Showtime’s “The Affair” tells two very different stories about its titular affaire de coeur.
Noah (Dominic West) looks back upon his summer at the beach and recalls nearly succumbing to Alison’s (Ruth Wilson) advances. An incurious Alison recounts the tale of an obsessive family man who had every intention of making something happen. In both cases, each party seems to be hiding something, and as the title would suggest, an affair will take place.
At this point, it’s simply a matter of when.
Both Noah and Alison recall the time leading up to their tryst without as much as a speck of guilt. In each tale, he or she was the innocent bystander – a victim of an unbeknownst circumstance. It’s too soon to know who’s telling the truth, or if either of them are capable of telling the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. What is evident, though, is that Alison’s stuck in an unhappy marriage after suffering a tremendous loss that she and her husband (Joshua Jackson) just can’t get past. Noah and Helen (Maura Tierney), however, appear happily married, even if their repugnant children make things difficult.
“The Affair” will live or die on its conceit. Both Noah and Alison retell the events of their summer in an interrogation room at different points in time. It’s unclear why they’re there, but whatever has brought them to the attention of the authorities appears to be a result of their mistakes. Time has passed, as made clear by the length of Alison’s hair and the mention of a new being she must leave to care for; the “he said, she said” of it all is also well played, with each version of the story envisioning characters in different clothing. It goes to showcase how questionable their recounts truly are.
Death of the innocent is a vividly recurring theme here, tarnishing the naiveté of both the young and the mature. It’s a dense, intricate well to draw upon for a new show, but it’s that which places “The Affair” beside this year’s most riveting new programs. Tales of infidelity aren’t unfamiliar, but executive producers Sarah Streem and Hagai Levi (“In Treatment”) have found a unique spin on the age-old tale, and West and Wilson do a tremendous job with the material.
“The Affair” airs Sunday nights at 10 on Showtime (TMN in Canada)