We pick up exactly where we left off at the end of the last episode of "The Affair," with Alison on her bike and Noah passing her in his car. Noah explains that he was stabbed four days earlier. "I know. Sorry," Alison says. He gets out and says that he's come to visit Alison, likely looking for some sympathy.
Alison is reluctant to engage, fearful of Cole finding out. But not fearful enough to say goodbye and walk away, as Alison invites Noah back to her home to catch up. "I'm glad you're here, and I want to talk about everything," she says. She starts to tell him what a chance she's taking by bringing him back there, what with Joanie's custody possibly hanging in the balance. Noah, ever the empathetic partner, falls asleep on her couch as she relates her troubles. Seriously, this guy?
Later, Alison tucks Noah in as though he were a child, and scolds him for his pain pill abuse. The scolding isn't too severe, though. She tells him that he will have to leave the next morning, and he agrees. "I get it," he says. Does he?
The next morning, Alison awakens to her estranged husband making her an omelet in her kitchen, and proposing a day trip to a nearby island. "I am not having eggs with you, I am not taking a stroll with you, I am not going anywhere with you," she says. She drives the point home by serving Noah with divorce papers. She doesn't want any of his book money, she says. "I just want a clean slate."
Noah starts quibbling over the timing of the papers and refuses to sign them, just as Cole pulls up outside. Alison hurries Noah out the back door, and allows her ex-husband to come in for an impromptu visit.
Cole wants to talk about his feelings, and how the two of them having an affair might derail Alison on her quest to become a parent and legal guardian again. "Derail me?" Alison asks, somewhat incredulously. Cole fumbles over his words, leaving Alison to fill in the blanks. "I get it. The other night never happened," she says, then ushers him out of the house.
Noah pops back in and says he'll sign the divorce papers if Alison spends the day with him. If the day goes poorly, that is. He plans to win her back over the course of their afternoon on Block Island. "What do you think is going to happen in one day?" Alison asks. I think that's a fine question. "If you touch me, I'll yell 'rape,' OK?" Alison asks, before agreeing. I think that's fair.
The touching rule is not enforced, though. Noah goofs off with Alison on their ferry ride to the island, charming her, somehow. He is acting so giddy, so carefree, so un-Noah, that Alison asks, "Noah, did someone stab you in the brain?"
As they sit by the water and eat wings, Noah asks for Alison's five-year plan. "There's no use talking to you, because you never really hear me," Alison says. Bingo. She tells him how understanding Cole has been, and how they are working together to serve Joanie's best interests.
"Cole will only ever see you as a disaster, Alison," Noah says in perhaps the first salient point he has ever made on this show. "Maybe I can't be saved," Alison says, allowing that maybe Noah is right about Cole, and that Cole is right about her.
"You're really determined to be unhappy, aren't you?" Noah asks her. Isn't everyone on this show? It's kind of what drives the dramatic elements of this here television drama. "No, I'm determined to take responsibility for my actions," Alison counters. Later, walking along the island, the subject of Scotty's death comes up. "We should have tried to tell the truth," Alison says. "Well, we didn't," Noah says. That's the real driver of the dramatic elements of this show.
They happen upon an empty vacation home with a hot tub, and Noah strips down and jumps in to the stranger's tub, inviting his estranged wife to join him. Reluctantly, Alison agrees, and the two share some stolen wine and talk about their future. Noah says that he wants to move to Montauk to be with Alison, and to raise a child that isn't his. Aw, how sweet. "You were the best thing that ever happened to me," Noah says.
Alison disagrees. "You're rewriting history," she says. Just a cursory glance at the events that have unfolded in Noah's life since we've known him, right around the time he met Alison, should tell you how right she is. She lays out why they fell for each other, and how wrong their whole relationship was. "I used you, and you used me too," she says. "That's what happened between us." Poignant, and accurate.
The hot tub's owner returns and chases the couple out of his property, sending a shoeless Alison and Noah off to catch the last ferry of the day. They arrive too late, of course, because in addition to his other flaws, Noah struggles with time management. As they spend the evening at a bed-and-breakfast, Noah agrees to sign the divorce papers. "I did love you, " he says. "Don't take it all away from me by saying it wasn't real."
Alison agrees to let Noah have that memory of their time together, and confesses to him that she isn't OK. "I have these moments of such darkness," she says, explaining that she doesn't know how to move past them. "All you need to do for Joanie is be there," Noah says, trying to comfort her. Alison takes solace in Noah's words, and kisses his hand.
Part Two: Noah
"I'm sorry," Alison says, after explaining to Noah that she doesn't want to have anything to do with him. She visits him in prison to deliver the news in this flashback, under the watchful eyes of Gunther.
Gunther gives Noah a good ribbing about losing his wife on the walk back to his cell, then asks him what he did to end up in prison. Noah answers, but Gunther doesn't believe him. "I'll find out. I always do," he says.
Noah awakens from his flashback nightmare in bed with Alison, still at the bed-and-breakfast. Feeling uneasy, he looks out the window while Alison sleeps, and spots someone who looks an awful lot like Gunther stalking the parking lot. He steps out to investigate, but sees no one.
Back inside, Alison is awake and the two share a fireside chat. Noah talks about his dad's death, and Alison brings up that Gabriel's death still haunts her. Noah offers that her tough upbringing put her in an unfortunate situation when she was Gabriel's mom. "I don't know how you survived," he says. "I didn't, really," she answers. That's some heavy stuff.
Shifting gears, Noah brings up his inheritance. He says that he never returned to his father's house because his mom died there. He served as her caretaker at the end, even considering giving up a full college scholarship to tend to her.
When his mother learned about the scholarship, she decided to end her life to make things easier for Noah. Noah crushed up pills for her, "She told me I'd been a wonderful son," he says, fighting back tears. "Then I fed them to her... like she was my child."
"You're the only person I've ever met, the only other person I've met, who watched someone they love die," Noah tells Alison, explaining why he loves her and feels such a deep connection to her. They weep together, and embrace, and make love, reconnecting in a profound way.
Noah wakes up the next morning and flashes back to prison again. Gunther crudely and graphically provokes Noah into attacking him, which brings a small army of armed officers into Noah's cell to put the boots to him. This explains his nightmares and chronic pain.
After ferrying back to Alison's house, Noah signs the divorce papers, and Alison calmly takes Noah back to his borrowed car. He kisses her on the cheek and forehead, thinking that this will be the last time he sees her. "I'll leave first," she says, and drives off. He follows her to the Lobster Roll, and watches as she meets with Cole to pick up Joanie. He watches Alison spin Joanie in her arms, and half-smiles, content that she will be OK.
While at a stoplight on the way back to New Jersey, Noah's car is rammed from behind. He checks his mirror and sees Gunther, tipping his cap. He accelerates through the red light and is clipped by another vehicle, sending him crashing into the guardrail, wrecking the car.
Noah gets out to survey the damage, but sees no other car and no Gunther, leaving him, and us, to wonder whether this stalking is a figment of his paranoid imagination.
We haven't seen Alison and Noah's relationship explored with this much depth since the first season, and if nothing else, it was interesting to check in with the two of them together now, years later. They feel like very different people than the ones that we first met back then.
Whether Noah's stalker is real or imagined seems very much in play to me, and I'm not sure I like that. The point of view storytelling leaves us at the mercy of the writers in making that determination, and that's not my favorite place to be in a TV drama.