especially in Alison's speech to Cole near the end of her point of view segment.

The thing I'm most interested in going forward is the whodunit surrounding Noah's attack. Was it Brendan Fraser? Was it Cole? Was it someone else? Those are the questions that have me hooked as we near the halfway mark of the season.

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