It is doubtful that anyone set out to watch The Affair because of the gripping who-dun-it crime drama. Viewers tune in to see Dominic West’s married father of four break his vows with Ruth Wilson’s equally married but notably childless characters. The premise is based around this central infidelity and explores what leads people to forsake their husbands and wives. It also deals with the issue of blame and where the fault lies in these situations. Those are tough issues but those are the themes audiences expect when they watch a television show called The Affair. The question of who killed Scott Lockhart is perfunctory at best.
Noah Solloway, the aforementioned father of four, and his wife leave their New York home in the summer to spend time at her parent’s house in Montauk. It is there that he meets Alison Bailey, a waitress struggling in her own marriage following the loss of her child two years prior. Numerous characters comment on how Noah appears to be the perfect family man, but it is his professional life that has left him unfulfilled. His first novel is unremarkable and much of their financial dependence relies on his wife’s father. The fact that her father is a successful novelist is further grating for Noah.
From the very beginning, the viewer can see stress lines in the relationships. It is easy to see what draws Noah and Alison together. For Noah, Alison isn’t born from privilege and he inspires his creativity. On the other hand, Noah is able to make Alison feel again and doesn’t remind her of her dead son. In Alison’s own words, she sees her son’s face every time she looks at her husband. There have been events in these character’s marriages that have caused deep cracks. Failing to deal with or repair those cracks have only caused them to widen. And as they’ve drawn apart from their spouses they draw closer to each other.
The story is about Noah and Alison but some reviews have decried the lack of details given about Scott Lockhart’s death. There are scenes of Victor Williams’ Detective Jeffries interviewing the main couple intermittent throughout the series. Supposedly what we seen on screen is the characters retelling the events of the summer and beyond to the detective. This, in part, explains the different perspectives. The episodes are split in two, with Noah and Alison giving their own slightly differing version of events. The problem is that we don’t know who to believe. And if they’re covering for each other they could both be unreliable narrators.
At the end of season one, Noah Solloway is arrested for the murder of Scott Lockhart based on Scott impregnating Noah’s daughter, Whitney, and for attempting to bribe a character who could punch a hole in the alibi. But whether or not Noah actually did the deed isn’t the point of the show. The murder investigation is only present to bring Noah and Alison back together. After the summer, they break off their tryst and return to their separate lives. Their better halves soon find out but it isn’t until Whitney runs off to the Lockhart home in Montauk that the characters finally get together again. And that’s what the viewer is waiting for.
If the series was grounded in the murder investigation the split interpretation of events would be frustrating. There are few details to base any assumptions on and neither character can be believed. But the separate perspectives are obviously about more than just the investigation, because Noah lies about being at a bar called ‘The End’ but there are scenes from that summer that show him being there. Because it’s about the titular affair, the bias makes sense. It’s not an alibi, but how each character views his or her role in the relationship. Noah sees himself as discouraged and weary of family life. Alison views herself as grieving and broken. Both see the other as alluring and provocative.
It goes without saying that cheating is never the answer. It’s an extremely selfish action that does enormous damage to the trust of a relationship. Sometimes the guilty party can be forgiven but the symptoms of such unfaithfulness can take many years to repair and heal. But The Affair does a fine job of displaying how two people can succumb to temptation. It’s not as simple as ‘this person is better looking than my spouse’ or ‘this makes me feel good about myself’. There are personal issues at play. The Affair excels at exploring these personal issues and the damaging repercussions of using negative and destructive methods to deal with those issues.
In the hands of less accomplished writers and directors, The Affair could be melodramatic and superficial. That’s not to say that Dominic West and Ruth Wilson aren’t beautiful people but their characters are so much more than their appearance. Their acting captures a wealth of emotion, bringing the afflictions of their characters to life that a more sensationalist actor would not have accomplished. Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi demonstrate an ability to creatively tell a story with real depth and emotion.
The second season of Affair will premiere in October. Many viewers are eager to see the cliffhanger ending of season one resolved and finally find out who killed Scott Lockhart. For me, the story has always been about Noah and Alison’s infidelity. The Scott Lockhart investigation has only ever been a vehicle for that central premise. I’d much rather see an explanation for why some events vary wildly from one to another. A change of clothes or words is one thing but in one episode Alison remembers sneaking out to have sex with Noah, while in his version he is called away by a family emergency. Theories persist that one is a novelisation and the other is the real thing. Only time will tell if either reveal who killed Scott Lockhart. I humbly submit: who cares?