Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched episode 409 of “The Affair,” which aired Aug. 12.
So now we know what really happened to Alison — or do we?
Having been led to believe that Alison (Ruth Wilson) committed suicide in episode 408, Sunday’s episode — the penultimate of the season — takes a unique approach to the question of how Alison died. For the first time, we’re given two perspectives for the episode from the same character.
The first half plays almost as a fantasy, with Alison confronting the duplicitous Ben (Ramon Rodriguez) about his wife, and then ultimately reconciling with him. But the second half is far more brutal, with that confrontation leading Ben to get physical with Alison, who collapses on the floor after hitting her head on a statue. Her body is then thrown into the water at episode’s end.
“The one thing with last night’s episode that I noticed was there’s a perspective that’s missing,” Rodriguez tells Variety, referring to Ben’s version of the night’s events. “It really leaves it up to you, the audience, to decide what happened and how it happened, which is the secret sauce for the show.”
Here, Rodriguez — who recently directed a short doc titled “Pa’Lante” focused on his efforts with www.100Roofs.org in Puerto Rico — offers his own theories about what really happened.
What was the experience of making that episode?
That was an intense episode. It was probably one of the more intense things I’ve done just because of the emotional range and the things that we explored. Sam Gold, who is an incredible theater director, directed that episode and I believe it’s the first TV thing he’s ever done, which is kinda crazy and incredible. We shot it in order. It was kind of crazy because we were stuck in that room for two weeks every day on the lot, in the same space. It was like groundhog day, going back in there and picking things up where we left off.
I have to give Sam great credit because that transition shot from part one to part two, which I thought worked brilliantly, it’s so theatrical, it’s such a theater kind of concept. He was able to bring some of the theater nuances to this TV show, which I thought worked really well. And that was a full team effort. It was great to see the entire set be involved in that shot. Set people were moving walls and moving fireplaces and resetting lights and wardrobe was standing beneath the sink putting on Alison’s pants and I’m running around backstage getting hosed down with water, changing into my hoodie. It was a real kind of theater moment, and we all knew we wanted to execute that in one shot. That’s kind of the magic in it. And I thought everybody did a great job with that.
What was your experience working with Ruth Wilson?
She’s phenomenal. I’m honored that I got to be there in her last moments and I know what a revered character she is on that show. And I know it’s a tough thing for audiences, but I feel really honored that I got to play in that sandbox with her and was invited to play in [showrunner] Sarah [Treem’s] sandbox.
When did you find out what was going to happen with Ben? Have you known since the beginning of the season?
I knew from the first meeting with Sarah when we were discussing the possibility of me joining the show. One of the things that I think got me very interested in the part on the show was she had the whole season laid out in front of me. I was able to see the whole arc to the character and all the other characters. I hadn’t watched the show before and when I saw the complexity of Ben, I was like, this is really interesting.
I can’t imagine he’s like any other character you’ve gotten to play before, especially because you get to play so many different versions of him.
He’s a complicated guy, and I think it’s a complicated show. So definitely one of the most interesting parts of deciding if I was going to do it or not is the idea of playing two sides or two perspectives of the character and everything that this guy had going on. When [Sarah] started listing the issues he was dealing with, I realized this is a loaded guy, and there’s a lot going on. I liked the idea too that two tormented human beings who had their own issues and trauma sort of connected — and is there a possibility for that to work out?
Do you have a perspective on which version is the truth?
I’ve always thought that there is another version. I think part one seems obviously very much to be the idea of what could possibly happen, this sort of fantasy. And I just feel like part two is the opposite extreme. I imagine that might be something there in the middle. I think throughout the season you learned that, oh wait, if Ben did do that, he was able to clean everything up and have an alibi. It just leaves it sort of mysterious, which I really liked. I liked the idea that you don’t know. I think there is a part that’s suicidal for sure. I don’t know what exactly that is. Even in that last shot where we were doing the scene with the guy carrying Alison towards the ocean, we tried to also play that in a way where you don’t get a clear shot of Ben. I mean, I’m sure people could figure that he had the hood on. It was just the more mysterious we could be, to leave it up for interpretation, that was the exciting part.
Did you have to come to one answer for yourself about whether or not he did it?
For myself? Yes. For me, he never did it. In my opinion, it ended when he throw her against the bureau and then from that moment, I don’t know what happened. That to me is up to whoever, whatever you want to believe in. But I think if I would’ve believed that this guy actually did it, it would have tainted the character in a certain way. And I had to believe that this guy’s a very tormented, tortured human being with a lot of issues. And it’s not just so simple or black and white, which is the brilliance of the show. They don’t ever make things simple.
If we’d gotten to see his perspective, what would you have wanted to see?
I would be curious as to something in the middle that might’ve happened. I don’t know what that would look like. It would be a creative question for Sarah to think of something interesting and compelling that makes people wonder, you know, oh, did Ben leave at some point? And then what happened? What did she do?
There is still a question of his alibi. Regardless of which version you choose to believe, it does sound like he’s got a solid alibi.
I think the idea was to keep it sort of open ended where you can say yes, maybe he did do it but how did he cover it up so well? I think that’s the fun thing that a lot of people are probably questioning right now. How did he clean up the blood so fast? How did he have an alibi? Which for me all made me believe it more so that he didn’t do it. It allowed me to sort of really settle into that, that wasn’t the reality, that there is another version that maybe we didn’t see. I really love the idea of it not being answered clearly. Obviously Sarah loved it, too. Anytime I brought up something that was protecting his storyline, she was all for that because it really keeps it in this very ambiguous state of what actually happened. I don’t believe that he was that much of a sociopath. Is he a tormented a human being? Absolutely. Does he have issues? Absolutely. Could he go ahead and do what he did and just keep going about his day? I don’t think that’s him, but that’s for the audience to decide.
What were some of the things that you went back and forth with Sarah about to protect your storyline?
There’s that moment at the end when he’s carrying her. We were shooting the scene and they had this shot that was dead on my face that was just an absolute clear shot, there is no doubt this is him. And I said, listen, if there’s any way we can keep it a little more mysterious, I think that’s interesting. And so I spoke to Sarah about it and she thought that was absolutely right. So we shot it a lot more silhouetted.
Will we see you in the finale?
Do you think that he really loved her?