Welcome to Remote Controlled, Variety’s podcast series featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.
This week’s episode features Variety executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum in conversation with Sarah Treem, co-creator and executive producer of Showtime’s “The Affair,” now in its third season. She reveals what’s in store for the rest of the season, as well as the upcoming finale, which is shooting in Paris.
When she pitched the idea of heading to France to Showtime, “I don’t know if they thought I was serious for a while,” she says with a laugh. “But I think a lot of it comes down to money at the end of the day, and weirdly enough, it turned out to be cheaper to shoot in Paris.”
And, she adds, with a tease, “There’s something about being in Paris that feels right for this season’s story.”
Treem discusses how the show has evolved from the first season, when it explored the impact of Noah (Dominic West) and Allison’s (Ruth Wilson) affair on their marriages, their families, and their lives.
“The initial affair was a pebble that drops into a still pond, and then the ripples go out and out and out. So the show isn’t about the act of dropping the pebble into the pond, it’s about the ripples and how far they go,” she says. So the third season allows them to explore more of those ripples — particularly how the characters’ pasts impact their future. One question on their mind in the writers’ room, she says, is “What happened to get them to the place to where they could have the affair in the first place?”
That’s especially relevant for Noah this season, who went to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. “What is it about this guy that would do something like that?” she says. “There’s something very self-destructive in him.” And, she adds, perhaps “there is a self-destructive impulse in all of us to some extent.” This season’s central mystery of who stabbed Noah will get resolved, she promises.
The series has evolved beyond its initial shifting memory structure to focus on differing perspective, she says. “I’m still really interested in this idea of POV,” she says. “I think that’s really what the show is about. Two people in a relationship are never on the same page.” She reveals that an upcoming episode will show a scene from Helen (Maura Tierney) and then Allison’s perspective. “Everyone is trapped in the prism of their own perspective all the time,” she says.
This season also features two new additions to the cast: She calls casting Brendan Fraser “a moment of casting genius.” “We wanted someone who was going to be able to match [West] and control him,” she says, adding that much of his performance is ad-libbed. “It’s always good in the third season to bring in some new energy, and his energy is great.”
She decided to bring in Juliette (Irene Jacob) as a love interest for Noah to explore the character from the point-of-view of someone who doesn’t judge him. “The question is, who is Noah with Juliette, and could he possibly be a different person than he is with the other women in his life?,” she says.
Treem offers some teases of what’s to come in the rest of the season for the core cast. “Helen feels guilty about what happened: She has this idea if she gets Noah back, she can erase what happened,” she says, adding, “It’s always fun to watch Maura f— up. … I think audiences are going to be somewhat shocked by her performance.”
As for Allison, “She’s always going to be a fragile character,” says Treem. “But she ends up with a strong sense of self in the final episodes that none of the characters have.”
Treem says she hopes she gets the chance to do a fourth and final season: “I see a fourth season that will bring all the characters back together in a way that would feel really satisfying and surprising and end a journey.”
You can listen to this week’s episode here:
New episodes of “Remote Controlled” are available every Friday.