Season Finale Review: THE AFFAIR Goes Out Without a Bang

the affair showtime recap

During their brief separation, Helen Solloway referred to her morally-questionable husband as a potential sociopath. Was she wrong?

In last night’s 10th installment of “The Affair,” Noah’s side of things never felt more fantastical. For months, he bedded beautiful women, then once he was caught, he used his time away from work to finish his book. Upon landing his six-figure deal, Helen begged him to come back. Later, it was he who played victim as he faced Cole’s loaded gun.

With Noah preoccupied back in the city, Alison was suddenly ready to make amends with Athena, if only to temporarily get away from the husband that reminded her of Gabriel, and from an already strained relationship with her lover. In her retelling of events, Cole was ready to kill Noah, or Noah’s family, or himself, without Noah having ever chased Scotty into the backyard. In present-day, Noah was arrested, presumably for Scotty’s murder, and Alison promised she’d get him out of it. Was that why her summation of the day’s events failed to include Noah and Scotty’s encounter, or is there something else we’re missing here entirely?

Last night’s season finale left its audience with many unanswered questions, but few of which have driven my interest in this thought-provoking character drama. I have very little empathy for Noah or Alison, but those characters, and their relationship, are why I’m watching “The Affair” in the first place. Everything else – including equally mesmerizing performances by Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson – is secondary. The Showtime drama is at its best when it centers in on the formerly secret tryst, and its ramifications on the marriages it’s destroying. The show is at its worst when it navigates away from that, and more towards tertiary characters like Whitney, and the ongoing statutory rape/pregnancy story line with Scotty.

Last week, Ruth Wilson gave an impeccable performance during Alison’s breakdown at the pediatrician’s office, and again when her character contemplated suicide in the near-arctic waves. This week, Jackson shined in both Noah and Alison’s vastly different retellings of the day the Solloways went to pick up Whitney. Both accounts showed Cole at his most manic state since the pilot, a character who has since lost everything else that mattered to him most.

I don’t regret listing “The Affair” high up on my list of 2014′s biggest televisual accomplishments, but the show still hasn’t figured out what it wants to be in a world where Noah and Alison’s relationship is no longer forbidden. The last two episodes have embraced more outlandish story elements (Alison’s one-night stand with Oscar, the reveal that Helen’s mother had a P.I. following Noah for four months), the kind I wouldn’t have expected to come from the show “The Affair” was trying to be in its earliest episodes, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. As long as its writers are able to make clear that they’re attempting to do nothing more than create a can’t-miss prime time soap, I will gladly continue to watch the misadventures of these self-absorbed white people. I can’t, however, keep watching a show that jumps back and forth between wanting to be a complex television narrative, and just another overly-complicated tale of egotistical, misguided souls that could only truly exist in a soap-operatic world. The show just doesn’t work when it tries to be both of those things.

Despite its faults, and one mediocre cliffhanger, I look forward to seeing what comes of season two, and seeing if the show can overcome its end-of-the-season identity crisis.

Side notes:
• I really enjoyed what little Geoffrey Owens (f.k.a. Elvin Tibideaux, “The Cosby Show”) was given to do in those rubber room scenes, but does anyone believe for one minute that he wrote Noah a note telling him that he was his hero? C’mon now!
• Det. Jeffries has been lying about having a wife and kids this entire time. The real ‘babe’ in his life goes by the name of Steve.
• the first time, Noah and Alison’s recollections featured memories that have previously only been shown in the other person’s retelling of events. Executive producer Sarah Treem spoke with Alan Sepinwall about that, and her response provides insight into Noah and Alison’s psyches, and what might change from a storytelling perspective in season two.
• ICYMI, write-ups on episodes one, two, three, four, five, six and seven, and a teensy bit on episode eight.

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