What the Hell Did I Just Spend Five Seasons Watching?
Last Sunday, the Emmy-award winning Showtime series The Affair aired its last episode. It ended in Six-Feet-Under fashion, wrapping up the story by having everything come around full circle. It appeared to tie up every loose end. Now its viewers can wipe the dust off their hands and move onto the next television series, whatever that may be.
But before I say goodbye to The Affair, I need to ask: what the fuck did I just watch?
And I don’t mean just the finale. I’ve seen the entire series and it jumped the shark a long time ago. This show went from being about a hot-and-bothered affair to ending up in a future wrecked by climate change and an old man dancing on a sea cliff. Now that it’s over, I’m wondering if I should demand its creators to give me my time back.
My wife and I came to The Affair after Ruth Wilson won a Golden Globe in 2016. I didn’t think I’d like it, but it really hooked me. The first season was a well-crafted tale of an affair, one that writer Noah Solloway starts while vacationing with his family in Montauk, a beach town on Long Island. The showrunners break down the story Rashomon-style, with time spent on looking through the eyes of both the cheaters and their spouses. What could’ve been a pretentious storytelling device served the show well by adding another dimension to each episode. Seeing how characters perceived themselves and how others witnessed their actions captured nuances in these situations that couldn’t be demonstrated through a single viewpoint.
Then the show became all about attention-grabbing plot twists. It started with the end of the first season, the last seconds of the episode showing police arrest the cheating husband Noah (Dominic West) for murder. It ramped up from there, with Noah going to prison for a crime he didn’t commit and coming out with PTSD. He starts the third season at his father’s funeral, recovering at his sister’s house after a traumatic three-year stint in the nick, and ends it in France, completely cured of all mental issues. The following season he’s in Los Angeles, and the show brings up nothing from the previous season again.
While these massive plot points added a lot of tension and excitement, it also meant it stopped being a show about real people dealing with real problems. It kind of tried, with many episodes showing the main players attempting to be good parents while struggling with external frustrations and their crumbling sanities. But by the end what originally made the show interesting was overshadowed by storylines about imaginary stalkers, rioting teenagers and a #MeToo scandal—one with unsympathetic victims, who were part of a bigger plot to have Noah’s name removed from a movie script. Jesus, see what I’m talking about?
When it reached its third season, The Affair was a full-on soap opera. It grew and shed storylines like dog hair. For example, Noah’s sister, once a massive figure in his life, disappears after the third season and doesn’t even come to his daughter’s wedding. A storyline about CPS aiming to take away a neighbor’s child maybe lasts half an episode. The #MeToo scandal in the fifth season reached a fever pitch and then just went away, and the show focused on Noah leading his ex-wife (Maura Tierney) away from a wildfire. A rattlesnake bites her along the way.
The show’s ridiculousness culminated in the final episode. It started with a flash mob, one of the most irritating trends to ever occur in our culture—fitting for inclusion in The Affair. This routine even had a move called “kick the puppy.” Counting the first practice, they performed this dance not once, not twice, not three times, but FOUR times, to the same song: “Whole of the Moon” by the Waterboys. It was…a little much. The final scene is Noah, now an an old man living 40 years in the future, dancing by himself on a cliff in the beach town Montauk, where the story began.
Noah’s dancing was a celebration, as he knew he had redeemed himself. Before his dance solo finale, Noah had convinced his second wife’s daughter, Joanie (Anna Paquin WTF?), that she shouldn’t give up on her marriage, even after she admitted to her husband that she had violent sex with lots of other folks, including a random bartender and the son of Noah’s ex-wife’s husband, who died of cancer minutes after his child was born (she didn’t know who he was at the time).
Noah also learns from Joanie that his once mistress/wife Alison (Ruth Wilson) didn’t drown herself in the ocean but that a boyfriend killed her. Noah then proceeds to let Joanie know that her father Cole (Joshua Jackson), who was married to Allison when she started the affair with Noah and later cheated with her when she was with Noah, thereby producing Joanie—well, Cole was wrong when he said bad things about her mom Alison. Joanie learned that Allison gave custody of Joanie to Cole when she was a baby because Alison was having a psychological breakdown. But she only did it because she knew it was best for Joanie. Later, Alison even took Cole and his new wife to court to get Joanie back.
Yes, this all happened. And this is just a small fraction of the storylines that came and went during the series run. Yet in the end The Affair rewarded those of us who stuck around for every episode with an old man doing a dorky dance by the seashore. Just fucking ridiculous.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that there was serious drama behind the scenes too. Apparently Wilson requested that the show runners write her off the series, possibly over payment or because of unexplained issues. Jackson followed her, which is why one half of the equation that made the first season so good was nowhere to be found in the fifth. Which is fine anyway, since the show should’ve ended after the third.
Now that the Affair is over, I’m hoping West will land a part where’s he not a total asshole when he’s drunk. Just like in The Wire, West’s character in The Affair created many of his problems with his drinking. Maybe in his next show the writers can make him a sleepy drunk, where, instead of going out into the world and fucking everything up, he just naps. But maybe I’m just wishing for too much in this crazy world.