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What’s in a Dress on The Affair?

21 Oct

The Affair has many secrets it is yet to divulge including the identity of the person who has been killed and why the police want to talk to Noah and Alison about their relationship in so much depth. It is a show that begs to be watched more than once from the way scenarios change and the dialogue differs in both perspectives. It is a spot the difference if you will and this goes beyond the words that are said with hairstyles and clothing differing in each version of events. I’m going to focus in on the latter and the dress Helen wore to the fancy soiree at her father’s house in the second episode.

At this point we don’t know if Alison or Noah is reliable in their recollections as there are enough discrepancies to suggest both have inaccurate memories. Or they are both lying. Or one of them has a better memory. The other thing to remember is this is also a matter of perspective so Alison comes across as sexier in Noah’s version, whereas in her own retelling of the story her dress and mannerisms are far more tempered around him. By looking at how they view the secondary characters we can also learn more about Noah and Alison, which is where Helen and her dress come in.

The Affair 1.02 which dressHelen asks her husband’s opinion regarding which dress she should wear with Noah picking the one that looks slinkier and with a whole lot of plunge and cut outs. Helen instead picks the more covered up simple dress and this is the one we see her wearing at the party. Helen looks pretty, but there is nothing about this outfit that suggests she is a woman who comes from money. Noah’s side of the story reveals Helen to be a good mom who isn’t really anything like her parents (who he clearly despises) and while they’re still sexually active they constantly get interrupted by the kids. There is no time for just them and any excitement Noah once had about this relationship is now gone; he even turns down her shower suggesting as he’s too busy masturbating to thoughts of Alison. Which, urgh Noah you’re wife seems pretty great to be honest and you’re just feeling restless about the life you are living. This projection of his wife could also be coming from a place of guilt and so the version of Helen we are seeing is everything good.

The Affair 1.02 Noah and HelenAt the party the woman Helen’s father had an affair with is there and Noah listens while Helen has a mini meltdown about this intrusion. Later in a move that maybe makes Noah feel emasculated (so much eye rolls towards Noah’s discomfort in this scene); Helen tries to big up his second book while also complimenting his less commercial first novel. Alison delivers a whisky to Noah in this scene and there is no interaction between Helen and Alison, not even an acknowledgement they have met before. This could be Noah separating the two women in his life as best he can.

The Affair 1.02 dress fixingWhen we see this scene take place from Alison’s side there is not only interaction, but the same level of intrusive comments from the rich to the wait staff as if they think they have the right to make overly long remarks about personal tragedy (Helen’s mother to Alison) and to fix Alison’s dress in front of everyone with an unsubtle reference to the tightness. It is both patronizing and humiliating with a strong whiff of belittling. Helen is cut from the same summer folk cloth as her mother to Alison; the precise demands she makes about the glass of water (no ice) and a very thin sliver of cake sounds so utterly specific and ridiculous. Helen is stood on the opposite side of the table to her husband, rather than by his side and everything in part two suggests there is no closeness between husband and wife.

The Affair 1.02 Alison's versionThis is clear in the interaction Alison witnesses above and it is a hostile looking conversation between Helen and Noah. Helen’s dress is far more opulent here and she looks like a woman of money in her stance and styling. There is nothing approachable about Helen in this scenario and something as simple as an updo can make a character look frosty in comparison to the no fuss hair down approach of Helen in the first part. Alison’s hair also changes between the two; Noah remembers it being down and flirty (maybe Noah thinks of women with their hair down) whereas it is tied back when Alison recalls this evening.

It’s funny that I was leaning towards Alison being the more reliable unreliable narrator up to the point where she paints Helen as just another rich lady bitch and my sympathy at this point is very much with Helen. Maybe this is because I really like Maura Tierney, but also because up to this interpretation of her she seems pretty great. Of course this could be Noah romanticizing the woman he is stepping out on and the mother of his children and in the same respect Alison might be painting her in a more negative light to ease her guilt.

For another spouse comparison here is how Noah sees Cole as the cowboy and super macho dude:

The Affair 1.02 Cowboy ColeLater Noah comments that “married people don’t fuck like that” adding further credence to this idea that Noah’s perspective of Cole is all about masculinity and excitement.

The Affair 1.02 ColeTo Alison, Cole on the same day looks like the surfer dude from the first episode in a Henley and sans cowboy hat. The change of top could simply be that Cole was all sweaty from working and horse riding and yet it is notable because they look like two very different kinds of people in these shots.

The narrative set up on The Affair is disorientating because it isn’t clear at this point exactly what is going on or what is motivating Noah and Alison in the present day scenes. Costume projects an image telling us more about the character in question and because clothing is being used to show differing perspectives on this show it adds another level of intrigue; sometimes the changes are subtle with how well something fits and at other points such as Helen’s party dress the discrepancies are far bigger. Maybe Helen wore neither of those dresses to the party and we might end up seeing a third version of this pivotal event showing what really occurred.

 

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2 Responses to “What’s in a Dress on The Affair?”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Affair Season 2 Teaser: “Do You Honestly Think That Things Just Work Out for the Best?” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - June 30, 2015

    […] with perceptions of behavior and costume is one of The Affair’s strengths, which goes beyond spot the difference and reveals a whole […]

  2. Talking New Perspectives at The Affair PaleyFest Panel | TV Ate My Wardrobe - October 15, 2015

    […] wildly so as we saw in the mediation and when Cole returns some of Alison’s things. It is no longer a case of spot the difference with clothes, hair style and tone, but a completely different take on an […]

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