The Affair: An End and a Beginning

The Affair

Frequent visitors of the site, followers of mine on Twitter, or subscribers to the TV Water Cooler podcast all know of my undying admiration and affection for Showtime’s freshman drama The Affair. For the uninitiated, The Affair is a 10-episode series that details the major events and casual details of a simple affair between two married people (the great Dominic West and Ruth Wilson). As almost an incidental throwaway, there’s also a murder underlying the entire series.

For me, the beauty of The Affair is its character-driven plotting and its lavishly adult narrative. These are all parents dealing with real life issues – love, money, children, sex, loss, grief – and the creators never dumb it down for mass consumption. They’re not in a hurry to shock. This is a marathon show, not a sprint.

The Affair has proven a quietly confident and focused series that has quickly risen on my Best Of 2014 list. Last night’s season finale nearly pushed it to the top slot. I celebrate and advocate its greatness for defining a complicated romance between two anti-heroes. They aren’t Bonnie and Clyde, but Alison and Noah are unlikeable people making wrong-headed choices. And that’s what makes it so great – and Emmy worthy, in my humble opinion.

As for last night’s season finale, spoiler territory ahead…

Following Noah’s perspective, we see him fall from celebrating the swinging single lifestyle, swimming and fucking in equal measure, to being placed on paid administrative leave for an in-school tryst. It’s during this leave that he writes his massively successful second novel, presumably somewhat based on his affair with Alison (Wilson).

The biggest surprise of his sequence is his shocking encounter with estranged wife Helen (the excellent Maura Tierney). She initially confronts him with embarrassing evidence of his many recent affairs and violent assault on Scott Lockhart, the 30-year old who impregnated their 16-year old daughter. You expect unreasonable divorce demands or blackmail to follow, but, instead, she unexpectedly begs him to return after confessing to being overwhelmed and lonely. This scene is Maura Tierney’s best of the series in that she manages to combine her inherent rage, lust, and embarrassment as she gives in to Noah.

Following their (brief) reconciliation, Noah receives a call from Alison, alerting him that his daughter has fled to Montauk into the arms of her older lover. A violent altercation ensues between Noah and Scott, interrupted only by Alison’s husband Cole (Joshua Jackson) and his gun.

Or does it really happen that way at all?

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As the story resets, we see Alison recharging at her mother’s mystic, mumbo-jumbo retreat. I enjoy her mother’s presence as it adds a little humor to the very serious proceedings, but there’s a whole bit about Alison needing an emotionally cleansing fuck that’s a little hard to take. If there’s anything Alison Lockhart needs, it sure isn’t more sex.

Alison returns to Montauk and faces the wrath of those she left behind, particularly that of her husband who begs for her return. Alison loves him but confesses that she doesn’t want to be with him any longer. The loss of their child lingers heavily in the air between them. When he continues to plead for her return, she seals the deal by lightly accusing him of neglecting their son just before he drowned.

Bruised and angry, Cole’s reaction seems to be exactly what Alison wanted, and, just before completely giving up on her, news of the young Solloway girl’s arrival in Montauk reaches the couple. Cole and Alison arrive on the scene in a completely different version of similar events relayed through Noah’s memory. But more on that later…

At the end of the episode, it is revealed that Alison and Noah are indeed happily married with child. That is, until the detective, who has been quietly investigating the death of Scott Lockhart and particularly Noah’s involvement in it, comes to arrest Noah.

That event sets up either a critical flaw or an exciting realm of possibilities for season two. There is clearly much more of the story to tell – Noah’s divorce and subsequent marriage, the birth of his child with Alison, what happened to the Lockharts, and so forth. Yet, so many shows have dazzled in their first season only to fall flat in later outings (Homeland, I’m looking at you).

Aside from the mechanics of the plot, I would love an explanation of the differences in Noah and Alison’s versions of their lives. Sure, I can understand difference in clothing or changes in locations – memories can be tricky bitches sometimes. And they’ve done this before – the death of Alison’s grandmother was particularly strange in its varied incarnations – but never with so much at stake. The great chasm of differences between seemingly major events (the incident at the Lockhart house in the finale, for example, where important characters are completely omitted from Alison’s recollection) leaves me scratching my head.

Scratching my head in a very good way. I’m excited to explain away the differences, to dream up logical explanations. But if the series wraps up without explaining the discrepancies, then it will clearly have been nothing but a gimmick.

And I think I would like that not at all.

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