One of the biggest disappointments in the recent growth of noteworthy Television shows is that The Affair didn’t gather either a bigger buzz or bigger fan base when it first premiered back in 2014. The Affair (if you don’t already know this) is a sexy psychological romance-drama with a very intriguing concept which allows the show to take a ‘he-said’, ‘she-said’ approach to storytelling. The approach The Affair uses, basically, is tell its story from the different character’s point of view, differentiating how one character’s experience and reaction to the events depicted in the show can be different from the other. Each episode spans about an hour. The first half is dedicated to one character’s perspective, and then the story is retold or continued (whatever the writers feels is best) in the remaining time from another character’s perspective. What makes this show brilliant is how well the execution of this concept shows how memories are flawed and self-serving. One character’s point of view is always so distinct from the other, and the acting plays a big part in the execution because actors/actresses have to play near-dissociated characters, depending on how that character is depicted from another’s ‘point of view’. I’ve never had any problems with the acting, though, so I have to say it’s one of the show’s strongest elements.
One of the most overlooked shows on television
Like all shows, The Affair does come with its flaws. I guess the first thing I should note is that this show isn’t for everyone. Truth in TV is subjective and not everyone can tolerate a slow-paced romance drama, even one with an interesting concept. I know this isn’t a action-packed fantasy or sci-fi series based off some best-selling book series, but for what it is, I still think The Affair is a show that should be talked about more. Season 2 was a bit more soapy and unorganized which could’ve turned many people off, but let’s ignore season 2 for now and talk about how season 1 really didn’t get the love it deserved. 2014 was a GREAT year for television. And when I say great, I mean it was so great that the last two years (2015-16) has yet to top it (in my opinion). The Affair is a show that just got lost in the pile. Returning shows: Game of Thrones, Shameless, The Americans, Louie, The Walking Dead, Orange is the New Black etc. all had their best seasons in 2014. Plus there were also all the brilliant new shows that year; Fargo, True Detective, The Knick, The Leftovers, Penny Dreadful, Broad City, Transparent, etc. So yea, I do understand it was a busy fucking year for scripted television, but for some reason not many people watched the first season of The Affair. Bad marketing maybe? Despite also being on Showtime, a premium cable channel whose shows seldom passes the 2 million mark on the Neilsen viewership ratings, The Affair still didn’t live up to Showtime’s standards. The first season averaged 0.72 million viewers, and while the second season averaged more (0.84 million), that is just average, especially compared to other Showtime shows like Shameless which gets near to 2 million viewers an episode, and Ray Donovan which still gets up to 1 million per episode. (These are Neilson ratings fyi, streaming not included). Luckily though, The Affair’s story arc wasn’t abruptly ended by cancellation. It also did get some recognition at the Golden Globes winning the award for Best Drama back in 2014, deservedly so, because it was most definitely the best new drama series of 2014 that wasn’t an Anthology/Limited series.
The masterpiece that was season 1; and the substandard season 2
Mild Spoilers Ahead:
For fans of the show, season 1 of The Affair should be remembered for what it was, a masterpiece. The first season tracked the blooming affair between Noah Solloway, a novelist and seemingly happily married father of four, and Alison Bailey (played by Ruth Wilson who won a Golden Globe for the role), a married waitress grieving the death of her young son. The show dedicates itself to telling both these characters version of events separately as the two met and began to canoodle out in Montauk. At first The Affair seemed like an intriguing interrogation of memory, and left their audience asking how flawed our first impressions/memories of strangers were. But it rapidly degenerated into something preposterous. Noah’s and Alison’s takes on events were so distinct it complimented the shows mystery-crime background well and left us viewers wondering whose narrative of the story was the most factual. As the couple got together, The Affair didn’t shy away from exploring the emotional effects the extramarital relationship had on both parties. Even when only telling the story from Alison and Noah’s perspectives, you could still see how much of an impact it was on the ones being cheated on, Cole and Helen, and all the other people around them as well. Despite being a deliberately slow-paced drama, the first season of The Affair had a lot going on. From Alison’s depression and mourning the lost of her son, to Cole’s brother Scotty getting Noah’s daughter pregnant,etc., we even saw Alison and Noah broke up and went back to their spouses at one point. All these events were recollected due to the investigation of Scotty’s death, which was the central mystery throughout the season. All these events were perfectly placed on a perfectly paced season, which made for quite the amazing storytelling.
So did season 2 go wrong, and if it did, where did go wrong? Well, it didn’t ‘go wrong’ so much as suffer from storyline needs. For its second season, The Affair expanded on its narrative to accommodate the perspectives of the original spouses, Helen and Cole. As the four main characters all move forward with the dissolution of their marriages and try to deal with the ramifications, The Affair could no longer rely on interrogation sequences as a motive for the story. Therefore, The Affair lost a bit of its genuineness, and the events of season 2, though still being a recollection of memories, were being ‘recalled’ and not being ‘told’ as they were in the 1st season. Additionally, The Affair still occasionally switched backed and forth from past and present, leaving viewers a bit confused by the slightly new format. Were the present day events still factual as they were in season 1 now that there’s a slight different in how the story is being told? The writers left a vague impression, along with the concept slightly changing, that they didn’t have enough content to fill the 12 episodes ordered by Showtime. Don’t get me wrong, season 2 had some great episodes, episodes 9 & 10 were personal favorites of mine. But with characters going back and forth, seeming almost unstable at times, and writers just making drastically bad decisions which changed the way we look at these characters, story-wise season 2 felt more of a soap-opera than anything else. Not to mention the big payoff in the season finale was near-unsatisfying. Scotty’s death had been the long-term mystery of the series since day one, but throughout season 2, I don’t think they gave enough attention to its mystery plot for viewers to care about the big reveal.
Season 3; new far-fetched mysteries and debased characters
After learning that both Alison and Helen were responsible for Scotty’s demise, and watching Noah falsely confess to the murder, Season 3 of The Affair acted as sort of a reboot of the series story arc. In Season 3, apart from a few flashbacks scenes featuring Noah in prison, we are near-clear of the flashback structure that was a major facet of Season 2. No longer is the show haunted by the question of who killed Scotty Lockhart. The Affair still keeps its unique narrative style, which seems to be the show’s main fuel. Story-wise we’re a few years beyond the death of Scotty and Noah’s conviction for his death. Noah is awkwardly reintegrating himself into society, while Helen deals with the guilt and self-made consequences of having him back around. Cole and Alison’s plots are a bit more distant from Noah and Helen this time around, but Noah always seems to be a perpetual character in both their lives. Character development is most definitely The Affair’s strongest element, and is where the show always excels whether it’s a good season or bad. But character development is never a strong enough element by itself to make a show good. Especially for shows like The Affair, the writing needs to be idealistic to complement its already-creative premise. Evidently though, there’s always a character at the center of each conflict created on this show. Most conflicts are even developed off character’s conceitedness, paranoia, depression etc. So let’s take a look back and critique season 3 of The Affair via the linking stories told from each characters perspective:
Noah in my opinion, is The Affair’s most well developed and absorbing character (and yes, we can all admit he’s an asshole). Taking in-depth looks into Noah’s psyche is usually one of The Affair’s recurring topics, and as so, the season 3 premiere was dedicated to Noah as he attempts to get his life back on track after serving 3 years in prison. But The Affair made quite a mess of the premiere in my opinion. Using the premiere to introduce new plotlines and story-arcs was expected, but they totally “jumped the shark” and forced new mysteries we, the audience, were not ready for. The duplicating sequence of an anxious Noah noticing an intimidating man everywhere he goes became tiresome very quickly, and this might’ve been one of the few moments I’d wish The Affair had kept it slow-paced and only focus on Noah’s family and marital problems along with the familiar sexual and love affairs for this episode. Well, the premiere did feature these elements, but there was too much of the annoyingly vague mystery looming throughout most of it, as well as most of the earlier episodes in the season. It left viewers confused for too long as to whether or not the intimidating Brendan Fraser-played character ‘John’ was a figment of Noah’s imagination. This was, of course, the case, and this reveal most people saw coming was the payoff of all the vaguely suspenseful scenes we saw where Noah was being mentally tortured by this security guard, who in reality, turned out to be a very different character than portrayed in Noah’s visions. Noah’s hallucinations stemmed from drug use and a haunting conscience still blaming him for his mother’s death. This story-arc in the long-term technically worked as more character development for Noah, and now the audience was sunk even deeper into Noah’s psyche. While this plotline might’ve been not-so-compelling, a bit confusing and subpar, it leisurely elevated itself a bit in the later episodes, but maybe not enough to win over most viewers. The picturesque visual effects complimented the depiction of Noah’s vivid hallucinations well. Original or not this plot was something new to The Affair, and also gave the impression that The Affair can be almost anything it wants to be, though it may have been outlandish to those watching the show religiously.
For season 3 ‘Helen’ was definitely a more relevant character than she was in season 2. Her lack of purpose in season 2 left me quite downhearted considering Maura Tierney is the best actress on the show. The writers failed to utilize her character efficiently in season 2, as her plot was merely about how one recovers from divorce. Well, it may have felt like the norm considering this show’s main goal is depicting marital affairs, but the execution was dull and was outshone by everything else going on. This season Helen was used as an insecure link to what took place in the season 2 finale. Just like Noah, Helen’s conscience was the cause of her conflict as she struggled to come to terms with Noah being wrongfully incarcerated for Scotty’s death. Her love for Noah made its way out of hiding throughout her plot, and she also felt responsible for the change in his mental state. Her guilt and rekindled kindness for Noah cause a disruption in her relationship with Vic and her family. The conclusion came when Helen learned (from Alison) that Noah did not volunteer to go to prison for her sake, and that might’ve been the end to any chance of Noah and Helen working things out. And maybe it’s over between her and Vic too after that lame attempt to get him back? In her holding out for Noah, Helen has pushed away 2 great potential partners. That scene was definitely there to show that Helen can be as messed up a person as the rest of characters on The Affair. Helen’s perspective plotline was the best continuation of the relationship drama element. Also, the crossover with Noah’s plot allowed it to show a side to Noah’s psychological mystery arc The Affair fanbase would be more comfortable with.
Unlike Helen, Alison showed no sign of remorse after Scotty’s death and Noah’s incarceration. Instead, Alison does what she does best and makes one bad decision after another. But can you blame her with such a dark past? Alison’s focus plots are usually extra sad and gritty, this time it was not different in tone but Alison felt way less relevant than ever. During the greater part of her limited screentime this season she mostly dealt with custody battles with Cole over Joanie. And yes, Cole and her had sex again contributing nothing but repetitiveness to the show. By the way this plot was executed, limited screentime and all, it gave me the impression that for most of it Alison and Cole were just fillers. Alison’s most memorable moment came in episode 5, where she took a trip to Block Island with Noah. Paying homage to season 1 episode 4, it was quite a delight to see the couple back together and having fun again, despite under different circumstances. One looming factor that might’ve haunted the Alison-Noah reunion though, was the lost-chemistry between the 2 actors. Despite winning a Golden Globe for her performance, after season 1 ended I noticed a tumble in Ruth Wilson’s acting. She’s pretty bland and looks very uninspired now compared to her performance in the first season.
When the idea to add the perspective of Cole and Helen into the show for season 2, I believe the trouble the writers had was keeping Cole connected to the story arc with Noah, Alison and Helen. In the struggle to keep Cole as relevant a character as possible, some bad decisions were made which affected the quality of Cole and Alison’s ‘custody’ plot in season 3. That bad decision was of course making Cole the father of Alison’s baby and not Noah. It did create some for-the-moment soapy melodrama, but it was too unrealistic and the introduction of this plot in season 2 was the first time the show drifted away from it’s genuineness. Just think about how greater the conflict between Cole and Alison this season would’ve been, if Alison had sign over her custody of Joanie to Cole whilst Noah still being the father. Cole (as a character) is forever connected to Alison. But this time around their plotline felt more repetitive and forced than ever. He is the most likable character on the show for people who find it hard to love narcissist like Noah. But the writers just haven’t given enough for Cole to stand out on his own.
There’s no denying it, whether you love him or hate you have to admit Noah possesses that arrogantly charming aspect that makes every female he ever meets (apart from his children of course) wants to have sex with him. This isn’t something new to television, we’ve seen many male characters from many different shows who possesses this similar aspect. Lucas from Banshee, Tony Soprano from The Sopranos etc. just to name a few. This has been quite an ongoing bit on TV for a while now, and though it can be repulsive to some, it’s quite entertaining to others. I myself have no problem with it. Since she has been introduced, all this new character ‘Juliette’ has done so far is fuel this one specific aspect of the show. The writers did give her a bit of backstory, but did they give us a reason to care? No. The only thing interesting about this character so far is that she seems to be Noah’s new love interest. She tried and failed to have sex with Noah twice now, but seems to still fancy him even after indeterminately learning of his dark past. Well Juliette got a first hand look at the effect Noah has on women, as one of her students ‘Audrey’ frustratingly confesses that she wants to fuck Noah, despite giving off the assumption that she hated him. But she wasn’t fooling anyone was she? It was quite obvious from her first interaction with Noah. Unfortunately because of Noah’s severe hallucinations her wish didn’t came true, but hopefully we get to see more of this character. Despite her only being in a few scenes, Audrey was a more interesting character compared to Juliette (well to me atleast). That’s one fault with the show’s concept I believe, putting all their eggs in one basket when it comes to characters. Just like Audrey, this season Whitney has been more interesting than Alison and Cole despite her limited screentime and not having her own perceptive. Whitney is (and always have been) flawlessly portrayed by Julia Goldani Telles, and I am of the opinion this young actress outshone Ruth Wilson this season.
Season 3 finale; Stemming new hope for better storytelling in season 4
Well the finale did not offer much continuity to the plots started in the season 3 premiere. Noah and Helen found some sort of conclusion to their perspective stories, but Alison and Cole’s ended quite abruptly. The finale for the arguably subpar season 3 took place in a new setting which allowed a slight experiment with the show’s concept where language is concerned. Yes, the entire episode was shot in France (well, expect the final scene). It was quite an uneventful episode but after 9 episodes of melodramatic mysteries and degenerating characters, it felt like a relief when The Affair kept it aimless and easygoing for what could’ve been the final episode of the series. Well luckily it wasn’t because the majority of the episode was spent focused on Juliette and her conflicts in dealing with a dying husband, and though this sideplot might’ve matched up with the overall tone and premise of the show well and depicted Noah in a new ‘night and shining armor‘ type of light, it still felt bland because the writers just did not give us a reason to care about this new character. In fact, most viewers are probably questioning her purpose on the show, but given that she’s a new character that the writers haven’t played much of yet she’s the only side of the 5 person perspective story-arc going into season 4 unharmed. I for one would love to see how this character is used next season.
Of course the most satisfying scenes from the episode came from Noah. After 3 seasons The Affair finally dedicated some time to the bad blood relationship of Noah and his daughter Whitney, and it gave us a heartfelt moment from the 2. Probably something we thought we would’ve never seen on The Affair but the time jump from episode 9 and Noah’s change in mental state and attitude made it happened. Or maybe this is just the start of a more long-term domestic violence story-arc featuring Whitney, Kitkat, Noah, Juliette and Helen to come in the near future? Well I hope so, I’d love for Whitney and even Kitkat to get their own perspectives, but where would that leave Alison and Cole? Their plot seems to be so distant from the others now. Initially one of the show’s main motive was the connecting of 2 different families via and affair, but now the link between Noah and Alison is weaken to a point where attempting to restrengthen may cause repetitive and soapy storytelling. The Alison-Noah-Luisa love triangle story-arc needs to be resolved, and quickly. I wouldn’t might if they dedicated the season 4 premiere to this resolution and then demote these 3 characters to supporting-characters. But who knows what will happen next? The final scene might’ve been the writers way of telling us they don’t know either.