Showtime's 'The Affair' is maddeningly seductive tease

(Image courtesy of Showtime) (Image courtesy of Showtime)

 

 

There are three sides to every story; your side, their side and the truth. That is not to say that either story is necessarily built upon lies or that any of the tangibles differ substantially. More often than not, the differences are entirely perceptual. Intention and motivation exist purely in the mind's eye; their resulting actions take on a different identity when translated into reality. It is easy to think that our vantage point is the objective one, that our reality is the reality. Rarely is that true.

The first episode of Showtime's new series "The Affair" asks an intimidating number of questions and makes it very clear that it plans to take its sweet time to answer them. It does, however, reveal a remarkable amount about its characters by establishing them as fascinatingly unreliable narrators, even as their stories more or less align.

Dominic West ("The Wire") stars as Noah, a recently published author enjoying damned success. His novel sold well, but was not a smash. The reception was fine, but received heavy backlash. This weird sense of limbo stretches across everything else in his life. His marriage to Helen (Maura Tierney) is healthy but his kids are outwardly miserable. Their family is well off, but the specter of Helen's father's fame and fortune looms, passive-aggressively judging. In contemporary terms, he is cheer captain, and they are on the bleachers.

 

In order to get away from it all, Noah and the family travel to the Hamptons to stay at Helen's father's beach house for the summer. The very first person they meet is Alison (Ruth Wilson), a waitress at the local diner who serves the family and assists Noah when his youngest daughter begins to choke on a marble. This much can be agreed upon. Where the story goes from there is up to interpretation.

It takes a fair amount of time for "The Affair" to communicate to viewers that the story is being told from (at least) two perspectives, Noah's and Alison's, from the onset. As both characters tell their side of the story to an interrogator, everything about these seemingly fleeting interactions are slightly different. The order of which events transpire, characters' physical and emotional proximities to one another, and even the slightest vocal tinges are remembered and perceived differently.

While the uglies of Noah and Alison go unbumped in the pilot, they are unquestionably the subjects of the show's eponymous affair. Creators Sarah Treem and Hagai Levy have crafted a mystery out of something that could be considered cut and dry. In fact, it very might well be. Depending on who you believe, Noah is an aloof bystander in his own adultery, wandering into his own seduction by an unfamiliar woman in an unfamiliar place despite everything being peachy keen in his own marriage. Alternatively, Alison is a vulnerable woman trying to reconcile her grief over the loss of her son, pounced upon by a seasonal visitor.

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The truth likely exists somewhere within the hazy margins between these stories, which will certainly continue to diverge and become more salacious over the course of the season. Whether or not the truth even matters in the end remains to be seen. Regardless of what is actually happening to these characters, "The Affair" is more concerned about perceptions and their outcomes. This show's conceit is tightly wound with promise. It should be very exciting to watch it unravel.

Watch the premiere episode of "The Affair" on YouTube courtesy of Showtime.

You may reach the reporter at zheltzel@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @zachheltzel

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