Beginnings & Perspectives
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
I love The Affair. It’s a strong statement to say about a show after only the pilot, but there’s something to be admired about a show that says so much but when you sit back as the credits roll, you realize that you really don’t know that much at all. It’s fantastic storytelling. The basic premise of she show may seem outdated and done to death and it’s easy to understand why that perspective might be garnered. Infedelity has been a basic staple of human existence, whether it relates to relationships, promises, or diets. But how could you provide a fresh take on something that’s been done to death? The Affair manages to do so by providing a basic backdrop that cuts between two different perspectives. All we know is that something terrible has happened and two people had an affair. Noah Solloway (Dominic West, The Wire) and Helen Solloway (Maura Tierney, The Good Wife) are one of the main couples on the show while Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson, Dawson’s Creek) and Alison Lockhart (Ruth Wilson, Luther) portray the other couple. Alison and Noah are the pair that commit the infidelity and while we see potential signs of it, those two certainties are the ones completely set in stone (at least for now). Everything is kind of up in the air and it’s thrilling.
Part One of the episode is largely told from Noah’s point of view. He’s a public school teacher in his thirties who’s just published his first novel and is writing his second. His wife is a professional businessman and the two have of them have four children between each other. And being an author, he naturally pushes his children to read as much as possible. His older son attempts false suicide in the episode’s weakest moment. It’s not as much as it’s implausible, we just haven’t seen enough of the family dynamic at play for that scene to really have much impact beyond “this kid’s a brat.” The family travels to Noah’s wealthy in-laws, which isn’t a trip for Noah as his behavior evidences. Their kids interrupt their sex sessions twice, which is a little too much. But this leads Noah to walk out into the night, noticing the waitress from the diner earlier sitting on a beach. She offers to take him on a walk, showing him her house and climbing into the outdoor shower. He walks back later to see her husband having sex with her, but it looks far more like rape.
Part Two is largely from Alison’s perspective and everything immediately takes a much darker turn. The second half of the pilot opens up on her having sex with her husband Cole. There’s a morbid aura hanging about, explained by the revelation that it was her child’s death anniversary. She despises her boss at the diner where Noah and his family drop in. The entire ordering process is far more awkward and cold and from Alison’s point of view, she was the one that saved the child, not Noah as he was telling the detective. She rides her bicycle through the picturesque woods, arriving at her child’s grave. He was four years old when he died. She begins reading a story at the grave, sobbing. She meets him at the beach, but from her point of view the entire affair is far more awkward and subdued, pun intended. They walk to her home together, where she shows him her ranch and outdoor showers. He kisses her and Alison pushed away. Noah apologizes profusely as Alison is startled, extremely uncomfortable from the whole affair. Cole comes back home, where they have an argument. “You’re not the only one who lost a child,” he thunders before she embraces him tearfully. The two begin to have sex but it quickly turns into rough sex. Noah comes back around and the episode dissolves to Alison, sitting quaintly in front of the detective. The camera pans out and the screen cuts to black.
The series is beautifully shot. The picturesque coastlines and forests of Montauk, Long Island are stunningly gorgeous. The direction from Mark Mylod is assured, working best when he cuts the scenes from character perspectives. The opening shot is especially stunning, equaled perhaps only by his camera isolating Wilson while she’s in the graveyard, surrounded by a massive forest. Sarah Treem & Hagai Levi’s story translates exceedingly well despite a couple of snafus, dropping in quick little snippets that say a lot without having to resort to the tired pilot expectation of over-explaning. A good example would be when Noah assumes that Alison’s favorite book would be Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and she reveals that it’s instead J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. It’s an effective writing technique and Treem’s teleplay uses it on several occasions to get the point across without behind heavy-handed. This isn’t to say that there aren’t heavy handed moments. The aforementioned fake suicide doesn’t really work and Noah’s dialogue with his father-in-law almost goes out of its way to portray how much more successful he is in comparison to his son-in-law.
Where The Affair succeeds the most, outside of the performances of its lead cast (especially Wilson, who’s a delight in everything) is at the little details that differ between Noah’s and Allison’s accounts. In his version, she touched his shoulder at the diner. In her version, she looks at him like he’s an uncomfortable gnat just buzzing around her face and refusing to leave. The family’s seating arrangement at the diner even changes, suggesting a far more messy dynamic for her. Even the cigarettes are switched. She’s offering and then’s he’s offering cigarettes to her, specifically French ones. The small details are really what make the story click, realizing how even the smallest of things can be misinterpreted and or remembered differently just depending on how one is perceiving the situation.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“They live on those tips.” It’s unfortunately so true it hurts
+“Just dying … slowly.”
+Noah’s mother-in-law suggesting his daughter should lose a couple more pound so she can go to Paris is horrifying in its dark humor. She’s already far more weight-conscious than anyone needs to be.
+The waves crashing angrily against the rocks as Allison rode her bike by
+“It seemed almost evil to be happy.”
+Noah after the kiss in her version: “I’ll see you around town.”; “Yeah, there’s no real way to avoid it.”
Alternative Title: Perspectives
Teleplay by: Sarah Treem
Story by: Sarah Treem & Hagai Levi
Directed By: Mark Mylod
Image Courtesy: Hitfix