The End of ‘The Affair’

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.

Ruth Wilson as Alison and Dominic West as Noah in The Affair (season 1, episode 5). – Photo: Mark Schafer/SHOWTIME.

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.

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Kevin L. Jones

Kevin L. Jones is a freelance writer and audio producer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can see more of his work at kevinljones.com.

6 thoughts on “The End of ‘The Affair’

  • December 27, 2019 at 8:39 am
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    I actually just finished this…like, about 10 minutes ago. I needed to see what other people thought. And
    I had also just asked myself…WTF did I just watch. It was completely insane. Your review is spot on.

    Reply
  • December 27, 2019 at 4:32 pm
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    I am so disappointed with the 5th season. And I agree with everything you said. It has become a soap opera in the process. The 5th season, however, is beyond soap opera. It is just ridiculously weird. The absence of Wilson and Jackson should not cause such a wreck.

    Reply
    • May 2, 2020 at 10:18 am
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      Once it wasn’t The Affair anymore it jumped the shark. No continuity. How can they not address the death of Alison? If Vic got sick and died in let’s say a one year span, how did Joanie the child suddenly become an adult in her 30’s with her own children and yet Noah’s kids have aged in real time? This made no sense.

      There was too much screen time showing Ciara trying to give birth in the first episode of this season. I actually stopped watching after the third episode. I didn’t like this Ciara character from the start and it was predictable where that was going to go. Awful storyline. It was also so predictable that Sasha was going after Helen. I didn’t like the whole season when he was in Paris. What did that have to do with anything, and who cared about Juliet’s family. Trying to introduce all these characters and it wasn’t entertaining.

      The problem has always been the continuity after the second season, and jumped the shark. I loved the Montauk scenes. Now that’s it’s only in LA is also so boring and unoriginal. It felt more gritty jumping from Brooklyn to Montauk. The writing and acting are great but the stories have become so ridiculous. I also feel that Noah’s relationship with his current girlfriend and her family problems are contrived as well. It just stopped being The Affair which was my favorite show for the first two seasons. I loved the whole concept of the storytelling and the different views. It just isn’t the same show. Now that I know how it ended I won’t even waste my time.

      Reply
  • April 25, 2020 at 5:51 pm
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    What is up with Paquin’s accent? Try a bit harder, missy!

    Reply
  • June 1, 2020 at 11:50 am
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    I agree with everything that Kevin says. There were so many story lines that went all out – and then just disappeared without trace, so contrary to how the final season was publicised as ‘bringing everything full circle’, it really didn’t because so many stories were simply forgotten about. I felt that the man who had killed Alison (and made it look like suicide) should have somehow been brought to justice – but again, after Joanie’s talk with Noah that was just abandoned.
    Other than this, I felt the whole of the series was the most doom laden and miserable thing I have ever watched. None of the characters was remotely likeable. And – yes I know it’s fiction – but none of the adults EVER told their children to stop using the ‘F’ word. Talking of which, there was altogether too much sex in it – you couldn’t blink without someone being at it again, got a bit boring!

    Reply
    • June 11, 2020 at 9:59 pm
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      I liked the first 4 Seasons but Season 5 with the ridiculous “back to the future storyline” about Joanie ruined everything . I liked the show when it was contemporary, not Sci-fi. I can forgive many of the bizarre unlikely twists, but it has totally jumped the shark now. I am up to episode 7 but I think I’ll just sign out of the affair.
      I guess this is what happens to all series- they just run out of steam.

      Reply

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