TV Review - The Affair
The first episode here has a structure similar to True Detective where it's a police investigation consisting of a slow and methodical interview of two people somehow involved. This is the frame work and the bulk of the narrative is these two people remembering or flashbacks of the events leading up to and through whatever the crime is, which the pilot doesn't reveal. Presumably, it's some kind of murder because that's all most American audiences seem to care about in their dramas.
The two people being interviewed are Noah and Alison. Noah, played by Dominic West (The Wire), is a husband and father of four children in New York City. Things aren't totally bad but there are creeping problems. Noah and his wife Helen, played by Maura Tierney, aren't having sex, not because of lack of attraction but seemingly practical reasons. A couple of the children also are acting out, one in particular in very scary ways. This "hangs" over Noah and obviously takes a toll on him.
Alison, played by Ruth Wilson, is a waitress at a diner in the Hamptons. She's married to Cole, played by Joshua Jackson. She presently doesn't have any children, but she did have one. It's revealed that her child died at the age of four. This obviously has had an effect and a toll on her. It's also ruined her marriage. She and Cole are still together. They still have sex but don't seem to love each other anymore.
When Noah and Alison meet, a connection is made because of the weird circumstance and also because of their both relative disconnections from their spouses. Written by Hagai Levi (In Treatment) and Sarah Treem (In Treatment), the two characters strangely bond over this idea of a child dying. In fact, Noah's daughter nearly dies choking in Alison's diner.
It's here where things diverge. This 1st episode is told in two parts. The first part is from Noah's point-of-view solely. The second part is from Alison's point-of-view. Both recount the incident of Noah's daughter choking and needing the Heimlich maneuver, but Noah's story of who did what and who said what is slightly different from Alison's story of who did what and who said what.
The point of depicting these differences, which entails showing several scenes twice, might be to explore and prove the unreliability of memory and perception or to explore and prove the biases of testimony. Given that the series is building to Noah and Alison having sex, thus an affair, the bias that's initially on display is that with whomever is telling the story, the other person is always the aggressor or the other person is always the one leading the flirtation.
When Noah is telling the story, it's Alison who is the more flirtatious. When Alison is telling the story, it's Noah who is the more flirtatious. As the series goes on, this dynamic might change or fluctuate back-and-forth. The series would be more mysterious that way, but perhaps more thematically incoherent, or just frustrating in its narrative, as the show wants there to be no objective camera. Yet, it begs the question of what does these minute differences between Noah and Alison's stories matter.
Four Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Sundays at 10 PM on Showtime.