The Affair (TV Show)

The Affair (Created by Hagai Levi and Sarah Treem)/2015

Why do people throw away lives they have built over decades in order to pursue the half-promise of a happier existence with a relatively unknown romance? The Affair provides various answers to this question via the characters that form the complex interpersonal landscape of the show.

The Affair season one had a sluggish start. We find Noah Solloway (Dominic West) arriving in Montauk, an idyllic American seaside town, with his wife and four kids, and quickly embarking on an intense summer-long affair with Alison Lockhart. Alison is a local married woman, but seems to have never recovered from the loss of a child in a tragic accident. Each episode in the first season is split in two: one half showing events from Noah’s point of view and the other from Alison’s. Mid-way through the first season I felt the show was a bit claustrophobic, and not really going anywhere; however, the Affair substantially improved in the second season as the events are also examined through the eyes of Helen Solloway and Cole Lockhart: the spouses.

Both Noah and Alison enter into their affair to escape from something. Alison is shattered by the death of her son and cannot stand all the memories that remain in Montauk. Her relationship has broken down, and she and Cole no longer have a drive to succeed in life, or even to live: their love seems to have died with their son, and they appear to be merely playing the roles of their previous selves. Noah, recently failed to get any publicity as an author, feels belittled by the constant presence and condescension of Helen’s wealthy, successful parents; he is also a romantic idealist and is prone to viewing life as if it was a novel; he is depressed by his mediocrity and the ennui of everyday existence.

In season two we start to get the sense that Noah’s constant striving for a sense of significance and Alison’s melancholy may not be entirely the result of their situations, but are qualities inherent to their personalities, only lying temporarily dormant when the fierce passion of new romance takes flight. It doesn’t take long for the excitement and exaltation of their affair to become (inevitably) bogged down by the realities of children, work and social expectations.

The Affair should ideally be watched carefully, as characters are presented differently, depending on whose filter the show is playing through. Noah, for example, is more romantic and less aggressive when the story is told through his point of view. However, this close attention to detail is not essential to enjoy the show. It is an extremely pretty show, with a clever use of temporal rearrangement and a wonderful opening track by Fiona Apple.

The tension also builds through the introduction of a death in the Montauk community as the police begin to focus their investigation on Noah. This criminal element works well, and adds a further interesting component to the show as the truth of what happened is not revealed until the closing episodes of season two.

This is not merely a show about romance, but is about the complications of family life, lust and loss, and how quickly life can change, bringing about new successes and losses unforeseen in the ecstatic vision that accompanies affairs.

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