The End of The Affair?

Allison (Ruth Wilson) and Noah (Dominic West) on Showtime's The Affair

Allison (Ruth Wilson) and Noah (Dominic West) on Showtime’s The Affair

With half-interest, I watched my DVR’ed season finale of Showtime’s The Affair, which initially aired on Sunday night after a quiet but gripping Homeland season finale. The Affair explores the extramarital relationship between Noah (Dominic West), a schoolteacher and struggling writer, and Allison (Ruth Wilson), a working-class married waitress who is grieving the death of a child. Noah lives with his wife Helen (the always-great Maura Tierney) and their four children in gentrified Brooklyn. The family spends the summer with Helen’s wealthy family in Montauk, a vacation town on Long Island, where Allison has lived all her life. Half of each episode (usually the first half) shows the narrative from Noah’s point of view, while the episode’s other half explores Allison’s subjective experience.

I started watching The Affair because it had received glowing critical notices (West, Wilson, and the overall series have all been nominated for Golden Globes this year). And like Noah and Allison’s uncertain relationship to each other, I’ve had an ambiguous relationship with The Affair ever since. The acting is top-notch, the plot is intriguing, and the shifting-perspectives premise showed promise but has become more problematic with time. As the season progressed, I felt like I was waiting for some big plot twist or revelation to happen that never quite “surfaced” (to use the show’s overt water symbolism). Although I realized that The Affair’s slow-burn momentum was intentional and that the season had been progressively leading up to possible answers to an ongoing murder investigation, maybe I’d gotten so used to series like Homeland, American Horror Story, and 24 that kept you in a constant state of surprise at how clever/shocking/provocative/emotional they could get. So, I kept rationalizing why I should keep watching The Affair: “Something big is going to happen – I just know it.” “I’m already through the second season – might as well finish it.”

A part of me was hoping that The Affair’s season finale would, as with American Horror Story and True Detective, hit the refresh button and be an anthology; next season and each subsequent season could introduce a new couple embarking on a new affair. But with Sunday night’s cliffhanger of a final scene, it looks like we are going to be stuck with Noah and Allison for a while. I just don’t know if I’ll be giving them a second chance or looking for a clean break.


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