‘The Affair’ Finale Signals Warning of Wrong Turn (SPOILERS)

The Affair Finale Flashes Warning of

The Affair” capped an otherwise splendid first season in somewhat uninspired fashion. Yes, the Showtime series closed on a cliffhanger, one that creates a host of possibilities going forward, in an hour that also incorporated a couple of pretty major revelations. Yet the show’s murder-mystery — not just whodunit, but who got it done to them — has at times felt like its least compelling component, and the twists elevated that plot in a way that approximated less the confines of premium cable than the histrionics of ABC’s Sunday-night soaps.

At its core, the program’s terrific leads, Ruth Wilson and Dominic West, their characters’ torrid affair and its complications for all those surrounding them has unfolded in slow but absorbing fashion. That was augmented by the “Rashomon”-like device of having events recalled in the two characters’ alternate perspectives, with details often diverging in small but significant ways.

The finale, however (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), not only moved the murder investigation into a new phase — with West’s Noah, having been caught in several damaging lies, being arrested — but also saw their individual recollections of a key encounter involving Wilson’s Alison and her husband Cole (Joshua Jackson) differ so wildly as to go beyond perception into the surreal.

It’s too bad, since the 10th episode started with promise, picking up some time after the previous hour, with Noah and Alison apart, and the former experiencing the life of a single man – and a promiscuous one at that – during his separation from his wife Helen (Maura Tierney, who has been especially strong since learning of Noah’s infidelity). The opening sequence, in fact, cleverly circled back to where the series began, reminding us that Noah had been tempted to stray before Alison and, in his mind anyway, had ample opportunities.

Acting on those impulses, moreover, boomeranged back on Noah, but in an unexpectedly helpful way: Getting him in trouble in his teaching job, which placed him on a kind of probation that allowed him to put the time to use finishing the second novel whose success had already been foreshadowed.

So far, so good. But then Noah pummeled Cole’s brother for impregnating his teenage daughter — or did he, since there were no fisticuffs in Alison’s account, just her husband training a gun on Noah and threatening to shoot him.

And then, the arrest for the brother’s death in what, the police have determined, wasn’t just a random hit-and-run accident but an act of revenge.

Obviously, “The Affair” didn’t have much of a future if the focus stayed squarely on two people skulking around to engage in pay-cable-worthy trysts. That said, pivoting to the murder in such a direct way by charging one of the principals with the crime risks elevating that aspect of the show at the expense of others, while reminding us what a delicate high-wire act these premium serials are to keep on track.

None of that undermines what series creators Sarah Treem (who wrote the finale) and Hagai Levi have conjured, but it does flash a warning sign ahead of season two – especially, fairly or not, after “Homeland” started with such promise before veering off course in its second and third seasons, clawing its way back in the fourth.

“Everyone has one book in them,” Noah’s father-in-law told him earlier in the season. “Almost nobody has two.”

“The Affair” clearly had one great, twisty season in it, and let’s be thankful for that. But the unwanted question left dangling by Sunday’s cliffhanger — beyond whether Noah really committed murder by car — is what the show itself has left in the tank for an encore.

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  1. slackerinc says:

    This review is spot on. I was a huge fan of “In Treatment”, these showrunners’ previous collaboration, and this one did not disappoint–for nine and a half episodes. But just as this critic says, it degenerated into trashy soap territory once the gun came out. And what was up with that awful melodramatic music in the last scene, when Noah is being led away by the cops?

    Sarah Treem was quoted in one interview that they had some fear that the gun scene would seem like it was from a different show. That was a valid fear, and she should have heeded it.

  2. Sarah says:

    After reading this article I have two questions for you, Mr. Lowery. Where did you learn to write and who is your editor? Your excessive usage of commas is so distracting, allowing no flow for the reader to follow your points. It makes the entire article ‘jerky’. In paragraph four you used nine commas in just two sentences. Variety needs to invest some money in editors, but alas this is the curse of online media.

  3. Callie Doggett says:

    “The Affair” was written as a single-season, limited series, much like so many BBC dramas. It should have ended already. But, the show became popular and got good ratings so, in true U.S. style, it was extended through at least one more season. If the end of Season 1 seemed disjointed and pointless, there’s a reason for that — the creative team had to scramble to write/direct a cliffhanger and leave threads for next year. What a pity.

  4. Dave says:

    Since the Affair between Noah and Allison was known by the investigator, why did it matter if he knew that the car mechanic helped him with his car? Why would Noah need to pay him off? Major flaw in the finale.

    • John says:

      Is that the only time he used that mechanic? Maybe he needed a mechanic after Scotty died.

      • The mechanic, in an out of character way, gave Noah his card and said something like, ‘in case you ever have trouble out here again.” I thought that the mechanic was hitting on Noah and couldn’t figure out why they threw that in.

        You’re right that the first time wouldn’t have mattered. Something else probably happened. There is a lot of time between the scene picking up the daughter and choosing Alison and the scene in the nice NY apartment. That time is season 2, I hope.

  5. katie says:

    The problem with this show is that the characters are so unlikable together. Even apart they are terrible people. Both West and Wilson played amazing roles in prior shows (the Wire and Luther) and it is so hard to see them playing these shitty characters with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It’s one thing to hate a character and slowly begin to like or love them over time. In this case I keep rooting against Noah and Alison, hoping that they get what they deserve. I hope something changes my mind in Season 2.

    • Gabby says:

      I agree, by the end of the finale, both Alison and Noah seemed exactly the kind of people you would imagine would sleep around and hurt their spouses and families.

      When Noah’s publisher asks him if he misses his wife (of maybe 20 years?) he replies “Not yet!”

      Whenever Alison is with Noah she seems like she’s had a lobotomy. “Stop staring at my husband!” was the best line of the season.

    • Eliza says:

      Although I agree that the characters are unlikeable, McNulty, West’s character in The Wire was far from a flawless character.

      • Callie says:

        Anybody want to reminisce about McNulty’s Irish wake? :-)

      • katie says:

        McNulty was far from flawless but I cared about him, rooted for him even. I even rooted for the “bad guys” in the Wire because the character development was so damn good. Same thing for Ruth Wilson’s character on Luther. She’s a psycho that killed her parents but she’s an awesome character that the audience likes as the show progresses. That’s not happening here.

  6. Iris Goland says:

    What The Affair has going for it-it’s directly after Homeland.

  7. Peter says:

    The snooki comment was a joke

  8. Peter says:

    Getting back to the show, and I believe it’s a decent one considering Snooki isn’t single anymore. I do believe the twist of this story is Allison is the killer that’s why she only believes in hell..ps she is some what busted wouldn’t yo say….

  9. distantdrum says:

    Okay …. the truth is it left me enraged. I kept looking at the clock wondering how they would wrap this story up in the next ten minutes, and then it was done ….see ya next season. This was my mistake because I was under the impression this was a start to finish ten episode mini series. I guess I was wrong. I stuck with the duel narrative, and the sometimes confusing present, past, future timelines, and of course for Maura Tierney, who I adore …. but all I can think of is that if people were angry about the way season one of The Killing ended, they would most likely have ripped their wall paper off of the walls with this ending. I’m not sure if I’ll be back to see what happens next.

    • Eliza says:

      There was never any indication that this would be a ten episode mini-series. That was your mistake. Whereas with The Killing, it was widely reported that the case would be wrapped up in one season and that was the reason for the outrage back then.

  10. M Webb says:

    “The Affair” is shamefully inept and the leads are unattractive with no chemistry. The Rashomon structure is old and repetitive. How Variety can heap kudos on this show boggles my mind.

  11. These lessons run for three weeks, Monday through Friday from 8am to four:30pm.

  12. Justin Burnell says:

    Reblogged this on THB Files and commented:
    The Affair is the best tv show of 2014. The finale was intense. Dominic West, Maura Tierney and Ruth Wilson nailed it though.

  13. Marc says:

    Modular homes are for poor people.

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