The Affair: Showtime’s irresistible drama puts infidelity in complex perspective

the affair ruth wilson Lori Acken

The Affair

Premieres: Oct. 19
Airs: Sundays at 10pm
Who’s In It?  Maura Tierney, Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Joshua Jackson (below)

Fall TV shows 2014 The Affair

If you’ve ever shared a long-ago memory with a friend and discovered you each recall the same event in vastly different ways, you’ll recognize the fragile skeleton on which this exquisite drama — from House of Cards executive producer Sarah Treem — is built.

At its most basic, The Affair tracks the cause and effect of an extramarital affair between author/schoolteacher Noah (The Wire’s West) and throaty-voiced, sleepy-eyed waitress Alison (a stunning Wilson) — a relationship that somehow goes seriously awry, since the tale is largely told in flashback from each lover’s perspective as they’re individually grilled by a cop.

In the meantime, the story unfolds in deliciously complex fashion as Noah paints himself as a long-suffering suburbanite — constantly taking a back seat to his four kids for his harried wife (The Good Wife’s Tierney) and emasculated by his uber-wealthy in-laws — who is lured into infidelity by a flame-haired seductress in need of rescue. Meanwhile, Alison — whose mercurial nature, we learn, is the byproduct of a heartrending tragedy that threatens her own marriage to perplexed rancher Cole (Jackson) — recalls being drawn in by a flirtatious opportunist who recognized her frailties.

“I’m super interested in gender and how men and women tell stories and think about stories,” says Treem of the catalyst for the show. “I believe that men and women have different life narratives that’s very defined by biology, but also the different ways in which we think of how to tell a story.”

Wilson says that the dual narrative lends depth and humanity to the sort of he-said-she-said excuse-making one might expect from extracurricular lovers whose exploits have been revealed.

“In Noah’s version, Alison’s much more a free spirit and reckless and sexy — he sees her much sexier than she sees herself,” Wilson says. “Things like the way her hair is, her makeup, her clothes, they all vary according to whose opinion and whose version of events. From her point of view, she wouldn’t have even cared about what her hair looked like, or what she was wearing. She’s numb. So I think that was really fascinating. But it’s specific to these characters, rather than just male and female, I think.”

The interwoven perspectives, combined with the present-day mystery at hand, offered Wilson and West — both British-born veteran actors playing East Coast American, here — a particularly unique on-set experience.

“I got to kind of play three versions of the same character,” says Wilson. “I got to play his version of me, my version of me and the present day. It was a challenge and something that fascinated me — and also it’s not only about affairs and monogamy, but also about memory and perspective and subjective truth.

“And because Dom and I are in three-quarters of each episode, it’s pretty demanding — it’s really controversial and emotional stuff that we’re dealing with,” adds Wilson. “It’s moving, constantly shifting and developing as we go. So there aren’t all the answers. You discover them as you go, which is disconcerting — but at the same point, it’s quite freeing.”

So don’t be surprised if you change your mind about who is telling the truth, even there even is such a thing, and whose intentions are noble — or nefarious — multiple times throughout each episode. And likely learn much about yourself in the process.

“There will be a point in the series where you start to see another perspective, and you could perhaps assume that that perspective was the absolute truth,” says Treem. “But I think that perspective will turn out to be unreliable as well. And I don’t think about it so much as unreliability — I just think about it as perspective.”

The Affair airs  Sundays beginning Oct. 12 on Showtime.

Photo: The Affair: ©Showtime, LLC All rights reserved Credit: Steven Lippman

About Lori Acken 1195 Articles
Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.