The Affair, the new Showtime drama set on Long Island that follows Homeland on Sunday nights, promises steamy sex scenes, an unraveling mystery, perhaps two unreliable narrators, and cheesy, heavy-handed, unimaginative writing.
We meet the Solloway family as they wrap up their last day in Brooklyn before heading out to Montauk for the summer. Through the eyes of Noah, the father/husband/cheater character played by Dominic West, we experience interrupted marital sex (damn kids!), a faux suicide attempt by middle child Martin (damn kids!), their exodus to The End where, at the famed Lobster Roll restaurant, their youngest almost chokes to death (damn–well, you get the point, right?). We learn that Noah is an English teacher who has published his first novel to moderate success, which is diminished by Bruce Butler, his father-in-law, and the owner of the oceanfront Montauk house where the Solloways will stay for the season.
The scene between Noah and Bruce was the first red flag of lazy, ridiculous writing. In order to demonstrate that Bruce is a Bad Guy, the writers pull out all of the stops, just shy of giving him a black mustache to twirl. Upon finding Nick drinking a beer instead of expensive wine, he says, “One of the Mexicans must have left that in the fridge,” showing not just rampant racism—everybody knows that only brown people drink beer, right?—but something far more insidious: elitism. But if you missed it, and still have an open mind about liking this character, don’t worry. Subtlety plays no part in this show.
The Bruce character also asserts that: (A) Noah must hate his terrible job teaching America’s urban youth; (B) that he read Noah’s book and found it likable in parts, somewhat; (C) believes that everyone has one book in them, but very few have two.
This last part is in response to Noah’s prideful admission that he’d been awarded a two-book deal. This might be true but coming from a successful commercial writer whose books are routinely made into major motion pictures—allowing for that bottle of wine, sent to him by the good folks at Paramount—to a newbie writer, it’s a dick move. In short, you are supposed to feel that Bruce is a DOUCHE (yes, in all caps.)
Because this is told by the point of view of Noah, it could be considered that the douchiness of Bruce is exaggerated because Noah believes him to be so. This would be a terrific nuance, but alas, this pattern continues elsewhere.
We are also introduced to the character of Alison Lockhart, played by Ruth Wilson, a waitress at the Lobster Roll, who makes the buttoned-up waitress uniform look like the naughtiest offering in Victoria Secrets’ repertoire. Alison seems a sensitive soul—she cried over the almost-choking toddler!—and wears the hell out of that uniform. Also, she’s very touchy-feely with her seafood faring customers–caressing Noah’s shoulder upon taking his order.
Later, when he bumps into her on the beach in the dead of night, she invites Noah back to her house—coincidentally close to Noah’s summer residence—and, without prompting, disrobes to demonstrate how outdoor showers work. The married man that he is, he declines the invitation to accompany her and leaves, before doubling back to her driveway when he hears shouting. He witnesses an altercation between Alison and a man we haven’t been introduced to yet—a boyfriend? Husband?—yelling at each other.
The yells turn to pushes. The man bends Alison over the hood of her car, and appears to rape her. Yet, Alison makes sure to make eye contact with Noah during this act, and by the end, is smiling at him provocatively.
The second part opens with Alison and that man, played by Joshua Jackson, having consensual sex in her oceanfront bedroom. When they finish, she puts this question to the man, as people do: “How many times have we had sex? Ten thousand?”
Actually, no. No they don’t. In the history of people, no one has ever said that. Ever. Because they don’t need to. However, sometimes unimaginative writers will have characters say something this idiotic to communicate something to the audience. In this case, this is how we know that the rapist from the night before is Alison’s husband, and that they have a long, storied relationship.
We also learn that Alison has been working at the Lobster Roll for 15 years and that she is 31 years old. How? Because upon entering the restaurant for her morning shift, Oscar, the owner, muses aloud, “Alison, remember when you first started her 15 years ago when you were 16 years old? Back when my father owned the place?” Because in the world where these writers live, this is how people talk.
During this segment, we also learn that Alison and Cole—the husband with whom she’s had sex 10,000 times—are the parents of a child who died and that the day on which The Affair opens is the anniversary of that death. This brings interesting clues into perspective. Alison wasn’t crying over Noah’s child choking, but of the fragility of life of small children, notably Noah’s daughter, who is the same age of the son she’d lost on that very same exact day. Hit viewers over the head with a hammer, why don’t you?
We see a different perspective of Noah randomly finding her at the beach, as well as a completely different outdoor shower scene, in which, to her telling, she remains completely clothed, is kissed on the cheek by Noah and initiates consensual car-hood sex with her husband.
The narration is one of True Detective-style in an interrogation room by a police detective so we know that a crime is being investigated. At this point, we don’t know the crime—I think Noah’s wife Helen played by Maura Tierney gets killed in Fatal Attraction fashion—but it appears one (or both) characters have causal relationships with truth-telling. It’s an interesting premise, if clumsily done.
Here’s hoping that with the set-up out of the way, we don’t see any more heavily contrived dialogue scenes. Any promise to this season is still to be determined.
The End. (Get it? Because Montauk?)