TV Review: The Affair, Season 3

Ruth Wilson as Alison, Joshua Jackson as Cole, Maura Tierney as Helen and Dominic West as Noah Solloway in The Affair (season 3). - Photo: Steven Lippman/SHOWTIME

Photo: Steven Lippman/SHOWTIME

The problem with watching The Affair is it’s too slow to watch one episode at a time but too complex to binge. Trying to binge watch the first season I had a monster headache by episode three with the amount of focus you have to put in. And that was when the show only had to juggle two perspectives. By the time season two added Cole and Helen to the mix, the show required a full hour of focus. And while most shows should demand that level of focus, most don’t, requiring some serious view habit adjustments. You have to retrain your brain not just to watch, but keep track of everything going under the characters’ surface. The plot of The Affair isn’t complicated, but the perspectives are what makes the show, and that is when your memory can get hazy.

All that’s to say, I love The Affair, but I also dread the commitment each new season requires of me. I can’t binge, I can’t be doing something else while watching. I can’t even trust watching an episode just once. Which is a great way to turn your show into a something with a loyal (possibly small) audience? But that also means a not so great episode of The Affair can be HARD. Really hard. And I didn’t love the first episode of season three.

For one, the show started with a Noah POV and gave him the full hour (the show usually splits perspectives). It makes sense, considering his conviction last season required some catch up of the years since his prison incarceration and release. But an hour of Noah is a lot to take in at once. He’s a really unlikable character (narcissistic and shallow). And while Dominic West if great as Noah, the show’s insistence that every woman that meets him wants to give their bodies over to him is a little absurd at this point. Hope that the writers had moved past that tendency remains unproven as of episode three. Noah’s still the depressed, sexually alluring bad boy every woman secretly wants…now with a prison record for proof.

Helen played as beautifully by Maura Tierney (remember when she was best known for comedies like Newsradio) still burns a candle for her ex-husband. Part of this due to him taking the blame for her hit and run. He wants to stick by him in prison and after his release, especially with the disappearance of his wife Allison (she returns in part two of two). It is to Tierney’s credit that she adds the subtext to Helen to suggest she’s more than just hanging onto the first love and is as complex a character as she plays her. It’s also nice to see Jennifer Esposito (who I’ve loved for years) playing Noah’s sister.

After the funeral of Noah’s father, he returns to work as a professor, but teaching just one seminar. Considering the brilliant way a show like Rectify has handled prison afterlife, thinking Noah could so easily become a professor after this very public case is kind of absurd. But putting Noah on a college campus allows the show to address the generational gap. The Affair is a show adult audiences with a capital A, and seeing how these “grown-ups” see the younger generation of PC justice warriors is fascinating. And the show manages to avoid feeling judgmental towards any of these arguments.

I’ve seen the first three episode, and without spoiling anything can say I prefer episode two. The Noah and Allison story are no longer a favorite, and I find Helen’s conflict over trying to move on while showing gratitude to the father of her children and Cole (played so beautifully by the unsung Joshua Jackson) coping with fatherhood once again is beautiful. It also brings in more complex characters. While we have a new POV with Noah’s teacher friend (likely the next affair) played by Irene Jacob, I’m most interested in seeing Louisa’s perspective added to the mix this season. After all, she is played by Academy Award winner Catalina Sandino Moreno and brings things out of Joshua Jackson’s Cole we didn’t previously get in his scenes with Ruth Wilson. And yes, Brendan Frasier is playing the prison guard in Noah’s flashback…totally creeping me out.

The most impressive part of The Affair remains its ability to juggle so many perspectives. The storyline isn’t in fact complicated, but the perspectives of each person and how they cross over is how the show sets itself apart and uses the TV medium to its advantage. When they play that up, the show is one of the best on TV. But three episodes in characters aren’t crossing paths as much as they did the first two seasons. Characters have spread out and have their own things going on. I just hope this doesn’t mean turning The Affair into another relationship drama. It’s capable of so much more than that, this season it seems on the brink of greatness if they can pull it off.

Rating: 8.5

Lesley Coffin is editor and founder of Movies, Film, Cinema. A writer with a masters degree from NYU’s Gallatin School in biographical studies and star theory. She wrote the biography on Lew Ayres (Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector) and Hitchcock’s Casting (Hitchcock’s Stars). Lesley currently freelances for a number of sites, including regular contributions to The Interrobang, Pink Pen, The Young Folks, and previously wrote for The Mary Sue and Filmoria.