‘The Affair’, which was originally from Showtime and now available on Netflix, is not just another he-said/she-said drama about extra marital affair. The show is structured as a pair of flashbacks brought to mind through the cross-examinations of Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson).
It gets clear that someone was murdered. Viewers won’t have any idea at first on who did the crime, but we’ll easily know that both Noah and Alison are under suspicion. This allows for us to know and understand how their love affair started.
As most of these things start off, a devoted husband with some kids gets confused about where his life is heading. Noah has four children with his wife, Helen (Maura Tierney). The family goes into a summer vacation at Montauk. At a stop for lunch, the family encounters Alison (Wilson), a waitress who assists their youngest when she begins choking. Noah gets intrigued by the waitress. The circumstances after that get more interesting, and set the plot for an atypical television series.
‘The Affair’ is definitely different from the traditional formula used by series creators. It’s nice that both characters’ memories of the same events are so different, down to their very own clothes. These subtle differences become crucial as to who committed the murder, giving the show its mysterious feel.
Much like a chapter of a book, you only see bits of truth from each side and it’s very interesting to see who the viewer sides with at any moment. Honestly, on the first season, at least, I was unsure if the story was actually happening or it was just similar to the movie ‘The Shining’, where the story is about the author himself. In this case, I was wondering if Noah is turning his life into fiction.
During cross-examination, Noah’s version of things has obvious sexual fantasy and grandiose undertones of self-importance. A popular phrase from him comes up again and again throughout the series: “She was sex – the very definition of it, the reason the word was invented”. Noah remembers Alison as far more aggressive, flirting with him from their first encounter, and practically daring him to shower with her later that night. She’s more of a temptress in Noah’s memory.
Alison, meanwhile, is indulgent in her own depression. She is clearly a mess, grieving for her dead child. The death has put a strain on her marriage with surfer Cole (Joshua Jackson), whose family has a ranch in Montauk Long Island. This plays an important backdrop as the small fishing island has become a vacation mecca for the rich, pushing locals to the brink. There’s just lots of “have’s” versus “have not’s”.
The characters and the actors are all fantastic but what really kept me engaged was the setting and the environment of the show. Being a Long Island native myself, it’s rare that anything other than the Hamptons is ever put into a TV series. The writing style is very literary in nature, so it really brings words to life versus the picture to life (you will understand once you watch it, trust me).
Everything in the series is so complex. But its complexity is what makes it lovable and worth binge watching. I personally love the modern affair angle. What I mean by this is that in most 1990s love affair dramas, the wife becomes vengeful bitch throwing her husband shit on the lawn and a few scenes later loses her mind and becomes an inconsolable mess. With this series, however, the ex-wife is not this pathetic chick you can’t stand watching. She actually stays relatively friendly and down to earth. Her life is not seen as over after Noah leaves her.
The complexity of leaving a family for another woman is not as simple as it is often depicted in fiction. The nuances of everyday life can quickly sour the once salutary affair that existed. While the first season focuses on how Noah and Alison start their relationship, the second focuses on what happens next, which we often don’t get to witness as viewers.
One of my favourite dialogues in the series was a conversation between Noah and his therapist. The good doctor is the first person to ask directly if he wants this second marriage to work. But before she gets to that, she asks about Noah’s father.
Noah clearly doesn’t see a connection between monogamy and being a “good man” based on his father’s actions.
Noah seems to believe that he can’t be a good nor great man. One builds healthy relationships with his family, while the other exists to create lasting art, to receive acclaim, and to prioritise his work above all else.
He brings up some famous people who he feels did more for mankind, but failed on putting their families on top of the priority list. And most of them did cheat on their families. He sees them as people who went after what they desired, and that’s enough to make them respectable people.
His therapist prods him about how this is connected to his life. His therapist implies that maybe he has it in him to be great. In other words, the path he has created is not only wrong but is limiting his greatness.
The therapist is quick to point out that there are men who are great and have remained loyal to their partners. And more importantly, what about all the average guys who cheat? How do they fit into his theory?
The different layers that their messed-up affair offer make the series binge worthy.
So this week, sit down and fight over whose perspective is the right one as you watch ‘The Affair’ on Netflix. Trust me, it’s not only about who has actually done it but how everyone involved see events from their own perspective. As the saying goes, “That’s your perspective and this is mine; who is right?”