The Affair, aka the repeatedly poor life choices of Noah Solloway…
Noah Solloway, the co-lead character of The Affair is an unlikeable sort of fellow. To lay out the facts: He’s a cheat. He’s a liar. He’s pretentious. He’s self-important. And yet somehow, his train wreck of a life is just fascinating to watch unravel. Not even in a sadistic “I hope he gets what’s coming to him” sort of way. No, because in spite of all of his many flaws, deep down, I can’t help but root for him. What does that say about me? I’m not really sure, but what I am sure of is that The Affair continues to be effective enough with its moral dilemmas to make me consider whether Noah’s actions are right or wrong. His decisions call for repercussions, certainly. As a viewer, I find myself judging him, but also captivated by his story, even sympathetic towards him at times. Such is the level of performance that Dominic West puts in, and how magnificent the characters of The Affair continue to be.
Whereas the debut season of The Affair showed us that there are two sides to every story, for its second year it takes a more is more approach. Now, you see, there are in fact four sides to every story. Which makes sense in the context of the show, but it also means that there is away time from the two main players, Alison (Ruth Wilson) and Noah (Dominic West). As the title of the show would suggest, it began life as an exploration of these two character’s affair, touching upon the effects that it had on their respective partners, but predominantly focusing on Alison and Noah. This time around though their former partners Cole (Joshua Jackson) and Helen (Maura Tierney) get their time in the spotlight as well, as we witness the toll Alison and Noah’s relationship takes on them and those around them.
As in the first season, each episode (bar one) is split into two halves, with each showing the events unfold from a different character’s perspective. With each perspective details change, fact becomes fiction, and the truth becomes unclear. With the second season tackling the tales of additional characters in Cole and Helen it allows us to delve deeper into their individual states of mind, and also helps to flesh out the show as a whole. On the other hand it means that after a fairly directionless first few episodes for Alison, with her plot thread not amounting to a great deal, you can’t help but feel that you’d like to spend a bit more time getting to the crux of her side, rather than having to wait out Noah, Cole and Helen’s turns before getting back to her. Her arch does eventually prove just as intriguing as Noah’s though. What we find is that in many ways she’s just the same as Noah is – imperfect and unable to tell the truth. But she’s also softer, less brash, and the character viewers are most likely to continue to connect to. By the end of the season, Cole is the only entirely likeable of the characters, but Alison is comfortably the most relatable.
Each of the characters are deeply flawed, yet superbly written, with exemplary performances from West, Wilson, Tierney and Jackson alike. The mystery surrounding the death of Cole’s brother Scott (Colin Donnell) comes to the fore more so than in season one, but its resolution is filled with coincidence that leaves more questions than answers. Really though, that aspect of the show simply doesn’t make for as compulsive viewing as the relationships that continue to develop, grow, fray and fracture between the four leads.
In the end, The Affair’s second season isn’t quite up to the sky high standards of the first. The strained relationship between Noah and Alison isn’t as exciting as their chase – I suppose that’s something that Noah finds as well. But even so, for the complexity of its relationships and the moral dilemmas it serves up alone it deserves to be recognised amongst those shows in the upper echelons of premium television.
Rating (out of 5):