‘The Affair’ Pilot or He-Said/She-Said or The Best Thing I Saw This Fall!

Courtesy of Showtime

Stop what you’re doing right now and watch Showtime’s The Affair. Seriously. Flush and wipe, cancel on drinks with that co-worker you don’t really like, pour yourself a glass of red.  Why?  I could say “because Pacey” or “because McNulty” or “because of that girl with the creepy mouth from Luther” but, significant as it is, the stellar cast of The Affair is not even the best reason to watch it.  It’s the delicate mindf*ck writing.  Would-be adulterous protagonists, Noah and Alison, are nothing as innocent as their The Notebook namesakes. Think Adrian Lyne meets Memento.

Showrunner Sarah Treem (House of Cards, In Treatment) has crafted a pilot so shocking, sexy, and ambitious that its incredible to read that it was turned down by some networks before Showtime greenlit the project.

The Setup: Noah Solloway (Dominic West) appears to be the Handsome Happy Husband to Helen (Maura Tierney).  A father of four, and Manhattan public school teacher with his first book just published, he’s got it all except maybe the riches of his in-laws who pay for the brownstone he lives in. The family packs up the car and heads off to Montauk for the summer to stay with said in-laws.  In Montauk the family stops at a diner where they are served by Alison Bailey (Ruth Wilson).  Just as she is taking their order, Noah’s youngest daughter begins to choke.  She survives the ordeal but Alison is visibly shaken.  Noah finds her in the bathrooms and clams her down; they exchange names.  Late that night Noah takes a walk along the beach and runs into Alison who has distanced herself from a nearby group by a bonfire.  They chat and Noah ends up walking Alison home where they end up discussing and taking a tour of her outdoor shower.  Alison asks if he would like to try it.  The sexual tension is palpable but Noah ends up saying goodnight and leaving.  He ends up back at Alison’s moments later to find her in an altercation with a man (husband, Cole; Joshua Jackson) who proceeds to bend her over the hood of the car and violently penetrate her from behind.  From a distance, Noah and Alison stare into each others eyes.

The Basics: If the setup sounded like a police report that’s probably because it is.  These are the only facts which intersect in both Alison’s and Noah’s accounts of how they met in their separate interviews with a police investigator.  The hour is split into two even narratives, as told by the protagonists.  Noteworthy differences in their stories include which of the two actually saved the Noah’s daughter from choking, who suggested that Noah walk Alison home, who came on to who at the shower, and what they are each wearing (particularly Alison).  Noah paints himself as the loyal, hard-working husband and father who found himself inexplicably pulled in by a sensitive but seductive waitress one summer.  Alison portrays herself as a reserved, grieving young mother working to rebuild her life and marriage after the death of her 4-year-old son until Noah appears and works his way into her life.

What We Know

  • What we see of the past is either faulty memory and/or purposeful lies; only the interviews are objective
  • Noah’s family life has changed dramatically since that summer
  • Alison has another son later in life

What We Don’t Know

  • How did Alison and Cole’s son die?
  • What are they being questioned by police for??
  • Who is lying about what and why?
  • Is even the intersection of the events in their stories true or could they both be working together to cover up the facts as well?
  • Who is the father to Alison’s second son, as revealed in the police interview?

What We Like

  • Skilled actors who can play a role with distinctly different characteristics as represented by Alison and Noah
  • Atypical use of narrative tools (voiceover, flashback, costume, etc) to direct and misdirect the audience
  • The accuracy of the male and female perspective and what strokes each’s ego and sexual drive
  • Beautifully shot Montauk!

What We Don’t Like

  • Wondering if we’ll ever get the truth.
  • Waiting until next week for another episode.

Should You Watch It:  A world of yes.

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