If you haven’t seen it, The Affair chronicles the growing relationship between two people and the troubles that arise within and between their families. And you probably could have guessed that from the title. The set-up is fairly familiar – struggling writer Noah (played by Dominic West) and troubled waitress Alison (played by Ruth Wilson) find themselves drawn to each other but cause a hefty amount of destruction in coming together.
What makes The Affair different from other shows is the fact it uses unconventional narrative techniques – the titular affair is recounted through flashbacks in a police interview, as the primary characters were related to a death in some manner. Furthermore, these flashbacks are affected by memory bias, so seeing different versions of certain events is quite common. Sometimes, these narratives can be astoundingly divergent from each other, which leads the audience to question what they’re supposed to believe.
The technique is certainly interesting, although it means an objective version of events is hard to ascertain. In some cases, where the events are virtually the same but there are some slight differences, it’s a strong asset of the show. The uncertainty of events and questionable nature of the characters adds spice to the drama, like the detectives interviewing the primary characters, we have to work to ascertain the truth. However, when versions of the same event are too drastically different the show begins to feel as though it has two parallel narratives, as opposed to two perspectives of the same story. That’s not a terrible thing, but if left unchecked it could very much complicate Season Two and any subsequent seasons of the show also. Think of the butterfly effect – changing the past slightly can forge a very different future.
Season Two will, however, feature the story from the perspective of the spouses of Noah and Alison - Helen (played by Maura Tierney) and Cole (played by Joshua Jackson) respectively. This is a risky gambit from the show-runners as adding another two perspectives could allow for four significantly different versions of the same story with little overlap, which would be quite confusing. Having said that, more perspectives should mean that the objective truth should be easier to determine in regards to the central events. With more perspectives involved, some details should come up in more than one version, increasing the chances of that being what we should believe has happened. If nothing else, we should also get more exploration of the psychology of the central characters and the world in which they live.
Narrative techniques aside, The Affair is a pretty solid show. The acting is very strong, especially from the four central characters. With the addition of Helen and Cole’s perspectives, we should get to see Tierney and Jackson do more with their characters and we’ll also probably get to see slightly different versions of Noah and Alison as the characters change when seen through different eyes. The drama builds well, as does the mystery, with the identity of the murderer being the biggest hook for season two.
All in all, I recommend a fling with The Affair. Maybe you’ll become infatuated after a few episodes, then remain a faithful audience member for as long as it lasts.
Sky Atlantic, Wednesday 28 October, 9pm